Better find the right path … and stay on it!

Judean Wilderness rock foreground smaller

The hills surrounding Jerusalem are rugged and unforgiving. Finding the right path in such a land isn’t an option. It’s a matter of life and death. Selena Whitley photo.

Need to make a good living in Jerusalem?

Buy a taxi and park at the base of one of the hills around the Old City. You’ll never lack for customers in a culture unaccustomed to walking!

It’s no accident that the Bible always speaks of going “up to Jerusalem.” You can’t get to Jerusalem without climbing. You can’t get around Jerusalem without crossing valleys, climbing steps and taking circuitous routes to places that appear to be fairly close.

Imagine what life was like before taxis and tour buses!

That 40-minute bus ride from Jericho to Jerusalem? Better plan on a 12-hour hike if you’re doing it on foot. That air-conditioned taxi ride up the Mount of Olives? Do it on foot in the heat of summer and you’ll be gasping for air and sweating from pores that haven’t been flushed out in years.

The people of the Bible spent their entire lives walking those very hills.

David’s psalms spoke repeatedly of a request that God would lead him along straight paths, even the famous “path of righteousness” in Psalm 23. The Proverbs have a constant message of avoiding the “paths” of evil individuals, since those lifestyles lead to death. Isaiah the prophet cherished the idea of a level road, teaching that “The path of the righteous is level,” and that God would “make the way of the righteous smooth.” (Isaiah 26:7) The prophet begged people to live in such a way that their righteous lives would make a straight and level way for the Messiah to come. John the baptizer would use that imagery in his own messages, centuries later.

Of the hundreds and hundreds of references to walking the right paths in the Bible, perhaps the simplest of all is this one:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

It’s not simply a path that removes the bends of a twisting road. It’s a literal high-way … a level way. Picture heavy equipment that moves the dirt from the hills into the valleys. The road that results? It’s straight and level. It’s the fastest way you’ve ever imagined to get to where you want to go.

Even so, there’s still the journey. You’ve still got to walk. You’ve still got to prepare. You’ve still got to be wise.

If you ever decide to walk the way Jesus walked? Take plenty of water, food and some medical supplies. And forget the deodorant. There’s nothing on earth that’s going to stop the sweating.

The price for not being on the right way? The maze of hills around Jerusalem may overwhelm you. If you aren’t on the right road in the rugged desert, you’ll run out of water in a land that has no streams.

Finding the right way isn’t an option. It’s a matter of life or death. If you’re hiking in the wilderness, you can take that warning in a literal sense. If you’re just trying to find the right relationships, career or spiritual journey, it’s symbolic.

Know why people find hope in going to church, even when all their problems haven’t been solved?

It’s because something inside them has told them: “You’re on the right path.”

When people find comfort in reading the Bible, even when the disease still rages or the open wounds of grief still fester? It’s because they know … this is the right path.

If you’ve ever connected with Jesus as the one who changes everything, it’s because he wasn’t joking when he once said, “I am the way.” (John 14:6))

On the other hand, we’ve all been astonished by people who first find plenty of money, popularity and fame only to destroy themselves with addictions and harmful lifestyles. The problem? To use path language, they’re lost. They haven’t a clue where they’re going, where they should be, or how they’ll get there. Sooner or later, life in the wilderness will cost them their lives. It will cost them love, joy and peace. They will lack for self control and contentment. They will chase after the wind only to find themselves trying to rebuild after a hurricane of consequences follows the choices they’ve made.

I’m telling you … we’ve got to find the right path and stay on it.

It’s still likely to be a long, difficult journey. But at least you’ll know you’re headed in the right direction.