PUTTING THINGS OFF
Following Christ is a wonderful adventure. Like any adventure, the things that make this journey so exciting are the twists and turns, the mountains and the valleys, the beautiful scenery, the walks with companions, the times of solitude, the feasting, the battles, the storms, and the pursuit of our mission. It also requires what any long trek requires – lightening our packs. Thus, the New Testament describes following Christ as a walk and it’s a walk that involves a lot of putting off.
The longer you follow Christ the more of life’s journey you get to experience and enjoy. This life was meant to be journeyed with Christ on the path of life that He has marked out.
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. – Matthew 7:14
Geoff, Kim and a reluctant me were beginning our trek along the Port Davey Track. Due to poor weather and visibility the small plane that flew us in there was delayed which meant we were starting our walk near day’s end. Ordinarily that’s not a problem. With appropriate head-lamps a walker can traverse moderately difficult walking tracks in fading light. That is, of course, if the track is clearly visible in broad daylight to begin with. In this instance, the track was overgrown, was not clearly marked, and was not often used. And it was getting dark. The overgrown brush was up to my eye-level and it was a struggle to find the star-droppers which once marked the track. Many people live life like this. Nothing is clear. There are no markers. No one to guide them. And really poor visibility.
¶ Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12
We eventually made it to Macquarie Harbour for our first camp of the trek.
When doing a five or six day trek, every hiker wants to travel as light as possible. When Kim and I did the South Coast Track (which involves going over the Ironbound Range, which my old mate, legs, told me was actually higher than Mount Everest) we were carrying around 26+kg each. That’s a heavy load even on flat, smooth ground, but it’s particularly heavy on rough 60º inclines! This too is similar to how many try to live their lives. They carry a lot of baggage. Unforgiveness, bitterness, past betrayals, disappointments, mistakes and regrets can all weigh a person down and become almost unbearable during life’s ascents.
¶ Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us – Hebrews 12:1
At one point on the South Coast Track, Kim and I had to ascend a thirty-metre high cliff (which also hosted a beautiful waterfall) on about day 3 or 4 of our walk (with two days to go). When we arrived at the top of the cliff we were surprised to find abandoned hiking gear. It looked like someone had not been able to continue on the track. Presumably they were injured and had to be helicoptered out. They had left their tent and various other essentials. Sometimes in life too when people continue to carry too much baggage it takes a toll on their soul and they are unable to continue on in their life-journey.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; – Hebrews 12:15
John Newton wrote about the Christian walk, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come.” Life has its dangers, it times of frustration, and its road-blocks, as Mr Newton, the writer of the hymn, Amazing Grace, had penned. As we trekked up the Port Davey Track, in the south-west corner of Tasmania’s vast wilderness, we had to trudge through a lot of swamp, then bog. In life, people get bogged down with all kinds of ‘snares’. When we walk with Jesus, He helps us to not only see the track, not only guide us along it, but also helps us get through these times where toil is called for.
Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. – Psalm 69:14
There were a few times on the ‘Track that I had to be pulled out of a bog by Geoff. I, of all people, understand why the Ring of Power (Lord of the Rings) could not merely by carried by Frodo alone – he needed a ‘fellowship’ of the ring in order to complete his mission. In the same way, such a walk through remote wilderness could be done on your own, but it would be most unwise. In the same way, the Christian walk might be possible to be lived out on your own (as recently many Chinese Christians have had to do for years on end as they were imprisoned for their faith in Christ and put in solitary confinement). But our faith in Christ and our walk with Jesus cannot intentionally be solitary.
¶ Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. – Proverbs 18:1
Travelling for days on end in the wilderness, through swamps, bogs, forests, around and over hills is made all the sweeter by the company travelling with you. It’s like life. There are times when the walk gets so full of snares and toils that while we long for a companion to ease our anguish, we actually withdraw from the sheep-fold and isolate ourselves – thus making our sense of loneliness even more painful. When Kim and walked the South Coast Track, we were two of an unintended group of five. There was safety, companionship, and reassurance in travelling as a small group. Our spiritual walk is the same. We need the ‘temple’ where we all meet together as the early church did, but we also need the ‘home to home’ small group context. It is in our regular home group meetings that we share together, pray for each other, exhort one another from God’s Word, and provide practical assistance to each other in times of need.
