On a recent visit to our former home state of Vermont, my wife and I decided to hike to the summit of the state’s highest mountain, Mt. Mansfield. Although I knew which trail we were going to take and where the trailhead was, I wanted a little more information—like how long the trail was, how much elevation gain, and so forth. So a friend of ours lent his trail guide, which offered what I was looking for. The Sunset Ridge trail is 6.6 miles out and back, and involves a 2500-foot elevation gain. But then it provided some further guidance. Once you get above the tree line, it said, you’ll want to follow the cairns to stay on the trail.

I’ve seen this kind of trail marker before. Basically, a cairn is a pile of rocks, neatly arranged in the shape of a rough pyramid. They’re used on trails that lack trees or other notable objects that could be marked with the trail blazes (the colored marks usually painted on trees along a trail). Cairns serve the obvious purpose of keeping the hiker on the trail lest he take a route that could be dangerous at worst, or could take him terribly off course, and he waste hours trying to find his way back to a route that will actually take him to the destination. They also serve another purpose. Above the tree line, vegetation is quite fragile. Cairns help keep all hikers on the same trail, thus minimizing the impact on those fragile plants—healthy vegetation reduces erosion.

I remember thinking, as we passed one of those cairns, that the Holy Spirit uses the Bible in a cairn-like way for the attentive Christian. God made a promise to His people under the old covenant that He would establish a new covenant, one marked by the ministry of His Spirit, the divine Teacher. The Lord describes the Teacher’s role, “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). And this divine Teacher does so by bringing to mind or otherwise using the divine Word. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit’s “cairn work” when he promised his followers, “…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). A little later on, Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” (John 16:13).

God has given us the gifts of His Word and His Spirit to guide the Christian along the path of life. It’s as if we’re journeying along alpine terrain—the only safe guides are the divine cairns. Let’s look to the Word that the Holy Spirit will use to tell us, “This is the way. Walk in it.”