285 Where are You?
Genesis 3:9 & 2 Tim 4:7
When God asks a question, you can be absolutely sure that it is not for his benefit. God is “Omniscient” an all knowing God, so that if he asks a question it is not that He needs the information that may be forthcoming in any answer, but that rather the one to whom he asks the question, needs the answer more than God does! That is why in Genesis 3:v9, when God asked Adam and Eve “Where art Thou” it was not that he didn’t know, but that he wanted them to know! They had not moved location, but they had moved position. They had enjoyed the bounty and beauty of the Garden of Eden for some time, until they fell into the sin of disobedience, taking of the fruit that had been forbidden them. This disobedience changed their position with God, and God was essentially asking them to consider where they were now in relation to Him.
In the moments left to me today, I want to ask you the same question, WHERE ARE YOU? Where are you in your relationship with God?
It is very possible that you are not where you think you are, not where you should be, and not where you could be. Many have stood still since their conversion, not moving on with God and not growing in grace and in knowledge and understanding of him. While others, have made great strides with God in the beginning, now they have grown weary of the struggle and battle for faith, and are backsliding and growing cold in their relationship with God. Then there are others, gloriously advancing with God their Saviour, moving forward every day into new dimensions, new levels of understanding, new heights of Spiritual awareness, and new victories in their private and public lives. So then, I repeat the question,
WHERE ARE YOU?
It is important to acknowledge before you can answer, that where you are, is more likely to be in one of three places? Either you are going on, or you are standing still or you are going back! So in the moments left to me today, I want to look at what I will call:
The Journey Found
The Journey Followed
And The Journey Finished
In Paul’s 2nd letter to young Timothy, the great Apostle feels that he is nearing the end of his ministry journey, and concludes in 2 Tim 4:v7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith”.
Before one can have finished the journey, one needs first to have found the path, and followed it. Paul found the way, the path to his destiny, the start of his journey, on the Damascus Road. Saul (as his name was at that time) had been anti-christian, and indeed had persecuted the Church and been witness to the stoning of Stephen: (Acts 8:1) But one day while he was journeying from Jerusalem as he approached Damascus, (Acts 9:3) suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him, and he fell to the ground. It was an unmistakable encounter with God, which resulted in Paul being blinded for three days. The experience had a profound effect upon him, so that his whole motivation changed, his life was completely turned around, and instead of murmuring threats and murder against the Lords followers, he began a ministry to help them, and to serve the church in adversity. Following his conversion, Paul became one of the greatest apostles God ever gave to his Church and more than 2000 years later, the Church are still learning and maturing by the inspired, God given wisdom of the man.
Think too of Zacchaeus, we read in Luke 19, that he was a rich tax collector, who had become rich at the expense of the poor. This begs the question, was he ruthless in his dealings with the public, and had he acquired his wealth in unlawful or unfair dealings? Whatever the answer, what we can say in his favour, is that when he heard about Jesus he made plans to get to see him. But being a small man, and not a popular man, he climbed up into a Sycamore Tree to get a better view. This was to be the starting place of his journey, for Jesus stopped right beneath that tree and looking up invited himself to dine with Zacchaeus! Luke 19:5. This encounter with Jesus also completely turned his life around. For he said: “the half of all that I have I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded any, I will restore it fourfold” v8 .
Think too of James and John the sons of the Fishing family of Zebedee: They were sitting by the shore mending their nets, with their Father when along came Jesus and simply said “follow me”! Without any reluctance, delay or hesitation, (so powerful was the invitation) that they immediately got up, left their father and their work, and followed Jesus. Mark 1:19-20
This encounter completely changed their lives, and they both became such ardent followers of Jesus that they were chosen with the apostle Peter, to grace the mount of Transfiguration, while the other disciples were left behind! Now my dear friend, Jesus has often given you a similar invitation, to leave the worlds side and come on board with him. To abandon your own sinful selfish ways, and trust in Him, for time and for eternity. To stop fighting for life, and surrender to his offer of eternal life. To stop drinking at the wells that poison, and to drink from the fountain of salvation and true satisfaction. Many a man or woman, have turned their backs of that invitation, have closed their ears to the call of God, and left this world to spend eternity in the awful midnight that is separation from God, the place we call Hell!
You can never be a Christian until you have found and followed the road to Christ, to his cross, to his love, to his mercy and his forgiveness. Have you found your way yet, or are you still lost, and without hope in the world. I have told the story before but I remember well when I was just a tiny boy, shopping with my Mother in Hill Street, Newry. Letting go of her hand to admire the toys in a shop window, I grasped her hand again, only to discover that I had taken another woman’s hand! This was not my Mother, this was a stranger! She quickly let me go, and for the first time in my life, I felt lost, really lost, and alone in the world, tears quickly filled my eyes and I cried out “Mummy, Mummy” To my comfort and delight my Mother was really just a few feet away, and quickly grasped my hand again. I held on to her, like we were joined by super-glue! “Mummy” I said,
“I will never let you go again”.
