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He Guides Me in Paths of Righteousness for His Name's Sake: Psalm 23:3

He Guides Me in Paths of Righteousness for His Name's Sake: Psalm 23:3

By Ted Schroder,
May 22, 2016

The Good Shepherd promises to guide us along what he calls the "paths of righteousness", or the right path. Our direction in life is determined by our choices. We are on a journey in which we are in the process of becoming our true selves. It is a perilous journey with many challenges, difficulties and dangers.

No one has written about it more eloquently in the English language than John Bunyan (1628-1688) in his Pilgrim's Progress. In this allegory, Christian is faced with many dangers and temptations on his way to the Celestial City. After spending time along the banks of the River of the Water of Life, Christian and his companion, Hopeful, resumed their journey. The going became difficult and they grew footsore and tired. They were attracted by By-Path Meadow and a path around it which seemed to be going in the right direction and promised easier walking than the road they were on. They caught up with another traveler, Vain-Confidence, who assured them that the path led to the Celestial City.

When night fell Vain-Confidence led them ahead until he tripped and fell, plunging headlong into a deep pit. They realized they were lost. The rain began to fall in torrents. "How I wish we had not left our way!" Hopeful sighed. Christian was wishing the same thing, but he knew that they had taken the wrong path because of him. They tried to fight their way back to the King's highway, but darkness and flooding prevented them. In the morning they were captured by Giant Despair and thrown into his dungeon in Doubting Castle. This allegory of life warns us of our compelling need to seek the guidance of the Lord in the paths of righteousness, lest we stray into danger.

How does the Good Shepherd guide us?

First, he directs us to seek the right path, the paths of righteousness, i.e. the way that reflects the character of the Good Shepherd. Pilgrim's Progress is full of different ways people can choose to travel. But there is only one that leads to the Celestial City. Jesus talked about two roads: the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life. (Matthew 7:13,14) The broad road leads to self-destructive behavior through wrong choices. It is characterized by foolishness. The narrow road is characterized by wisdom. The broad road is easy to find and therefore attracts a lot of travelers. The narrow road requires us to seek it out if we are to find it. We have to be looking for it if we want to get onto it. When we travel into unknown territory we need to know where to find what we are looking for or we will miss it. We have to be intentional about life. We won't just stumble onto the right path in life. The road referred to by the 23rd Psalm is called the paths of righteousness because it is the road that we can trust will lead us to our destination. It is the King's Highway - it has his name on it - "for his name's sake. It requires right action and fair dealing. It is paved with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How do we know that we are on the right road? Is our life pointed in the direction of seeking to produce the fruit of the Spirit?

General Josiah Bunting, Commandant of Virginia Military Institute, said that the goal of his college was to teach men and women character. He criticized faculty members who were only interested in teaching subjects that improved SAT scores. He wanted faculty who were committed to helping their students become leaders. To do that they must model character, for it cannot be taught, only learned through emulation. He pointed to Philippians 4:8 as the content of that character: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things."

The Lord guides us in the paths of righteousness through bringing us into contact with people of character whom we want to emulate. We all need mentors, whether they be contemporaries or historical figures, who inspire us to travel on the right road in life.

Secondly, he provides the right map for the journey of discovery. It is so very easy to get lost on the way by taking the wrong turn, by being distracted by the sights, by not concentrating on where we are going. All of us get lost from time to time. That is why we need a map to keep us on track, to help us find our way back. "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." (Psalm 119:103) The Scriptures reveal to us God's path. Its light warns us of the dangers to avoid so that we can drive safely. He has given us clear directions for living. "So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess." (Deuteronomy 5:32,33)

I dare not leave my home each morning without consulting the Scriptures. Just as I need to check my schedule to see what appointments I have that day, I need to check God's Word to guide me on my way. Failure to do so might result in my taking a wrong turn, and failing to discern between right and wrong. I need those clear directions for living every day.

In The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life, Laurie Beth Jones has taken the wisdom of the Scriptures to guide her readers into the process of discovering and defining what God wants them to accomplish in life. She supplies case studies of notable historical figures such as Nehemiah, Joan of Arc, Esther, Joseph, Moses and Ruth, to illustrate her points. She maintains that we need to have a map for our life, or we will be condemned to wandering aimlessly following other people's directions which will probably be wrong for us. It is better to draw a map with the guidance of the Lord.

Thirdly, he comes with us on the journey. The person we travel with influences what we do and where we go. Journeys can either succeed or fail depending upon our companions. They can help us to enjoy our trip or they can make us miserable. They can assist us in fulfilling our expectations or they can lead us astray. The Good Shepherd wants to be our companion on our journey. He wants to be our guide. We cannot make this journey on our own. We need his help. Thomas said to Jesus, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

If he is the way then we will be seeking his guidance as we travel with him. We will be practicing the presence of Christ. We will be speaking with him in prayer as we ask his guidance. He has promised that he will be with us, but we have to acknowledge that presence by including him in the decisions we have to make. If we want to fulfill our destiny, we will travel in fellowship with Jesus. He will help us interpret the map, he will be there to help us when we get into trouble, he will be there to help us enjoy the journey. "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." (Psalm 16:11) Seek to be led by the Spirit of God.

The Rev. Ted Schroder is pastor of Amelia Chapel on Amelia Island, Florida

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