Sticking to the path

Exploring the beautiful woodlands on a recent run, skirting tree stumps and snatching glimpses of deer, I soon realised I was not only lost in the beauty of the Autumnal colours of the forest, but simply lost. What I thought was a shortcut proved to be an extra few miles, and turned an Autumnal blissful running exploration into a somewhat disconcerting and very sporadic search to find myself back on the right forest track. 

You know those old song lyrics…… All roads lead to the same place, and that’s where all road lead to! 

I couldn’t agree more. The problem is what can start off on a very focused path can soon turn into veerings off here and there, twists and turns, shortcuts and extra muddy miles. We do this all the time in our lives and it speaks to our contentment, or rather discontentment.
We’re intent on a work or study project, content with our plan until a sideways glance at our friend’s career direction tempts us away from our pursuit, makes us question our choices or feel small in comparison. We’re content with our ‘track’ of a simple family Summer, until the advertisement of a new AirBnb lures us elsewhere. Insecurity, and lack of conviction about the path we’re on leads us off the track, or if we’re honest, the tempting paths to the right and the left of other people’s lives and directions they’re taking, just appeal more to us. 
Soon, our discontentment with the place of life we’re in, the people we’re with or person we are, and if we’re painfully honest, our discontentment with God for setting us on our path and not someone else’s, can’t help spilling out into mutterings, gossip, belittling others, boasting to bolster ourselves, complaining and bitterness.  

All roads lead to the place they’re going and the road to discontentment can feel like those lost unknown runs in the wood, extra burdensome miles without sufficient supply of energy, beauty of the present and the joys of the situation spoiled and turned sour. The beauty of our setting is glanced at, the tread of our steps on the path we were taking which once led to satisfying delight like the crunch of Autumnal leaves beneath our feet, has become painful and blistered as we trample begrudgingly on in pursuit of the next step. 

Our world generally settles for the quick fixes to sort out discontentment. Usually, the answer is change- change your relationship, change your look, change your identity, change your name, your sexual preference, your gender. Choose who you want to be. Speak positivity. Change the language. Be the best you. You’re worth it. 

But the quick fixes soon spiral into a world of pain and chaos don’t they? The pursuit of happiness as the world would have it has never actually looked more desperate, frenzied, anxious, more lonely, more hopeless, more lost in the woods.

It is exhausting, it’s expensive, and it’s often such a waste of time! And yet we buy into it way too often! We clearly know there’s a problem. We cannot escape our own or others discontentment. We have bought into the lie that the problem is outside, is in the externals, the place, people, even God. The age old lie that distracts and deceives hearts into believing their contentment is a competitive up for grabs, frenzied pursuit to be found in the gaining of the world. 

Satan certainly deceives by distraction. He did it in the garden with Adam and Eve, distracting their gaze and stirring up discontentment with their place, with people as they blamed and shamed one another, and with God as they passed responsibility for their fall onto Him. Satan deceived by distraction and he does it now, tempting us into believing our problem with discontentment lies outside ourselves:The problem must be I’ve not been placed on the right path, God has set me on the wrong one. The people over there are the issue. Our discontented hearts busy us to distraction blaming external factors,. And if left to ourselves, our discontented hearts will resist repentance because we deceive ourselves of our own need for mercy. 

But Satan only uses what was already there. For Adam and Eve, for us, the problem was not with the garden, with the other person, with God. The problem was the sin in their heart. Discontentment doesn’t lie outside. It lies within. Within our hearts.

And God’s grace calls us to look within. To reorient our focus, our gaze, away from the distractions that Satan would trick us into believing are the problem- the place, people, God, and to see instead, that the reason discontentment follows us wherever we go, is because our hearts are with us at all times.

All roads lead to the place they’re going. So we must follow the road of discontentment that leads to the place it’s going and only by following the route to our hearts and seeing the problem there, can we find hope in the battle against discontentment. 

We need to look to the cross, to see the cost of discontentment and to see the hope of deliverance from it. 

Have you ever considered that Jesus was sent to the cross by an angry mob, a fed up and weak leader, all discontented with Him. He was sent to the cross by crowds whose mutterings and complaints turned to mob mentality and death seeking ragings?
The cross looked at first like a victory for chaos and disorder, a victory for the ragings of discontented hearts. And yet at the cross, Jesus was restoring, reordering, reorienting, bringing reconciliation and peace, and renewal through his death and resurrection. He was putting to death sin. 

At the cross we see the cost of our discontentment. At the cross we see the victory over our discontentment. 

All roads lead to the place they are going. Following the road of our discontentment leads to Genesis, to our own sinful hearts and following the road of hope for victory against it must lead to the cross.

There is no bypassing, no shortcut on the way. If we miss and bypass, try and shortcut the route and skip out the way that leads to the sin of our hearts, then cross makes no sense. It’s just a man dying at the hands of an angry mob. We add extra burdensome miles of pain and toil and worry onto ourselves and others if we try and find victory over, forgiveness for, and power to battle against our discontentment anywhere other than at the cross. 

If we stop our journey at our hearts, and don’t carry on the road onto the cross, our discontentment is left in despair and without hope. 

At the cross, Jesus died for the sin of our discontentment. And at the cross, Jesus won the victory over our battle with discontentment.

The cross brought peace… Not just absence of disorder, but true peace. We’re not looking for zen peace and neutral happiness, or serene joy as people of God. We’re seeking the breaking of sin, the reordering and restoration of our hearts from chaos to contentment in God. 

There is only one place in life where is achieved for us and that is not in the therapist’s room, or the yoga class, or a mindfulness course. To fight the battle of our discontentment we must follow the road where it is going. We must painfully follow the route to our own hearts, and search, seek and confess what God shows us there by the gracious work of his Spirit. He then calls us to carry on, giving us power to endure, faith to continue on the path to the Cross, where He offers full forgiveness and hope. This is a road of continual repentance and faith, following the path to the sin of our hearts and the beauty and hope of the cross over and over until the day Jesus walks us to the end of the path of this life into eternal, perfect, full satisfaction of soul and heart, a lifetime of perfect contentment and enjoyment in Him and with Him forever. 

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