In my seventh decade of life (b. 1949) I now see that my entire life has been a journey, a pathway that I’ve followed by God’s grace, a road that leads home. But home is not in some far off place that we commonly call heaven. I get ahead of myself a bit here but this is important to grasp. “In the sweet by-and-by” is not my understanding of the final end of this journey. Because Jesus is Lord over all creation, and because he has redeemed it all “by sacrificing his blood on the cross . . . all things in heaven and on earth” I/we will be brought back (home) to God. I am not denying that at death I will be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ! I am simply saying what Paul says again and again about the realities that have come about because Jesus is “above all others” (Colossians 1:18). The ultimate destiny of all the saints is to be in his presence and raised in a glorified body to live in “the new heavens and new earth.” This, I submit to you, is far more interesting and exciting than escaping this body and flying away.
I have been thinking a lot this summer about my personal journey. This has led me to think about all the ways that God has worked to bring me safely along this pathway and to keep me on the road that leads home. In the coming weeks I want to explain how he has done this and tell you about some of the people he has used to accomplish this work. My hope is that you will see Jesus!
Paul went through quite a lot to get safely home and from his story he gives us glimpses, now and then, that are awesome. He names many of the people who helped him. Have you noticed this in his epistles, these names and his affection for all these people? These accounts move me. I am not an apostle. I am not even an important person in the great scheme of things. But I am a child of the Lord Jesus Christ and I owe a great debt to many people I’ve never met, to many writers that are so numerous I cannot name them all, to a number of schools and teachers; and, most of all, to my precious family and dearest friends who’ve helped me get close to home.
One of the most moving parts of the New Testament for my journey, especially after age forty, has been the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. I believe this is true because there is so much of the Paul the man, both the humanity and weakness, to be seen here. Take, for instance, this text from the apostle’s letter to the church in Corinth:
16 We never give up. Our bodies are gradually dying, but we ourselves are being made stronger each day. 17 These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing. 18 Things that are seen don’t last forever, but things that are not seen are eternal. That’s why we keep our minds on the things that cannot be seen (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, CEV).
This summer I have wanted to give up quite often. I do not say this lightly. I am not depressed. (I have been profoundly depressed and understand this dark mental struggle!) No, I assure you that I am not depressed. But I feel pressed upon, weak, very tired and full of questions, not questions about God but rather about myself. Why have I made so many mistakes? Why does my life feel to have come so short of all I hoped for when I was much younger? Why does my ministry so often feel weak? Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians express my inner turmoil very well:
7 We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. 8 We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. 9 In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again. 10-11 We face death every day because of Jesus. Our bodies show what his death was like, so that his life can also be seen in us. 12 This means that death is working in us, but life is working in you (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, CEV).
I have realized once again that “real power” comes from God, not from my faithfulness or giftedness. But I have also felt like I “don’t know what to do” many times (verse 8). I “never give up” (verse 8) and in my trouble God is truly with me. I know that death is at work in me so that (his) life might work in you. I know some of you very personally and some of you I only know by the means of this amazing technology that allows us to “talk” to one another around the globe. But just as the apostle spoke to the Corinthians when absent from them in the flesh I can now speak to some of you, though absent from you in the flesh. I can speak of the grace of God at work in me for the glory of Christ.
So, after Labor Day I desire to write an account of my own journey. I hope and pray that this account will serve the purpose of the mission that God has entrusted to me. I pray also that it will build you up in the most holy faith that is granted to you who believe, and suffer, in the name.
The problem we all have is how we understand God and what he wants to do with us. We think he wants good people, religious people. If we are not all that we can be on the inside then we can at least be good on the outside. But Jesus does not want people who have it all together. He wants new people. He wants people who limp, who weep and who struggle. He wants each of you, along with me, to stand in his presence with boldness and humility, with awe and impunity.
What we all need is the presence of God. Like Brother Lawrence we need to learn how to “practice the presence of God.” But this makes us feel unclothed, so ashamed and weak. But his presence, his love discovered in the triune God alone, is what truly heals us. We can be healed if we would but raise our eyes up from ourselves and look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. And this healing alone will allow us to complete the journey home.