Day 27

How to Stay on Track

Wisdom Psalm 17:1-5
New Testament Matthew 19:1-15
Old Testament Job 4:1-7:21


Pippa and I love to go for walks. Not so long ago, we went for quite a long walk on the South Downs. Neither of us has a very good sense of direction and we had forgotten to take the map. Somehow, we managed to wander off the track and we ended up on someone’s farm.

It was one of the shortest days of the year and soon the light started to fade. It seemed that the only way to get back to where we had parked the car was to cross a field occupied by a large herd of cows. As we approached them, some surrounded us in an overly friendly fashion, blocking our way, while others took off in fright and started charging around the field.

Fearing that we were going to be mown down into the mud by terrified cows charging at us, we decided to make a rather speedy exit up a very steep and slippery bank. Pippa had exceeded her desired length of walk, darkness was falling and we seemed to be nowhere near a track. Things were not looking good.

Thankfully, we managed to find a path leading us back. It was such a relief. For future walks we decided we would definitely take a map and stick to the route. Staying on the track proves much better for being able to relax, talk together and for our relationship generally!

In the Bible, the image of God’s tracks is frequently used: tracks that lead to life.


Psalm 17:1-5

A prayer of David.

  1 Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
   listen to my cry.
  Hear my prayer—
   it does not rise from deceitful lips.
  2 Let my vindication come from you;
   may your eyes see what is right.

  3 Though you probe my heart,
   though you examine me at night and test me,
  you will find that I have planned no evil;
   my mouth has not transgressed.
  4 Though people tried to bribe me,
   I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
   through what your lips have commanded.
  5 My steps have held to your paths;
   my feet have not stumbled.


Determine to stay on God’s tracks

David says, ‘My feet have held closely to Your paths [to the tracks of the One Who has gone on before]’ (v.5a, AMP). The Hebrew word for paths literally means ‘wheel-tracks’. David is absolutely determined to stay on God’s tracks. In order to stay on God’s tracks, you need to watch:

  1. Your heart (what you think about)

    ‘Though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil’ (v.3a).

  2. Your words (what you say)

    ‘I have resolved that my mouth will not sin’ (v.3c).

  3. Your feet (the places that you go)

    My feet have not slipped’ (v.5b).


Lord, help me to stay on your tracks. May my feet not slip. Help me to guard my thoughts day and night. Help me not to sin against you through anything I say or do.

New Testament

Matthew 19:1-15


19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

The Little Children and Jesus

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.


Stay on God’s tracks in your relationships

Jesus’ teaching on relationships is of vital importance for your own life and for society. In this passage, he sets out God’s tracks for family life.

  1. Importance of marriage

    The Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, but he replies by speaking about marriage. He goes back to the creation account. Jesus quotes from Genesis 2:24, stating, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ (Matthew 19:5). This verse from Genesis is seen as the blueprint verse for marriage – not only in the Old Testament and by Paul (Ephesians 5:31) but also by Jesus himself.

    Marriage involves the public act of leaving – making a lifelong commitment to your partner that takes priority even over your parental relationships. It involves being ‘united’ with one’s partner – the Hebrew word means literally ‘glued’ together – not just physically and biologically but emotionally, psychologically, socially and spiritually. This is the Christian context of the ‘one-flesh’ union. The biblical doctrine of marriage is the most exciting and positive one that exists. It is also the most romantic view. It sets before us God’s perfect plan.

  2. Concession of divorce¹

    The Pharisees persist with their questions about divorce. They speak of Moses’ command (Matthew 19:7). Jesus replies by saying Moses permitted it ‘because your hearts were hard’ (v.8) and robustly confronts those men who (in a society in which women had far fewer rights) used the provision of the law to walk away from their wives (v.9).

    Moses’ provision for divorce reminds us of God’s grace and compassion in situations where we fall short of his ideals. But Jesus is saying that divorce is never ideal.

    Many of those who have experienced the pain of a broken marriage will identify with Job’s description of his suffering in today’s Old Testament passage. We need to do all we can to guard marriages (ours and others – I strongly encourage every couple in our church to do The Marriage Course) and do all we can to comfort those who have been divorced (not by casting blame like Eliphaz).

  3. Calling to singleness

    Jesus speaks of three types of singleness. First, some ‘were born that way’ (v.12a) and ‘never give marriage a thought’ (MSG). Second, there is involuntary singleness (v.12b) – those who ‘never get asked – or accepted’ (MSG). Third, there is voluntary singleness – those who ‘decide not to get married for kingdom reasons’ (v.12c, MSG). Singleness can be temporary or permanent, but it is never regarded in the New Testament as second best. Both marriage and singleness are high callings and, according to the New Testament, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.

  4. Priority of children

    The words of Jesus challenged the attitude of many of his contemporaries towards children. In ancient societies children were often kept on the periphery of society – to use an old-fashioned British saying, they were to be ‘seen but not heard’.

