The sign, "Stay on trail or stay home," posted at the base of New Hampshire's Mt. Monadnock – second only to Mt. Fuji in popularity among climbers – directs hikers where to walk even if it means getting their shoes a bit dirty. During mud season – especially after there has been a lot of snow – hikers may prefer to walk around muddy spots. But when they do this, they create secondary trails and destroy fragile vegetation.
Staying on the trail in the alpine zone (above the treeline) is imperative as alpine growth is much more delicate because of constant exposure to the elements. In addition to protecting the plant life, staying on the trail or behind a mountain guide is often for one's own safety. On glaciers, a guide will safely navigate around crevasses, cornices, and avalanche-prone areas.
The Bible also reminds us, more gently than the trail sign, to stay on the trail. The Psalmist declared, "The Lord is my shepherd.… he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake" (23:1, 3). And that psalm points out the blessings we receive from listening to God, our Shepherd, and following His direction.
So the question naturally comes up, how do I know when it's God I'm listening to? How do I know when I'm following His guidance? The Bible says, "God is love" (I John 4:8). What would the purpose of God who is Love be? And how do we know if Love, God, is the origin of our thoughts and actions?
The Bible presents many accounts of those who listened to and obeyed God. Ruth displayed selfless devotion to family. Solomon asked God for an understanding heart rather than riches. And the greatest exemplar of all, Christ Jesus, followed God's direction whether it was easy or not. But the Bible also offers vivid examples of the trouble that came to people who wandered off the trail. David killed a man to cover up adultery. Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax collector. Saul persecuted Christians. The nice thing is that there's a sequel: in each case, the individual involved was brought back on the trail through the influence of divine Truth, guiding him to do what was right.
The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, knew and loved God from early childhood. As a child, she often prayed for His guidance and healing. In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she wrote, "To be 'with the Lord' is to be in obedience to the law of God, to be absolutely governed by divine Love, – by Spirit, not by matter" (p. 14).
The green pastures, still waters, mercy, and goodness found in Psalm 23 illustrate the spiritual substance of God's creation. Everything that God, divine Love, creates is completely good. Man, the image or idea of God, includes – permanently and irrevocably – all good. When we glimpse this spiritual creation, we at that moment let ourselves be governed by Spirit, not matter. Under God's government we are satisfied, joyous, and whole.
A humble, honest check of our motives and thoughts keeps us safe. Take God as Love for instance. What are the attributes of Love? How would Love be expressed by man? A few of the qualities of Love are patience, kindness, love, mercy, and goodwill. So if these are the qualities that are leading our thought and actions, we are yielding at that moment to divine Love's government. But anger, resentment, greed, and lust aren't qualities of God who is Love. If we're following them, we leave the trail and we're not letting ourselves be governed by divine Love.
With humility, honesty, and patience, we continue to listen for God's voice and follow His direction. Sometimes the way is easy, and sometimes more challenging. But one thing is guaranteed: Being guided and governed by God is not only the right way to go, but also the only true path to follow.