You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. [Psalm 139:5 (NLT)]

Lake louiseOur recent trip to the Canadian Rockies reminded me of a hiking trip I took there with my daughter more than twenty years ago. With two guides for our group, one acted as lead and tied orange ribbons along the trail to mark the way. Knowing that we are to leave nothing in the forest but footprints, a second guide (the sweep) followed the last hiker and removed the trail markers. That morning’s hike was a trek up to a mountainside teahouse and my daughter and I (both fast walkers) wanted to have time at the top to explore. Confident we couldn’t get lost, we shot ahead of the guide, promising to meet at the teahouse. Apparently, there was a fork in the trail we missed in our haste; we veered left when we should have stayed right. After a while, it occurred to us that we seemed to be going down when the trail should be going up. Nevertheless, expecting an uphill just around the next turn and unwilling to admit we may have erred, we continued down. When we arrived at the same lake from which we’d started, we saw the error of our ways, turned around, and made the hike back uphill. By the time we reached the main trail, the trail markers placed by the lead guide had already been removed by the sweep. Knowing we needed to go further uphill, we continued our trek and eventually rejoined our group at the teahouse. In our case, the first really were the last and we barely had enough time to eat lunch before starting back down the mountain.

“You go before me and follow me,” David said about God in Psalm 139. Had my daughter and I allowed the lead to set the pace, the same could have been said about our hiking guides. Sure that we knew the way, however, we charged ahead, lost our way, and went down instead of up. Sarah charged ahead of God by giving Hagar to Abraham, Saul charged ahead by making a sacrifice without waiting for Samuel, and the prodigal son charged ahead when he demanded his inheritance before his father’s death. As so often happens when people take matters into their own hands rather than waiting for God, they discovered that things can go downhill quickly and often with tragic consequences.

Fortunately, God is in front of us—leading us, marking the way, lighting the path ahead, and smoothing the trail. He also is behind us—lifting us when we stumble, strengthening us when we weaken, encouraging, correcting and protecting us. Like our hiking guides, however, He will allow us to barge ahead and make mistakes along the trail. Fortunately, along with allowing us the freedom to turn the wrong direction, God allows us to make U-turns! Unlike our hiking guides, however, we can never leave Him in the dust nor will He ever leave us behind Him. Moreover, He won’t remove the signs that show us the right path. He is right there, both in front and behind us, leading and sweeping, like the extraordinary guide that He is.

Then I will lead the blind along a way they never knew; I will guide them along paths they have not known. I will make the darkness become light for them, and the rough ground smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not leave my people. [Isaiah 42:16 (NCV)]

If you go the wrong way—to the right or to the left—you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the right way. You should go this way.” [Isaiah 30:21 (NCV)]

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