NAVIGATING THE OCEAN OF LIFE
"The LORD will reign forever and ever."
Have you ever considered how differently someone would live if their life utterly loved God? Every decision they made would be filtered through their passoinate love for God. The use of their time, talent and treasure would be reprioritised to maximise their love of God. They would be difficult to offend and yet easy to disappoint. They would not be able to remain indifferent or even silent when others are being hurt because of God dishonouring decisions. They would rest in the knowledge that the God they love utterly is incomprehensively powerful and in sovereign control of His universe, and in particular: them. But there is a mystery that those who love God are often left to ponder.
But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.Deuteronomy 4:29
How much of your life do you control? What, with circumstances, people, accidents, weather, opportunitites, all being often unpredictable variables in the shaping of your brief life, how much do you actually control? It's one of the great mysteries. How much of our life direction do you actually control? Our lives are not merely shaped by our actions and decisions, but by other even more immediate factors such as, upbringing. This is why sarcasm says a person must choose their parents well! Our lives are also shaped by the decisions of others, including corporations and governments. This is why sarcasm pipes up again and adds its sage advice:choose your country of birth and upbringing carefully! With so many factors not in our control how can we possibly order our lives in the direction and shape we want them to go and become? Here is part of the answer.
"Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
Because God is Sovereign and directing His universe, it might sound like we are merely pieces of flotsam and jetsam being tossed about by the waves of life's ocean. I doubt that this is either an accurate or helpful way to look at our lives though. Life is like an ocean. We are like a captain of a vessel attempting to navigate this ocean. The captain cannot control the waves, weather, traffic or obstacles. But he can control his vessel and the direction it needs to go. But to do this, he must strive with waves, weather, traffic, and obstacles and his vessel. Thus, to navigate across the ocean of life he must do two things: steer his vessel and adjust to the conditions he faces. Both require striving.
THE STRIVING OF JESUS
Jesus told us to enter into 'life' (eternal) by striving to enter through the narrow gate. When you love you strive. Christ didn't say to His followers, "Hope that you float on over and drift through the narrow gate." Jesus clearly demonstrated what striving looked like. He strove because He loved His Father.
The word "strive" conjures up an image of a pathway beset with adversity, opposition, and even strife. Jesus strove toward His ascension. He had to overcome adversity from governments, crowds, His followers, the Devil, and even His longing to return to His Father. It seems that the most valuable things are both earned and kept through striving. This is certainly the case for the most valuable thing: a relationship of eternal peace with God.
¶ I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf
THE STRIVING OF PAUL
The Apostle Paul had to strive. He strove in prayer for the Colossian Christians. He strove to fulfil his ministry as a servant of Christ.
To this end I labor, striving according to his power that works powerfully in me.
Paul describes his life journey and the ministry that fulfilled along the way as "pressing forward" (Phil. 3:12) in order to accomplish it. This doesn't sound as if Paul was unacquainted with striving!
NAUTICAL LIFE STRIVING
While we strive to navigate our ship across the ocean of life, every wave, every obstacle, every storm is yielded to God's sovereignty. When the caterpillar strives shortly after making its cocoon, I have it on good authority that when it tries to then break free from its cocoon, it is an utterlyunenjoyable experience! yet, it is this very act of striving which builds the strength it needs for the use of its wings.
When God gave Israel their Promised Land He designd for them to strive to take possession of it. When God used Samuel to anoint the sixteen year old shepherd boy, David, to be the next king of Israel, David could have been forgiven for thinking that it would be a walk in the park stright to the Throne. But yet he had to strive for it!
When Kim and I lived in Williamstown, Melbourne, we had a yacht moored in Hobson's Bay. Prior to solo-sailing it in Port Phillip Bay, I did a sailing course at Royal Mebourne Yacht Club. In this course I learned how to strive the yacht so that it could virtually sail into the wind. Striving through life sometimes like this sailing technique - it requires facing the winds of adversity head-on.
And if the Bible might be viewed nautically as the 'Captain's Log', we might notice that it is God who directs, guides, and inspires the striving involved is sailing the oceans of life. To me, it's both a mystery and an undeniable fact that God even uses those who strive against Him for His glory!
But for this purpose I have raised you [Pharaoh] up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."
It's an undeniable fact because it's so obvious. At the height of the Evangelical Awakening, the period around the 1960s to the 1980s (known as The Charismatic Renewal) the Church lessened its striving to take the Gospel into the world and simultaneously ceased striving for the truth in the Public Square. Europe seemed to fair worst. The result of this apathy (lack of striving) was not immediately apparent, but twenty to forty years later it is now painfully obvious. The rise of militant secularism capturing the political and academic landscape where policy decisions were made so that the populace were hoodwinked into accepting the assumption that atheism meant: "rational", "unbiased", "reasonable" (and conversely "Christianity" meant "biased", "irrational", "unreasonable"). Thus, in the last few years atheists have been emboldend by believing their own irrationality and have launched brazen attacks against the Church. But God had not only foreseen this, He had designed this for His glory! What these atheists did not count on, was that the Sovereign God would stir in the sould of those few who utterly love Him, to strive for His glory.
This Sovereign stirring to strive shapes people and societies. I hope that this will awaken a new awareness in parents, teachers, politicians, pastors, business people, students, and the retired, of the need (and benefit) to strive. History mournfully warns us that ground given up is not easily won back.
As I ponder this mystery of how God's sovereignty interacts with my ability to choose and even strive while I write this sitting in seat 5C of VirginAirlines VA1380, on the screen in front of me pops up a movie trailer where the character, Spiros, says-
Some day, somebody's going to have to take a stand.
Some day, somebody's going to have to say, "Enough!"
Indeed! Somebody's going to have to take a stand. Children need parents who strive to take a stand. Congregations need pastors who strive to take a stand. Electorates need politicians who strive to take a stand. Schools need teachers who strive to take a stand. And students need their God-loving fellow students to strive to take a stand. Parents must discipline. Pastors must instruct. Politicians must explain. Teachers must inform. Students must dialogue. And if this striving be for the glory of God it must be motivated by a fresh, passionate, fearless love for the infinitely Magnificently One. Somebody's going to have to say, "Enough!" and this means that someone who loves God is going to have to strive. This won't solve the mystery of how God's sovereignty interplays with your freedom, but it does help you to celebrate this wonderful mystery and gladly strive for the One you love.