It must be awful to feel lost in the world, do you feel that way? Are you tired of being alone, tired of struggling without help, without a friend, without hope? Then start today, on that Journey to Life, place your hand in the hand of Jesus, and say with the Hymn writer “where he leads me I will follow, I’ll go with him, with him all the way.”
So then, we have seen the necessity of Finding the Journey, now let us consider Following the Journey, following Jesus.
It is true and it is disappointing that there are many who do truly find Jesus, and surrender their hearts to him in Love, and who seem to follow him for some of the way, but sadly they give up, and give in, they abandon their love, and their life in Him. There have been many theological volumes written on the causes of this “back-sliding” as we call it, but I believe that there is a very simple reason, why many do not go on with Jesus, and do not pursue the Christian Journey and Path – simply they are in “two minds” about loving the Lord.
This is made clear very vividly in the Gospel narrative concerning the early days of the apostle Peter. I believe that Peter was one of those classic examples of the potential for back-sliding. Peter, like the other disciples had been daily and regularly in partnership with Jesus and his ministry and was being schooled in the word and ways of God. However, unlike the others, Peter was not always wholehearted in his devotion and affection. He was half-hearted or his affections were divided, between his will to please the Lord and his will to please others. This is the rock on which many flounder.
You will never follow the Lord, never last the pace, never finish the job, unless and until you have totally surrendered to pleasing Him, and not men-pleasing. Many a great Pastor or Priest has given up ministry and gone back into secular service simply because they were in two minds about pleasing God and pleasing people. This was the very reason why God rejected Saul from continuing as King over Israel, and chose David a simple Shepherd Boy, to replace him. 1 Samuel 15. Peter was
a man-pleaser, and Jesus was praying for Peter that his faith would enable him, to follow and finish the course! Luke 22:32. This was the man who would walk on water, like Jesus did, Matt 14:29 – yet you can have faith that allows you to walk on water today, but abandon that faith and drown tomorrow! Peter was adamant that he would never fail the Lord, never abandon him, “even if I must die,” he said, “I will not deny you” Mark 14:31. Yet we all know that before sun-up and the cock-crowing, he denied, cursing and swearing that he did not even know the man called Jesus. Peter loved the Lord Jesus, there is no doubt, but he loved himself also, and this is often the root cause of back-sliding! That is why Jesus says “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily to follow me”
Now I acknowledge that self denial, is no easy task, and it cannot ever be achieved without a loving loyalty to Jesus Christ. If one abandons the daily offering of prayer, the daily study of the scriptures, and the daily filling or enabling of the Holy Spirit, and becomes side-tracked or distracted by other selfish pursuits, then sooner or later love for Christ grows colder, and service becomes half-hearted, and commitment becomes non-existent. Instead we ought to be able to say with the Hymn writer, “I have decided to follow Jesus , no turning back – no turning back!”
So then we have considered the Journey Found, the Journey Followed, let us then in conclusion, consider,
The Journey Finished
Paul writing to Timothy confirms that he had “fought a good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith”! 2 Tim 4:v7
Here, not for the first time, the apostle Paul likens the Christian Journey to a Race, and the Christian to the Athlete or Runner, making the race. Paul is keen to point out that it is not merely those who run the race that matter, but those who run, run well, and finish well who receive the prize, the award, the acclaim, the publicity, the victory, call it what you will. But Paul’s emphasis to Timothy is clearly on how important it is to “Finish” and to Finish well!
In another letter, Paul reminds us that the Athlete or runner does not get bogged down with a lot of weight, a lot of baggage, and will run much better freed from other concerns and issues, if he will concentrate on the race, the prize and the finish. This is so often true of the Christian life and journey. It is easy to get weighted down with baggage, or the baggage of our past.
We can be hindered, or kept back by the distractions of past mistakes. Our failures, our pride, our jealousy, our anger, our bitterness, our weaknesses, our abilities or disabilities, our friends and families and so much more, can and often do, restrict our running of the race set before us.
The writer to the Hebrews says we must lay aside every weight and every besetting sin, Heb 12:1 … so that we might run unhindered, uncluttered and unrestricted. The road to Glory lies strewn with the spiritual carcasses of many who began well, but gave up the race, and packed it in. Its rather like the city Marathon, thousands will eagerly line up at the start line, and most will boast of how they will be the first to cross the 26 mile line at the finish. Usually hundreds end up not making the first ten miles, – and it is certainly true that the road to heaven, as well as the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
So then what is it that keeps us from the finish, from completing the task, from achieving the goal, from the destiny God intended for us. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, “Enter in by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many: but the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” Matt 7:13-14.
