I love to hike and I love seeing cairns every so often, signaling that we are on the right path. Others, who have gone before, build these distinctive piles of rocks to keep hikers from going off course, taking the wrong fork, or missing an obscure turn. These cairns are especially helpful on narrow trails in the mountains or above tree line where sometimes the path is hard to see. Yet these small and winding trails, often up steep inclines and crossing rushing water, offer the best rewards. Compare a hike in the mountains with a walk around a school track. No comparison, though the latter might be easier.
Matthew records Jesus saying, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” The Message paraphrase says it well: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”
Hundreds of years earlier, the Psalmist writes a prayer to God: “Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.” Again, The Message provides a fresh view:
“God, teach me lessons for living
so I can stay the course.
Give me insight so I can do what you tell me—
my whole life one long, obedient response.
Guide me down the road of your commandments;
I love traveling this freeway!
Give me a bent for your words of wisdom,
and not for piling up loot.
Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets,
invigorate me on the pilgrim way.
Affirm your promises to me—
promises made to all who fear you.
Deflect the harsh words of my critics—
but what you say is always so good.
See how hungry I am for your counsel;
preserve my life through your righteous ways!”
My prayer is that we aren’t diverted from the path that leads to God or turn aside, distracted by “stuff” that isn’t important and doesn’t matter. May we be ever-vigilant to keep our eyes on the goal, always on the lookout for the cairns that keep us on the trail, and keenly aware of the need to make course corrections when we veer off the path.