It is hard for 21st century Americans to grasp the concept of the Christian life as a journey because of the way we travel these days. If we are going somewhere we jump in our automobiles and zip off to our destination – hopefully limited by the legal speed limit – and arrive at our destination within minutes or at most a few hours later. If we are really in a hurry we buy a ticket on an airplane and cross the country or the oceans swiftly and comfortably. No, travel is nothing like it was in the days of our ancestors. Certainly there is little similarity between travel today and that in Bible days.
When Abram was commanded by God to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), little did he know that his journey would require the rest of his life. Oh, he got to the land all right, but he didn’t find what he ultimately was looking for (see citation below). Abram (later to be known as Abraham) didn’t have access to high speed transportation. He had to walk everywhere he went. And he didn’t have only himself to go on this journey. He had a wife, probably servants, his nephew Lot and all his possessions which most likely consisted not of a houseful of furniture, but sheep, goats and cattle – and with nothing but tents to live in. Now imagine doing this at my present age of 75 as Abraham was when he started out on his journey!
Then, when he got into the land that God had promised him he was told that it would be his descendants who would actually possess the land, not himself. And on top of that, very soon after his arrival in the promised land Abram was forced to continue traveling on into Egypt because of a famine in the land of Canaan.
What motivated Abraham to keep on traveling? Why did he not give up after being disappointed once and again? We have the answer to that in Hebrews 11:8-10.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”
Abraham’s journey was one of faith. He was not just going to a place which God had shown him and which he found to be desirable and worth the effort of getting there. He was going on the word of God alone. His was very much a journey, not just to a place, but a journey to God. He was leaving a land of idolatry and moral corruption to go to a place where he could come to know God intimately as the God who could be trusted to keep his promises. He was traveling, not to a place that could be located on a map, but to a heavenly city built by God – a city with secure foundations that can never be captured by armies nor destroyed by earthly disasters.
Later the descendants of Abraham began a journey out of the land of Egypt where they had been for four hundred years. They were delivered by the power of God and fed by his generous hand. They were protected by his presence and power. For forty years they sojourned in the wilderness while God was preparing them to finally possess the land he had promised to Abraham. Their journey was not always uneventful. Unbelief was their greatest hindrance to actual possession of the land. But their journey eventually did end and God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled.
Years after Abraham, after the land of promised had been occupied by his descendants, the people would make pilgrimages several times a year to worship in Jerusalem. They came from all over the land and even beyond for the purpose of being together in the presence of God in the city God had chosen for them to worship him. They came by foot over mountains and deserts, singing praises to God as they came. They came to the great convocation, joyfully, with an attitude of worship and adoration for their God. Unlike Abraham, they knew their destination, how far they had to travel and when they would get there. They were all coming to the city of God. They were coming to remember what he had done for them and to remember the promises he had yet to fulfill. And they were comforted by the presence of God as they traveled.
Throughout the Bible the figure of traveling is used as a metaphor for the life of God’s people. In the early days of Christianity, believers were said to be people who “belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2). They were seen as travelers. The “way” of course, is Christ – “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He is the route to God; the way from this present world to the new heavens and new earth, the New Jerusalem. We must travel by this way if we are ever to get to God and to eternal life.
Thinking of the Christian life as a journey helps to remind us that we have a destination ahead. So many live as though this life is all there is for man and when we die that is the end of everything. Such just is not so. Not for the one who sees this life as a journey toward a far better future.
Seeing life in this way, the Christian makes preparation for his journey. He knows he is going somewhere and so rids himself of everything that does not contribute to his progress toward his goal. He acquires every virtue, every strength that helps him along the way. He continually looks forward to the ultimate destination, never backwards. He has been forgiven by God. His sins are in the past. He has divine help and guidance to help him in arriving safely at his longed for home.
Traveling does more for us than just to get us to the goal. We are strengthened by the journey. Overcoming obstacles of temptations and trials, climbing mountains of faith, we grow and develop as we press on toward the goal. With every mile we travel, every hardship we endure there comes with it a joy that could not be experienced in any other way. Journeying is a process that helps us develop personally and spiritually as we progress toward the goal ahead.
When we finally arrive at the promised destination we are the same people who started out – and yet we are not the same. The journey transforms us. By journeying we learn to trust God more. Journeying with him, we learn more and more what he is like and are changed into the image of our God. We learn to love what he loves and hate what he hates. We learn to come when he calls and to go where he sends. Most of all, we learn to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
No, this journey is not one that we can use modern conveniences to get us to our destination. We must, as difficult as it may seem to us, take the time and make the effort to get to the place God wants us to be. We must do it the old fashioned way by taking one step at a time, never letting up, never quitting no matter how weary we may become. We must believe the journey is worth the effort and commit to it for however long it may take to reach our destination.
As we journey we contemplate the final destination and from that contemplation we draw strength. Knowing that God has something far, far better than this present life keeps us pressing on. This was how the apostle Paul looked at it. He viewed his journey in this way…
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).