At the end of such a trek we are a little different because of what we have been through on the journey. Our muscles are more toned, our body-fat is a little lessened, our feet are a little tougher, our core is a little stronger. This journey with Christ also produces strength in us for eternity that can not be attained any other way. It reminds me of the young boy watching the cocoon begin to shake. He realised the emerging butterfly was struggling to break free. Taking his pocket-knife, he cut the cocoon for poor butterfly to get out. Standing back, he saw the head then the wings of the butterfly escape its cocoon only then for the butterfly to fall to the ground and die. What the little boy didn’t know was that the Maker had designed for the butterfly to build its initial wing strength from enduring and persisting through the toil of breaking out of its cocoon. In a similar, our being made ‘fit’ for heaven involves the formation of godliness (Christ-like character) through dealing with life’s struggles/challenges/difficulties in this life with Christ’s help, teaching, and guidance. The godliness we form in this life’s journey is the level of godliness we will have for eternity-
for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. – First Timothy 4:8
There is simply no way to form the Christ-like character traits of love, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, endurance, forbearance, self-sacrifice, diligence, hope, or gentleness, without adversity, trial, setbacks, betrayal, conflict, or discomfort. Pity help the one who tries to walk the road of life without Christ as their lamp, guide, companion, rescuer, provider, or protector. But perhaps greater pity should be felt for those who have come to know Him as Saviour but are still yet to know Him as Friend (John 15:15).
So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. – John 12:35
Journeying with Christ makes you not just fitter for the life to come, but also for this life. You become a more peaceful person. You learn that in times of need and stress that Christ is right there to strengthen, guide, and lead you through it. You discover that the thing you thought you couldn’t do without are sometimes the very things that Jesus asks you to surrender and to put off. Your thought-life changes. Your heart softens towards God and those around you. Your desires change. The further down the track you walk with Christ the more you realise that life is not about you. You become humbler. You want to be taught – to be corrected. This is why the aged Apostle Paul could write to the believers at Ephesus, and say-
¶ Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put offyour old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. -Ephesians 4:17-24
The journey of life with Christ transforms us. The seasoned Apostle tells us that it requires, “putting off of our old selves (which belongs to our former manner of living” (Eph. 4:22). Thus, the more we journey with Christ, the more we find that we are putting off. The journey helps us to recognise that often our most natural responses and desires are not Christ-like but are actually harmful to us and others. Instead of asking, What’s in it for me? – we put that off and increasingly think: How can I bless someone else with my presence, time, talent, treasure? Instead harbouring bitterness and unforgiveness toward those who have hurt us, we put that toxic attitude off, and increasingly feel compassion for them instead and even initiate acts of kindness toward them.
No matter what you’re going through right now, no matter how loved or noticed you feel, no matter what others have said about or done to you, Christ can be your Lamp, Guide, Companion, Strength, Rescuer, Heart-Healer, Defender, Protector, Provider, and Shepherd. Every time I’ve done a long arduous walk and I near the end of it, my heart lifts when I see the carpark! And while a carpark is poor analogy for heaven, there are some parallels. The carpark marks the end of the journey’s trials. The carpark is not my delight, but it contains the means to my delight. In a similar way, heaven is not my eternal goal, but it is the contains the means for my eternal delight: Christ Himself. The carpark means I can finally rest and in the comfort of my car where I am secure against the sub-zero night temperatures, the snow, the hail, the gale-force winds, the pain of mountainous inclines, the scrapes of rocks and broken tree-limbs, and the sticky brown stuff some hikers call ‘coffee’. In heaven we will truly rest. We will be truly secure. We will be finally free of aches and pains. We will no longer be dogged by regrets or disappointments. All of our deepest longings and desires will be perfectly satisfied increasingly for all eternity! If we learn to put off along the journey now.