About ten years ago, we were camping in a Georgia State Park, one of our favorites actually, private sites, modern bathhouses, beautiful scenery, and great hiking trails. Ah yes, the hiking trails…
We decided one day to do the big trail—up a mountain and back down, seven miles total. So we cooked a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and coffee, and took off after cleaning up and securing everything against the elements and the wild animals, about ten in the morning. We carried water and some snacks, and the park map. I am the navigator in the family, and usually the only one with a decent sense of direction. We expected to be back in time for an early supper, about four in the afternoon. With time to build a cook fire, we would be eating by five, and ready for it.
We made the top of the mountain about one, took a few minutes to enjoy the view, eat an apple and a handful of peanuts, then started down the other side. The grade was steep, and we were soon following a trail of switchbacks, but sure we were still on the right path because of the red blazes the park had so thoughtfully sprayed on the trees every so often, and because every turn matched the map. Keith, the one who is always looking for an easier way, looked down the hill to our left and saw yet another switchback. “So let’s just take the shortcut down,” he said.
Having grown up on the side of a mountain in the Ozarks, he is much surer footed than this flatlander, but he assured me that I could hold on to his shoulders and he would lead the way down safely, and possibly save us a couple hundred yards. So I agreed and willingly followed. We must have cut down through half a dozen switchbacks before the path finally leveled out.
We walked on, and came to a fork in the road that was not on the map. Hmmm. This time he trusted me and my sense of direction, and off we went toward what I knew was south, and thus had to be the right way. A little further on there was another unmapped fork so we took the same direction. And then another, and another. Somehow this did not seem right, and about then I realized that I had not seen a red blaze in a long time. About four-thirty we came to the end of the road—literally. Beyond it lay a fifty foot drop to a creek running full and loud.
Obviously, we had missed something somewhere, but I knew we had not gone the wrong overall direction—we had just wound up on the wrong path. We tried retracing our trail, but going at it backwards through the many forks we had taken, confused even me. We were about resigned to spending the night in the woods. I was exhausted, it was late, and getting colder by the minute. The sweater I had taken off and tied around my waist due to the heat of exercise would not do me much good when the nighttime temperatures hit the 40s. I was determined not to panic, though. I figured the last thing Keith needed was a hysterical woman on his hands. Tomorrow we would get out--somehow.
Finally, he told me to sit and wait while he checked another fork in the road. I didn’t tell him that it scared me to death—with his lousy sense of direction it might easily be the last time I ever saw him. But not ten minutes later he came running back. “I found power lines,” he said. “They have to lead somewhere.”
So we followed them, and about thirty minutes later came out on a gravel road. We followed the lines further and came to a house. Keith knocked on the door and explained our situation. The man was on his way to work the night shift at a local factory and would take us back to camp, “about fifteen miles from here,” he added. “You’re the second couple in the last month to come out of those woods lost.”
We got back to camp at nearly seven, exhausted and relieved, and ready to eat, shower, and hit the sleeping bags. The next morning we drove to the top of the mountain, then checked out the trail going down, careful to stay on it, watch for blazes, and look at the map. We were sure the park was at fault. But no, at the end of the third or fourth switchback the trail and blazes led straight ahead and down the other side of the mountain. When we had left the trail and cut through those switchbacks to what looked like the same trail, we had missed that and had wound up on a mountain bike trail, as yet unfinished, unmapped, and “un-blazed” by the color-coded spray paint. The map was correct; we just did not follow it. At that point we were not ready for another seven mile hike, but the next year we went back to that park and followed the trail carefully the whole way. We got back about four-thirty and never once got lost because we stayed on the trail and followed the map!
This one is easy, isn’t it? God has given us a map. It does not matter what things may look like--stay on the trail; follow the map! You may see a trail to the side that seems like the same one. Don’t take a shortcut that leads you from what you know is right. If it is the same trail, you will get there eventually. If it is not, you may never find your way back. Always look for the blazes that the faithful who went ahead of you painted for you to follow. You may think you have a great sense of direction—but if you get off track, that won’t keep you from getting lost. Or being lost, which is what we are all trying to avoid.
Not only has God given you a map, He is out there Himself looking for you. Don’t be proud; take advantage of the offer and follow His lead. You will always make it home, no matter how far off the trail you have gotten. The Trailblazer knows the way.
I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick… For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost, Ezek. 34:16; Luke 19:10.