    God’s tracks are very different. Jesus places his hands on the little children and prays for them (v.13a). When the disciples feel that Jesus should not be distracted by them, Jesus replies, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (v.14). He demonstrates the high priority children should have in our lives.

    As parents, it is very important to prioritise our children and not to see them as distracting us from our work or ministry. As a church, we need to see that our children and youth have priority in terms of resources and facilities because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them as much as anyone else. They are not only the future of the church, they are the church.


Lord, help us, both in our own personal lives and as a society, not to wander off your tracks for family life. I pray for your blessing on all those working to strengthen family life.

Old Testament

Job 4:1-7:21


4 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied:

  2 “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?
   But who can keep from speaking?
  3 Think how you have instructed many,
   how you have strengthened feeble hands.
  4 Your words have supported those who stumbled;
   you have strengthened faltering knees.
  5 But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged;
   it strikes you, and you are dismayed.
  6 Should not your piety be your confidence
   and your blameless ways your hope?

  7 “Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished?
   Where were the upright ever destroyed?
  8 As I have observed, those who plow evil
   and those who sow trouble reap it.
  9 At the breath of God they perish;
   at the blast of his anger they are no more.
  10 The lions may roar and growl,
   yet the teeth of the great lions are broken.
  11 The lion perishes for lack of prey,
   and the cubs of the lioness are scattered.

  12 “A word was secretly brought to me,
   my ears caught a whisper of it.
  13 Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
   when deep sleep falls on people,
  14 fear and trembling seized me
   and made all my bones shake.
  15 A spirit glided past my face,
   and the hair on my body stood on end.
  16 It stopped,
   but I could not tell what it was.
  A form stood before my eyes,
   and I heard a hushed voice:
  17 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
   Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?
  18 If God places no trust in his servants,
   if he charges his angels with error,
  19 how much more those who live in houses of clay,
   whose foundations are in the dust,
   who are crushed more readily than a moth!
  20 Between dawn and dusk they are broken to pieces;
   unnoticed, they perish forever.
  21 Are not the cords of their tent pulled up,
   so that they die without wisdom?’

  5 “Call if you will, but who will answer you?
   To which of the holy ones will you turn?
  2 Resentment kills a fool,
   and envy slays the simple.
  3 I myself have seen a fool taking root,
   but suddenly his house was cursed.
  4 His children are far from safety,
   crushed in court without a defender.
  5 The hungry consume his harvest,
   taking it even from among thorns,
   and the thirsty pant after his wealth.
  6 For hardship does not spring from the soil,
   nor does trouble sprout from the ground.
  7 Yet man is born to trouble
   as surely as sparks fly upward.

  8 “But if I were you, I would appeal to God;
   I would lay my cause before him.
  9 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
   miracles that cannot be counted.
  10 He provides rain for the earth;
   he sends water on the countryside.
  11 The lowly he sets on high,
   and those who mourn are lifted to safety.
  12 He thwarts the plans of the crafty,
   so that their hands achieve no success.
  13 He catches the wise in their craftiness,
   and the schemes of the wily are swept away.
  14 Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;
   at noon they grope as in the night.
  15 He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;
   he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.
  16 So the poor have hope,
   and injustice shuts its mouth.

  17 “Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
   so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
  18 For he wounds, but he also binds up;
   he injures, but his hands also heal.
  19 From six calamities he will rescue you;
   in seven no harm will touch you.
  20 In famine he will deliver you from death,
   and in battle from the stroke of the sword.
  21 You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,
   and need not fear when destruction comes.
  22 You will laugh at destruction and famine,
   and need not fear the wild animals.
  23 For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,
   and the wild animals will be at peace with you.
  24 You will know that your tent is secure;
   you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.
  25 You will know that your children will be many,
   and your descendants like the grass of the earth.
  26 You will come to the grave in full vigour,
   like sheaves gathered in season.

  27 “We have examined this, and it is true.
   So hear it and apply it to yourself.”


6 Then Job replied:

  2 “If only my anguish could be weighed
   and all my misery be placed on the scales!
  3 It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—
   no wonder my words have been impetuous.
  4 The arrows of the Almighty are in me,
   my spirit drinks in their poison;
   God’s terrors are marshaled against me.
  5 Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass,
   or an ox bellow when it has fodder?
  6 Is tasteless food eaten without salt,
   or is there flavour in the sap of the mallow?
  7 I refuse to touch it;
   such food makes me ill.

  8 “Oh, that I might have my request,
   that God would grant what I hope for,
  9 that God would be willing to crush me,
   to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
  10 Then I would still have this consolation —
   my joy in unrelenting pain —
   that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.

  11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
   What prospects, that I should be patient?
  12 Do I have the strength of stone?
   Is my flesh bronze?
  13 Do I have any power to help myself,
   now that success has been driven from me?

