THE ABIDING LIFE
Experiencing the Journey of Life
By Gwen Sellers
The journey. Depending on your personality this concept evokes feeling of excitement and adventure or feelings of dread. For me, it's dread. I can't stand road trips. Behind slow drivers I actually verbally tell myself to calm down so I won't rear-end them. Long checkout lines prompt me to look crazily around for any shorter option. I coax myself through extended meetings by counting down the time or relishing the thought that it just might get out early. Basically, I'm impatient.
I live as if I'm checking things off a list so I can finally relax. If I've grocery shopped once, I should be finished with it for life. It's checked off the list after all! But that is not the way God sees life. He is present in each moment. He institutes a certain rhythm (such as the Sabbath and the various Old Testament festivals). If we don't have the right perspective, that rhythm can seem like monotonous repetition. But it is actually beautiful music. Life is a journey, and it requires continual maintenance. I'm realizing that statement has two implications for me.
First, I need to learn to enjoy the natural pause times during the day. I look forward to my morning workout routine because it's a time I let my mind wander. I pray, I think, I enjoy just being. Why not do this when standing in a long checkout line? Or the commute to work? "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) is something I can do anywhere. Perhaps those opportunities for patience are God's way of reminding me to stop and rest in Him for a bit.
But I need greater change than that. I need my heart to learn that my life's journey is not about checking everything off the list so I can finally reach the end. Life is not a set of meaningless hoops or busy work nuisances. Rest is not something that happens when all responsibilities have been met. Pleasure is not exclusive to doing things that are not required of me. Life happens in those moments, in those responsibilities, in learning how to maintain and persevere. Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV) says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." We are to run with endurance, not at a full sprint. Jesus did not race to the cross. He fully engaged in each step that brought Him there. He took time to eat, to sleep, to bathe. He even took time to grow up as a human being (Luke 2:52). In His ministry we see Him take time to really know people. He did not sacrifice them to complete a task. He related with them even in the midst of other responsibilities (see, for example, Luke 8:40-56).
Yes, there is an end goal. There will be final perfection. But the life that happens in the journey between now and then is vital. It is in the actual living of life that I learn endurance, that I learn to look to Jesus, that I learn to stay grafted into the Vine (John 15:1-11).
And that living takes maintenance. Jesus said to abide in Him. The Greek word for "abide" in John 15 can be defined as "to be held, kept, continually" or "to continue to be." It is a continual action. I don't connect to Jesus once and call it good. I must continually remain connected. And this takes some work. Running is similar. A race is made up of the same repeated motion time after time. One foot in front of the other. Paul told Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). Training is not a once-and-for-all endeavor, but a consistent discipline. Some things in my life are going to require continual attention. Of course there will be things like eating, sleeping, grocery shopping, bill paying, and the like. But other things require my continual effort, too. Relationships would be one obvious example. Of course there is also spiritual growth.
Then there's the one we don't like to think about too much—living free from sin, laying aside the "sin which clings so closely" (Hebrews 12:1). Victory over a temptation once doesn't mean I can let my guard down. Second Corinthians 3:18 talks about us "being transformed" to the image of Christ. Later in the same letter Paul writes about a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). This was something that would not go away. He had to continually deal with this thorn, submitting to Christ daily for sufficient grace. It was part of his transformation process. Earlier Paul had written, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). I cannot check my own proclivity to sin off my list to never be dealt with again. I must surrender, each day, to God's leadership in my life. I am reminded of the manna God provided the Israelites (Exodus 16). God makes provisions for each day. He does not give us everything at once. He wants us to remain connected to Him, to truly relate with Him. Each day we must submit. Each day we must learn to say "no" to our sinful nature and "yes" to living by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It has been said that life is but the sum total of our days. If I want to reach the end goal, I need to learn to engage with, and even enjoy, the journey. Admittedly, even I've had fun on a road trip before. Also, I know that the goal is so much more meaningful when we allow the road that has led us there to have its full impact. Why not enjoy the road as well as the goal? But in order to stay on that road, I need to practice the art of maintenance. I need to stay continually connected to the Vine, whatever that takes. It may look like monotony to me, but I know that it is rhythm instituted by the One who loves me more than I can imagine and who knows what is for my best. Indeed, He is making a beautiful masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10), and I'll be able to see it better if I yield to His artful hand.
Image Credit: Phil Richards; "Long journey home"; Creative Commons
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Published on 5-22-13