Monday, November 18, 2013

Setting Your Internal GPS to the Right Destination

Last Thursday evening was one of those moments when I dipped low, frustrated with the struggles of this life that seem to persist.  No matter what I do, no matter what I pray, it is always the same short list.  Husband held me as I gave voice to those unspoken feelings of both sadness and anger I didn't realize was still within.

It has been almost eight years since one woman's choice to deceive and tell a single lie completely incinerated any plans we had framed up for a future.  A career, financial security, and husband's good name lay in the ashes that surrounded us, but back then, I still held out hope of justice in this lifetime, of us rebuilding something...somewhere else. 

Husband is always quick to rattle off a list of how far we have come in those eight years.  God has given us three children when we thought there would be none.  He has provided a house that we call home.  Our relationship with our extended family has grown closer.  And our faith walk with God has deepened to levels I never imagined possible.

Yet, in those darker moments, I can't see these mile markers.  All I can see is the same problems plaguing me year in and year out; in those times, they are like a dense wall of smoke, keeping me from seeing any progress.  Instead, I look down to see my feet cemented permanently in those ashes, unable to move as the world whizzes by around me.  And all I can think is "What if this is all there will ever be? If these struggles really never will cease?  If I must fight them until my dying breath?"

This basic need to see progress in our lives is important to surviving the strains of this life.

The good news is our heavenly Father knew this about us.  Through the pages of Scripture, He inspired men to remind us that no matter how stagnant our lives may seem, we're never standing still.  Instead, we are on a journey.  We are moving forward to that ending point in the distance even when we can't see any movement.

In the Psalms, David writes,

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.

They go from strength to strength,    till each appears before God in Zion" (Ps. 84:5-7).

In this passage, the speaker speaks of being "blessed" to be on a pilgrimage to Mt. Zion where he will meet with God in the temple.  The word "Blessed" in verse five is transliterated as "'esher," meaning "happiness."  The word "has the force of an interjection" or exclamation, implying an announcement of good news.*

In other words, the psalmist is exclaiming with much excitement and expectation that happiness in this life is found first when we "set [our hearts] on pilgrimage."  This means we must acknowledge what this life actually is--not a destination but a pilgrimage through temporary circumstances.

Secondly, the psalmist is telling us happiness is to be found in keeping our hearts focused on that destination.  This is where I falter, forgetting that my destination is not a new job, better financial security, retirement, children out of the house, etc.  The psalmist is clear--we pilgrims must recognize that God and God alone, enthroned, in Zion, our heavenly Jerusalem--He is our goal and destination. 

If we want to feel like we're merely spinning our wheels, all we must do is set our eyes on a different destination other than God in Zion.  The blessing, the happiness, the good news to be exclaimed in these verses is not here on this earth.  Yet, we are headed for Him who is our "good news" and our "happiness."  This is the same "good news" the angel proclaimed to Mary.  Jesus.

Paul used similar pilgrimage imagery in Hebrews, although because of his setting in the culture of the day, he utilized the metaphor of racing, encouraging his readers, "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith" (Heb. 12:1-2).

As did the psalmist, Paul, too, says the key to this life is two-fold: (1) running the race (i.e., setting our hearts on pilgrimage) and (2) keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.  Somehow, I wonder if Paul didn't also employ the racing imagery (versus the image of a pilgrim plodding down a sandy road) because he was showing how this side of the cross, we must live with anticipation that Christ may return at any second. 

This passage comes after the infamous "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11, wherein Paul lists one pilgrim after another who faithfully completed his or her pilgrimage to God.  While Christians typically look to those pilgrims as larger than life heroes, wonder men and women of God, Paul reminds us, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth" (Heb. 11:13).  

These pillars of the faith likely had moments when they, too, wondered if they were making any progress towards that final destination.  At times, I'm sure they, too, focused their eyes on earthly destinations rather than the eternal one.

If we set our internal GPS to any destination other than God enthroned in a heavenly Zion, then yes, our lives may be stagnant and not making any progress.  Yet, if our hearts are set where they should be and if we embrace this life as what it is meant to be--a pilgrimage, a journey where we're just passing through--therein lies one of several keys to happiness in our circumstances.  

The journey is our destination, both focused on God alone.  

He is our peace.  He is our joy.  He is our happiness.  

*Word analysis from Strong's Concordance at

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