The American poet Robert Frost was one of the most honored writers of American literature winning four Pulitzer Prizes. His succinct style used common images to communicate deeper issues of life. One of his most popular poems was “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged into a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And by one traveler, long I stood
And looked down the one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves not step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on the way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be talking this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
Throughout Scripture we find a relationship with God described as a road, a path, a walk, or a trail. In addition to our text from Psalm 1, other references include:
You make known to me the path of life (Ps 16:11).
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way (Ps. 25:9).
Teach me your way O’ Lord and lead me in the straight path (Ps 27:11).
Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105).
In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight (Pr. 3:6).
Jesus described discipleship as following Him. In fact early Christians were called followers of the Way. The apostle Paul used images of running a race and walking in manner worthy of our heavenly calling. The primary emphasis of these images is to communicate that God-honoring faith is not stagnant; it is a dynamic pursuit. Faith is an ongoing journey with many turns, trails, and temptations that threaten to knock us off the path that God desires for us to follow. Included in the image of following a path is the revelation that we need guidance to navigate the path successfully. Regardless of vocation, education, or possessions every soul needs help.
Charles Swindoll accurately described our need for divine assistance in his book, “Living Beyond The Daily Grind.”
- The homemaker with ever-present children at her feet faces fourteen or more hours a day in the grind of meeting deadlines, making decisions, competing with strong wills, and completing an endless list of chores.
- The professional experiences a grind of a different type: people, people, people…especially dissatisfied people who would rather scream and sue than smile and solve, which only intensifies the drain brought on by increasing expectations and decreasing energy.
- The truck driver has an altogether different by equally exhausting routine: the grind of traffic snarls, weather hazards, thoughtless drivers, and monotonous miles.
- Then there is the grind of repetition the athlete must live with: unending hours or practice, weight training, road work, watching films, perfecting technique, fierce competition, injuries, loneliness, boredom, exhaustion…only to wake up to another day of the same song, fifth verse.
- And who can deny the exacting requirements of academic pursuits? Students and faculty alike must have the ceaseless, cyclical grind of daily preparation and assignments, attending class, doing projects, choosing electives, cramming for exams, grading papers, and hopefully – earning a degree or tenure.
Fact is, the grind is not going away!
- The salesperson has to live with a quota.
- The performer must constantly rehearse.
- The therapist can’t escape one depressed soul after another.
- The pilot has to stay strapped for hours.
- The preacher is never free of sermon preparation.
- The broadcaster cannot get away from the clock anymore than the bureaucrat can escape the hassle of red tape.
Days don’t end…roads don’t bend…Help! (Charles Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind, p. ix)
Psalm 1 addresses our need for help.
On the path of life, every traveler must choose between two competing forces that offer assistance. Like the two roads described by Robert Frost, Jesus said that a narrow road leads to life and the broad road leads to death. The psalmist identified the choices as a trail of truth marked by the Scriptures leading to streams of living water, or one can choose the way of the wicked that leads to death.
The psalm begins with a celebrative declaration that God desires to bless those who follow the right path. To be blessed by God is to receive divine favor, abundant joy, and sacred delight. God is not a cosmic kill-joy who expects his children to live unemotional over disciplined lives of legalistic obedience. Following the path of God certainly requires discipline and skill, but these actions should contribute to enjoyment not quench enthusiasm.
- The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that God has a plan to prosper you not to harm you (Jer. 29:11).
- Psalm 16:11 says in God’s presence there is fullness of joy.
- Psalm 128:1-2 promises blessing and prosperity to those who fear the Lord.
The Scripture is clear about God’s Calling to Rejoice, but notices the Limiting of the Recipients. Psalm 1 along with other passages qualifies the conditions upon which one can expect blessing. God’s divine favor is available to all, but only received by those who choose the narrow road leading to life. The recipients are limited to avoiding some activities, altitudes, and advice. The recipients are further limited by choosing to embrace God’s precepts, principles, and provision.
The contrast between God’s way and the way of the wicked is also illustrated in the Increasing Rebellion of the wicked. The traveler gradually moves from listening to counsel as he walks by to sitting or dwelling with those who mock God. The downward spiral takes the traveler from a casual interest in ungodly activities to a position of open defiance which mocks the character and provision of a holy God.
To illustrate imagine the breakfast conversation of King David and his wife. She says, “Good morning my handsome king. What are your plans today? David responds, “Well dear, I thought I would start the day by committing adultery. Then arrange the murder of one of my best soldiers. After lunch, I want to inspire my son to rape his sister, which will cause her brother to kill the rapist to defend her honor. I was thinking by dinner tonight, I will have threatened the stability of the entire nation.”
We know the above conversation did not take place because David’s journey into depravity was a gradual decline with several turns along the way that took him further and faster than he wanted to go. He started by walking on the rooftop to watch Bathsheba bathe. Then he began standing in way of sinners until he was sitting the position (a mindset) of making decisions that mocked the God who had appointed him as King of Israel.
The incredible blessings promised by the psalmist are available to those who follow God’s plan for spiritual health.
