September 1, 2017 | View PDF
Someone said, “When those who have been around longest share their experiences in life’s journey, our future paths become more understandable.” There’s truth in those words which can apply to many areas of life, including our faith journey. As one who has worked at my own pilgrimage and given my life to help others do so for many years, I would like to offer some observations about the Christian journey.
First, a journey of uncertainty requires direction. I am amazed that many people begin the Christian journey looking backwards and thinking mostly of a jump into eternity without much thought about what happens in between. I learned pretty early in life it matters not so much exactly where you are as much as the direction you are moving. Without direction and purpose, a journey is not much more than a wandering experience which may be only a circle.
Paul helped us so much with his memorable words as written to the Philippians. “But this one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward.” (Phil. 3:13-14) Christianity is little more than a religious coat we put on without a purpose of becoming like Christ. Paul’s direction in life was intimate fellowship with Christ.
The early followers of Christ were called disciples, and rightly so. But they were more than men who followed Christ up and down roads. They followed because He had become their life. Every Christian today is called to follow with the same intent. The very concept of a destination means that all other destinations are ruled out. Would those who know you best describe your life as one whose purpose is to become like Christ?
Second, a journey of performance requires dedication. Paul further explored the depths of this journey with a description of the costs. “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (I Cor.9:27) Paul precedes these verses with an analogy of a runner. Serious running requires discipline. They will not attain the fitness desired without the required routine. So it is with the Christian life.
In particular, note that Paul’s concern was not to impress others with his discipline, but rather not to be embarrassed at the end. Runners in a race may not be able to keep the same pace as everyone else, but they want to do their best. No runner wants to be labeled a slacker, one who didn’t give his best.
We remember how the disciples first called to leave their nets and follow. As their journey continued it required interaction with people. Jesus told them He would make them “fishers of men.” But there came a day when He taught them about submission in a much deeper sense. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 15:24)
Discipleship is a journey of continuing maturity and increased commitment to be ready to imitate Christ in our “performance.” Paul’s words to runners were “run to win.” I hope that is your desire also.
Third, a journey of endurance requires strength. One Tuesday early in the 1923 season, the Yankee’s regular first baseman, Wally Pip, was bothered by a headache. Before the game he asked the team trainer to get him some aspirin. The manager, Mike Huggins, overheard the conversation and told Wally to take the day off. He would start a rookie named Lou Gehrig at first base.
Gehrig took over for Pip at first base and stayed there for fifteen years. He compiled a major league record of 2,130 consecutive games not counting World Series games. For his awesome endurance, he was eventually known as the “Iron Horse.”
There is a message here for us. We need to be able to “take the field” of Christianity with the same hard work and steadfast endurance. Different than a famous ball player, we can’t do it on our own. Every ounce of desire and energy will be tested. The limits of our own strength will be revealed. Unfortunately, that is where many Christians shift into neutral. They have never learned the power of faith to give us endurance.
The writer of Hebrews understood the process clearly as he wrote, “Let us run with patience the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1) I am reminded of the problems Peter ran into the night of Jesus’s betrayal. He never would have believed his own weakness as revealed in the denial of Christ three times in just a few minutes. As he was confronted with his inability to endure, he wept bitterly.
You and I are not immune to failure along the journey to maturity. Pressures from within and without in the world systems sometimes drive us to wrong choices. During those tough times, if we rely on our own strength, we will
Strength for endurance comes only through grace experienced in a closer walk with our Lord. He will help us to be successful in spiritual warfare. Again the writer of Hebrews reminds us of resources for the journey. Our Lord will “equip you with everything good for doing his will…” (Hebrews 13:21)
Christianity is not so much a matter of denomination, church identity or worship style. It is ultimately about a direction in life which honors Christ. With each successive call “to follow”, there is a challenge to a deeper devotion and a growing need for endurance. As we experience failure and renewal in our journey following Him, we become aware that it is the strength He gives us which makes us able to endure. In so doing we become winners for Christ in this life, the only thing we have to offer Him which He can use.