Apr
11
2012

It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. Ursula LeGuin

Never look back unless you are planning to go that way. Henry David Thoreau

And so with all of this, this is why it is important to follow Jesus. Naturally, we are continually being renewed, growing and emerging and becoming more. We need to remember this—our journey of faith has marking points. Being a Christian is a progression. We have many examples of this in Christian literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan as the classic and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis in the last century. And yet, the walk of faith is never one in which the person “arrives.” We’ll let the eastern religions keep that monopoly. The walk of faith can be likened to one going on a long road trip, crossing state lines and going from one town to the next. Every now and then you may need to stop alongside the road, perhaps to change the tire that has blown or by getting off at the next exit to have some good coffee and a piece of pie at a diner just off the beaten path. Discovery, in the in end, is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Throughout the Bible, God is attempting to pound this idea into us that it’s all about a relationship with him that matters the most. The Israelites of the Old Testament had such a hard time with this one, because they wanted so much to make it about following a religion—following a set of rules was so much easier than being in a relationship with their Creator. Very few characters we read about in the Old Testament got this one right. Most, which we read about insisted on obeying all the rules versus moving into a friendship with God. If we were to think about that list of those who moved into an authentic relationship with him, it is a relatively short one. A few would be: Abraham, David, Isaiah, Josiah, and Elijah. When we read their stories, we learn about the beautiful possibilities of having a friendship with God.

In the New Testament, Jesus makes the same challenge. He says that the basis of everything is relationship, a relationship with him. Let’s listen to Jesus’ all-important words: “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The Message restates it even more emphatically as it ends: “Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” Now that’s saying it like it is! Meditate on that one for a minute. Are we really going to believe such a statement? No one—not your Aunt Bev, not the nice guy down the street who shovels your sidewalk every winter, not even your own mom, the nicest lady in the world—can do anything good without Jesus. What he means in that statement, is simply this—everything has to be about him, otherwise it means nothing. Everything will come up short without Jesus. Every part of our lives must be subject to him: the inner strength of our marriage; the skills and talents we use on the job; our ability in the high school classroom or on the volleyball court; how well we can think or feel; our financial security; our gifts of hospitality or giving; our ability to be a father or mother, son or daughter. Jesus is the center and how centered our lives are to his will determine how well we do in everything that we do. Everything about our lives starts with him. It’s not that we don’t have importance as well in this on-going relationship; but the whole of our lives and how we live them starts with the One who made us. Let me say that one more time: the whole of our lives and how we live them starts with the One who made us.

This is the starting point and the ending point. Our life, all of it, is in relationship to the One who created us (Colossians 1:16). The closer we are to him, the better we are. I see this continually with my own life and in the lives of others. The better a relationship with God a person has, the more “effectiveness” they have in their own lives. Depression is easier to conquer; marriages re-connect sooner; a father and a teenage son begin to have fun again; sometimes, you can even hit the golf ball straight. Things begin to happen that you never expected to happen. Life begins to fall in place. Inevitably, if we want to have the life we want, if we want to be the person we are supposed to be, it will tie back to our connection with Jesus. In essence, only the person who has God at the center of his life can have the good life. Again, the closer you are to him, the better you will be.

Alongside this, the person who commits his life to God and his ways will go through many changes. Relationships will change. Interests will change. Thinking will change. Life, itself, will change and for the better. If we allow it, the whole of life will just be an on-going metamorphosis into something more, something different, and something good. In the process of the journey, we are inevitably changed. Literally, one year-five years-twenty years later, you’ll become an entirely different person, a better person, more sound and connected to something extraordinary. As Muhammed Ali said, “The man who views the world at fifty the same way he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

THE STAGES WE SEE IN FAITH

But process inevitably means that there are also stages and I believe that there are different marking points to the Christian walk. It clearly says in the book of Corinthians that in your faith at one point you can be an infant, at another you can be like a child, and then finally, you can live  as an adult (1 Corinthians 13:11). Something that I have seen over and over in other people’s lives, but most certainly in my own, is that there are three distinct marking points in the Christian walk and it all relates back to our relationship with Jesus.

We hear it all the time: you have to make God No. 1 in your life. Yes, it’s a cliché, but even though the phrase is overused, it still is true. This relationship with God is the key. In speaking of this relationship, it occurred to me that looking back over the last twenty-five years since becoming a Christian I have had differing relationships with him. The relationship changed and grew. Early on, the relationship was more distant, and then gradually has become more intimate. Likewise, I also recognized that Jesus began to play different roles in my life. Just as I was changing in relationship to him; amazingly, he was changing in the way he related to me. Slowly, but surely, I was living the privilege of a more personal relationship with him. Let me give you an example of how this works. No different than with my seventeen year old son, he has begun to trust me more and I trust him more as well. Josiah is growing up and how I am with him is changing. At one time in his life, he was an infant in which he was entirely dependent on me and I had to do everything for him. As years went by (and much too fast I might add), Josiah grew up into a vivacious and curious nine year old, where now I often had to protect him from himself. And now as he is nearing adulthood, my role as his parent has diminished greatly. He doesn’t need me to tell him to tie his shoes, go to bed at the proper time or eat his green beans. Josiah is becoming a mature young man with whom I am very proud. Our relationship has moved from me being a parent to him, to now Josiah has become my friend. In many ways, he doesn’t always need my input or protection, because he can take care of himself. In some ways, our relationship with God can be the same. In our own relationship with God, we too can become mature, and become that person to which he also is proud of us.

I began seeing these distinctions, in myself, with others, and in the Scriptures. There were growth spurts to be sure, but in the end, there are three distinct stages in this journey with God. I saw these marking points in the lives of those found in the Old Testament: like Abraham, David, and Elijah. I also saw these steps in the life of the disciples, moving from just-believing to really-living. And finally, as I related the Scriptures to my own life and story, I saw them personally—I had changed and was changing as time went on, growing in my relationship to the One who shaped me together. The progression was marked and obvious. As I began looking back at the years, I saw that not only did I change, but as I mentioned earlier, God also has changed in the way he related to me. Similar in the way a parent relates to a child, the relationship changed and in some ways, we began to relate in different ways. Specifically, I realized that in this journey I moved from being a believer, was transformed into a servant and finally, began to emerge as a friend of Jesus. Perhaps put in another way, God was first my Savior, then became my Lord, and finally became my Friend. This is the transformation I went through and still undergo, each day attempting to move into a friendship with the One who made me for him. By moving closer to Jesus, everything begins to fall in place. Moving forward through this blog, this is how we will distinguish these marking points in the journey of being a Christian: a believer, a servant and a friend.


In: Friend to Jesus, Spiritual Formation
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