I’ve done a fair bit of travelling lately. The most recent leg was an 18 hour trek from Newcastle in England via Amsterdam and Toronto to the small city of Owen Sound on the shores of Georgian Bay where we live.
How many times can you honestly say you enjoyed the journey? The best I can say is I was glad to have staggered across the finish line and collapsed into bed.
And yet people often tell us to enjoy the spiritual journey we are on, as opposed, for instance, to focussing on the destination we want to arrive at.
In all honesty, I don’t really get the advice to enjoy that journey any more than I would understand a suggestion I should revel in my 18 hour trek home from northern England.
The problem is that the Bible (and certainly its last book) presents us as people on a journey, on the way from spiritual Egypt, protected yet challenged in the wilderness and tribulation of this present life, en route to the Promised Land of the new Jerusalem.
While we are definitely on a journey, I’m not certain the Bible commands us to enjoy it. I definitely believe it tells us to endure it. But enjoy?
Maybe it would be better to look at it this way. We are to endure the journey, but what we are to enjoy is knowing Christ and the privilege of living for him and walking in the way of his cross.
Count it all joy, James says, when you encounter trials. Hmmm… well, that does sound a bit like enjoying the journey. But what actually gives me joy is the prospect of getting to the destination James sets out: that I may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
It’s not the trials that give us the joy. It’s not the journey that makes us content.
What keeps us in the journey is the fact that its trials are designed to make us dig deeper into God, and that is where we strike oil. I do not enjoy the trials, but I do enjoy the benefits of knowing the Lord more deeply. His presence invades my suffering, his interventions make the yoke easy, his song comes into my heart. And somehow the hassles and aggravations bother me less.
Let me pursue this from one more angle. Life is a mixture of journey and destination.
All along the journey, we are reaching destinations. For instance, Elaine and I are on a journey leaving the local pastorate to engage in international ministry to churches around the world. The journey, like most other things we have done over our lifetime, is a pioneering one. Some people and churches just don’t get it. There has been pain in the journey and lots of testing. But along the way, there have been massive encouragements -- destinations reached. Can I say I have enjoyed the journey? No, in fact most of the time I have found it very hard. But have I found the Lord over and over again in the midst of it? Yes I have, and for that I am thankful. And I know when we launch out next summer, we will have reached a significant destination along the journey, and will take great joy in it. More than that, God will be glorified in what he has done in us and for us.
Some folk are on a much harder journey than us. Read the two posts on this website a few weeks ago by our dear friend Jan Vickers, for one example.
The journey is tough. The destinations reached along the way give us strength. The ultimate goal is certain. God is faithful.
But most of all, find him along the way.
That’s where the joy is.