Just before I started writing my previous post, I had this pesky thought creep in while musing about putting my ministry career on hold for the time being. I can get lost in thought about the things I’d do differently or the way that I wish things were headed. In the midst of my reverie, seemingly out of nowhere, came the question, “What if it’s not a blip?” meaning, what if this isn’t a temporary arrangement? What if this isn’t a minor detour from the path I had set out for my life? What if this changes everything for the rest of my life? What if this path is my life?
I honestly wasn’t prepared for that question. It hadn’t occurred to me. Perhaps I just didn’t want to accept that things might never be as I expected them to be. Nevertheless, this question has haunted me, as perhaps it has haunted some of you, too.
I mentioned in my previous post that we can have minor blips that change the course of our day. What about those things that change our lives? Not a minor illness, but a chronic one. Not a spat with a loved one, but a shattered relationship. Not a fender-bender, but an accident that leaves us feeling permanent pain and consequences. Permanently closed doors and unanswered prayers. What if the light and momentary sufferings are neither light nor momentary? What if it’s not a blip? What then?
As I prayerfully pondered this question a few days later, the first thing that occurred to me is that I need to find a way to live here. Not just grin and bear it, but to actually grow and thrive in this unexpected place. When my life takes an unexpected turn, it’s easy to assume that I need to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass and the return to my regularly scheduled programming. But sometimes it won’t pass. Sometimes it’s not a season. I don’t want to live a life hunkered down waiting for something that will never come. That path doesn’t take me anywhere except bitterness and regret.
I need to thrive here, even if it isn’t the “there” I want.
Hebrews 11 talks about several people who demonstrated powerful faith as they followed the Lord. The chapter ends somewhere unexpected, however: “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised” (Hebrews 11:39, emphasis mine). They didn’t end up where they thought either in spite of their faithfulness.
The very next verses offer encouragement and guidance for us today in the times when our struggles are not a blip.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrew 12:1-3
When it’s not a blip, keep going. Strip off every weight. Strip off unmet expectations. Strip off “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Strip off the (not-so) secret longings for another life. Strip off the idols we secretly harbor believing they’ll give our life meaning, without which there’s no reason to go on. Strip off the sin that binds you, entwines you, and defines you. Strip it all off and run forward. Let it go. The more you’re holding on to from the life you wish you had, the harder it is to embrace the real life before you.
When it’s not a blip, keep your eyes on Jesus. Fix your eyes on the one who stripped off his divine privileges, took on the nature of a slave, and humbled himself to death because his eyes were fixed on God the Father and on you. Fix your eyes on the one who came to earth for you even though you weren’t even thinking of him. Fix your eyes on the one who is interceding for you in your moments of weakness, so that you might be strengthened and continue to run. Fix your eyes on the one who beckons you towards eternity, where he waits at the right hand of the Father to usher you into glory.
In all this, when it’s not a blip, remember you’re not alone. The author of Hebrews tells us stories of faithful people who kept going (the cloud of witnesses), whose eyes were fixed on the Lord because we need to know we’re not in this alone. People of faith have gone before us, giving their whole lives for the very same Jesus we serve. People of faith surround us, strengthening us when we are weak and in turn being strengthened by our faith in their moments of struggle. People of faith come behind us, watching our faith, emulating us as we follow Jesus.
When it’s not a blip, keep going, eyes fixed on Jesus, arms linked with the faithful so that you might thrive in this fallen world until you step into the next to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.