The Less Obvious Path
A couple of months ago, Leanne and I tried a new hike near Victoria that I had found on my hiking app. It looked like an easy trail to follow. It began by a pretty lake and then climbed steeply. Although there were many crisscrossing trails, it seemed obvious that we would reach the summit if we stayed on the main path.
After about half an hour, we reached a path that split in two directions, and it seemed to me that the main trail headed in the entirely wrong direction. So, I took the less traveled route, which followed a creek bed for a little way. But then it seemed to peter out.
Finally – and I know you’re wondering why it took so long – I opened the app on my phone and looked at the map. According to the GPS on the phone, we were nowhere near where I thought we were! Neither of the two trails was going to get us to our destination. In fact, we back-tracked for a good five to ten minutes – downhill – before finding a different connecting trail that would eventually take us where we wanted to go. We walked a whole lot extra, half uphill, simply because I thought the route was “obvious.” Somewhat exhausted, we finally made the summit and enjoyed an excellent view with Haro Strait and Mount Baker in the background.
Going a few minutes out of your way when hiking can be annoying, especially on a long hike, but it’s not usually disastrous. Losing your path in life is a lot more dangerous. For many Christians today, the path they should take seems “obvious”: go to church when convenient, read your Bible occasionally, help out where you can, be a good worker, spouse, and parent, and enjoy life. When things get tough, pray more or talk to someone who can help.
Unfortunately, that’s a trail that leads . . . nowhere. Proverbs 14:12 says:
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
It’s not my place to judge anyone (I have enough of my own sins), but it seems that many people who call themselves Christians are on the wrong path. Before you nod and start thinking about those people, consider for a moment your own life. How do you know you are heading in the right direction? Is it based on solid biblical teaching or on simply doing what you observe other Christians doing?
According to Jesus, the “obvious” path is not usually the right one.
“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)
The Christian life is not about trying to be good enough until we die and go to heaven. It’s certainly not about being comfortable.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:24b-26)
Following Jesus means taking a road that’s rough, difficult, and at times frightening. It’s amazing because Jesus accompanies us, but it’s never easy. So, if you’re coasting along in life, that’s not the narrow road. That’s some other path that may have seemed obvious, but it’s probably not taking you where you think it is.
The Christian life isn’t about getting our own way, either. It isn’t about making people around us follow a bunch of rules, as if that’s what Jesus taught. It certainly isn’t about being part of a political party or hating those who don’t obey your interpretation of the Bible. That sort of thinking is the wrong path.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
How was this a new command? Wasn’t God’s ethic from day one that we love others? Yes, it was. The two greatest commands from the Old Testament were to love God and others (See Mt. 22:36-40). But the identity of God’s people was in their obedience to the Law. This is a new command because the Christian’s identity is to be Love, not Law.
I’m not saying that love, works, or anything else saves a person from their sins before a holy God. Only faith can do that. But if we have true faith, the fruit of our lives and the direction of our paths will be love - passionate love for Jesus that results in obeying Him (e.g., 1 John 5:3) - and genuine love for others that puts their needs ahead of our own and doesn’t demand anything from them in return (e.g., Phil. 2:3-4).
The obvious path is usually a lot easier than taking the time to look at the map. God’s Word is that map, and if we fail to heed it, we will invariably go the wrong way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Many Christians are wandering aimlessly. Are you following them? Or Jesus? Is it time to find that path again? Start by reading the map regularly, and see where Jesus wants to take you. He’s never failed me yet.
. . . Craig W. Douglas, June 2023
P.S. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Are we fooling ourselves, thinking we're on the narrow road when we're actually on the wide one?
P.P.S. My new book, Two Paths: Discover the Way that Leads to Life, is in the final stages of being published. It will be a useful tool for those who want to follow Jesus.