Dear fellow travelers,
Saint Augustine wrote in his Confessions “for it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge….and another to tread the road that leads to it.” Often along that road we get stuck in a rut, but what is a rut?
According to Dictionary.com, “rut” is a noun meaning: “a furrow or track in the ground, especially one made by the passage of a vehicle or vehicles” or “a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising: to fall into a rut.”
The second meaning comes from the first, earlier meaning. On dirt roads, vehicles create a rut along a repeated path, and the vehicles that come after find it easier to follow the path of least resistance. Therefore, without someone intervening and repairing the road, the rut gets deeper and its harder for any vehicle to avoid the rut. The second meaning is a metaphor of people doing the same thing. It’s easier to do what others have done before, or to continue what you’ve already done before, especially if repeated for a long period of time.
However, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25)
The Diversity of Ruts
Over time, I have found many ruts to get stuck in. In my earliest memories I was already in a rut of passive Christianity, going through rituals that didn’t mean much to me. As a young adult, I was in a different rut as a visibly vibrant church member, doing things like leading Bible studies and worship services. Later, I was in a rut of private faith, studying the Bible and praying nearly every day but rarely talking to anyone else about it. At other times I’ve been ruts of tribalism, comfortable practicing religion as acceptable to “my tribe,” whether a political tribe, a denominational one, or many others.
There were times in my life where I looked like a Christian but wasn’t, and also times where I was a Christian but didn’t look like one. There were times where some people approved, and there were times when other people approved.
Much of what I’ve done has been potentially “good,” at least in appearance, but in all cases there was always something not quite right with it. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “There was an Eden on this very unhappy Earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile.’” We’re stuck somewhere we’re not meant to stay. Each of our experiences is different, and the wrong paths I’ve been on are not always the same wrong paths you’ve been on, and what was wrong for me might be right for you. But for many of us, ruts are comfortable.
When people, like vehicles following a rut in the road, follow others, it doesn’t “feel” risky. But when in a rut, new ground is never uncovered, and new paths are never found. There is no fruit of the Spirit from staying in a rut, doing something because someone else did it or because it feels “normal.” God’s people grow in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” as they find and follow His path for them, not by accident, by routine, or by doing nothing.
What may be less obvious is that the right path I should be on is not the same path you should be on. As I’ve written, “Each of us is an intricate matrix of beliefs, at different levels of truth and of conviction on every possible topic.” We all try to follow the same Shepherd, but we’re all in different places and He has different paths for all of us. A person can be a passionate, sincere believer with characteristics from any or all of what were my ruts, while I may by grace have avoided the ruts of others.
Compelling, Clear, and Charitable
Why am I writing this? I picked up a few new followers this week, thanks to a post of mine being shared by Mitch Teemley (please visit his amazing blog!) and wanted to publicly thank him and to welcome any new readers!
Here, inspired by Ephesians 4:15, try to write posts that are “Compelling, Clear, and Charitable” as explained in this earlier post. I try to write posts that “stir up my readers to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24).
It’s easy to use doctrine to criticize. Luke 13:26 and elsewhere criticize public faith if done incorrectly, while Matthew 6:4, 6:6, 6:18 and elsewhere describe sincere religion as private, done in secret. Politically, God’s people were exiled from the Promised Land because they used God’s institutions for their own purposes, but in exile were told to honor God in ways that benefit the nations they lived among.
Likewise, the people in the many ruts I’ve been in are often in conflict with each other. For example, “visible” Christians can get frustrated with “private” Christians, and in fact make it more difficult for them to get out of it. Strangely, I find myself often in conflict with past and current versions of myself.
If I write about a situation that feels like one you’re currently in, you might get offended because to you it’s not a rut. It might be your true path. Or you might be offended because the rut is comfortable and too deep to see out of. It’s sometimes easier to see someone else’s rut than your own, especially if you’re in the same ditch together. The ditch may be comfortable to both of the people in it.
Because of this diversity of ruts, being charitable is harder than being clear or compelling, but it is infinitely more important. On the other hand, on a blog where I don’t know many of my readers, charity at a personal level can be impossible.
Now, Not Yet
We must try. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands God’s people to “make disciples of all nations.” We all experience failure on this mission, but the only way to guarantee failure is to not try at all. If I an Compelling and Clear here, I might have succeeded, but at something other than discipleship, for myself and for you. If we have not love, we are nothing. In addition, Proverbs 27:17 describes discipleship as “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” This verse is sometimes quoted with a smile as if it’s always rainbows and sunshine, but the verse is describing the violence of one piece of metal scraping bits off another piece of metal. In the metaphor of this post, it might be describing the work needed to dig out of a deep rut. Here, I make a humble attempt to make a better disciple of myself, but also to (hopefully charitably) share what I’ve learned in a way that helps others find their own path that is not a rut.
Even blogging may become a rut for me – it might have already – but it helps me move out of past ruts. The path of comfort and of least resistance is appealing. The temptation to create a new path defined by resistance to my past ruts is also appealing. I may steer clear of Scylla and crash headlong into Charybdis. For now, I take comfort that God has used my past ruts to teach me what I didn’t know at the time and wouldn’t have learned otherwise, and that Paul encourages us all to use whatever diverse gifts we have: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” – Romans 12:6-8
When we arrive finally in the eternity we have been craving, Jesus will completely and finally pull all His people out of their ruts, and each will blaze their own perfect trail as an untainted bearer of His image. Future me (and future you) will all be vibrant members of God’s family, constantly worshiping God in private prayer and public work, while perfectly manifesting the political Kingdom of God in a new heaven and new earth. While the road between here and there is full of ruts, God is faithful and will get us there. He promises that every rut we currently are stuck in is temporary, and also that in eternity the path of righteousness we should be on will be as easy and comfortable as our current ruts promise to be but fail to deliver on. The good we did imperfectly in this world will be done perfectly there.
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” – Revelation 21:21
There are no ruts in that road.
Welcome to my new and old fellow travelers.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Galatians 5:22-23