Life as a Journey Series - Part 2
Where Are You Now?
by Ted Schroder
When you visit a mall, or a park, or a complex, where you haven’t been before, the site map can save you a great deal of time trying to find your destination. Critical to understanding the map is your present location. You look for the magic words: YOU ARE HERE, and the arrow that identifies the spot on which you stand.
Similarly we need to know where we are now if we are to travel in the right direction in our lives. If we don’t know where we are we can make mistakes which may cost us dearly. Once, when making a connection in Dallas/Fort Worth airport, I hopped onto the interconnecting train to take me to the right gate. If I had consulted the transit map carefully I would have discovered the gate was just down the terminal. The train took me in the opposite direction, and encountered some delays. By the time I reached the gate, which I could have walked to quite easily, my plane had departed leaving me having to stay overnight in the airport hotel!
God is calling us on a journey whose destination is personal wholeness in his heavenly presence. St. Paul writes about pressing on “to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But 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 in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
Our life is either pressing onward toward that heavenly goal or it is going in the wrong direction, away from God. It is either one way or the other. There is no third alternative. Our life’s journey can end in wholeness or in distortion. We can come to dwell in the presence of God or we can choose to end up totally alienated from God, from his life, his light, and his love. We tend in one of two quite opposite directions. We are either moving towards God’s presence; or we are moving away from his presence. One path leads to ever-increasing wholeness while the other brings distortions and imbalance to our personal identity and character.
In other words, we are in the process of becoming what we choose. We really do have free will. Our choices count. At death, our choice to seek God’s presence or to flee from it will be confirmed. We will find and dwell in heaven where God is and where real reality exists; or we will be in that place where God is not; where nothing real exists. St. Paul contrasts the two directions. “Keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:17-21)
The Message puts it this way: “Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street.”
It is vitally important that we know where we are and where we are going – in which direction. What sort of person we become depends on the direction we are taking. When we look at people as they age we see that they are the culmination of the choices they have made during their lifetime. They are either tending toward heaven, or toward hell.
Our journey through life can take three general stages. The first stage we can call Quest. This is the stage when we seek to find out what is true, what is real, what is persuasive, what resonates authentically with our life’s experience. We seek knowledge of God. If we are Christians we have found that Jesus has opened the Way to God, and brings us the Truth and the Life of God. Our Quest stage ends when we discover the good news about Jesus.
The second stage can be called the Commitment phase. This is when we learn what would be involved if we were to live our life in relationship to Jesus Christ. For many people this stage can take a long time. They find Jesus to be attractive but elusive, and they are not easily able to commit themselves to him. There are many people who would count themselves as Christians whose commitment is to the ideas, ethics, or church of Jesus. Theirs is a belief in certain teachings of Jesus, or certain festivals, such as Christmas or Easter, or the church in which they were born. Studies indicate that sixty-one percent of self-professed Christians fall in this category. It is only thirty-nine percent of professing Christians who are committed to the Person who stands behind the ideas, the ethics, and the church. Commitment to the person of Jesus is a growing, changing, deepening experience that develops as our life goes on. When a person commits himself to a personal relationship with God in Jesus there is a transition from the Commitment stage to the third stage: the Integration phase.
This Integration stage is characterized by the discovery of Christian fellowship and community; by a desire to grow in understanding; in changes in world view and purpose in life, in changes in our relationships with others, and in priorities in the use of time, talents and treasure.
It is important to locate where you are now in this journey. It is possible that you have moved forwards and backwards over a lifetime. It is possible for someone to have taken two steps forward and one step backwards. According to our circumstances we may have altered direction. Some people were very much further along in their spiritual journey in their youth, and then marriage, family, education, career, tragedy, and crises distracted them and caused them to take a sabbatical, time-out, even a rejection of God. Sometimes it is necessary to start all over again with the Quest stage. For some people it requires a dramatic personal encounter with Christ, a Damascus Road experience.
Robert Novak writes in his memoir, The Prince of Darkness, about being raised Jewish, but he was essentially secular throughout his life. He experienced spiritual hunger, and began joining his wife in attending Catholic mass. At a dinner before speaking at Syracuse University he noticed that a student was wearing a cross and asked her if she was Catholic. He told her that he had been attending church with his wife for some years. She asked him if he was planning to become a Christian. He demurred. Then she said to him: “Mr Novak, life is short, but eternity is forever.” Novak writes: “I was so shaken by what she said that I could barely get through the rest of the dinner and my speech that night. I became convinced that the Holy Spirit was speaking through her.” He was baptized and confirmed on May, 20, 1998 at 67 years old!
Where are you now in your spiritual journey? In what direction are you headed? Get moving. Life is short, but eternity is forever.
(Some material adapted from Pilgrimage, Richard Peace, Baker, 1976)
(c) Ted Schroder, January 13, 2008
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