Eyes on the prize, baby

Sometimes God gives us extraordinary gifts. I mean, He’s already offered eternal salvation and reconciliation with Him, but even beyond that, he blesses us in unexpected and undeserved ways.

Much as I find it hard to grasp, I really do believe that God delights in our enjoyment of life. He rejoices when we receive a gift from him with eagerness and praise and thanks. He smiles on our joyfulness. Our temporary happiness, however, is not His end goal. It pleases Him, sure, but he never intended for His gifts to be either our source of joy, or our consuming focus.

As I was thanking God for one of His gifts in my life, I sensed both his smile over my happiness, but also His gentle adjure: Eyes on the prize, baby, eyes on the prize.

God wants us to enjoy the gifts we receive in this life, but never at the expense of our focus on the ultimate prize. Nothing He can give me now, can compare to the gift of Himself. One day I will step through the gates of death, and be united with Him, my ultimate prize. Any gift I receive here, is only as valuable as the extent to which it points my eyes towards the greater prize.

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I will never do it all

I love travel. It was seeded when I used to farewell my grandparents year after year at the airport as they departed for yet another exotic location. It began when I first set foot in Amsterdam at 19 years of age and realized that my dream of seeing Europe was becoming a reality.

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Over the years, I have chipped away at my travel ‘to do list,’ and slowly built my collection of Lonely Planet guides.

A couple of months ago I found and bought the holy grail of travel guides. Lonely Planet: The World.

221 countries, 228 maps, and 700 full colour photos. When it arrived, I cracked it open in excitement… and drowned. I knew I wanted to see Morocco, but what about Monaco, Montenegro, Mongolia? What about Bhutan, Belize, Andorra, Afghanistan?

As I flicked through the book I was struck with an unsettling thought: I would never.

Just as I will never read all the books I want to read, I will never see all the places I would like to see. My life, which has seemed to stretch out so far in front of me, will not be enough.

There is one beautiful redeeming grace in the daunting finiteness of my life.

My life’s meaning and purpose was never grounded in reading all the things or seeing all the places. My core purpose is something far greater. And for that, I will have exactly the right amount of time.

 

 

 

 

 

What is ‘life?’

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The other day I was driving along and a large brown planetree leaf fluttered down from its branch at the exact moment that my car drove past. Its detachment from the tree punctuated the end of its life and its final voyage was disrupted by the whoosh of my car as it was swept upwards away from my windscreen, changing direction, finding another place to settle.

A lot of my weird, profound thoughts happen while driving. Driving under a falling leaf is nothing extraordinary, but for some reason, on this day, I was struck with a question about the nature of life.

The leaf was dead. It was once alive. I looked at a flourishing gum tree and wondered, ‘what is it that makes it alive?’ ‘What is life?’

Sure, we know how to distinguish death from life, animate from inanimate, but do we actually know anything about life?

I looked it up in a dictionary. Life is a condition, a distinguishing phenomena, a state.

I think that’s code for ‘we have no idea.’ We know a lot, but we don’t know that. We can create a lot, but we can’t create that.

For the Christian, it’s profound, but not so difficult to understand. Life is the unique, breathed out, creative power of God. He gives it, and he takes it away, and we just exist within it and watch.

 

 

 

 

The Gift of Death

The gift of death is, paradoxically, the gift of life.

One of my beautiful students asked me the other day, why God would create such beautiful people, only to let them die.

garden_of_edenIt’s a fair question, but it’s one limited by lack of information, because if we understand the fullness of the Bible, we can understand the gift of death.

When Adam and Eve were in the garden they were free to eat from the Tree of Life. They were going to live forever in the bliss and beauty of what God had created.

The right to eat from the Tree of Life was only taken from them after they sinned. Because living forever under the curse of sin was never God’s plan for anyone.

Adam and Eve both died a physical death, but it was not a tragic one. Physical death was one of the gifts that God gave them, along with the redemptive death and resurrection of His Son, in order for them to enter into eternal life.

Death can be a great tragedy, but only when it takes a person who refuses to accept God’s gift of life. For those who have life, it is the beautiful gateway out of an existence marred by sin.

