Growing up, it was the source of endless entertainment. My dad was the guru of shortcuts. He lived on an endless quest for the shortest route to all of the places to which he regularly drove. He was never satisfied with his latest discovery. He was always after a better, more timesaving route than the last one. My mom used to kid my dad that most of his shortcuts were in fact “longcuts.” I remember one thing my dad would say in his search for the shortest distance to wherever, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.”
Have you ever wondered what David means in Psalm 27:11 when he says, “Teach me your way, O Lord, lead me on a level (straight) path because of my enemies”?
The life to which God has called us is the ultimate straight line. This line starts with dead rebels and ends with people alive and reformed into the likeness of God’s Son. The problem is that we all tend to have a “shortcut” mentality that leads us into “shortcut” problems. Our living is seldom a straight line. The paths that we think will be easier and better are often not better at all. They seldom end up being better routes to the life that God has designed for us to live.
What seem to be better paths to us are actually self-oriented “long cuts” that actually take us away from where God wants us to be. Somehow, someway, we all take daily detours of thought and desire that move us off the straight path that God has placed us on by His grace. In magnificently patient, transforming love, He has redeemed us from the jungle of our rebellion, lust, autonomy, foolishness, and self-focus, and placed us on the narrow pathway of the grace of His Son. The problem is that we all tend to get tricked into taking detours that get us off God’s path and into trouble.
Our problem is twofold. First, we get diverted because we are impatient. The trip to where God is taking us is not an event; it’s a process. And the process isn’t easy. God’s road takes us through the heat of the sun, through storms and cold, through the dark of night, through loneliness and confusion. All of these things are under God’s control and are meant to change us as we journey. But we get tired and impatient and begin to convince ourselves that there is a better way. But that isn’t all.
We also get diverted because we are disloyal. Our hearts aren’t yet fully committed to God’s glory and His kingdom. So we don’t keep our eyes focused on the kingdom to come that is in front of us. No, we’re looking all around, still attracted to the shadow glories of creation, because we still carry around in us allegiance to the small-agenda purposes of the kingdom of self. So in our impatience and disloyalty, we see pathways that appear easier, more comfortable or that appear to offer us things that we haven’t found on God’s pathway, but these side-routes only ever lead to danger, destruction, and ultimately death.
There is no time when this temptation is more powerful than when we are facing difficulty. This is exactly what the verse we are considering recognizes. When you are being hammered by the enemy, it’s very tempting to debate within yourself as to whether God’s way is the best way. It starts with bad attitudes. Perhaps you begin to doubt God, doubt His goodness, and question His love. Perhaps you give way to anger, impatience, and irritation. Or maybe you begin to allow yourself to envy. You wonder why the guy next to you has such an easy route to walk, when yours is so hard.
These bad attitudes lead to bad habits. You quit praying because you reason that it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. You stop reading your Bible because those promises don’t seem to be coming true in your life. You quit attending your small group because you can’t stand to hear the stories of God’s love that others share, when your life is so hard. You even begin to give yourself reasons for missing the Sunday worship service, reasons you once wouldn’t have given yourself. Before too long, there is a coldness and distance in your relationship with God that would have shocked you in the early days of your journey. Your difficulty has deceived you into thinking that you have reason for wandering off God’s straight path, and your attitudes and habits have placed you on the dangerous side-paths of the kingdom of self.
So David’s prayer is an important request for all of us. All of us step off God’s path in some way, and all of us need restoring grace. Have you gotten off God’s straight path? Have you given yourself reason to take side-paths? How about praying, once again today, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path”? Thankfully, our Savior Guide doesn’t leave us to our wandering. He relentlessly seeks us and places us back on His straight path, and for that, every son and daughter still on the journey should be deeply thankful.