A Better Life
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
At 32 years old, Elizabeth Gilbert was educated, had a home and a husband and a successful career as a writer. However, she was unhappy in her marriage and often spent the night crying on her bathroom floor. In the midst of an affair she separated from her husband and initiated a divorce. The affair continued for some time but did not work out either leaving her devastated and alone. After finalizing her difficult divorce, she got an advance on a book she was planning to write and spent the next year traveling around the world. She spent four months in Italy, eating and enjoying life. She spent four months in India, finding her spirituality. She ended the year in Bali, Indonesia, looking for "balance" of the two and found love; in the form of a dashing Brazilian factory owner. Then Gilbert wrote a book on her year of pilgrimage. The book is Eat, Pray, Love. As of February 2010, the book had been on the New York Times Best Seller list for 158 weeks. A movie, derived from the book, starring Julia Roberts, came out two days ago, on Friday.
It is easy to criticize the book. Elizabeth Gilbert is a talented writer, but she managed to visit three of the most interesting places on the planet and focus mostly on herself, but given the wreck of her personal life, I suppose that she could not do anything else.
By the way, Oprah Winfrey enjoyed the book, and devoted two episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to it. Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert's character in the movie, apparently found enlightenment of her own through the role. She has become a convert to Hinduism.
Eat Pray Love raises a question for ordinary folks like us. Is Elizabeth Gilbert's year-long journey around the globe the way to discover our spiritual life? If so, most of us are never going to discover it, because most of us cannot take a year off from what we are doing to bum around the globe.
Not to worry though. Your spiritual life is not dependent upon the miles or meters you cover. Your spiritual journey is your religion. Where you are now in your journey is what your believe now. You probably do not believe exactly what you believed ten years ago, because you have come ten years along the way since then. Hopefully you have grown a lot and learned a lot in ten years. You are on a spiritual journey, but you do not need to travel literally. This is a journey of the soul, and that makes it the hardest, most uncomfortable journey of all.
This journey belongs to you alone. It is your personal journey. No one can give it to you or take it from you. You decide which path you are going to follow.
The aim, the goal, is to find God, and, almost the same thing, to find what God wants us to do. In a sense, the journey is a realization of that which is already there. It is an dawning awareness of reality. I know that the so-called hard-headed people of the world say that they focus on reality and those soft-brained folks who believe in some sort of spiritual power are living in never-never land, but you understand that we are saying is just the opposite. The only reality is divine reality. Everything else is illusion.
Furthermore, we are saying that God is not external to us. You do not need to go anywhere to find God. God is present in all things and God is present in you. God stands at the door to your soul and knocks right now. You do not need any intermediaries. You do not need a priest or preacher to bring God to you, You do not need the church. Just turn and God is there waiting to receive you with loving arms. God comes into your life and empowers you and guides you and leads you along the way of your life. I have said it is not a journey of distance, but it is a journey of time. The point of living is to finish the journey.
Do you remember Shannon Faulkner? She was the first female cadet to enter The Citadel. She endured all manner of harassment, even death threats. She filed lawsuits and won. She joined an otherwise all-male class in 1995. Then she dropped out of the Citadel citing emotional and psychological abuse and physical exhaustion. I confess that I rather admired Shannon Faulkner. She took on the whole male establishment of the Citadel, Citadel alumni, and the good old boys in Columbia, and won. That was great. But I was disappointed when she dropped out. I suppose that I should not sit in judgment on her. I have heard that she endured more hostility in the few months she spent applying for the Citadel than most people do in an entire lifetime. Still it would have been better to finish her course.
Let us take another example. Monica Seles was the youngest ever tennis champion, winning the 1990 French Open at the age of 16. She was the world's number one woman player in 1991 and 1992, but in 1993 while she was on the court a spectator rushed out and stabbed her in the back with a 9-inch knife. It was a terrifying experience, but she did not allow that to stop her. Once her wound healed, she began a rigorous exercise program, regained her strength, came back and won a Grand Slam singles title at the 1996 Australian Open.
We all like stories about people who never give up. Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, but after his release, he was elected president of South Africa. That is the kind of story we like. That is inspiring.
In chapter 11, the book of Hebrews offers us role models of inspiration. Vs. 7 mentions Noah. Noah worked on the ark all those years. He sawed and hammered and kept on working. Every time we grow impatient, every time we doubt God, Noah whispers to us, "How long did you say you have been waiting? It took me forever to build that ark, but I knew God was with me. So I kept on building."
Next, in vs. 8, is Abraham. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, Abraham made a journey. He left his home in Ur and traveled to Canaan. It was a long hard trip, but he never gave up. So when you become discouraged, here is Abraham whispering in your ear. "if you follow a spiritual path, the world will probably think you are crazy because the ways of the Spirit are not the ways of the world, but God is a living presence to guide you in those ways."