Psalm 1 identifies what our attitude and action should be as we travel the path of life. We are called to have an attitude of delight toward the Word of God. Verse two says “his delight is in the law of the Lord.” This phrase includes more than the 10 Commandments or the legal obligations that governed the nation. The law of the Lord refers to the whole counsel of divine revelation. Psalm 119:127 says the commands of God are greater than gold. Psalm 19:10 describes God’s precepts as sweeter than honey. Unfortunately many saints have a negative attitude toward Scripture. They view God’s Word as outdated, restrictive, or burdensome. Others take the Word for granted and fail to appreciate how precious divine revelation really is. Perhaps your experience with God’s Word is hindering your ability to receive all that God desires for your life.
Have you ever seen the television antique show where someone brings an old piece of furniture to be appraised? Most of the time the appraiser says, “I’m sorry, but you just have an old piece of furniture that isn’t worth the $5.00 you paid at the garage sale.” Sometime the appraiser surprises the guest by saying, You have an original by a master craftsman and your $5.00 box that you been using to hold paper clips is worth $3,500.00.” When the guest learns of the value of this item, their attitude changes completely. Nothing has changed about the box except the person’s recognition of the item’s value. Our attitude toward the Scripture needs to be one of recognizing the amazing value that God’s Word is greater than gold and sweeter than honey.
Next the psalmist identifies our action with the word, which is to dwell or mediate. We are instructed to think upon, concentrate, study, examine, discover, and abide in the Scriptures. Often we miss the process revealed by trying to move from our responsibility to the result of being planted by streams of water and bearing fruit. We are called to meditate, but God plants and causes us to prosper.
It is like investing money and receiving interest. Our part is to keep putting money into the fund, but we don’t cause the interest to be added to our money.
We trust the bank to do its part. Suppose you deposited money in a money market account at the bank. The next day the bank president finds you at the bank washing the windows and trimming the shrubs. He asks why you are doing this work. You say, “I thought it I did some extra work you would give me a better return on my money.” The president explains that you give the bank money, and the bank invests if for a return that is mutually beneficial for you and the bank. The extra work you do doesn’t produce a better return or interest rate. Your job is to put money in the account, and the bank’s job is to invest it for growth.
Please understand that I am not suggesting that the Bible teaches that all we do is read the Bible and trust God to do the rest. To meditate and dwell indicates that God’s Word is being acclimated into your life. I do want to impress upon you that this text and others like John 15 reveal that the Word possesses power to transform your life. Husbands should commit to memory or write down on note cards verses about loving your wife with unconditional love like Jesus. If you struggle with worry or anxiety, you should read verses like Matt. 6:33-34 or Philippians 4:4-6 throughout the day. As you meditate on these passages, God’s Word, which He promises will not go forth without accomplishing His purpose, will produce in you the promise contained in that particular Scripture.
God plants, prospers, and provides. We are not called to work hard at being relaxed or hurry to learn how to be patient. As we allow God’s Word to abide in us, God uses His Word to produce patience, peace, and joy. The metaphor of fruit also reminds us that an unseen force is working in us to produce something profitable. We don’t produce the streams of water that hydrate our soul, but the seed of the Word and Living Water create in us something beautiful and profitable.
Shortcuts always offer the hope of an easier trail, but they often wind up destroying those who take the easy way out. Just ask the men of the Donner Party who destroyed the lives of those they loved by opting for a shortcut. In April 1846, Jack and George Donner, along with James Reed, organized a group of farmers and their families to seek a better life out West. Everything went well for the eighty-one people in the wagon train until they reach Fort Bridger, Wyoming. There the men in the Donner party read a leaflet written by a man named Lansford Hastings. Hastings claimed that he had found a shortcut to California. His “new trail” would take the wagon train through Utah and Nevada.
The leaders of that wagon train made a cataclysmic decision. They decided to leave the proven trail and put their families at risk by taking a shortcut along an unknown trail. They had to cut their own trail through the timber of the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, which set them back weeks. Then, west of Salt Lake, they encountered an eighty-mile stretch of salt desert that just about did them in. The so-called shortcut was nothing more than an untried, untested route that had been unsuccessfully navigated in the past only by a few salty old mountain men. But the Donner Party was not experienced mountain men. They were simple farmers who were way out of their element. The shortcut had developed into a longcut.
Snow welcomed them in the mountain passes – snow they would never have encountered if they had stuck with the tested and proven trail. They were trapped. That winter turned out to be one of the worst in those mountains. Several families attempted to get over the mountain passes, while others hastily built crude cabins to provide shelter for their families. Rescue parties attempted to help, but every group met over-whelming challenges. The snow was so deep that horses and mules could not make it in. The only way out was to walk. Some members of the party, realizing the utter hopelessness of their situation, went mad. Others resorted to cannibalism in an attempt to keep themselves alive. Several murders took place among those who had committed to weather the journey together. In the end, less than half of the original party lives to see the next spring. None of this had to happen. Yet it did happen, because some shortsighted men opted for a shortcut.
They were seduced by the myth of another, “better” trail. But that trail was a mirage. It was nothing more than an empty promised that brought great suffering and ultimate destruction to their loved ones. Satan has similar plans for you. He wants you and your family to become a modern day Donner Party. He will promise you something “better”, but Satan’s path/road always leads to death. (Steve Farrar, Getting There, p. 25)
Two roads diverged into your life. Which road will you choose?