Friday, July 14, 2006

The Narrow Way

About once a year, my church asks me to preach because the pastor is gone. This week is my week. While I usually feel like I have something worthwhile to say (does that make me arrogant?), I'm also stressed out about it. I'm a much better writer than I am speaker, and if I must speak, I do much better if I can interact with people and ask questions while I'm teaching. Maybe I'll give an update on how it went on Monday or something.

In any case, as I've been working on my message the past week, I realized the exact way in which I think of the narrow way. If anyone has been a close reader of my blog, they'll realize I refer to Christianity as the narrow way a lot, and truthfully, as I live each day looking for the face of God, I consciously think about the path I take as the narrow way. To me, following the narrow way and being a Christian are synonymous.

But, what do I mean when I talk about the narrow way?

When most people I have met think of the narrow way, they think of something that is a path through the woods. The entrance to the narrow way is hidden - you have to look and look and look for it, but once you find the trailhead, the path is faint but clear, and it winds through the mountains and valleys of life all the way to God. The path never splits or disappears completely, though sometimes it might be hard to see, but if you are diligent and pay attention, you'll never have a problem staying on the path. Sure, trials will come and sometimes the route the path takes will be difficult and full of stress and pain, but the path itself is clear.

But what if the narrow way isn't like this at all? What if the narrow way isn't a path that someone else has blazed that you get to follow, but is instead a path that you blaze yourself as you try to navigate life? Or, what if the narrow way has nothing to do with paths at all?

Real Christians know that the Christian life is full of ambiguity as we approach a world full of sin, and we all know that the Christian life is full of pain as we slowly learn to take up our cross daily and follow the example of Christ. But the fact of the matter is that every step each one of us takes as single individuals is unique. No one has ever taken the path I've taken before, having my same experiences with ambiguity and pain. The path I take is mine alone, as I try to integrate the experiences I've had with a God who constantly touches me and colors my days. My path (and yours) is unique because I am (and you are) unique.

So if I am to really take full advantage of what God is trying to teach me, I can't just follow someone else's path - I must follow the unique trajectory God creates for me. But this is scary, because as I blaze this trail I could get it wrong and hurt myself or someone else. It's scary because I could easily fall into the trap of just going through the motions that someone else has done, and thereby lose the unique message God has for me.

So, I walk on a razor's edge. On the one hand, I don't want to grieve the Spirit of God as I simply follow the motions of people who've gone before me and ignore the unique opportunities meant entirely for me. And on the other hand, I don't want to descend into chaos as I pursue every heresy in creation looking for something new and cool. It's like I'm walking a fine line on the top of a mountain. There is no path. The going is treacherous and fraught with peril. Falling off the one side means I sell out and take the easy way, which is to simply do the same things people before me did. If I fall off the other side it means that I've descended into chaos and heresy as I blaze a trail that has nothing to do with where God wants me to go.

This is probably why I also think that individuals work out their salvation in fear and trembling. Christians walk this tightrope - this narrow way, and in fear and trembling take each and every step as they navigate the ambiguity and pain of following Christ's example. This is also probably why I find so much meaning when the apostle Paul says in Acts 17:

26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
God sets us up uniquely in time and place, and did it that we might perhaps grope for him. Not find him as if we started walking upon a path and stumbled upon his cottage, but grope for him.

Interestingly, this means that we lose control of our ability to find God on our own, but we become more and more dependent on Him to reveal Himself to us through Christ, and through the Spirit which indwells us. And it is precisely with this loss of control, in finding our true identity in the uniqueness of our path as we relate to God that we find hope and freedom and life.

I don't know about you, but to me the source of this hope and life seems so strange, so counterintuitive that I can't help but ask as I navigate the narrow way, "What kind of God is this?"


Stef said...

I stumbled onto your blog totally by ... chance (?).
These are the very same thoguhts I've been having over the last several months, as God seems to be changing the trajectory of my life, and challenging me to follow, not those who have gone before, but to follow only Him.

I read your post with a combination of excitement (I like the idea of blazing a path of my own) and relief (knowing I'm not the only one who thinks or feels this way).

This truly blessed me today.
God is good.

alethia said...

wish i could hear your message on sunday. i am sure you will do great.

Melissa said...

For all those that are interested - Ben did very well on Sunday! I wish you'll could hear what he had to say. I mentioned making the recording into a podcast and Ben said that we don't have access to the equipment to go from analog to digital recordings. Oh well...


Tracy P. said...

I still love that image! And now as I come back to it and read your text again, it still carries the same truth that I have had attached to the visual in my mind all these years. Well articulated, Ben. :-)