Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. Psalm 119:105-6
This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon walking in circles…I was on a “prayer” hike, lifting up my family, our faith community, our city, and myself.
I decided to hike Panthertown Valley, an area I had not been to since I was a teenager. While vaguely familiar territory, I had recently been given a map of the terrain.
Therefore, I was dependent on the map, which made me think about the maps we use in our lives (I can see the “Here goes Wes spiritualizing everything Eye-Roll”).
There was one time when I got myself completely turned around in a rhododendron forest and felt the adrenaline begin to course through my body. I could not find the faint trail due to the fallen leaves and pine needles…so I decided to look at my map.
It was there that I noticed that the trail was supposed to cross a stream (swollen due to the onslaught of recent rain) above the waterfall not down where I was. I had instinctively been drawn to the sights and sounds of the waterfall, when the trail had remained above.
As I waded through the chilly waters and climbed up the otherside, the adrenaline subsided as I realized the life saving effects of this paper map.
While I wanted to draw on my emotions and memories from this region 20 years earlier; I also wanted to trust my instinct and go with what seemed right…it was the steady assurance of the map that lead me to venture across the stream and get me back on track.
As Christ followers, Scripture becomes our map–not that it spells out a cookie-cutter route like the corrals in Disney World–but shows us the stories of other adventurers who have treaded similar trails. The map of scripture shows us which routes are preferred, which slopes will be harder to climb (pride, lust, wealth), which areas will provide beatific overlooks, and which ones will leave us in pits of despair.
Scripture lays out the perfect map of God’s redeeming love through Jesus Christ. It crisscrosses the stories of patriarchs, a small tribe of slaves, glorious water-crossings, flawed leaders, failed adventures, messed up marriages, lustful cravings, foot washings, soul cleansing rituals, elaborate institutions, and the mission to seek and save the lost. Understanding this topography, we can locate ourselves in it and discover the way out of our mess (is it any wonder that Jesus calls himself the Way and the early church used that terminology as their mission?)
The handiness and readiness of a good map that we can trust and rely on can help us find our way through life and point out where we have strayed off path. It can calm our adrenaline pumping nerves, govern our instinctual tendency to stray off path, and direct our steps.
However, there was one time yesterday where the map was not enough. It had led me to the top of mountain, and then these little red dots on the map told me that the trail to the overlook was not a route maintained by the national forestry, but an “unmarked” local trail.
Once again, I began pushing through briars and rhododendron branches looking for the route, when I noticed someone had tied little yellow ribbons to the trees. These markers became a secondary lifeline along with the map.
I probably would have found the exposed outcropping, had I just bull-rushed the underbrush, and knowing how to read the topography, I probably could have found my way back to the main trail. However, because someone had gone before me on this trail and had chosen to take the time to mark their path, I was able to avoid scratches, briars, and breaking limbs (the rhododendrons’ not mine).
They had placed the little ribbons at the precise places where an indistinct turn was necessary, where a questionable side trail dead-ended, and where the clutter of branches had obscured your vision. They knew which obstacles would trip me up.
While the map was helpful, the fact that another person had interpreted the map, walked the same trail as me, and set these markers helped bring the map to life for me. They helped me to experience what the map had simply illustrated.
While scripture is our map, God has placed other men and women in our lives who are going ahead of us on the trail of faith placing little ribbon reminders in order that we may find our way back onto the map. They help to make scripture relevant, practical and alive to our lives.
Like Jeremiah describes, we stand at crossroads in our lives, and we can either look at the map of scripture to see which way those before us have gone, or choose to ignore it and become only further lost.
So, do you trust scripture to be your map? Do you have trailblazers in your life who have walked ahead of you placing ribbons so you don’t get turned around? What ribbons should you be tying to scripture in order to bring these words to life for others?