He Leads Me in Right Paths
There is a fascination in paths. In childhood, there is a great attraction in the narrow country paths such as might have been used by the characters in Beatrice Potter. This type of path can disappear between bushes, dodge about in a wood, cross a tiny bridge, go through a narrow gate and emerge in a field. It then becomes obvious that the path leads to a group of cottages. Exploration of such a delight is often quelled by an accompanying adult who would say: 'But we don't know where it goes to and it might be muddy.'
The Bible has a lot to say about paths. They are paths illustrative of the path of life, our way through life. In the passage from Jeremiah, God offers ancient paths and the good way but these are not accepted. In life, we often stand at crossroads and look. Sometimes one road looks obvious and right and is clearly signed to where we want to go but in retrospect, we wonder where the other way might have taken us. As in Robert Frost's poem
'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
It is at times like these that followers of Christ hope and pray for guidance and leading, because our decisions can be life-changing. The passage in Isaiah describes the pilgrim path, the Way of Holiness, where people can walk safely on their path through life. We can also find a description of the path in 'The Pilgrim's Progress', where Christian often felt badly in need of a guide on his way to the Celestial City. He was told that the right path was always straight and narrow although there were often other alternatives. After some of his misadventures, often a helper would appear to rescue him or give him courage. If we look back, we may also remember times when someone, known or almost unknown, gave help or encouragement at a crucial moment.
In Psalm 23, the Lord, the shepherd, leads us in right paths. 'Right paths' are also translated as paths of righteousness, or of justice or virtue, sure and true paths. He leads us in them 'for his name's sake;' he is true to his name, it is part of his character and he can do no other. In the Living Bible, this verse is given as 'he helps me do what honours him the most.' He guides his flock, knowing what are safe ways and the paths which are right for us and appropriate. Those who follow can safely trust him. In the passage from John's gospel, Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd; his hearers would have been familiar with the words of Psalm 23.
But what about equipment for the journey of life? Another psalm gives the pilgrim some help. It says: 'Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path' (Psalm 119, v.105). In our study of the Bible, we find a guide to Christian conduct, standards and moral code. Applying these precepts can guide us in decision-making, can help us to decide what is right or wrong, to differentiate the worse from the better. And there is also the power of prayer that we may be shown the right path. Sometimes guidance can seem quite clear. I heard recently of a friend who, well on in life, found it necessary to make a career change. One of the options he looked at was the ministry, as he already had teaching experience and communication skills. Soon afterwards no less than three friends, quite independently, asked him if he had ever considered training for the ministry. He took that as a clear pointer, and that was the way he went.
We have already considered recreational walking on paths and the necessary equipment for route-finding. Many people prefer to walk in guided groups. The leader takes responsibility. He knows the way, how long it will take, and the best places to stop for a rest. Not only that, he will carry in his rucksack basic first aid equipment in case of anyone taking a tumble. He can judge the ability and strength of the individuals and is ready to offer help if needed at hard places. Much of what the leader does and is prepared for resembles the role of the Good Shepherd. In following Christ, we can trust him to take us on the road suitable for us, to look after our needs and to bring us safely to our destination. Many people, as they go through life, feel aware of the leading of the Holy Spirit, often to places, and into situations which surprise them; sometimes they only realise this in retrospect.
An anonymous writer once composed a hymn based on Psalm 23. It concluded:
'So where he leads me, I can safely go
May we be so led and guided.
O Lord, our Shepherd and Leader, on our journey we have been helped, encouraged and comforted by many people. We remember before you those whom you have given us as companions, spouses, families, old friends, people whose existence matters to us and whose departure would leave us feeling lost and deprived. Some of them may have already passed on but we cherish their memories and what they gave us. There are others who appeared briefly to help us on our way, to pull us out of the Slough of Despond or give cheering company on the Hill Difficulty. They moved out of our lives and our paths have not crossed again. Perhaps they were angels or at least messengers of your love and care. For all these we give you thanks and praise.
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