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The DEEP

Feet, Don't Fail Me Now

Pursue wisdom with every step you take

Proverbs 4:26-27

26 Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.

27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.

 

Solomon concludes Proverbs chapter four with these two verses–verses that also complete the illustration to his son about guarding the heart:

23 Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life.–Proverbs 4:23

Your heart is the core of your being, and can reveal your true desires and devotions–as well as be impacted by the choices you make. Your heart can be a source of poison, or a source of gospel blessing for those around you.

There is story told that is attributed to the Rev. Peter Marshall, who was Chaplain to the United States Senate many years ago: a quaint Austrian village, high in the Alps, enjoyed the benefits of a clear mountain spring that flowed through the town. An old shepherd had been hired to patrol the hills high above, keeping debris from the pools of water that fed the spring. 

After many years the town council met and reviewed the budget. The salary for an obscure employee living in the mountains was noted, and called into question. Had anyone actually met him? Was this service totally necessary? No one who was present knew, and all were happy to spot a cost to cut. The vote was cast and the job removed.

Within a month or two, people began to notice a change in the village’s water. Instead of being crystal clear, the springs now ran with a brown tint. Tourists, who had flocked to the cheerful waters, stopped coming. Soon people began to get sick. 

The town council called an emergency meeting and quickly reinstated the post of the spring keeper. Soon the waters–and the life of the village–were restored. 

Like the story, you are called to be watchful of this sinful world’s effects on the wellspring of your heart. Like a flowing spring, the issues of life flow in and out of you, even though the parts of your body. As Tim Keller says:

“What the heart most loves and trusts, the mind finds reasonable, and the will finds doable.–Tim Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

Solomon cautions you as he does the sons and daughters of Israel to guard your mouth, for the words that you say can have a negative or positive impact on you and on others(vs 24). Likewise, you are called to guard your eyes, for the things you see can enrich you–or bend and twist you to the spirit of the age (vs 25). 

Ever the teacher, Solomon concludes his illustration with a word to the wise about your feet:

26 Ponder the path of your feet,
And let all your ways be established.–Proverbs 4:26

So what is this about feet? How can feet be a reflection of your heart or lead you into sin? If I step in sin, can I get it off my shoes?

Of course, if you wonder how feet and evil go together, you have not raised teenaged boys. When a young man who wears shoes the size of Easter hams and has a pathological aversion to taking showers, takes off one of those clodhoppers in the backseat of the car, it is enough to make you think you can smell the brimstone reek of hades.

No, despite this olfactory evil, feet are not sinful–but they can take you to dark places. 

When you speak bitterly, you will grow sour.

When you gaze longingly, you will desire.

When you go to bad places, you will grow comfortable with evil.

“Ponder” here is perhaps better rendered as “watch” or even “make smooth.” Solomon is speaking again of the path of wisdom or righteousness. It is a reminder that one false step along the way can be fatal.

To what “bad places” have your feet carried you? You probably do all you can to avoid the bad places of this world. Most Christians make it a practice to avoid places like bars, taverns, and “houses of ill-repute.” There is an amusing sketch in TV’s “The Simpsons” where an upstanding character has been spotted in just such an establishment, and his excuse is “I was only there to ask directions on how to get away from there!”

This reminds me of the 1973 blues/funk song “Right Place, Wrong Time” by New Orleans musician Dr. John: 


I been in the right place
But it must have been the wrong time
My head is in a bad place
But I'm having such a good time
I been running trying to get hung up in my mind
Really got to give myself a good talking to this time–Dr. John, “Right Place, Wrong Time”

You may not find yourself in the red light district or amidst the carnal carnival of Bourbon Street, but the temptation may be truly real. Like guarding your mouth and your eyes, you are called to guard where your feet take you. This could be as simple as hanging out with friends who desire to slander and gossip about others, or an innocent afternoon at the pool where you know you may be tempted by glimpses of sunbathers.  

