I was lost and frustrated. The trail I was on is one of the most famous in the state of Virginia, named after what the mostly treeless mountain it is on looks like from afar—an old rag. I hike Old Rag often. But this time I was lost. Several paths looked like the way forward, and each failed to bring me to the trail I thought I knew so well. Finally, I slid down the side of one particular rock scramble only to find a group of hikers I had passed fifteen minutes before. I was back on the trail.
It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to not know the way when you feel like you should. The various possible ways look familiar—like strangers in a crowd whom you mistake for friends until they turn and you pretend that your wave was intended for someone else. It is the haunting familiarity of lostness that creates a frustrating anxiety. It is how so many people hike through life. They are almost sure they know where they are going, almost finding trailheads, almost reuniting with friends-turned-strangers.
Jesus talked about this kind of path-seeking when He encouraged His followers in the Sermon on the Mount:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt. 7:13–14)
According to Jesus, there is a wide gate and a narrow gate, a life-and-death scenario, and a warning that few find life. It’s a sobering statement, blunt and serious. It’s also difficult to imagine that Jesus and His listeners could consider this topic of spiritual trailblazing without thinking about David’s psalm on the same topic written so many years before. David says as a declaration to God’s goodness, “You make known to me the path of life” (Ps. 16:11).
These two statements about the way to life—one spoken by King David and the other by David’s King—serve together to encourage disciples who often find themselves turned around on the path of life. One passage declares the way to life, the other the means. There are two paths and one trail guide. God alone is the One who does the revealing. He is the One who leads His disciples home to safety.
When hiking Old Rag, you look for baby-blue trail markers. Park rangers have gone before hikers and marked trees, rocks, and turns with blue marks every few feet. On that day when I got lost, I had stopped following the markers because I thought I knew the way. What frustrated me in my waywardness was that I couldn’t find them again. But when I did, I knew I was back on the right path. There is One who the Great Trail Guide has sent ahead of us to mark our way. And He has marked the trail of life in marks of red.