My family loves hiking and right now we are preparing to do the Otter Trail, a five day hike along the coast of Tsitsikamma, South Africa. In a house with teenagers, this is part of our determination to build memories, have adventure and achieve goals together as a family.
Whenever we hike, we come across physical markers on the paths which serve to mark where to go, or where you have come from. It is hard to resist picking up a nearby rock and placing it on top, your own acknowledgement that you have been there. Without the help of markers, it is possible to lose your bearings and stray from the path.
Family stories are often spiritual markers, told to the children, who in turn will tell the grand-children and great-grandchildren. They are told to remember, to educate and teach important lessons about life. Particularly stories about God’s activity in our lives and each act of God, builds upon a previous act, like a pile of stones. The stories repeated through generations, give context to how God deals with us as a family. Each family member adds to the story of their own experiences with God. All the markers make up our spiritual memory.
They mark our spiritual journey to heaven, helping us to stay on our path. When we get lost, it is easy to go back to a previous marker, or recount the markers and so get our bearings again.
The sad thing is, in our very busy lives with a high level of activity; the demand upon our time; and our personal desire to progress quickly in our faith; we often neglect to mark these important signposts in our journey.
Spiritual markers are things like songs that remind us of divine moments of God’s goodness. They are symbols which represent important lessons we have learnt (like butterflies and roosters for me). They are encounters with God recorded in journals for reference later. They are prayers written and kept in our bibles. They are stories told to people about God’s goodness. They are verses memorized, seasons experienced, events photographed and remembered. They mark a time of decision, transition, discipline, direction, encouragement, etc.
Spiritual markers can be good or bad things that have happened to us, but over time we see that positive things came out of it, or it significantly re-shaped our lives. They are providential, in that God either allowed the event to happen, or ordered the event to our benefit. (Rom 8:28)
As we look back over the spiritual markers, they remind us of the great things God has done and we remember His love and protection and His guidance to us.
In Joshua 4:4-7 Joshua makes the people establish a spiritual marker for exactly this purpose. The people stepped out of God’s purposes and as a result spent forty years wandering in a desert. Now God had miraculously parted the waters of the Jordan River and the entire nation has crossed over into the Promised Land. With a whole land before them to conquer, Joshua tells them to build a memorial:
“So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, ‘Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelite, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’”
Why would Joshua force the people to pause and make a marker, rather than marching on into the Promised Land? In time the people would face intimidating enemies and tests to their faith – this marker (placed on a major travelling route) was to remind them and their children of God’s power and His faithfulness to the people. Children were to be told, to help the next generation understand the significance of God’s activity in this event.
What would be spiritual markers in your life? Do you have significant stories, events, symbols, objects, songs and verses that mark important crossroads in your spiritual journey to heaven?
On some of the hikes we have done, we would have been lost were it not for the physical markers on the path. There is some security in knowing the path is mapped out by those that have been this way before. Spiritual markers also help us not to get lost or stray from the path we are on. They are crucial to our spiritual growth and maintenance, as well as those following in our footsteps.
Take a leaf out of Joshua’s book and stop to make some spiritual markers today.
Thank You Father for the path that leads me home to my place in heaven. Thank you that You have given me significant life experiences that mark and remind me of the journey I am taking and Your faithfulness to me. Thank you for those who have gone before me that leave literature, monuments and stories for me to follow. Help me be conscientious about taking note of those moments in my life, to mark them and to share the stories of my faith with the next generation.