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Stay on Target

By Michael Roop

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

1,500 feet straight down on both sides of a path only three feet wide. That’s where I found myself as I finished a hike with a group of my friends. The destination was Angel’s Landing, a rock peninsula that juts out into the canyon in Zion National Park. The views in every direction are absolutely breathtaking. But to get there, you have to walk “the chains,” the last portion of the hike so named for the chains that run down the middle for the nervous hands of its hikers to grasp.

I’m hard pressed to find a more poignant example of the wisdom captured by Solomon in Proverbs 4. As we conclude our reflections on Solomon’s timeless advice to keep our hearts with all vigilance (Prov. 4:23), we come to the final heart-keeping discipline. So far, we’ve been told to put away crooked speech (4:24), fix our gaze directly on our goal (4:25), and walk on the level ground of humble obedience (4:26). Today, we reflect on discipline number four: “Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (4:27).

We begin to see how these commands are not given in isolation but build on each other. If we are not to deviate from our path, then it is assumed that we are already “pondering the path” of our feet (previous verse), and therefore are on a path that is worth keeping. I think I’m right in paraphrasing the four disciplines this way: identify what shouldn’t be in your heart and begin getting it out (4:24); fix your eyes on a new goal (4:25); consider the surest path to get there (4:26); don’t deviate from the path once you’re on it (4:27). This is the lifestyle consistent with efforts to guard one’s heart with all vigilance.

It’s important to understand that these four disciplines are cyclical in nature. Or, as our lead pastor likes to put it, they’re “grass you need to mow repeatedly.” This final admonition is the “repeat” portion of the directions on the back of the shampoo bottle, a guard against the false sense of security that lurks behind a little success.

No matter how long you’ve been following Jesus, and no matter the fruit of your vocational or familial callings, don’t assume your tongue is irreversibly mastered, your eyes are permanently fixed, or your path is always sure. In one sense, the Christian life is one of constant course correction. Though our goal remains ever the same, we are constantly confronted with new information, and usually about ourselves.

This is why we talk about repentance as a posture rather than a moment. Yes, there is an initial turning from our sin, our autonomy, and our idolatries to trust and follow Jesus. But the Christ follower who treats repentance as a singular action remains vulnerable to the deadly drop on either side of the narrow path. The Apostle Paul calls us to the daily task of mortifying the desires of our flesh by the Spirit (Rom. 8:13). Jesus calls His followers to take up their cross daily (Luke 9:23) and ask each day for the provision necessary to hallow God’s name (Matt. 6:9-11).

In the end, the task of keeping our hearts boils down to the compounding effect of small, daily choices made consistently over a long period of time. Whatever tomorrow may bring, what can you do today to speak with upright, encouraging, lovely words? Whatever the future may hold, what can you do today to fix your eyes on Jesus? Whatever is yet to come, what can you do today to chart a path through work, school, your neighborhood, and your home in humble obedience?

Then all that’s left to do is lather, rinse, repeat.