Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.” Matthew 16:24 (MSG)
I’ve been on this earth a good number of days now. Today makes 16, 418 to be exact. You’d think that somewhere along the 10,000 day mark I’d have things pretty well figured out. I mean, even with the fact that your cognitive memory doesn’t kick in for a thousand days or so, there’s still plenty of days to get things figured out.
I think the I’m as much “in process” today as any time in my entire life. The first 4,000 days processes a lot of physical growth. Then social and relational growth kicks in for a few thousand days as you process how to walk with others in the midst of your community. While relational growth pretty much goes on your entire life, my experience is that the bulk of it happens in the first 10,000 days. The patterns are set and major changes are rare (though sometimes necessary). It’s fine tuning at that point.
So after your 10,000th day, what is left to process and grow is largely spiritual. In my experience, that’s the hardest part of all. The phsyical and relational growth sort of happens naturally on its own, but spiritual growth happens mostly by choice, and choosing out of the process of spiritual growth is usually much easier in the moment than choosing in. Choosing to follow Jesus, by Jesus own admission, is a difficult path. It’s a lot about giving up possession and letting loose from control, and I’ve discovered I’m not very good at it. I am reminded today that the path that leads to Life first leads through suffering and the death. The path to the empty tomb leads first to the cross. [sigh]
I look back, then look forward, then peek deep inside. If the psalmist is right, I’ve got about 12,000 to 13,000 days left at best. Some days, I’m not sure it’ll be enough for all the spiritual processing that’s still needed.
“Tell them all this, but don’t expect them to listen. Call out to them, but don’t expect an answer.” Jeremiah 7:27 (MSG)
Jesus said that the path that leads to life is a narrow footpath, the way is difficult, and few find their way onto its trecherous terrain. Other other hand, Jesus said the path to death is a superhighway with plenty of spacious on-ramps. Most people find their way to it because it’s always easy to go with the flow of traffic and most people prefer to hit the interstate, hit the cruise control, and go where everyone else is going.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear, Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I marked the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
“It’s the way you’ve lived
that’s brought all this on you.
The bitter taste is from your evil life.
That’s what’s piercing your heart.” Jeremiah 4:18 (MSG)
Everyone encounters difficult stretches in life’s journey. Despite the seeming appearances to the contrary, every person’s journey includes steep climbs, mountain top vistas, and deep valleys. And the road conditions themselves can make some daily treks longer than others.
Sometimes we find ourselves struggling to wade through the thick muck that naturally comes with a tragic, fallen and broken world. Other times, as with the people Jeremiah confronts in today’s chapter, our struggle is due entirely to our own poor choices.
God, grant me the wisdom to make wise choices today, that my journey will be easier in the days ahead.
The people God has ransomed will come back on this road. They'll sing as they make their way home to Zion, unfading halos of joy encircling their heads, Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night. Isaiah 35:9-10 (MSG)
"Do you know where you're going?" Wendy asks me as pull out of the driveway on a trip.
"Yes," I reply, "Short term, and long term."
[cue: rim shot]
"Do you know where you're going?" is such a great question. Do you know where the road of life is leading? Do you have a destination in mind? Are you walking with purpose?
A few weeks ago, Wendy and I attended the funeral of our friend, Mike. Mike was a gifted musician and he fought a long, courageous battle with cancer. I was so blessed to watch from afar as Mike entered the homestretch of his journey on Earth. It reminded me of the final verses of today's chapter. He planned his funeral, and it was obvious from the numerous songs and hymns that he chose for us to sing and the scripture passages he picked out for us to read out loud that he knew where he was going - short term and long term.
So, do you know where you're going?
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and john
But Moses' hands got tired. So they got a stone and set it under him. He sat on it and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on each side. So his hands remained steady until the sun went down.Exodus 17:12 (MSG)
Growing up I had the opportunity to do a little camping in the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. The wilderness is vast in that area with long chains of remote lakes dotted with many uninhabited islands. It seems almost second nature now, but one of the first things I learned was never to go it alone. The buddy system is crucial to ensuring your safety and success on a journey through the wilderness. Whether climbing a mountain or camping in the boundary waters, you want to have a capable companion or companions to rely on.
Today's chapter was a good reminder to me of that principle. Moses was called upon to perform a priestly duty, holding his hands up before God while the battle raged below. He couldn't have completed the task were it not for Aaron and Hur to help hold his arms.
Jesus reminds us that the way of salvation is narrow and difficult. Obediently following God is a journey through the wilderness of this life. The buddy system applies. We all need companions who can be there when we need help being obedient in the things God asks of us.
Today, I'm thankful for those friends who have walked with me during stretches of my spiritual journey, and who would be there at a moments notice should I call upon them. I'm thankful for by buddies who are with me at this point in my life. I'm reminded of my need to be an Aaron or Hur in return, whenever they need me.
The lyrics of Psalm 137 don't pull any punches. This song was sure-fire, sixth century B.C., mesopotamian, ten verse blues. The song writer was living in captivity. Uprooted from his home in Jerusalem when it was sacked and destroyed (Read more about that from another "soul man," Jeremiah, in the book of Lamentations), we find our lyricist standing by the Euphrates river as his Babylonian captors mock him and call for a song. In defiance, he hangs his blues harp on the limb of a nearby willow tree and sits down to weep and cry out to God in an angry rage.
Life's road will take us through some pretty barren wastelands. Consider another bluesy musical trip down Route 66. Chicago is a rocking great place to start. There are some amazing views through the plush green of middle-Missouri and into the plains of Oklahoma. But, before you wet your toes in the deep blue Pacific off the Santa Monica pier, you've got some long stretches of desert wasteland to traverse.
We can't always control where life's road will lead. As another psalm writer, Solomon, penned, there are times along the journey to crank up the music and sing with the windows rolled down; there are also times to hang our blues harps on a tree by the road and keep silent. Both are equal parts of the journey.