I was reading the very familiar Psalm 23.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want…”
I was happily lounging in green meadows and strolling peacefully by still waters. My soul was taking a long deep refreshing breath.
But then I stumbled upon the Paths of Righteousness.
“I don’t think that means what you think it means…”
The Lord is my shepherd. Check.
I shall not want. Check.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. Check.
He leads me beside still waters. Check.
All was going well to this point. Who wouldn’t want all this and more? I’ve been here many times. I love green fields of grass! Joy wells up inside me. My soul is completely restored beside deep clear still waters. I feel myself refreshed just imagining it!
But then I read my way onto “Paths of Righteousness for His name sake” and suddenly stand stone still as if I were lost in a cave with no headlamp.
Until this day I had envisioned Paths of Righteousness in the same vein as the previous tranquil verses. In fact, I have a photo that I layered this verse on. It is a picture of an idyllic path through the woods, perfect trees lining the broad smooth trail, soft green moss covered rocks and ferns nearby in the dappled sunlight, and delicate purple flowers bending in the pleasant breeze. Yes, bring on the Paths of Righteousness!
But suddenly I realized I was dreaming down the wrong path! It was well and good for the moment, but in the end that trail won’t get me where I want to go. Comfort, beauty and serenity are utterly necessary on my journey. But don’t be lured down a lifelong path of those. It won’t lead to the destination you had hoped for! I can’t let those things be my road markers if I want to continue down Paths of Righteousness.
Paths of Righteousness also lead through other places equally critical. They also take me through dark places far from comfortable, safe and serene. They take me through the valley of the shadow of death. They lead me on a precarious path beside the flaming abyss of burnout and next to the smoldering pit of despair. They lead me through swamps of confusion and deserts of longing.
This doesn’t mean I am on the wrong path. In fact, it sometimes signals me that I am exactly where I should be. There are treasures to be mined in these places that are even more priceless than the purple flowers of rest and tranquility. These are the places I can truly learn faith and hope, two of the ultimate things that will remain forever (1 Cor 13:13).
I suddenly realize that “this light and momentary affliction is preparing for [me] and eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2:Cor 4:17). This path is getting me where I ultimately want to go. It will be well worth it in the end.
It is too easy to think I am lost and off track when I find myself in one of those dark, dangerous or lonely places. Shouldn’t righteousness be found in green, sunny places?
I look at the map and try to figure out where I got off route only to be more confused seeing the giant X - “you are here”- in the middle of the path clearly labeled “Righteousness”. If I look off the path at this point, into the abyss, or try to strain my eyes to find the far end of the wilderness, I can begin to panic and wonder if this is the path I really want to follow after all. But when I fix my eyes not on what is seen (the danger, the difficulty, the steepness of the path), which is temporary, but on what is unseen, maybe what is yet to be gained, that is when I glimpse eternity and what really matters. (1Cor 4:18)
I hear something on the path behind me, and turn, expecting to see something tangible, necessitating the rod of my Shepherd’s protection or the staff of His rescue. Instead, I can just make out the airy outlines of Goodness and Lovingkindness (the unseen, eternal treasures) pursuing me like the wind. They have been chasing me along this path and won’t give up. They never tire, and have been constantly hemming me in from behind. All the days of my life on this Path of Righteousness they will be my constant and unseen companions. Goodness and Lovingkindness will close the door behind me when I finally complete this Path of Righteousness and enter in to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
“Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied!” (Matt 5:6)
- What vistas are beside your current path?
- Which path is your “You-Are-Here X” in the middle of?
- What eternal treasures have you gained on this path?
- Have you let Goodness and Lovingkindness catch up with you?