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Epilogue - Yearning for Better Days
You have now completed the ten lectures in our course The Dynamics of Christian Spirituality, but I would like to just add this brief concluding epilogue entitled Yearning for Better Days and the keynote verse here is a simple three words, a prayer from Revelation chapter 22 verse 20, “Come, come Lord Jesus”.
Old Jerusalem contains a wall that is sacred to the Jews. It is built of large, stone blocks and it serves as a kind of foundation on the west side of the ancient site now occupied by a famous Muslim mosque, Dome of the Rock. This wall may be the only surviving part of the last Jewish temple, the one that Herod built before the time of Christ and which has long since been demolished by a Roman army. Here Jews come to pray with prayer shawls draped around their shoulders and sometimes little boxes of Torah, the Hebrew Scriptures, strapped to their foreheads. Some people write their little prayers on scraps of paper and fold them up and stuff them into the cracks in the mortar around these big stones. Those who are more conservative among them wear long beards and black, broad-brimmed hats. They rock back and forth as they pray crying out to God to deliver finally on his longstanding promises of Messianic protection, justice and national shalom. It is a poignant and moving scene. More than anything else it is an atmosphere of yearning, of longing for things greatly desired but still not having come to reality. The cry going up in many languages is essentially the same one, “How long oh Lord, how long?” A friend and I stood at the wall one day touching the cold stone with our fingers, soaking up the ancient atmosphere and feeling the pulse of the Jewish faith. A stooped over old man with a messy white beard stopped his praying and shuffled slowly over to us. He looked up at us through sad, watery eyes and in halting English he inquired whether we were Jewish; we told him we were not. It was clear as he slowly moved off that our answer had disappointed him. I wanted to call out after him, “You’re not the only ones who know the agony of having to wait, you know? You are not alone in yearning for better days that are already long overdue. What we Christians who have put our hope in Jesus feel in our hearts is not so very different from what you are feeling.” Yes, there is an incomplete dimension to our lives as well. Whether we wait for the Messiah’s first coming like the Jews, or wait for the Messiah’s second coming like we Christians, the emotions that waiting creates are much the same. This is certainly true in the area of spirituality. The relational, transformation and vocational dynamics of the Christian life are real and they may be experienced in satisfying ways, yet we set ourselves up for disappointment if we expect more than can be delivered in this groaning, fallen world of ours. Yes, there are moments, there are moments when we catch direct glimpse of the Father’s heart and experience the sweet joy of being in loving covenant with him, but there are other darker times when there is no feeling there at all, there is only silence and this sort of snake-like whisper that everything we have believed is just made up and we really are alone in the universe. And likewise there are moments when the body of Christ feels like the best family ever and there are other times when all its hurtful behaviors and its dysfunctional relationships push us to the point of almost becoming cynical. We will struggle with our selfish natures all our lives. Wounding others and being wounded by them in ways that put friendships and family ties at risk. We will never get beyond temptation to a point where it will be safe to drop our guard. We will need to keep dipping into the reservoir of God’s forgiveness and taking advantage of the gracious tolerance of others. We are all persons with disabilities. We are limping our way back to God. And it is not always easy to figure out the will of God in the complex circumstances of our lives. Some of our hard work for his sake will show the signs that we bungled some things and some of our hard work will end up looking rather futile and unsuccessful. People to whom we have given our lives do not always seem to appreciate how much we have invested in them. Sometimes our legacy may seem more like a sandcastle which we have struggled to build under the hot sun only to be swept away by an incoming tide of circumstances we did not anticipate or new leadership with a different vision than we had. The journey to the celestial city, to heaven, can be every bit as difficult as John Bunyan depicted in his famous Pilgrim’s Progress. It will not always be filled with happy faces and fun times and endless number of upbeat praise choruses, there will be tears too and through it all the ache of yearning. We face into the wind as we journey through this fallen world and there are plenty of struggles ahead. Nowhere does the Bible say it will be easy. We have only been assured that it is infinitely worthwhile. But we also journey in hope and by hope we mean a confident and sustaining anticipation of a positive future. We have received sufficient assurances that we are on the right track, that we are going to keep pressing forward. It is true that for the time being we only know things partly, but someday we will see him face to face and will know him fully just as we are already fully known; that is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12. The time is coming when we will slip beyond the bonds of earth and touch the face of God. Likewise our progress toward holiness and wholeness is partial at best, but we look ahead to when we will finally be like him and every tear will be wiped away and we count on that promised day when we will sit down to a great banquet and celebrate the full and final victory of the reign of God and at that banquet the secret will be disclosed of how our labors for this cause were not in vain. As we move toward this destiny sustained by the power of the Spirit we must keep praying as Jesus taught us to pray; “Our Father in heaven”, for here right up front is an acknowledgement in those words “our Father” of the intimate family connection that needs to set the emotional tone of everything that follows. “Hollowed be thy name”, is essentially a prayer for our transformation since God’s name will be respected to the extent that our character and conduct as a people bearing his name bring him honor rather than dishonor. And finally when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come”, it is a reminder that God’s great and overarching plan to bless the world is the thing of greatest importance and that we discover our greatest joy and meaning by contributing to it. This is the foundation for everything else that follows, living out the Spirit of this classic Jesus-style prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, is authentic Christian spirituality. Every pilgrimage is unique; yours will not be the same as mine, and yet in these perennial ways all our journeys are the same. Perhaps, as we conclude, you are wondering what to do next. The previous lecture offered some suggestions, but there is really no one size fits all plan. In John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrims Progress evangelist meets Christian and Christian is wandering through the fields without any sense of direction. Evangelist’s role is to point the bewildered pilgrim toward his true destination, but he does not provide a detailed map with all the right and left turns printed out in advance. It is Christian’s journey and he must choose his own steps. “Do you see off there the shining light?” Evangelist asks. “I think I do,” replied Christian, squinting at the horizon. “Well, keep that light in your eye,” says Evangelist, then urging him forward he assures Christian that as he gets closer to the light he will be told what to do next and that is pretty much the way it works. We have young adult daughters in our family and they are moving out of the nest; two are already gone, only one still at home, and as they leave our home we assure them of their love, we wave somewhat sadly and we shout final words of parental encouragement and advice as they drive off. Sometimes I imagine Evangelist doing the same for Christian. In my mind’s eye I see him cupping his hands around his mouth to project his voice toward the figure disappearing over the hill and the advice he offers Christian echoes scriptural truth and the gathered wisdom of God’s people through the centuries. On the breeze, on the wind I catch phrases like these. Never forget that culture is a vast conspiracy to distract you from the real point of living. All is lost if you simply go with the flow. Now, decide what you really, I mean really want most out of life because chances are that is what you will end up getting. Remember that your Father in heaven loves you and wills your happiness. Delight in God and be welcoming to his Spirit. Always be attentive, be faithful in relationships, soak your mind in the truth and let it alter the settings of your soul. Dare to be honest, especially with yourself. Regularly claim God’s forgiveness through Christ and then refuse to entertain guilt feelings. Cultivate a taste for the good. Find godly mentors and sacred companions. Submit to God’s will and do so without complaining. Be brave in your obedience and take risks. Stay resilient and firm in adversity. Live expectantly, see your life as the great gift it is and be thankful for it and view all this as a brief prelude to a wondrous eternity. Sing, even through your tears and may the Lord bless you and keep you. Amen.