By Brock Bondurant
Psalm 27:11 – Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path…
We are prone to going our own way, even when we have experienced the repeated repercussions of doing so. We are busy chasing our desires. But we usually don’t realize until after the fact that we are chasing surface-level desires that never fulfill or satisfy us, or at least not for long. I know all too well.
My own observations in the world (and within myself) is that the desire underneath all desires is to be in the presence, to be in relationship with the God of the Universe. And I’d go so far as to say that that is true of ALL of us, whether we know it or not – whether we know God or not. What is the saying – “every man who rings the bell of a brothel is in search for God”? We are all so desperately searching the world for a love that can only be found in our Father in heaven. We were created for it even. Yet, so few people ever come to realize that, and even those who do (myself included) tend to wander down their own path in pursuit of their desires. We are always tempted to do life our own way, to follow our strongest desires – the desires of our flesh, rather than our deepest desire – the yearning of our souls. But our souls groan inwardly for the love, joy, and peace that are found in one place alone.
I find great resonance with my soul’s deepest desire in Psalm 27:4:
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
That’s it right? That’s what we’re all yearning for if we really do the deep, self-reflective work of acknowledging that desire. Discovering that desire isn’t the point of our salvation, but it can sure help us to live on this earth more intentionally when we understand what it is that we’re ultimately longing for. God made a way to satisfy that eternal desire (the Cross), but he also taught us a way – the way of Jesus – to help us experience that eternal gift right here and now. The way of Jesus is taught through his own words, modeled by his lifestyle, and further discussed throughout the New Testament Scriptures.
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
Eugene Peterson once said “The Jesus truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus way, produces the Jesus life.” The life of Jesus is what we all yearn for: fellowship with the God of the Universe. But the way of Jesus is the only path of getting there. Jesus came down from Heaven and put on human skin, being fully God AND fully human, in order to not just be the perfect atonement for our sins, but to model for us the new way to be human – the way we were meant to live.
This teaching of Jesus as the way continues through the New Testament with people like Paul, a master apprentice of the way of Jesus who teaches us still today. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says:
Join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ (Philippians 3:17-18).
In other words, he tells us to be like himself who is training to become like Jesus, by following the way of living mapped out by Christ, while also challenging us to not walk as enemies of the cross by living our own way. This is where the characters throughout the Bible, even those pre-Jesus, can offer us some hope as people prone to our own way.
In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abraham, a promise to make him the father of many nations – a promise that would ultimately find its yes and ‘Amen’ in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). Even after God makes this promise to Abraham and teaches him a new way, Abraham goes his own way to obtain the promise just a chapter later. Yet, verse 6 of chapter 15 (referenced in Romans 4) says God counted it to him as righteousness. What was “it?” – Abraham’s faith – his belief, his trust that God would do what he said he would do. We, the offspring of this promise (Genesis 15:5), are counted as righteous as we put our own trust in the work of Jesus on the Cross.
Just like Lent prepares us for Good Friday, then Resurrection Sunday, the way of Jesus leads to the Cross.
Yes, the way of Jesus is death. For us, this is not a physical death, like the one that he suffered on our behalf. This is a death to ourselves – better said, a death to our desires. For the follower of Jesus, the Lenten season is an invitation to fast, to put to death our flesh and its desires and identify with Jesus in his own self-denial which led him all the way to the Cross. As we fast, we put aside those desires that tempt us or distract us from the way of Jesus.
This isn’t done in a way to earn anything, as if Jesus is somehow impressed by our ability to abstain from the eating of Reese’s eggs for a time (anyone else addicted to those things?). No, this is in order to surrender our will to experience more intimacy with the One who made us, saved us, and now invites us into the new life of resurrection. Without death, there is no resurrection. Without laying down the desires of our flesh we cannot fully experience the desire of our soul.
That’s what practicing the season of Lent reminds us of. In the words of Scotty Smith, “we choose to deny ourselves (fast) certain pleasures for this brief season; but we’re not looking to get one thing from you, Jesus – just more of you.”
It is in this season that we say, “Teach me your way, Lord; for you are truly all that I want.”