Avoid The Exit Ramps

I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness and meditation in an attempt to be more present in the moment and bring some order to my scattered thoughts. My mind wanders a lot, so I find it useful to pick something to focus on. Sometimes it’s a sound, sometimes it’s my breath, and sometimes it’s a scripture. Earlier this week, it was this one:

Your word is a lamp to my feet,
and a light for my path.

Psalm 119:105, WEB

It’s a short verse, but not nearly as simple as it seems on first glance. If you need a lamp for your feet and a light for your path, that implies the world around you is dark. A light’s going to keep you from stumbling over obstacles or straying off-track. It’ll let you see where you’re going. If the path branches, a light’s going to give you clarity in figuring out which way to go. That’s what God’s word does for us. It helps us avoid going off the one Way that leads to eternal life. It provides clear vision in a dark world that offers many branching paths.

Just One Path to Life

Our life with God is often described as a “walk” or a “race” that follows a specific way/path. That path is surrounded by many others that the world offers us, and it’s not the easiest of the paths to spot. Alternative paths–which all lead to death since they’re not heading toward God–are often eye-catching, wide enough to see easily, and broad enough to fit many people. In contrast, the way of the Lord is one that’s easily overlooked.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14, NET

Jesus’s sacrifice opened the way to salvation for all people. He and the Father want everyone to be saved and choose eternal life. At the same time, They also tell us that only a few people find this path. We’re also warned that once They open our eyes to see where and how we should walk, we need to do our part to stay on the straight and narrow.

I chose the title “Avoid The Exit Ramps” for this post because once we’re on this path, God intends for us to stay there. We might veer off into one ditch or another, but when we turn to Him with repentance and ask for help He puts us back on track. He also promises that no one who follows Him will be snatched away by some outside force (John 6:37; 10:28-29; Phil. 1:6). The only way for us to get off this path is by our own doing; we can choose to take an exit ramp and reject what God started in our lives (Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:25).

Not to the Right or Left

One of the instructions given to ancient Israel over and over again was not to turn from God’s way to the right nor to the left (Deut. 5:32; 28:13-15). It’s something Moses warned them they needed to be careful about and Joshua echoed that instruction again near the end of his life after Israel entered the promised land.

Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left; that you not come among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day.

Joshua 23:6-8, WEB

Wavering, doubt, exploring other paths–all of that is dangerous and God’s people should avoid it. That same warning applies to judges, leaders, and kings (Deut. 17:11,18-20; Josh. 1:7). Everyone, small and great, is expected to follow God’s straight and narrow path. We’re supposed to be like the righteous king Josiah, who “did that which was right in Yahweh’s eyes, and walked in all the way of David his father, and didn’t turn away to the right hand or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2, WEB).

When we look at the paths we have opportunity to walk down, it looks like we have a lot of different options. There’s really only two, though: “the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6, NET). The adversary gives us lots of options, but God keeps things simple and only gives us one. “Walk with me,” He says. “Follow me.” (Matt. 16:24; John 10:27; 12:26; Rev. 3:4).

Image of a man's and little boy's feet walking down a path, with text from John 8:12, NET version: “Then Jesus spoke out again, ‘I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in 
darkness, but will have the light of life.’”
Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay

Mercy and Guidance When We’re Confused

You might already be thinking of all the times when you have turned away from God’s laws, veering off the path into some ditch or another. It might have been a mistake or a result of ignorance. Sometimes we’re like the people of Nineveh who realized they were doing something wrong only after God told them He planned to destroy them. That city was given a reprieve when God chose mercy for those “who can’t discern between their right hand and their left hand” (Jonah 4:10-11). We live in a confusing world, and sometimes its hard to know what to do. There are also times when we just might not have the understanding or the facts needed to make a correct decision.

Other times, though, we’re more like stubborn ancient Israel. Sometimes individuals and even whole church groups become “a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear Yahweh’s law; who tell the seers, ‘Don’t see!’ and the prophets, ‘Don’t prophesy to us right things. Tell us pleasant things. Prophesy deceits. Get out of the way. Turn away from the path. Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us’” (Isaiah 30:10-11, WEB). God has a plan for fixing that, too. If we keep reading in Isaiah 30, we find this:

For thus said the Lord Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, “You will be saved in returning and rest. Your strength will be in quietness and in confidence.” You refused, but you said, “No, for we will flee on horses;” therefore you will flee; and, “We will ride on the swift;” therefore those who pursue you will be swift. One thousand will flee at the threat of one. At the threat of five, you will flee until you are left like a beacon on the top of a mountain, and like a banner on a hill.