  14 “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend
   forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
  15 But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
   as the streams that overflow
  16 when darkened by thawing ice
   and swollen with melting snow,
  17 but that stop flowing in the dry season,
   and in the heat vanish from their channels.
  18 Caravans turn aside from their routes;
   they go off into the wasteland and perish.
  19 The caravans of Tema look for water,
   the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.
  20 They are distressed, because they had been confident;
   they arrive there, only to be disappointed.
  21 Now you too have proved to be of no help;
   you see something dreadful and are afraid.
  22 Have I ever said, ‘Give something on my behalf,
   pay a ransom for me from your wealth,
  23 deliver me from the hand of the enemy,
   rescue me from the clutches of the ruthless’?

  24 “Teach me, and I will be quiet;
   show me where I have been wrong.
  25 How painful are honest words!
   But what do your arguments prove?
  26 Do you mean to correct what I say,
   and treat my desperate words as wind?
  27 You would even cast lots for the fatherless
   and barter away your friend.

  28 “But now be so kind as to look at me.
   Would I lie to your face?
  29 Relent, do not be unjust;
   reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.
  30 Is there any wickedness on my lips?
   Can my mouth not discern malice?

  7 “Do not mortals have hard service on earth?
   Are not their days like those of hired labourers?
  2 Like a slave longing for the evening shadows,
   or a hired labourer waiting to be paid,
  3 so I have been allotted months of futility,
   and nights of misery have been assigned to me.
  4 When I lie down I think, ‘How long before I get up?’
   The night drags on, and I toss and turn until dawn.
  5 My body is clothed with worms and scabs,
   my skin is broken and festering.

  6 “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
   and they come to an end without hope.
  7 Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
   my eyes will never see happiness again.
  8 The eye that now sees me will see me no longer;
   you will look for me, but I will be no more.
  9 As a cloud vanishes and is gone,
   so one who goes down to the grave does not return.
  10 He will never come to his house again;
   his place will know him no more.

  11 “Therefore I will not keep silent;
   I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit,
   I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
  12 Am I the sea, or the monster of the deep,
   that you put me under guard?
  13 When I think my bed will comfort me
   and my couch will ease my complaint,
  14 even then you frighten me with dreams
   and terrify me with visions,
  15 so that I prefer strangling and death,
   rather than this body of mine.
  16 I despise my life; I would not live forever.
   Let me alone; my days have no meaning.

  17 “What is mankind that you make so much of them,
   that you give them so much attention,
  18 that you examine them every morning
   and test them every moment?
  19 Will you never look away from me,
   or let me alone even for an instant?
  20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
   you who see everything we do?
  Why have you made me your target?
   Have I become a burden to you?
  21 Why do you not pardon my offenses
   and forgive my sins?
  For I will soon lie down in the dust;
   you will search for me, but I will be no more.”


Help others stay on God’s tracks

I am so thankful for my friends who have helped me stay on track. However, sometimes it is possible even for our friends to misunderstand or get things wrong. In this passage we see a contrast between Job who helped others stay on God’s tracks (4:3–4) and Eliphaz who was ‘no help’ to Job (6:21).

Sometimes people ask, ‘Is every word in the Bible true?’ I reply, ‘Yes, but like every other book it needs to be interpreted.’ One of the rules of interpretation is that we have to interpret according to the context.

We have to read the words of Eliphaz in the light of the fact that, in the end, the Lord says to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has’ (42:7). The words that we read in this passage are not all true. Job’s friends give far too simplistic an answer to the issue of suffering. Their diagnosis is often naïve, pious and unrealistic.

Job, on the other hand, is realistic and honest as he struggles with pain, sleepless nights, grief and suffering. His suffering is not as a result of his own sin, as Eliphaz and his friends suggest. Job rightly asks, ‘Show me where I have been wrong’ (6:24). God’s Spirit will always convict us of specific sins whereas Eliphaz and his friends say to him in effect, ‘You must have done something wrong to be suffering like this.’ Those who are suffering have not necessarily caused their suffering by their own sin. If we have, then God will show us the specific sin.

Eliphaz and his friends give advice that is a mixture of truth and falsehood and their words need to be interpreted as such. One thing Eliphaz says that is probably true is that Job was a man who helped people stay on God’s tracks: ‘Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees’ (4:3–4).

Your task is not just to stay on track yourself but, like Job, to help others as well by your actions and by your words.


Lord, thank you for all my friends who help me stay on track. Help me to be a genuine comfort to those who are suffering, to support those who stumble and strengthen those with faltering knees. Help us all to help each other to stay on your tracks.

Pippa adds

Psalm 17:1-5

I am impressed by the psalmist saying, ‘... my mouth has not transgressed’ (17:3c). It means being careful about all your words. What we say when we are ‘off duty’ still really matters.



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¹For a fuller answer you may also find chapter 6 of The Jesus Lifestyle helpful on the subject of marriage and divorce. Available at

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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