The psalmist reminds you of these places to avoid with your feet:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners…–Psalm 1:1a

When you allow your feet to take you to such places, you will grow accustomed to them and soon your will to resist the will fade amid excuses. What may be a temptation for you may not be a temptation for others–but you know your own heart and besetting sins. Pray that the Holy Spirit will give you strength to avoid the places where you should not go. 

In verse 26 Solomon uses the words “let all your ways be established.” Another word for this is “to commit.” Your heavenly Father desires you to commit your feet to follow His path, and He will help you, as the Psalmist says:    

33 He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
And sets me on my high places.–Psalm 18:33

And:

36 You enlarged my path under me,
So my feet did not slip.–Psalm 18:36

How can you commit your feet to follow Christ, even on the rocky paths of life? Are there places or groups of people of which you need to steer clear? 

I once had a job that regularly required or encouraged me to manage parties and events for the entertainment of company managers and clients. These events were not bad, in and of themselves, but I realized that the potential for excess or wrongdoing was very great. Fearing that I would grow complacent, I sought another position where such things were not an issue.  

It is in this vein that Solomon continues his instruction:

27 Do not turn to the right or the left;
Remove your foot from evil.–Proverbs 4:27 

Here, the wise king is telling you that the path of righteousness is a narrow way. Jesus tells you this in Matthew 7:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.–Matthew 7:13-14

Dr. Bruce Waltke defines this “narrow way” in verse 27 as the only way:

The father demands extreme separation from the wrong way and an extreme commitment to the right path. There is no third way.–Waltke

Despite what the world will tell you, there is no alternative means, no path in between the path to heaven and the path to hell. The culture provides false comfort in saying that everyone can choose his own path, that there is no right or wrong way. All too late, people discover the error of this “I’m okay, you’re okay” false teaching.

Where then, must your feet take you? Is not this a question that burns in your heart all of your life? My fifteen year old son is struggling with this now as he considers his future in this life. What career will he pursue? Where will he live? Whom shall he marry? He feels the weight of the choices he makes and the future impact of even the smallest step.

Do you consider your spiritual journey with the same gravity? Do you feel the weight of each footfall and think on the influences of the places you go? I have often been afraid of taking the right steps at certain times in my life, fearing failure or a bad decision. Fortunately, you are not alone, for God leads you every step of the way. C.S. Lewis reminds you that your heavenly Father calls you to holiness, but does not hate you when you stumble on the path. As the demon Screwtape tells his nephew how God loves His children, even in failure: 

He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.–C.S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters”

Here in this life, of course, the best place you can take your feet is to sabbath worship. There, with fellow believers, you will be strengthened and refreshed as you encounter the Lord through His wonderful Word: 

24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.-Hebrews 10:24-25

Equally as important is where your feet take others. Not only does guarding your footsteps protect you, it will bring others to the saving mercy of Christ. As a believer, when you stray to sinful places, others may stumble with you. However, when you stand in righteousness, you serve as a light bearer in the darkness. 

The movie “1917” is, in my opinion, one of the finest films of the last five years. In the story, two British soldiers in World War One must cross the battlefield on a desperate mission to take an urgent, life-saving message to high command. The life of the brother of one of the soldiers hangs in the balance. Along the way, one of the soldiers is fatally wounded. As he passes, he thinks of the danger his brother is in, and grasps his companion with a dying plea: “tell me you know the way!” His companion does know, and with his heart breaking, he fulfills their mission on his own.  

This beautiful, tragic scene is like that of the Christian who bears the message of the gospel in this darkened world. You bear the image of God and the message of Christ. It must be the focus of your journey and you should desire, even on your dying lips, for others to know and live its truth. 

It is with this hope, this joyful desperation, that you cross the battlefield of life, minding every step to bear the message of Christ. You may stray into dark places or on mountain heights, but you will never be alone, for God is with you and He sets your feet on the rock. As the psalmist sings in Psalm 40 [“Forty,” performed here by the group U2]: 

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.

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The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

 

 

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