“I’m not lost, Sergeant,” was his reply as he looked back at the mountain laurel that had fought us and the rest of our squad for the past hour.
In truth, he wasn’t sure exactly where we were on the map. Nor was he aware that we’d just traveled across a mountain valley stream when we should’ve been walking along the side of a ridge. And I knew that he wasn’t exactly sure how to get to our military objective. I knew he was lost, but no one in the military likes to admit to being lost in the woods.
Lost is a term that has almost completely vanished from the military vocabulary (replaced by some much more colorful words that I won’t use here). “Disoriented” perhaps, but “lost”… never.
“Okay Ranger, if you’re not lost, then show me on the map where you are and where you’re headed,” responded the Ranger instructor with suspicion in his voice. This mountain gazelle had been up and down the Tennessee Valley Divide enough times to know the difference between the thick laurel of the valley and tall pine laced ridges.
I watched the point man of our patrol pick up a pine needle to point to our location on the map… or at least try to point out our location. I knew what was going to happen next like reading from a familiar movie script. The Ranger instructor looked at me, the patrol leader (PL), and said, “Tell me exactly where you are on this map and exactly where you’re headed, PL.”
My answer to this question would decide a passing or failing grade on this patrol in Ranger School. It might determine whether or not I completed the US Army’s Ranger Course. And because my future in the 75th Ranger Regiment was riding on completing this course, it’s not too much to say that my answer could decide the future of my career in the US military.
I paused, looked this Ranger instructor in the eye with all the confidence I could muster and said, “We’re right here, Sergeant,” pointing with the corner of my protractor to our exact location on my map. I made a quick calculation and said, “We need to move 900 meters on a 330-degree azimuth to get us back on the original route to our objective.”
As this Ranger instructor stared me in the eyes, I held my breath. After a long, tense moment of silence, he finally spoke. “Point Man, you’re fired! Ranger Struecker, get your squad out of this valley before you fail this patrol.”
The easy path
I will remember that patrol through the mountains of Ranger School for the rest of my life, not only because I felt the weight of my future as a Ranger was hanging on this moment, but because I was walking through some of the most challenging terrain, and I had been in carrying a heavy load on my back.
As we started to make our way out of the valley and up the side of the ridge, I remember looking back thinking there was no reason for us to go through all of that difficulty. That simple navigation error made life miserable for these already pitiful Ranger students in my squad.
Anyone could make this kind of navigation error. This patrol was supposed to stay along the side of a ridge. However, as the slope got steep and the rocks became more difficult, this point man started to look for an easier path. We all wanted to take the easier path, and it just seemed natural to walk down the side of the ridge where the ground was flat and easy.
Because I was paying close attention to my compass, I could tell immediately when we started to veer off course. Unfortunately, this point man had no idea we were getting off course. He was simply following his own feet and taking the easier path. It wasn’t until we got into that mountain laurel in the valley that this became a very painful lesson for all of us.
By the time our point man realized he was leading us off course, it was too late. We were in the thick stuff, and it was going to be very painful to find our way out.
The wide path
Sometimes, the straight path is not always the easiest path. Some paths look easy. It’s only when you get down the trail that you realize that this path is taking you far out of your way and over some of the worst terrain possible.
Usually, the path that has been most traveled looks the easiest. However, it often doesn’t end up as the easy path. The more feet that go down a trail, the more pronounced the trail becomes. When many people traverse a path, it only looks natural to follow that trail.
Please keep in mind, just because a lot of people have gone down the path in front of you doesn’t mean that you should go down that path. A well-traveled path might not be the best path at all.
Sometimes what appears to be a difficult path will become a lot easier as you walk the trail. This path in life is almost always less traveled. It almost always seems like more of a risk because fewer people have gone down this path. However, taking this path can mean all of the difference in life.
Jesus challenged his followers to stay OFF of the well-traveled path. He said that path leads to destruction in Matthew 7:13. There are many people on the well-traveled path. That’s why it is tempting to want to go down the broad path.
My path vs. His path
I think it’s fascinating, and perhaps a little frustrating, that Jesus describes the road that leads to life as narrow and difficult in Matthew 7:14. Narrow makes sense to me, because if fewer people are on this path, then of course the path is going to be less pronounced. But why does Jesus call this path difficult?
I believe the answer to this question describes the essence of Christianity! Christianity is about Christ, and his glory, not about Christians. When Jesus saved me, he called me to leave my path and to start walking down his path. I no longer get the choice of determining which direction my life goes. If Jesus is my King, then he alone gets to make that decision. This, I believe, is what makes the path so difficult.
Jesus calls people to get off their path and start traveling down his path in Matthew 7:13-14. If we are honest, taking his path might seem more difficult. His path may seem scary because it is not well traveled. It may seem more uncertain because you can’t see over the hill in front of you. His path may seem longer because it doesn’t go the direction you’re currently headed. But I’m totally convinced that only his path leads to peace, fulfillment, and true joy. The broad path might lead you to power, fame or riches, but it won’t take you to contentment.
Get off your path and start walking down Jesus’s path. It might feel scary and seem more difficult at first, but I assure you that Jesus will walk with you down his path. It might be a wild ride, but it will always work out better in the long run.
Getting on the narrow path
If you’ve just realized that you’ve been walking down the wrong path, I want to give you an opportunity to get on the narrow path. I want to give you an opportunity to turn from your sins and to surrender your body and soul to the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is a prayer of surrender:
Lord Jesus, I have been following my own selfish desires. I have been walking down the wide path, and it has made my life a mess. II ask for your forgiveness. Today, I ask for you to rescue me from this path of destruction. Please place me on the right path. Do something inside my soul that I can’t do for myself. Please change me into a person who wants to walk down your path. Amen.
If you just prayed that from a sincere heart, I believe God will he hear your prayer and set you on the narrow path. I’d love to know about your decision. I want to help you as you start to walk down the path with Jesus. Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Read more about Jeff’s Army career in his book.
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