Lately I have been reflecting on the need for each of us to have reliable and outspoken accountability partners. Strong and loving people who are willing to lean into our lives and give us feedback, who are prepared to rebuke us when we step out of line and off the narrow path. People who persist even when we react defensively or we refuse to hear what they have to say. They relentlessly lean in, willing to keep trying until we “hear” them.
This issue has been on my mind recently because in the news we have been watching “successful” individuals such as politicians, musicians, business executives, a beloved comedian, a pastor of a mega church and an admired radio broadcaster imploding and crashing.
These individuals were outstanding in their chosen fields and were highly respected. Yet, when undesirable personal information was recently exposed in the media it revealed that things were not as they had appeared.
All of a sudden, these individuals’ inappropriate choices, lifestyles, and even possible illegal activities were brought to light. And in mere days public opinion was inverted. They were now peppered with criticism, judgment and condemnation by the very public that had previously idolized them. Many from their inner circles abandoned them at the very moment they most needed the support.
Questions emerged as each story unfolded. How did each person get so far off track and move away from the things that had initially contributed to them being such admired leaders in their fields? How had they gotten away with such injurious choices for so many years? Where were their accountability partners and what role, if any, did they play? How did their power, prestige, and pride play out in these stories? What can we learn from these stories so that we don’t stumble onto similar destructive paths?
In each story there are likely many factors that influenced each person’s walking towards such undesirable destinations. Conversely, there might have been other factors that could have rescued each individual from self-destructing. But one lesson to be drawn from these stories is how essential it is to have God, Scripture, and strong accountability people within our lives. Otherwise it is so easy for our soul to become puffed up (Habakkuk 2:4) and our neck to stiffen to the point we are not able to hear and receive instruction (Jeremiah 17:23).
Self-pride and arrogance leads to the belief we have it all figured out and that we don’t have to answer to others. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). So as “success” grows – it seems like pride grows – making it easier for us to do whatever we want. We silence our conscience and ignore the greater and moral good.
Scripture tells us that there is more hope for a fool, than the man who is so wise in his own eyes he is un-teachable. (Proverbs 26:12). For when we walk down the path of pride it becomes a struggle to receive challenges or feedback. We can then become unreachable.
Staying on the narrow path is difficult. It is so easy to stumble and take that first step off the path. Being tempted can distract us as we take our eyes off the end goal. It then becomes easier to take another step, leading us even farther off the path. And then just one more step. And another. And before we realize it, we have strayed far from the narrow path of wisdom and are now following folly’s path; the broad, crooked, dark path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7: 13).
This downward spiral happens so gradually people often find themselves in totally unexpected, unwelcome situations. Often we are left wondering how it all fell apart in such dismal ways. When we are not engaging with God’s word, are not being watchful, or do not have some accountability people we can end up travelling to places we never imagined.
Scripture is clear about the many ways to stay on the narrow path. One way is to retain a sense of humility, to have receptive ears and hearts. Humility keeps us receptive to wisdom. For wisdom “is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay ahold of her will be blessed.” (Proverbs 3:18) As Proverbs 2:1-5 instructs us, “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your hearts to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as if for silver and search for it as hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God”.
Surrounding ourselves with wise and strong accountability partners is another way to stay on the narrow path. Proverbs tells us that “He who walks with the wise grows wise” (13:20) and “whoever heeds correction is honoured” (13:18).
Of course there are no guarantees. But if we continue our journey with eyes focused on God and Scripture, live with humility, walking in the company of the wise, there is a greater surety “we will go on our way in safety, and our foot will not stumble” (Proverbs 3:23).