I have found that the long, hard road to the cross is rarely crowded and seldom busy. It’s a sad sight, the road to freedom pristine and untouched while the road to bondage is worn beyond recognition. Perhaps that’s why we all follow it so blindly...our feet have so tread the dry earth below us that any signs of danger have long since been trampled by our heavy wandering feet.
Our hearts cry out for companionship, and as we begin our journey Home we find we have it in abundance. But at a point, the road narrows and the climb steepens and our traveling companions fall by the wayside one after another. Exposure to the elements of self denial becomes painful and the worth of the goal is more easily questioned the closer we come.
Death calls to us, both from ahead and behind; one beckoning come and live, the other beckoning come and die, and though they sound the same - the reality of their difference echos throughout eternity.
Those who find the strength to continue along find themselves sustained by cups of grace and bowls of mercy, left waiting for us by a holy Son and sibling, to quench the unquenchable thirst that denial leaves in us along the way...not in wasteful abundance but abundantly available when the need for them is greater than the need for anything else.
The thirst of denial leaves our tongues raw and wanting, and so more traveling companions are lost when the thirst becomes so great that it drowns out reason, and though the Father waits anxiously at the end of the journey, robe and ring in hand, ready to quench our thirst with a lasting refreshment of Himself, a well that will never run dry, few will reach Him and join Him at the table set for us - we settle instead for a stable and slop in a town called Comfort. A town not found in the smooth plains where we begin but positioned close to the end of our journey in a valley nestled between mountains of Suffering and Sanctification.
Aching legs and constrained hearts bid us to stay in Comfort and walk no more. The daily fight with our flesh not to rule but to be ruled leaves a wake of dust and denial behind us, and though the fight leaves the spirit within us strong, the bodies that contain it grow weary. And so, with desire shouting louder than disallowance, many choose to stay. The cost to stay is great, and the inn keeper demands destiny be paid at the door. Apathy keeps the Inn, and she is an unforgiving madam. Both quiet and unassuming, she entices us to beds that promise attention and rest but ultimately give way to death before awareness wakes us from our premature slumber. She is tricky, for she knows what we do not, and that is that she can only provide sleep, for rest is given only by the Father in exchange for our heavy yoke. Apathy unloads no burdens, she simply makes a bed for them to lie upon, and so with her mouth full of promises that her hands can never keep, she turns down the sheets for those willing to trade the comfort found in temporal companionship for the rest found in eternal sonship. All travelers bound for Home must pass through Comfort, but none were intended to stay, as all true travelers know that Comfort is not a place, but a Man.
A Man who chastens those He loves, and while we know His love for us is great, the hard hand of discipline still stings the flesh it was sent to kill. Tears of brokenness and breakthrough find their home on our Wind worn cheeks and we look around, desperate for a friend to understand the experience that we find ourselves wrapped up in; the end of ourselves and the beginning of the Son now in full view, but since many travelers choose to stay in Comfort, we find ourselves painfully alone.
It is this loneliness that causes us to throw ourselves back upon the Father who called us in the first place. Throwing ourselves upon Him doesn’t take much, just a breath of weakness in His direction, and with the exhale of our inability we watch His strength be made perfect in the picture of our deficiency. Much of the strength we possessed was given to leave Comfort behind, and now, with the end of the road in sight, we crawl home. Not a run, not even a walk, but a slow and faithful crawl to the end. Our last, though not our best, being given in a greater measure than our best could ever have been.
Looking to our left and right, we realize that though many companions were lost along the way, many made it...some with time, some with age, some with fight, but now, they crawl alongside us, pulling themselves to their Father who stands waiting.
He sees us before we see Him, and weeping with joy and a shout He runs for us...He runs for wayward sons returning home. The sight of His pursuit of us, stirs strength deep in our belly that we no longer knew we had. Our nostrils draw the cool breeze that swirls around us into our lungs and our old bones come back to life. Refreshment is here...He is in our midst. Our legs, aching and bleeding from the long journey strengthen and we push ourselves up to stand. The bleeding stops, old wounds close, and scars are left in their place as reminders of where we’ve been to get here to this moment.
The heart in our chest, once constrained with discipline now beats with a rhythm of discipleship, and the beat calls us to run. We struggle at first, as steadiness, not speed has been the way to the cross thus far. But with every step we grow stronger and our strides increase. Desperation to meet our Father in a heavenly embrace drives us, and before we know it, everything that the journey produced within us pushes itself outward and though just moments before we were on the verge of death, we are more alive now than we were when we began.
He’s close. He envelopes our senses. Everything we see, taste, touch, and smell is Him. He’s extends His arms outward in a reach and not wanting to wait a moment longer to feel Him hold us, we jump. We push off and leap, faith propelling us into the arms of our Father who Hope says will catch us...and He does.
He catches us and in fire and wind and fury He encircles us. He takes our face in His hands, His eyes that see everything see us fully and we look back, not intimidated, but in love. We watch our walk in His eyes...every step, stumble, and fall. We watch where He carried us, though we didn’t know He was. We watch Jesus leaving provision for us along the way. We watch Him walk everywhere we would walk first and prepare the way we would ultimately go. We see it all in His eyes and for the first time, seeing it this way, we see it all make sense. It was worth it. The journey, the denial, the suffering...all of it was worth it, because now...