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Tread Lightly

By Michael Roop

This is the fourth blog in a five-part series. To catch up on previous articles, click here.

I have a picture seared into my memory. A family friend showed it to me about 25 years ago. Not on his phone, mind you; this was a bona fide photograph. In the shot, I looked at his truck leaning oddly forward. The front wheels had broken through the ice covering their backyard lake, and the truck was going down. Many years passed before I stopped thinking of this picture every time I was told that I was “on thin ice.”

As we continue reflecting on Solomon’s timeless advice to keep our hearts with all vigilance (Prov. 4:23), we come to the third heart-keeping discipline. So far, we’ve been told to put away crooked speech (4:24) and fix our gaze directly on our goal (4:25). Today, we reflect on discipline number three, found in verse 26: “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (4:26).

This word “ponder” might also be translated “clear a way” or “make level.” As a noun, it refers to a scale that is balanced, with equal weight on both sides. In other words, Solomon is coaching his son (and us, by extension) to walk on level ground where his footfalls will be sure. The opposite would be the fields at a farm I visited recently. Between the holes dug by animals and the “gifts” they left behind, my steps were anything but sure, and I had to maintain a high degree of concentration at all times.

When we survey the landscape of Scripture, we find at least two practical handles to help us ponder the path of our feet. First, we need to immerse ourselves in God’s Word. I know this is the typical evangelical response, but it’s well worn for a reason. Early in his time as king, David asked, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Ps. 119:9). He goes on to record the Bible’s longest poem, and it’s all about the protective nature of knowing God’s Word deeply.

Jesus picks up this metaphor in His teachings. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, He compares those who walk in obedience to the one whose house does not fall during the storm because of its sure foundation (Matt. 7:24-25). He Himself embodied the protective nature of knowing God’s Word during His wilderness temptation, three times quoting Scripture to turn away Satan’s tests (Matt. 4:1-11). Jesus is living proof of David’s aspiration: “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11).

Second, pondering the path of our feet requires walking in humility. By this, I don’t just mean a general posture of humility, but humility toward the path itself. True, there are some paths that are always and forever off limits to Jesus’ followers, but many more are situational and in need of wisdom, discretion, godly counsel, and careful thought. When confronted with such situations, there is a great danger in arrogantly assuming my chosen path is the “right” path, leading me to judge all others who walk the “wrong” paths. After all, as the Proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:9). Or, as the Apostle Paul puts it, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

There are many weighty decisions on the pathways of this life. How should we school our kids? Which job should I take? How should I vote? Without diminishing the importance of these decisions, never forget that the call is to walk humbly before God (Mic. 6:8). To pray alongside David, “Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me” (Ps. 119:133).

I think this is the true location of Solomon’s wisdom. The arrogance of walking a path unheeded disintegrates our hearts. Our hearts are left unguarded by the assumption that we are beyond the need for instruction, guidance, counsel, or even careful thought. The antidote is to carefully find the level of path of humble obedience. And humble obedience should always emerge from steeping in God’s Word. So ponder the path of your feet before you walk.

Or, to modernize the thought, test the ice before you drive on it.