On a recent business trip to Tulsa, OK, I had a few hours available before I had to catch my flight, so I headed to an area just south of town called Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area. It was a surprising forested area full of countless trails along and around a ridge bounded on one side by the Arkansas River.
I hadn’t found this map before arriving there and it would have been helpful to have. There was a copy posted on a sign next to the parking lot, but it had been rather worn by fingers and weather so that a photo captured on my phone was not as helpful as this one would have been. I read a few reviews of the area and consistently people talked about the importance of a map to keep from getting lost. I thought, “Yeah, right. This is Oklahoma where everything’s flat. I won’t have any problem.”….
After hiking for about 1.5 hours, I found that I was having to try to keep very aware of what direction I was going and where I was in relation to the parking lot. Fortunately, I had the river and sun as reference, but trails were criss-crossing so much, that it would have been very easy to lose track of where I was.
Which brings me to an observation about choosing the right path. The Bible is very clear about some things. It reveals to us God’s overarching plan for creation and salvation. It also gives us very specific instructions about a number of moral and social issues. But there are times when we are faced with decisions about our actions and activities that may not be explicitly dealt with in any particular or combination of biblical passages. In those cases, we must decide the best we can, but our decisions should be influenced by several factors:
Biblical principles – This is first and foremost what should drive our decisions. Even though scripture may not deal explicitly with a particular topic, it gives ample guidance in so many things from which foundational principles can be derived. The only way to really be able to discern those principles is through regular immersion in God’s word. Read it, study it, memorize it, talk about it, teach it, listen to others teaching it. These are all ways to embed the Bible in our minds so that it will be there to be brought to our attention when we need it. Through Jeremiah the prophet, God promised
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The principle here is that in God’s new covenant (realized through the advent of Jesus Christ), God would enable His law to be known and understood by all who are recipients of that covenant promise. Jesus reiterated this when he promised, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-14) One of the activities of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to recall and understand God’s Word, but to do that we have to be diligent in staying familiar with what it actually says. The analogy here to the criss-crossing trails described above would be the map. Having access to and studying the map is the surest way to keep on track with where we intend to go.
Godly advice – Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “… where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This verse is often quoted without acknowledging the context in which he spoke it. This is in a broader passage in which Jesus is encouraging believers to be diligent to correct the sin that lies among them (e.g. church discipline). He describes the process in a progression from private confrontation, to larger group involvement, and finally to a whole congregation appealing to someone to end their sinful choices. The principle here is that none of us is ever intended to operate in a vacuum. The choices we make should always be made with consideration of their impact and influence on others around us. And, since we are surrounding ourselves with other like-minded believers (the local church), that enables us to give and receive guidance and correction to one another. In the analogy of my wandering along the trails of Turkey mountain, I had the ability (via my phone) to read others’ advice about not getting lost on the trails, and I could have called for help if I had fallen or gotten lost.
Circumstances – Another way in which we can receive guidance is through the events that God allows into our lives. I continue to assert that I do not believe in coincidences. God is very much involved in directing our paths and does so through the arrangement of events that intersect our lives. This is illustrated in numerous examples throughout the Bible. One in particular comes to mind. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were on what is known as Paul’s second missionary journey, as recorded in Acts 16 and beyond. Verses 6 and 7 tell us that “they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Now this does not explicitly say in what form the Holy Spirit directed them away from Asia and Bithynia, but by the fact that they “attempted to go”, indicates the possibility that circumstances arose that thwarted their efforts in that direction. Now, I caution reliance on circumstances as fool-proof indicators of God’s direction. These indicators are often more clearly recognized in hind-sight. However, when one is well-versed in scripture, and are consistently surrounding him or her self with Godly influences, it is much more likely that they will be sensitive enough to God’s prodding that they will be guided by their circumstances as well. In the hiking analogy, I equate this to using the sun and river as guides. Remaining aware of these will help you keep oriented in the right direction, as long as you acknowledge the broader truth that these reference points are not necessarily fixed and vary with time (particularly the sun).
Humility – I need to also mention that a sense of humility is necessary to making Godly choices. As I was walking on these paths, I needed to keep a close eye on my footing and be cognizant of my physical fitness (or lack of, as the case may be). I’m not an athlete. Neither am I as young as I used to be, which means that there are definite limitations to what I can safely or easily do. Now these paths were not terribly strenuous, but there were occasions in which I had to be very cautious and in some cases even turn back and choose another path because the way I was going was proving not to be safe for me. This brings to mind the caution that Paul gave in 2 Timothy 2:22-23: “22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” Sometimes we will find ourselves starting down a path that we quickly recognize as being unwise. A prudent believer will recognize and admit their limitations and turn around to choose a safer path before they find themselves deeper in trouble!