Therefore Yahweh will wait, that he may be gracious to you; and therefore he will be exalted, that he may have mercy on you, for Yahweh is a God of justice. Blessed are all those who wait for him. For the people will dwell in Zion at Jerusalem. You will weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the voice of your cry. When he hears you, he will answer you. Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teachers won’t be hidden any more, but your eyes will see your teachers; and when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.”

Isaiah 30: 15-21, WEB

If you catch yourself going off track, stop. Return to God and rest in Him. Find strength in quietness and confidence that the Lord will help you walk in His ways and His word will light up the right path. We might not be there yet, but someday we’ll be teachers who can guide others (Heb.5:11-6:3), nudging them gently as we point out “This is the way. Walk in it.” And if we pay careful attention, we can feel God’s spirit nudging us like that now. Sometimes we’ll even hear it in advice from a fellow believer, a song on the radio, or a still small voice whispering into our heart as we pray.

We’re just a few short weeks away from Passover. This is traditionally a time of self-examination as we continue to grow and become more like Jesus. As we examine ourselves and work on becoming more like God, let’s keep coming back to God’s word for illumination and keep moving forward in the path that Jesus trailblazed for us (Heb. 2:10).

Featured image by Tabeajaichhalt from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “Thy Word” by Amy Grant

Learning From Others’ Spiritual Temperaments: Book Review of “Sacred Pathways” by Gary Thomas

A couple weeks ago, in an article titled “Psychology Isn’t Enough, but It Sure Helps: The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity” I talked about a book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path To God. I originally read it back in 2017 and I’d planned to write about it here on the blog but for some reason (which I don’t remember now) I never got around to it. So I reread it, and now I’d like to share some thoughts.

Book Overview

Thomas proposes nine “sacred pathways” — spiritual temperaments that describe how we’re most inclined to worship God. In the first chapter, he discusses that in the Christian churches we often expect everyone to worship God the same way. The example he uses is the “quiet time” that became a staple of church training and discipleship programs in the 1970s and ’80s. It involved spending 30 to 60 minutes each morning in prayer, personal worship, and Bible study, then having an accountability partner to check-in that you were keeping up with your routine. Prayer, worship, and study are all good things, but it’s not good if we reduce worship to “rote exercise” or assume everyone has to worship in the exact same way all the time (p. 14-15).

I’ve heard the idea that everyone else should worship “our way” voiced more or less directly by a variety of people in churches I’ve attended. Some think churches that don’t encourage dance are not worshiping Biblically; others worry about the people who aren’t committed enough to follow their example of reading the Bible through every year. I’ve voiced my own frustration with song services that have all the enthusiasm of a funeral dirge, saying we need more life in our worship to make it meaningful. Complaining about those who don’t  worship the way we think they ought is a common thing. But perhaps it betrays a wrong attitude. Read more

Psychology Isn’t Enough, but It Sure Helps: The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity

Someone once asked me if there are any aspects of Myers-Briggs® theory that I disagree with. I told them that my main issues have to do with ways it can be misused rather than with the actual theory. But as much as I like this type theory, I also acknowledge that it’s not a complete system for personal growth or even personality. Myers-Briggs® theory just describes how your mind works by talking about the psychological functions that you use most comfortably.

You can use type theory to help you develop those psychological functions, but they’re still not the whole story of your personality. There are other things we layer on top of that like personality traits, lived experiences, and personal beliefs. The functions are like a canvas we paint on; a foundation for building. They’re not the only things that make us who we are.

One of the dimensions that a system of psychological type does not cover is spirituality. That’s not to say that psychologists like Jung (whose work Myers-Briggs® theory is based on) would have denied there’s an essential spiritual component to humans. Far from it! It’s just that type psychology wasn’t designed to be a path in and of itself for spiritual growth. For that, we need something else.

A Connection Between Psychology and Spirituality

I had the idea to write this post last week, when I was listening to a podcast from Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge of Personality Hacker. They’d recently attended an Enneagram workshop where one of the hosts, Uranio Pae, made the statement, “Spiritual work without psychological work is dangerous. Psychological work without spiritual work is incomplete.”

Read more