Erik Weihenmayer is an amazing athlete and adventurer. He’s kayaked all 277 miles of the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, which, according to one source, is “considered one of the most formidable whitewater venues in the world.” He has climbed the “seven summits” of the world, that is, the highest mountain peak on all seven continents.
He has climbed the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
He has biked from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.
He has climbed Mount Everest. And after accomplishing this feat, he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine.
Erik Weihenmayer is blind. I don’t mean blind to the danger; he can’t see.
He’s been this way since he was a kid. When he was only 15 months old, he was diagnosed with juvenile retinoschisis. Doctors said he would be totally blind by age 13. And he was.
Needless to say, he has been interviewed many times. One story he tells that seems appropriate to our lesson was of a descent off the face of El Capitan. He was with several other climbers. They had already spent at least one night in a sling-enhanced bivouac on the face, and were now trying to get off the mountain before nightfall.
They failed. Night descended on them before they were able to finish their descent. They were all in the dark. So they turned to the one man who had the most experience climbing in the dark: Erik. He led them down and out on the last pitch.
The blind leading the sighted.
Think of the psalmist as a less-talented Erik Weihenmayer.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” he writes in verse 105.
Today’s Psalm reading seems to be a series of moralistic quotations about the overriding importance of the word of God. Each verse sort of stands alone. But the psalmist says in verse 110 that “the wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.” He is once again on the “path” he mentions in verse 105.
So, this verse gives us the theme: How to walk in the dark.
Sometimes it happens — we’re in the dark. We’re clueless. In uncharted territory without lights, signal markers, hints, landmarks, white roadside stripes, a flashlight, a smartphone or infrared night-vision googles.
Such times in our lives can be terrifying. They often immobilize a person. Life comes to a standstill.
Yet, the psalmist does not feel this way. He, like us, is on a metaphorical path. The image of verse 105 is of a path obscured by darkness. It is an unknown path.
If the way were a well-known path, a light might not be needed. In a devotional this week, I mentioned the fun we had at Boy Scout camp in discovering that we could walk back from evening campfire to our tents without a flashlight once our eyes adjusted. Sometimes, the light of the moon will be sufficient to guide someone who’s traveling via a common, if narrow, pathway. This text suggests that the traveler is both in the dark and walking an unknown path.
This is why the wayfarer is so glad to have a lamp or a light. It illuminates where the feet are stepping, and it shows the path ahead. These are two important considerations. You don’t want to put your foot on a rock or root upon which you might sprain your ankle or over which you might trip and fall.
And, second, we want to have some advance notice of the terrain ahead, perhaps to avoid stepping headlong into a ditch, or worse, an abyss. And, we want to have a sense of where we’re going.
First, when we’re walking in the dark, we want to have some light on what is immediately before and below us. What does the Bible say about things that trip us and cause us to stumble? We want light on this path to make sure we can avoid a tree root, a jutting rock or a rotting log.
Imagine we’re traveling in the family SUV at night on a narrow, two-lane road. We’re returning from a long day in the big city, where one of the kids was in a swim meet. We’re tired, the road is unfamiliar, and it’s raining lightly. You are driving and you frequently opt to use your low beams rather than the high beams. You want to have a clear view of the immediate road ahead. You don’t like surprises. You want clarity. You want a nice, wide view.
So it is in life. We need the flashlight, the torch, the low beams to illuminate the real estate immediately before us.
We want to know if dangers, hazards or problems lie imminently before us.
To walk in God’s path of right living means that we need to “see” or be aware of these hazards.
So what are they?
a lust for money and material toys;
electronic devices (tablets, smartphones, etc.);
bad relationships (this can include toxic friendships);
desire for a person who is not our spouse; and
The psalmist says that the word of God casts light on these obstacles to wholesome living. Like navigating any highway, some things you’ve just got to go around and avoid. Other problems are like potholes that need to be filled with solid material and paved over. Some issues, like a tree across a road, need to be sawed up and emphatically removed.
The Bible has plenty to say about the love of money. About smartphones, not so much. But in this case, the issue is one problem of disproportionate time as well as manners and courtesy. The Bible says plenty about our use of time, and about manners. Ditto for gaming; if you take that to mean gambling. If you think I’m referring to video gaming (which is a valid concern), I refer you back to my point on disproportionate time and manners & courtesy. Online porn and extramarital affairs. Scripture also provides plenty of guidance here. No need to pray about whether you should be in an affair. You shouldn’t. None of us needs to be another country music cliché.
Second, when we’re walking in the dark or driving down a dark road, we want to have some idea of what’s ahead. So what does the Bible say about the path itself? Where are we going?
Go back to the same road on which you’re traveling after the kid’s swim meet. Sometimes (especially after using low beams), you are satisfied that you’re aware of the nature of the immediate road before you. Your view of the immediate stretch of highway tells you that nothing presents a danger to you and the occupants traveling with you.
So you switch to high beams. Now, the road far ahead of you is in the light. You can see the curve to the left that’s coming. Instantly, you can determine whether a long stretch of straight road is before you, or whether the road twists and turns. You now know what you need to prepare for. Is the road predictable, or is it wild and uncertain?
God’s word certainly is not a crystal ball that gives us a glimpse into our future. But it does cast light on best practices that are most likely to result in a life well-lived, a life without the extreme curves, dips and valleys.
The high beams of God’s word show us that a well-lived life is one:
that is given in service to others;
in which words are used to encourage;
in which self-denial is a good thing;
in which we are outrageously kind and generous;
in which we try to make life less difficult for others;
in which we practice religious/spiritual piety; and
in which we are grateful for the smallest of blessings.
I’m sure you can add other thoughts because a life lived in what the Bible calls a “worthy” manner (Ephesians 4:1) is a life that has many aspects — which is why such a life is “grown,” not built overnight. It grows or matures. This life is, itself, the journey, and God’s word helps us along the way.
These benefits of the light and lamp accrue to the traveler on one and only one condition: The light must be trained upon the path. If you shine your light on the bushes, hedges and trees to the right or the left to see if there might be dangers lurking there, you will surely stumble and hurt yourself.
If you’re walking in the dark, keep the light trained on the path!
The value of Scripture is that it teaches and instructs us: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
If we use Scripture for any other purpose, we’re going to have all sorts of difficulties. If we try to use the Bible to prove some sociological, political or economic ideal, we’re just inviting trouble. God’s word is given to us to guide our feet along our daily and sometimes treacherous path.
Erik Weihenmayer continues to challenge himself. He is the author of Touch the Top of the World, The Adversity Advantage and, most recently, No Barriers. This latter book is also the name of a movement. The “No Barriers” mission “is to help people with challenges — and all of us to some extent — to turn into the storm of life, face barriers head on, embrace a pioneering and innovative spirit, and team up with great people to live rich in meaning and purpose.”
The motto of No Barriers? “What’s Within You is Stronger Than What’s in Your Way.”
This is good stuff.
But, let’s remember that it is not only what is in us that is stronger than what’s in our way, but Who is in us that is stronger than what’s in our way.
Scripture reminds us that, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
As followers of Jesus, we are “No Barriers” people.
When we’re walking in the dark, we have the light of the word of God to guide us, as well as a sort of internal guidance system that helps us follow the path.
Staying true to this word, and the inner voice of the Spirit of God will empower us to live, as the No Barriers mission state puts it, a life that is “rich in meaning and purpose.”