In this final piece of dealing with obstacles, we look at the final obstacle, ourselves. We are often our own biggest obstacle because we like the feeling of doing what we want, what is comfortable, what is safe, and what is familiar to us. Our Christian Journey has one path to Jesus, but in this post I am going to explain how there is both one path and many paths.
Throughout our life, we encounter things that challenge us. These situations or events set us back, hurt us, or get in our way. We need to plan for these inevitable obstacles that we encounter on our Christian Journey. Since this post has grown so large, I will be splitting this up into three parts all including the same introduction.
In this series, I’ve talked about the different parts of a journey, our Christian Journey. First we prepare for the journey. Then we make sure we have the essential items to bring with us. After bringing the essentials we also have to develop skills and gain knowledge. Now we have to use all of that to deal with anything that threatens to stop our progress, throw us from the path, or push us back.
On the Christian Journey there are many things that can impact our Journey in a bad way. Much like any trip, things happen that could prevent us from reaching our destination, slow us down, or turn us around. These events and situations challenge our knowledge and experience. We are tested continuously and we have to find a way to keep progressing forward and stay on the path Jesus has walked and described for us.
In the preparation post I made the analogy of our Christian Journey being like walking through a jungle, with the same abundance of dangers and with a difficult to see path to follow. The reason I believe this analogy to be accurate is because walking the Christian path requires careful and continuous study of the Word of God. If you walk in the woods where nature is allowed to grow wildly, you can sometimes find yourself wondering where the path went. You notice the ground isn’t quite right, there isn’t any obvious signs of the path underneath you. You look around and try to locate that path by searching for those signs.
This is the same thing we must do when we find ourselves off of the path on our Christian Journey. It goes back to the preparation post where I said willingness to change is how we can best prepare for our journey. When we go off track, it is usually because we made choices that put us off track. We have to be willing to accept those choices were mistakes and be willing to change course to locate the path and return to it.
With that said, what are some of the things that could affect us on our Christian Journey?
Redefining the Path
In the first post I gave a highway with different types of vehicles on it as an example of the Christian Journey. Everyone is on that path, going different speeds, and having different characteristics. The details are what makes our Journey so different.
I think most Christians at some point have asked the question, “What would Jesus do?”. In this case, the details of everyone’s life are different. All of us are faced with different family situations, different childhoods, different influences, different experiences. We have different challenges and successes. We even encounter the same thing differently. Think for example how fans of two sports teams would have different experiences of the same exact game because of the final score and how the game went. The fans of the winning team would be happy with the result and the fans of the losing team would be unhappy with the result. In the case of a tie, fans of both teams might be happy, or unhappy, or a mixture of both.
I want to change how you think of the Christian Journey in this post. I first described it as a highway, with different sized vehicles and other details of those vehicles. Now, I want you to imagine that this highway is actually just a progress bar, and your vehicle is just a unique indicator of your current progress on the Journey. There is only one path that Jesus would follow if he were living in our place. That is the one path that all of us are on together with different characteristics but the same highway. These paths are full of curves and detours, all unique to our own lives.
Think of many lines on a piece of paper with the same starting point and same end point. Imagine the lines all having curves and turns that are unique and unalike any other line, but they all end up at the same spot, Jesus. Our path is both the same path, and many paths. Jesus walked perfectly in his own life. Everything he said and did was for God and what God wanted him to do at any point in time.
I’ve said previously that the only one who walked a straight path was Jesus. I don’t believe that says what I intended. Jesus required no course corrections. So think of a line full of curves, completely unlike anything else on the paper. This line is the path that Jesus would walk in his life. Then picture someone taking a pencil and following that path on paper; they follow every bit of the line without mistake, a perfect trace. That is what Jesus did when he walked his path. If Jesus walked our path, it would be a perfect trace, as he would travel our Journey exactly as it should be traveled.
Change of Direction in the Path
So now that you understand how the path can be both the same path (The path Jesus would walk) and different (Unique to our own situations); there is one more thing that can be an obstacle, ourselves. As much as some might want to believe our path is a straight line, I do not believe it is. Often God calls on us to change direction. We get comfortable with the way we are going through life and when the path has a sharp curve we are resistant to continuing to follow the path, much like the law of motion and driving a car at high speeds.
Sometimes we gain so much momentum that we can’t easily move in the way God is asking us to. It takes a lot of sacrifice and courage to continue to follow the path on our Christian Journey. Sometimes we have to come to a complete stop and change direction. Sometimes we have to waste a little effort and go backwards before we can move forward again.
Allow me to share a story with you that explains this more clearly.
The Safer Path
A man headed for a great kingdom comes to the intersection of a forked path. On one side, he sees a straight solid path through trees for as far as he can see. On the other side, he sees an open plain with a distant bridge going over a wide valley. From a distance the bridge looks like a long walk high up in the air over something unknown. He has no idea what condition the bridge is in, how long the walk would be, or how scary the environment will be around him. The danger and uncertainty is very unappealing. The straight path on solid ground through the trees looks very safe, the wooded area appears quiet, and there were no signs of danger.
