Have you noticed the references to a journey in the psalm so far? The first and third verses talk of walking in His laws and ways, and now with verses 9 and 10, we pick up the idea of a path and of wandering from it. Perhaps it’s my love for hiking, but the idea of sanctification as a walk with the Lord resonates with me. However, before we further discuss the walking analogy, let me insert another nerdy interlude:
Many translations render verse 9 very similarly to the ESV: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word.”
The NIV, however, paraphrases the passage: “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.”
Here again, I love to peek at other translations and to use my Bible study tools. A program I rely heavily on is e-sword which includes a KJV translation with Strong’s numbers linked to Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary, making it extremely simple to do minor word studies. As a disclaimer, I know little to nothing about Hebrew grammar, so I tend to stick to nouns in my word studies for now. Using these resources, I found that the word translated “way” is the Hebrew ‘ôrach. According to Strong’s, it can be stated as, among other things, “a well-trodden road.” I love that.
Imagine with me for a moment: We are each walking our own well-trodden roads, for such you could call our habits and lifestyles. How can we keep these pure and swept clean of debris and obstacles that may cause us to stumble or even veer off course? How, in fact, can we keep ourselves on the narrow path that leads to life? By guarding our ways according to God’s word.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of the verse in these terms, it conjures a wild image of trekking along a harrowing, narrow trail leading to a destination where I desperately desire to arrive. In my mind’s eye, I find myself stopping at a point where the track begins to wind up a precipitous incline.
Heart pounding, I see myself nervously examine the path ahead and realize with a pleasant shock that, of all things, there are guard rails along the way! They are low enough I could choose to step over but high enough that I would know I was making a conscious choice to do so. No matter; my desire is not to stray. I am comforted to know that while the trail may be difficult, it is not without protection for the careful hiker.
Perhaps I ran with the analogy a bit, yet we could think of God’s word as guard rails for our hearts as we make our spiritual journey. His Word, studied with diligence and humility, is the sure guide to the narrow path we tread when we follow Him. Within its pages, we will find not only comfort and solace but words and concepts that will bring the full weight of conviction bearing down on us.
Conviction may be painful, but it is a “good pain” if we will let God’s Spirit have His way in it. As 2 Corinthians 7:10 states, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” The burn of shame is a blessing when it produces true repentance. Our enemy would have us either ignore conviction completely or else let the reproach gnaw painfully, endlessly in our hearts until they have become utterly numb.
If, on our journeys, we feel the sting of reproach, let’s school ourselves not to push it out of our minds nor make excuses for sins. Let’s beware of adopting the more convenient and stylish cultural definitions of morality even though it is our nature to prefer this, the wide-open path that produces fewer bruises to our egos.
I love how C. S. Lewis describes the thing in his book, The Screwtape Letters, a fictional collection of “letters” from a senior demon mentoring his nephew in the ways of tempting and trapping souls:
It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…”
Yet, my friends, we are not taking that broad and most dangerous of roads, for we know that though it seems an easy way and a safe, its destination is far from desirable.
The winding, narrow path, though certainly less populated and possibly overgrown from lack of use, is full of markers and signs to keep us from accidentally straying. The Bible serves as our guidebook along the way–our guard rail if you will–full not only of the grace of God but also of humbling reminders of why we need His grace.
So as we memorize let’s diligently and without pretense apply this word to our ways, not making excuses nor looking into it only for comfort and never for guidance. We will then find that our path is clearly and safely marked out, just waiting to be trodden on with confidence and joy.
And oh my, I just realized — I didn’t even make it past the first verse…