It is summer. The car is packed. The water bottles are full. The satnav is set with the right coordinates. The journey is about to begin. You know exactly where the final destination lies. What you don’t know is what you might encounter along the way. But with the end goal in mind, you begin with anticipation and excitement. A journey on the open road!
The spiritual life is often described as a journey. We enter into relationship with Jesus with excitement, gratitude, and anticipation for what lies ahead. We don’t know all that lies ahead but, like the apostle Paul, we have our eyes fixed on the finish line, the Lord Jesus.
A journey implies movement. The kind of action we find in verbs. Our spiritual journeys are no different, and I wonder if it behoves us to pause and consider the movements of our spiritual journeys. So, a few thoughts.
Consider the introduction to the Psalter, Psalm 1. Verse 1 interestingly begins with movements that we are to avoid.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers.
Here we find a progression of movement that shows an accommodation to the ways of the unrighteous. From walking to a more permanent standing to the comfort of sitting down. It is a very visual cautionary tale. Do not go on this journey. Rather, the one who is blessed delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it. All the time. Delights and meditates. I wonder which comes first, the delight or the meditation? Either way, it is clear that they are linked.
The more we meditate, the more we delight. And we meditate because we delight.
Throughout the Bible, the children of God are continually reminded to ‘walk in the ways of the LORD’. This is the journey we are on. And how are we to walk? What verbs of movement do we find? One of my favourites is found in the book of Joshua, when the eponymous leader gives a commission speech to some of the tribes.
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
Be careful, keep, love, walk, hold fast, serve.
And then there’s this verse from the book of Proverbs.
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.
It’s a picture of intentional perseverance to keep to the path; to not let our gaze or feet wander. But then sometimes we come to a crossroads, the proverbial fork in the road. Small choices, big choices, the in-between. As people of the way, we are invested in making sure we stay on the right way and it is not always clear which way that is. In this instance, consider this verse in Jeremiah.
This is what the LORD says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
Where is the movement? What are the action words? Stand, look, ask (twice), walk and find rest. But what is the quality of our movements, the intent? Where do these movements take us? In Psalm 1, the way of the wicked leads to nothing good. In Jeremiah, we see a desire to seek the good way and walk in it to find rest for our souls as we journey. I can’t help but think of this section in Matthew’s gospel, rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message.
Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
What an invitation! That’s a journey I want to be on.
Every journey has a destination and on our spiritual journeys it matters that we know the end goal. It is none other than Jesus himself. Listen to these verses.
To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:21
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
1 John 2:6
These are just a few of the many verses that command, compel, and invite us to walk in the way of Jesus.
Walking with him. Walking towards him.
As I write, I am aware that the phrase ‘action words’ is reminiscent of a children’s church service. And yet I am struck by the simplicity and strength of all the verbs. I wonder if we sometimes overthink our spiritual lives. We make things harder for ourselves than they need to be. Perhaps it’s good to become like children again, for whom action words are clear and obvious. Jimmy, sit down on the mat! Sarah, look and listen, please!
Jeremiah’s instruction is certainly clear: stand, look, ask, walk, rest.
How is your journey going? Which action words jump out at you today? Which ones describe the movements in your journey? Are you racing, full-paced to the finish line or wearily seeking to place one foot in front of the other? I think if we are honest, all journeys have varying paces. What is clear is that we are to fix our eyes on Jesus and keep our feet moving along the way of Christ.
So, relish the movement you experience on your journey.
Embrace the action words.
And be encouraged that at journey’s end, we will all meet in the throne room of our God.