Two young Americans with high adventure in their hearts arrived in the city of Quito, Ecuador, on their way to the "Great Amazon Rain Forest" east of the Andes Mountains. They were going on a great six-week trek and planned to write a book about their experiences. (Six weeks ought to be enough for that, oughtn't it?) They had been to an army surplus store before they left home and bought everything the salesman told them they would need-things like waterproof hammocks with built-in mosquito nets, canvas water bags, insect repellent, snakebite kits, machetes, pith helmets, fancy pocket knives, pressure lanterns, floating flashlights, safari shirts and shorts, guns and ammunition, fish hooks, reels, rods, bait and singers, dehydrated foods, cooking utensils, and heavy leather combat boots with extra high tops to prevent snakebite. What more could they want? There was, it occurred to them when they reached Quito, one thing-the language-and when they learned that a jungle missionary was in town, they came to see me.
There would be Indians where they were going, wouldn't there? Well, maybe, but that would depend on exactly where. Quichuas? That, too, would depend. There were seven or eight tribes in that side of the Andes. The men were a little vague about the route they would take, but it looked as if they were going where they would not find any inhabitants at all, or, if they did, they would not be Quichaus.
"Oh, well, just give us a few phrases," they said. "Indian languages are pretty much the same anyway, aren't they?"
They described their equipment to me with great pride, and I could see that it was not going to be much use. I wanted to tell them that what they ought to have was a guide, but they asked only for help on the language and not for advice. So off they went, full of confidence. Perhaps they found their way all right, survived, and even wrote the book. I never heard of them again.
Sometimes we come to God as the two adventurers came to me-confident and, we think, well-informed and well-equipped. But it has occurred to us that with all our accumulation of stuff, something is missing. There is just one thing we will have to ask God for, and we hope he will not find it necessary to sort through other things. There's nothing there that we're willing to do without. We know what we need-a yes or no answer, please, to a simple question. Or perhaps a road sign. Something quick and easy to point the way.
What we really ought to have is the Guide himself. Maps, road signs, a few useful phrases are good things, but infinitely better is someone who has been there before and knows the way.
Is there someone?
"The Lord is my Shepherd" (Psalm 23:1). He cans see to everything if we are willing to turn it all over (even the equipment, even the route), but we will not do this unless we believe he means what he says. Can his word be trusted? He has made countless promises. Is he going to fulfill them?
To say yes to these questions is to have faith. It is to start following. The sheep, trusting the shepherd, trots after him down the trail.
But the picture of an Eastern shepherd with his robes and staff, the flock of sheep, the stony path through the ravine, the dark valley, and the grassy place with a quiet pool are so remote from our lives as to seem no more than a romantic painting from another country and another age. We live in towns and cities and suburbs. Our days are full of perplexities far removed from the things that bother rams and ewes and lambs. We muddle along through the thousand decisions of an ordinary day. When we are aware of a need for help in one of them, it is not one relating to good pasture or a water supply. Time and money fill our minds; how to get them, how to use them, how to save them. Where shall I set the thermostat today? The price of fuel has gone up so frighteningly. And for breakfast-have I time to make pancakes? Can we afford bacon? Should the children take their lunches to school (it takes time to make a lunch) or should they buy them (it costs two dollars)? Shall I take the expressway to work today and pay a bridge toll, or shall I save the money and spend the time to go the long way? Silly things, trivialities, but we cannot escape them.
Then there are the serious things. A student has to decide where to go to college, what to major in, whom to marry, what job to prepare for, where to find that job. After college he must decide where to live, how to pay for the home, the card, the furniture the things that seem so much more indispensable than "green pastures."
But the God of the pastures is, let us not forget, the God of everywhere else. He knows just as much about suburbia or the inner city. He is not at a loss to know what to do with us, no matter where we are or what we are anxious about. Every last thing that enters our heads is know to him.
When the question of relevancy is raised, the next question ought to be: relevant to what? As C. S. Lewis said, "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date." The Bible is relevant-more relevant, I am convinced, more accurate, more trustworthy, more totally applicable to my "case" as a human being than anything man, no matter how well-trained, can tell me. It is the place to begin. It is the foundation, the only sure one. What I learn from other sources may help me a great deal, as stones to be laid on the foundation, and it would be foolish of me to brush aside other kinds of help that might be available to me. These good gifts, and gifts of whatever kind come to us, we are told, from the Father of lights. But we can start with the Bible
I have found in the Bible plenty of evidence that God has guided people. I find, too, assurance that He is willing to guide me. He has been at it for a long time. His hand reaches toward me. I have only to take it.