The pictures that Jesus paints here are very graphic and descriptive. The broad or wide road is much like the motorways of our countryside, but the narrow way is something else entirely.
Years ago I used to do a lot of hill-walking, and like others who do the same, followed what is commonly called the sheep-tracks! These are little tracks made through the hills by the sheep who tend to walk in lines, one behind the other. These tracks are highways, just as real as the A1 or M1. They are made up hill, and down dale, over rocks and steeps, and through rivers and streams. This is the kind of “narrow route” of which Jesus spoke! In other words, Jesus is reminding us that the Christians Journey is not an easy one, it is not a simple or clear cut route stretching out before us, rather, one that crosses the unexpected in places, reaches great heights, and plummets to great depths and is often dangerous and difficult.
One Hymn writer says,
“Its not an east road we are travelling to heaven, for many are the thorns on the way, but Jesus walks beside us and brightens the journey and lightens every heavy load”
The thing about our Pilgrim Journey is that we do not travel it alone. We do travel an often unknown way, but it is an upward way, a way home, a way to the prize, but more significantly it is a way and a walk with Jesus. Even when I do not know what is around the next bend, he does, in fact he knows every eventuality of the entire journey. This gives me courage and faith to press on, knowing that Gods best is yet to be! Another Hymn writer prays, “May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only unto Jesus, as I onward Go”
Not feeling as you once did, not feeling you have still that spring in your step, not excited about the way and day ahead? Never mind, go on with God, knowing this, that to have a will resolutely set to do his will, is the most glorious way at any time of proving your love for him. This journey requires faith, for God does not often make the pathway clear to us. Gods leading in fact is often clearer in retrospect than in prospect, that is why Faith is essential. And God promises that “If we acknowledge Him, in all our ways, He will direct our Paths.” The Christian Journey is NOT about stumbling around in the dark; it is not a “hit or miss” experience, but it is a journey of Faith. Without faith we cannot please God, we cannot know God, and we most certainly cannot finish the task or reach the destiny he has purposed for us. The pages of Scripture are bursting with the vivid accounts of the lives of men and women who walked by faith, not knowing where God was leading or what God was doing, yet they walked on in obedience, and you and I
must do the same.
God has given us of his Holy Spirit, and his Holy Word, so that we may never be without direction. Both the Word and the Spirit bear witness within us that we are where God wants us to be. It may not always be a comfortable place, or the place of our choosing, but it will eventually bring us to the place of His best for us. Joseph was in prison, forgotten and forsaken, but God has a position of great power and authority for him, a blessing was just around the corner? Joseph didn’t know it, but he kept faith with God, and God brought him along the road to that Blessing. Moses was placed in a flimsy basket in a river, but God had a room for Moses in a Palace. Jesus came to a little stable, and journeyed to a painful Cross, but today is enthroned in the splendour of Heaven, and will be worshipped by men and angels for all eternity. Your Journey may not always be pleasant, indeed it may at times be painful, but character is born through adversity, and dependency on God is birthed through the rejection of others. Go on with God, Run on, Press on, Fight On, Labour On, spend and be spent, your joy to do the fathers will, it is the way the Master went, should not you his servant tread it still?
Now this Final Word
When God asked Adam and Eve, “Where art Thou?” it was in order for them to reflect on where they were now, in their relationship with God. So my dear friend, I believe that God
is asking you and I today that same question,
“Where are you?”
Are you standing still, are you going back, or are you going on with God? Have you found your way to Jesus, are you following him every day, and will you finish the course, keep the faith and win the prize?
Like our first parents in the garden of Eden, God knows exactly where you are, even better than you may know yourself.
Have you ever read of Livingstone’s influence over Stanley in Central Africa. Stanley was not a professing Christian when he first met Livingstone: but when he saw that peaceful face that warm character, that heroic life, sacrificing everything for the good of others, and learned that the inspiration for it all came from Jesus Christ, that same Jesus revealed himself to Stanley through Livingstone! Christ was in Livingstone, and it was as easy for him to shine, as it was for an electric lamp when the current is passing through it! We have all felt at some time or other at least a little of such influence, the influence of a man or woman in whose presence we could not, dare not sin. Whose very look challenged us to a better and holier life. Jesus himself carried such influence, and should draw out of us the prayer of our closing hymn ….
“Oh Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end, be thou for ever with me, my master and my friend”
“Oh guide me, call me, draw me, uphold me to the end, and then in Heaven receive me, my Saviour and my Friend”