Go on to vs. 22 and the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. In Egypt he was down about as low as a person can get, yet he never gave up on God and eventually he became the chief minister of Pharaoh. So here is Joseph saying, "Look, it does not take much to be faithful when things are going your way. But when you are at the bottom, and everything seems to be falling apart, make sure that you are still faithful."
The list goes on: Moses, Samson, Samuel, David and more. We “are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses,” as the book of Hebrews reminds us, who gather to cheer us on. They whisper in our ear when we become discouraged, "Don’t give up! Don’t lose heart."
Did you hear the old story about the young man who was having some money problems, and needed $200 to get his car fixed, but he had run out of people to borrow from. So, he called his parents via the old switchboard operator, (you can tell this is an old story). He reversed the charge and said to his dad, "I need to borrow two hundred dollars." His father replied, "Sorry, I can’t hear you, son, I think we have a bad connection." The boy shouted, "Two hundred. I need two hundred dollars!" "Sorry, I still can’t hear you clearly," said his father. The operator cut in, "Sorry to butt in, but I can hear him perfectly." The father said, "Oh, good. YOU send him the money!"
We must admit that life is not always good to us. Cars break down and so do lots of other things: bodies, marriages, jobs. we have days where everything seems to go wrong. But we need to realize that life is more than that. We were meant for more than that.
Most folks never get it. Most people buy into a totally materialistic approach to life. Actor Larry Hagman, otherwise known of J.R. Ewing in his famous roll on the “DALLAS” TV series, said in an interview, “I’m alive. I’m rich and I’m living in America.” Hagman’s view of the better life is being alive, being rich and being in America. I suspect that most people agree with him, but that is not what life is about at all. It is about living in God.
Part of living in God is “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” In other words, do not be confused by things that do not matter. ABC has a program which was originally called Extreme Makeover. I think it is now called Extreme Makeover Home Edition. In one episode, they changed a thirty year-old female punk rocker into a raving beauty. That girl had long, red dreadlocks. She had a nose ring, and huge inserts in her ear lobes. They gave her a nose job, did lipo suction on her body, changed her hair completely, which was incredible and fixed her ears. The doctor said that her ear lobes were the greatest challenge since she had such large holes in them. He had to cut them and sew them back together. When they got through with this lady, she was a beautiful young woman.
Unfortunately, they did not makeover the most important part of her--her inner person. In the NT the Apostle Peter said that our beauty should not come from outward adornment but from our inner self, “which is in the sight of God of great price” (I Pet. 3:4). There is nothing wrong with making yourself look as good as possible with clothes, hairdo, and so on, but if we neglect the inner person we miss the main source of beauty.
Think of it this way. If you were going to run a long distance foot race, you do not want to run wearing an overcoat and a pair of heavy work boots. No, you want to strip down and wear as little as possible. You want light clothing, and lightweight running shoes. The same principle applies to living the Christian life. We must throw off anything that hinders us in this race.
I say that with mixed feeling. I have heard many people talk about the things they gave up when they became a Christian. Sometimes it sounds to me like they gave up everything that was fun so that they could lead sour dull lives. I never felt like that. Actually I never felt like I gave up anything to be a Christian. I got everything. I received the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. Nevertheless, having said that, if anything hinders your spiritual life, you certainly should give it up.
Now you might be saying, well that is all well and good but how am I going to do this? It is easy to say, run the race of life with perseverance, but where do I get the power and strength to do this? Heb. 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus is the answer. Christ is the great empowerment. When we believe on Jesus, the HS comes into our lives to give us the energy and force we need to keep on living.
Every Christian, every church, needs to hear this because it is so easy to quit. It is so easy to say, "I cannot do this anymore." But Hebrews urges us to Focus on Jesus, Run the race with patience and never give up.
Above all we should find this focus on Christ in Church. After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside that night and prayed, "Dear Jesus, we had a good time at church today. Wish you had been there!" Have you ever wondered if this is true? Is Jesus the source and aim of our worship on the Lord’s Day? Or are we just doing religious stuff? In a major study that was published in Leadership Journal, the authors discovered that of the 75 million Americans who attend church on a weekly basis, fewer than 1/3 say that they feel God’s presence in church. Wow! Why come at all then? I tell you one thing. If I could not find God in the worship service, I would not be here. Let us all go fishing or play golf, that would be far better to do if God is not here.
But wait. If we do not find God in the worship service, whose fault is it? That reminds me of the little boy who asked his mother if she could remember the highest number she ever counted to. The mother didn’t know so she asked him about his highest number. He answered, “5,372.” The mother was puzzled and asked him why he stopped at that particular number. He said, “Well…church was over.” Apparently he did not find much of interest in church. But again. Whose fault is that?
God is here. There is no doubt about that. If we do not find God here, it is our fault. We have closed the door and put our soul in the deep freeze. Wake up. Turn back to God. Resume your spiritual journey in the power and love of God. That’s the way to a better life.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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