THE STEPS OF A GOOD MAN
One of the real mysteries that faces every human being is the mystery of life, or what to do with one’s self. The fact that we are here on this planet, that we have ourselves and others to live and put up with, gives us no end of concern. We know we are here, a bundle of bones and muscles, of flesh and blood, of nerves, and above all, a thinking capacity, reasoning power, able to choose our own destinies and select the course of life that we should pursue. Man, of all God’s creations, is the only creature equipped with a soul, with a conscience. The word “man” in Greek is “Anthropos” which signifies one with the upward look, that is, capable of seeking after, and finding God.
Life from the cradle to the grave is one of constant struggle. Physically and mentally we are ever going up, or down, for unless there is a progress upward a person is liable to slide downward and thus loses out. We come into the world as infants, innocent babies, who must be cared for and looked after until we are able to discern different objects. We notice that even a little baby struggles, he is ever trying to grasp at things. Then boyhood comes. In this period a child begins to talk, walk and discern things much better. He now realizes his immediate family and calls them by name. The development goes on from boyhood to adolescence, to manhood to old age. In a word, life is a constant struggle to the very end and the person who does not struggle, who has no fixed policy or aim, grossly misunderstands life and cannot possibly succeed because he is not using the means and methods necessary to his own well-being and development.
As there are steps in the physical development of man, and means by and through which he grows into a full-fledged physical being, likewise there are steps in the spiritual realm that, if man will try to climb, he becomes full-fledged spiritually. Said the sacred writer. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delighteth in his way.” (Psalm 37:23.)
So we are not left in the dark relative to our life’s plans: our lives are mapped out for us by the Almighty. We are to follow the way He designates for us.
When we enter school, any school, there are certain subjects which we must study and master if we are to make the grade, and the first requirement is recognition of the authority of the teachers. Many that have gone to institutions of learning have not succeeded, because they either did not take education seriously, or failed to obey the rules of the schools.
God, to be sure, has a formula for life which, if we would obey and practice, we would find ourselves on the highway leading to eternal life. It is absolutely necessary to remember that God is the Author of life, that is, the life that you and I have is entrusted to us by Him. Until we are made to believe that, and believe it enough to live it, then we can’t become God’s children and God is not our Father.
Here is God’s formula. God’s stairway of faith for successful living insofar as spiritual development is concerned which we find in one of the Psalms of David. The first step in the stairway is trust in the Lord with the promise of long life and prosperity. Now trust must be absolute, complete under all circumstances in time of war as well as in peace, in prosperity as well as in adversity. In this connection let me state that it should not be assumed that the Christian life is a bed of roses. Every person, in order to grow in his Christian experience, must face at some time or another a Gethsemane and must pray, as the Master prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Fiery trials and temptations hit us all alike, the good and the evil. They are part and parcel of the scheme of living. The sacred writer reminds us that even Christ was made perfect through suffering. This is how we are to be perfected.
So, it is in a crucial time, in a time of testing that, if we sincerely trust God that He becomes real, and vital in our lives. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord will save him out of all of them. Not one of his bones shall be broken.”
One Sunday morning I was walking to church. On my way I found many limbs which had fallen from the trees, for on the day before there had been a high wind which shook the trees violently. But I noticed that only dried, dead branches had fallen. After all, they were useless, they were there only burdening the trees. Probably sometimes you and I foolishly question God’s wisdom in permitting any affliction to overtake us, but if we are patient and dutiful we will discover that God is directing us into the proper channels, He is shaking the dry limbs from our lives which are doing us harm, hindering our growth.
The second step in the stairway of life is “Delight thyself in the Lord and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4.) I like the Arabic rendering of this verse. “Enjoy the Lord, and He’ll grant you the desires of your heart.”
Many people, if not most people, are finding it unusually difficult to live in these days. It may not be so difficult to exist physically for the most of us, but our problem is to be able to put content into life that will approximate our dreams and hopes.
Can we keep faith in love as a method of living together when the whole world throbs with the spirit of war? Can we believe in the ultimate triumph of a God of righteousness when all about us we see, truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne? Do we dare stand for justice and try to protect the right of human personality when it seems a foregone conclusion that we will be defeated?
Difficult as it may be, we can and we must reveal to our generation the resources of God. We will interpret the greater tasks as greater opportunities. God can take our weakness and translate it into His strength.
At a time when one of her sisters had just died and her other sister lay critically ill, Charlotte Brontë wrote, “I avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward. This is not the time to regret, dread or weep. What I have and ought to do is very distinctly laid out for me. What I want and pray for is strength to perform it.”
The third step in the stairway of faith is, “Commit your way unto the Lord: trust in Him and He will bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5.)
Of course, God expects us to bear our own burden and to share in the burdens of others, but when the going is hard, when the temptation is too great. “Commit it unto the Lord and He shall sustain thee.”
Of course, there are the so-called self-sufficient who think they live without the help of the Almighty. Their puny pride is their worst enemy. Common sense Christianity demands that we cast cares upon our Heavenly Father for He cares for us. We can struggle over any burden of life and attempt to carry it ourselves but it is privilege of the Christian to share it with the Lord.
Can we exercise this intelligent faith, doing our best in life, and leaving the rest to God? I like the story that comes from the colorful Southwest. A herd of 5000 cattle were marching over the dusty trail between New Mexico and Kansas. Suddenly a leader of the herd, a huge steer, started back in terror gave a snort of warning and turned to the right. The cattle following divided to the right and to the left until the entire herd had passed leaving only a plot of grass three feet wide. A cowboy rode up to the spot expecting to find a rattlesnake. Instead, however, the grass contained a harmless bird covering her nest while her wings were in constant and violent motion. Shall we say she had faith in the protecting hand of Providence, doing her best in life and leaving the rest to the Creator?
The world suffers today because of fear, and fear is the deadliest enemy of mankind in time of war as well as in time of peace. Fear is the most demoralizing force in the world. It strikes at the very things that man holds dear. It undermines his faith in God and in the worthwhile things of life. The words of the sweet singer of Israel are timely and appropriate, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” We need to know this fact. Probably we need to be reminded that God alone is our refuge and strength. We need to run and hide ourselves beneath God’s protection, for there alone are we safe.
We need to take into our hearts and into our souls this fact, that as sure as we live God still is. He still guides the destinies of mankind. His will still is the guiding star of humanity. So let us “lift up our eyes unto the hills from whence cometh our help.”
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America