As I am on vacation this week with my family, I found myself sitting on the beach this morning thinking of you. This was not deliberate, but quite natural. Nearly seven years of pastoring has changed me – indeed, it would change anyone. I thought to write to you that I might settle my mind.
On my walk back from the shore, I came to a narrow passage where only one person could pass at a time. Approaching it, I saw another man at about the same distance from the passage, at the other end. Coming to the passage at the same time, we both acknowledged each other before I quickly stepped aside to let him go first. He was kind and thanked me as he walked by.
Going through the passage myself, I thought for a second on what I had just done. Why did I let him go first? It had happened very quickly and I had not even thought to go first. I had not thought to go second. I had not thought at all. What was it about me and the way my mind was working that I should so quickly and unthinkingly choose the weaker position?
The philosophy of many successful people is that the strongest, the most decisive, the most capable of people are those who recognize their own advantages and take what’s best for themselves. This philosophy is represented everywhere you look. In personal finance, it is common to hear people give counsel to others to, “Pay yourself first.” In careers, the advice most commonly given to people is, “You have to do what’s best for you.” In relationships – whether families, communities, or even churches – we are led to believe that the value of our bond to others is to be measured in terms of the happiness we receive in exchange.
But thinking back to the little passage, me on one end and the man on the other, a thought came to me. For the Christian, the question is not whether he can go first, but whether he is willing to go second.
I am strong, young, and capable. The person on the other end was older, slower, and could have no more right to the passage than I. Had I decided to charge ahead, he’d have had to defer. Therefore, stepping aside was no acknowledgment of weakness on my part. It was a willful moment of self-sacrifice. The first passing belonged to me. I was willing to take the second.
This is of minor consequence and not worth praising, which is why I’m not hesitant to write about it. It cost me only a few seconds of my time. It’s of no significance except to remind me of what our Lord calls us to in His Word: “Walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7).
Returning now to Colossians 2, verse 6, I will remind you of what Paul has written to us: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him…” after which he clarifies his meaning with the instruction that we should be, “established in the faith”.
How is this done? Again, I tell you that the way we live our lives, the actions that we take each day, say far more about what we truly believe than any grand testimony written on paper or recited for others. Again, I tell you that the question for the Christian is not whether he or she can go first, but whether he or she is willing to go second, or third, or last, or perhaps even not at all.
Even the weakest of us will find ourselves routinely in positions of power. A single mother may have very little influence in her world, but at home with her children, she is the strongest. A teenage boy or girl may be completely at the will of parents, but he or she becomes quite strong at school where the weak are crippled by their unpopularity, physical appearance, or age. We are all mere miles away from poor places with addicted, hurting, destructive and destroyed peoples where our very presence puts us immediately in the place of power. If you are within driving distance of a hospital or jail, then you are minutes away from the truly weak and lowly.
And so, you are merely minutes away from the kingdom of God. For where else would the power of the gospel shine brighter than among those in the darkest places of the world? Is there anything more Christ-like than to buy $10 worth of cookies, candy, balloons, or toys and walk through a hospital to pray with a few children?
But I am not writing to you to call you to hospital or prison ministries. I am writing to you to call you to the ministries that lay directly ahead of you, in the very shadow of your own footsteps, waiting to be walked. You will either lead a trail of self-satisfaction, conquering whatever you can for yourself on the road of life before you. Or else, you will lead a life “well pleasing to Him” (2 Cor. 5:9). The former way of living will be marked by the wheels of chariots and many may praise you for your accomplishments. The latter will be marked by the skid of the cross on your back, to be praised when “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it” (1 Cor. 3:13).
Walking by faith means surrendering the power of your situation to the power of your trust in Jesus. It means laying aside what is best or better for you in order to embrace what is best for others, thus displaying the very image of Christ in you – for what else was the incarnation of Jesus Christ than that?
I will pray for you this week, my dear friends – indeed, I find it impossible not to think of you – and I would encourage you with the words of the Apostle Paul from another text:
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).”