As the man gets ready to go down the path to the trees, God speaks to him and tells him to take the path with the bridge. He says to him “if you take the path to the bridge, I will keep you safe, but if you take the path to the trees you will surely die.”
This man is now terrified of this choice he must make. The path he is being told to take looks very dangerous, but he is being told the other path would surely kill him. The man chooses to believe his eyes instead. He thought to himself, “It looks safer through the trees on solid ground, that is the direction I will go.”
He walked for several hours through the trees until he could no longer see the intersection he came from. After a while, he started to hear some movement around him somewhere. This was a very wooded and wild area and the path was narrowing. Eventually, the wilderness around him grew out over the path and there was no obvious direction to go. Again he heard some movement in the woods around him. He could not tell from what direction the sounds were coming.
The man stopped to think about how to proceed. He decided that it was probably nothing, but he’d move a little faster just in case. He started to walk quickly in the direction he was already heading. Suddenly, he was startled by a loud roar. A bear stood up and roared again. The man was in shock and full of fear. He had no weapon or tool that could protect him. The bear charged at him. The man looked around in a panic for something to defend himself with, finding a large branch. He stood tall and yelled at the bear, aggressively trying to scare it off, because he knew that running would not save him. The bear continued to charge.
The bear struck him and after a struggle, the man was killed.
Now, allow me to tell you an alternative ending to this story.
Alternative Ending: Back at the intersection
After God tells the man to take the path toward the bridge, the man looked at the dangerous looking bridge, and back at the woods. He thought to himself, “The path through the trees doesn’t look dangerous like the path with the bridge, but I need to trust what God is telling me.” The man walked toward the bridge.
When the man arrived at the rope bridge, he noticed that there were some missing pieces of the bridge floor. Some of the wood looked old and easily broken. He looked down at the great distance to the bottom of the valley. There was a fast flowing river hundreds of feet below him. The river had many rocks in and around it, he knew that he would not survive a fall. He was terrified to continue across the bridge.
God spoke to him again, “Follow my instructions exactly and you will make it to the other side. Stay on the left of the bridge and step on every second piece of wood. If you do this, you will not fall.”
The man decided he would again listen to what God was telling him. He moved to the left of the bridge and began stepping on every second piece of wood. About three quarters of the way to the other side he finds a piece of wood that looks unsafe and it is the second piece from him. The third piece of wood behind it looks safer, and he wonders if he should try to jump to that one instead. He remembers that God told him to follow his instructions exactly, so he decides to softly step on the second piece. After his full weight is on the piece of wood, he hears a slight crack. So he carefully steps to the next second piece of wood, and is relieved when he makes it. He slowly proceeds the rest of the way to the end of the bridge, following exactly what God had told him.
The path after the bridge is a plain with no danger in sight. He can see the kingdom in the distance. He follows the path to the entrance of the kingdom. When he enters, the people of the kingdom cheered. The king threw a great celebratory feast full of entertainment. Everyone was very happy, and the man asked why his arrival has caused such a celebration. The king told him that most people choose the wooded path and they do not make it to our kingdom. The king said to the man, “You must have had great faith in God to choose the bridge over the woods. No man alone would have made that choice. All of the people of our kingdom have made the Journey you have made, and all of my people have been instructed to celebrate the arrival of every new traveler.”
The man was amazed, but then the king continued, “For every one that makes it here, a thousand die in the woods.”
What I am trying to show you with this story is that God tells us to change direction because he wants us to arrive at his Kingdom. He gave us instructions in his Word that can keep us safe. Making choices in life that are influenced by what we learn from his Word will show us the safe path. He may still show someone something or talk to someone directly, but most of us have to go by what he tells our heart and what he shows us in his Word.
Our paths have many and varying numbers of these dangerous choices. When we quietly listen to what God tells our hearts and what he reveals while we study his word, we will choose correctly when faced with these choices. This is part of what builds our faith. When we reach an intersection, he warns us away from one direction, or draws us to another. When we listen to God we observe good things and positive consequences. When we don’t listen to God, we experience the negative consequences of that choice.
Turning to God for direction is what shows our belief. Listening to God is what keeps us on the path and shows our faith. Rejecting what he tells you will lead to death. The man in the story could have changed direction at any time, at the first sound, when the path ended, when the path started to narrow, or after he first entered the woods. We too have many chances to turn back or redirect ourselves toward what God is asking us to do.
Here is an example of what happens when people didn’t listen to God’s instructions before Jesus brought us the gift of forgiveness.
Exodus 20: 1-4
And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 32: 1-4
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods,[b] Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
33 The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
35 And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.
I cut out the parts where Moses saved the people of Israel. God wanted to just destroy them all right there, but Moses was able to convince God not to kill everyone
(Exodus 11-14). Jesus is the ultimate advocate, much greater than Moses was. He argues to save us, calls to us, wages war in our hearts and mind to convince us of the truth. If you are not listening to him, you are not listening to God. God speaks to us through Jesus.
If you are not listening to God on your Christian Journey, you will not arrive at your destination. The destination is the last part of the Christian Journey series and is next.