“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 has long been one of my most treasured verses in Scripture. In this one verse, I can be re-centered in an instant.
How often it is, indeed, that I do not see.
I do not see how well-worn the path is that I travel. I simply travel. I contribute to the rut. I place my feet in a shuffle, patting down the ground beneath me…deeper, flatter, stripping it of all vegetation so that it is clear that there is indeed, a path.
This path, these paths, go no where…but traveling down these paths is very easy, almost ingrained, natural, second nature. These paths, paths of negative self talk, of doubt, of fear, of disappointment and disillusionment. These paths of stepping in line with culture as it changes with the shifting sands. These paths, paths of self promotion, people pleasing, affirmation seeking, material possession accumulating…paths that are well traveled…and not just by me.
These paths actually impede the work of the right hand. These paths are more traveled, more recognizable, more defined and “safe”. These paths don’t leave us desperately seeking for the weapons required to even take one step on that the less traveled path. The weapons…the “belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, foot-gear of Good-news-spreading, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword that is the Word of God” are the complete armor of God. (From Ephesians 6). The “ill-worn” path, instead…it forces our hand, it makes us work, sweat and choose…choose to be different and sometimes alone, sometimes with sharp criticism in that choice.
The road less traveled, it is one with thorns, critters, thick brush… brush that cannot be seen past or through. Road blocks unexpected, interrupting the status quo and taking time. Oh, time….sometimes I loathe you! There are fallen trees or dreams…wildlife or people, untamed, raw, real and in your face. The path that requires attentiveness, super natural evoking of all other senses so that I can see. The path that requires awareness of the very presence of God, in the flesh, in the wisp of hair on my cheek, the sweet smell of wild traveling honeysuckle, the taste of that same fruit flower streaming across my tongue, its nectar oozing, coating, soothing…oh the sounds, those sounds so crisp, so sharp, so inviting…yet there is no question when His voice whispers, “Come, YOU who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…rest in me…rest in my arms, my plan, my path…”
I cannot see, but HE can.
“For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Noah was called by God to build an ark to save his family from destruction of the flood, that flood that was to wipe out wickedness and evil. The story in Genesis is so matter of fact. Noah built the ark. He obeyed God. He “did all that was commanded of him” (Genesis 7:5). Oh yes, and he was six hundred years old when that promised flood of destruction came.
I believe I can say with certainty that Noah’s path was not well-worn… oh, but it was worth the insults I am sure that were hurled, the snickers whispered, the fingers pointed, the persecution inflicted…worth the insults, indeed, when that ark anchored on dry land with he and his family safe, his faith living out the “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” from Hebrews 11:1.
And let me remind you of Abraham, the one who was promised by God to be the father of many nations. God made a covenant with him when he was 100 years old and his wife, Sarah, was 90 years old. It was at that time, that God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Well worn path? I think not. Even back in biblical times, a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman did not typically conceive. Even back then, that was crazy talk.
Can you even imagine the looks that Sarah got, her shriveled old body, feeble, white-haired, housing a baby? And Abraham? After all, he had a son already, one conceived with his maid-servant…and now, this “promised child” he says?? He says God has promised to make him the father of many nations through this one? Unbelievable. Not likely. Not a path of familiarity, not one of honor, even…but whose honor are we talking?
The heroes of Hebrews 11 traveled a far less inviting path, one wrought with confusion, with doubt, with inability to fully understand. These heroes weren’t even aware of what they were doing for the Lord…because HE had become their well-worn path.
It is this way with “right hand work”. Do we always even know we are doing it and should we? What does it look like for the Lord’s work to become our well-worn path? I can assure you that it doesn’t look like the well-worn paths of the world.
Spiritually speaking, the well-worn paths in life are our “automatic pilots” or our “default settings.” These paths might even look like getting up, reading our bibles, a page or two of a devotional book and saying a rote prayer…every.single.morning. Check that off the list of things I should do…
On this well-worn path, there are many people ahead and many people behind, all shuffling along, like machines. They are taking notes, keeping track, measuring success. They are persecuting you for your beliefs. They, for sure, are keeping at least one foot always grounded on that well-worn path. They may step out, but are quickly reminded of the comfort inside the deep grooves, the gutters, the ruts, the security. And…they are not going to risk it.
The alternate path, the path “ill worn” requires weapons, weapons of the best materials. It also requires a certain protective clothing, as not to be poison laden with the “leaves of three” spiraling each stick big enough to bring enough force to conquer the web, that web of lies that draws you in and attempts to destroy you.
In the “ill worn” path, you will need to be on guard, your senses keen, heightened because of your awareness of the prowling one, around every corner. There aren’t many people in front of you and you are not sure if you even see one person behind you…but your are drawn into HIM. You are forced to look to HIM. You are desperate for HIM.
Ephesians 6:13-18 (The Message version of the Bible) says it best…
“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open.”
Recalling the previous story off Noah, I love what the Message Version of the Bible closes verse 7 of Hebrews 11 with, “As a result, Noah became intimate with God.”
It is intimacy with our Father that enables us to travel life down the “ill-worn” path. The path where right hand work is done, but not always noticed on earth. The path of a deep deep connection with the Holy Spirit, so deep that we hear, we see, we touch, we feel, we taste His goodness. We are able to open our hearts and ourselves to each God-interruption, each God-ordained moment, each God-inspired message shared with his people. We are not afraid on that “ill-worn path”. We are not afraid because we are so assured of our next step, that step that we cannot see, but we are certain is there. We are certain it is there, because HE promised it would be. And HE is the sureness of what we hope for.