The Pain of an Unfulfiled Life

624265_93192944No matter how awesome your life is, you know the pain of unfulfilment. You know what it’s like to be sitting in that dark, lonely place, with the aching knowledge that something is missing from your life.

It hurts.

Most of the time you get over it. You move on and focus on other things. But it will be back.

Is that a bad thing?

What if this life wasn’t meant to fulfil you? What if the depths of your soul and your personality couldn’t be fulfilled by material things, or even by people? What if your dreams were never going to be in reach?

Could you be ok with that?

I think I could. But only if one thing is true: Only if this is not all there is.

Because if this is not all there is, then my temporal fulfilment no longer matters.

If this is not all there is, then this is not my only chance at happiness, and maybe I can be willing to give up that which I cannot keep, to gain that which I cannot lose.

When the ocean tosses you around like a rag doll

Water_size480I went surfing on the weekend. I am by no means a surfer, but I thought it would be fun to learn.

It’s probably not the best time to start. Australia is being plunged into winter and the winds that blow in off Antarctica make for a cold and rough swell, but a couple of friends and I braved the chill in our wetsuits and had a good day.

One thing that’s struck me about being an amateur surfer is how much you have to fight the ocean. Sure it’s fun when you catch a wave, but the rest of the time is spent paddling out, or, in my case, being tossed around and rolled under the water like a rag doll.

That’s a bit how life can feel sometimes; being tossed like a rag doll in the ocean; battered by the waves. No sooner have I gasped a breath of air, than I am down, under the water again. Why? For what purpose?

I asked God about it, and he reminded me of this: That I cannot see myself, but He can. And He knows that finally, when I have been removed from the water, I will have been refined into a pearl far more brilliant than anything that could have been attained on the shore.

And therein lies the peace: it is worth it, and suddenly the waves hold less fury, because at the end of the day, they’re working for me.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

sleep_2480539When I first got sick, I received a lot of really unhelpful advice. One thing that I heard a couple of times, when I was leaving a function early to go home and go to bed, was that I should ‘toughen up, ‘cos I could sleep when I’m dead.’
(Surely the insensitivity of this is obvious since I actually felt like I was dying and was trying hard to avoid it??)

 Anyway, much as Bon Jovi’s song is very poor advice to give to a sick person, and much as we totally have a responsibility to take care of our bodies, I’m actually starting to think that maybe he’s got a point.

 Last night one of our pastors spoke on Hebrews 4. He began by acknowledging that this life is tough. So many of us are tired, so much of the time, and life can get overwhelming. Monday mornings seem to come around so much quicker than Friday afternoons, and so often our weakness and humanity overshadows the greatness of our calling. But therein lies the point. We have an amazing calling on earth, and an even more amazing future awaiting us in heaven.

This life is tough, but there remains for us a Sabbath rest.

I’m going to spend my eternity resting and rejoicing in the presence of Jesus, but while I’m here, there’s work to do.

 We may be exhausted, but God provides the strength for us to do His will and the promise that we can rest in Him.

Why I travel as much in books as I do on planes

granada-alhambra_19-137430When it comes to traveling, there’s nothing quite like the real thing.

The experiences that you gain stay with you for life. The dingiest of hotels, the smelliest of trains and the most bizarre experiences become part of the fabric of who you are, growing only more legendary with time.

It seems strange then, that I’d even consider comparing my ‘book traveling’ with my ‘real traveling.’ But I can. As a traveler, I’ve stood before the Eiffel tower, seen Mount Everest and floated in the Dead Sea, but each of these things had one thing in common: I experienced them as me. And I’ll tell you something, being me is pretty ordinary. I’ve done it my whole life; it’s not very magical.

That’s why when I travel through books I travel as much as I do on planes. In books I’ve raised my children in Paris and lived in war-ravaged Kabul. I’ve been an early Australian pioneer, and I’ve risen from the deepest slums of India. I may not have lived their lives in reality, but through them, I’ve experienced much more than I ever could have on my own.reading_28819

And the marriage of the two is perfect, because as I walk down the cobblestone streets of Düsseldorf, I feel the shadow of a woman over me. As she glances into a shop window, I sense her fear that the Nazi’s grip is growing tighter and it becomes more than just a town, and I am more than just me.