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Onwards and Upwards

August 1999 | by Paul Cook

What matters about a journey is reaching the destination. To say that you went to Italy for your holidays, and then disclose that all your time was spent in the departure lounge at Heathrow airport would sound laughable. But it is equally laughable for anyone to set out on the Christian pilgrimage and then to forget his intended destination. Not a few people within our churches appear to be doing that.

At least, one gets the impression that most Christians are not too eager to get to heaven, except when they know that there is no hope of remaining on earth. It is as though they have become like the traveller to Italy, who delays at Heathrow because he finds the slot-machines and the refreshments in the departure lounge too great an attraction.

Going round in circles

Given health and strength, an adequate income and a happy home life, the incidental pleasures and attractions of this life may prove to be a bypath meadow for late-twentieth-century Christians. For over fifty years our land has known little of the horrors and disruption of wars which have blighted other lands. With so many leisure opportunities and the facility of travel by air, land or sea, our great temptation is to spend most of our time travelling but getting nowhere. Constant sightseeing has ruined our vision of far-off horizons.

The unbeliever is quite content to move round in circles. His rejection of God’s Word, and his inability to face the reality of death, means that he has to seek his heaven on earth. He will not thank you for reminding him of eternity and the day when this life must be left behind.

But there is no excuse for the professing Christian to forget ‘the end of his faith’ (1 Peter 1:9). The word Peter uses is ‘telos’, and from this word and another we get the English word ‘telescope’ – which literally means ‘watch the end’. And this is what the believer should be doing as soon as he becomes a Christian, and every day of his Christian life, and especially as he nears the end of his journey.

Spiritual provisions

The Christian life is a pilgrimage with a glorious telos or end. By keeping your eye firmly upon the end, you will be helped to journey well, avoiding the distractions of this life, which tempt us to forget our intended goal. How eagerly people set out to travel to their holiday destination. And if they are going by car, they will frequently get up early to ensure a better journey, taking with them a thermos flask and other refreshments to sustain them on the way. Some of the most successful travellers reach their destination by midday and have enjoyed its attractions well before others, who gave less thought to the journey, eventually arrive.

Ought not the Christian to give every thought to how he is to journey through this life in order to reach his heavenly destination? The end will remind us that we need to keep ourselves unspotted from the world and make spiritual provision for the journey.

The thought of seeing Christ will alert us to the need of holiness, for ‘everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure’ (1 John 3:3). The prospect of the journey’s end should give us resolution and purpose and meaning in this earthly life. And we need to be like the great apostle who said, ‘One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:13-14).

Upward call

Let us not forget this upward call. The journey is elevating. We are moving onwards and upwards – even when health declines and earthly prospects fade. For the believer, the journey brings him nearer home, and home is where the Father is. But we will only journey well if we keep the end in mind.

Salvation is not complete until we arrive in heaven. We must spend time and thought reflecting on heaven, and how best to journey there. There is a river to cross, and its cold and swirling waters frequently strike fear into believers’ hearts. We will be better able to face it by preparing ourselves in good time. Anticipate the joy of seeing in heaven the King of glory. Remember, as you approach the river, that he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. And let the thought of his mighty victory over this last enemy lift your spirit up in glorious hope.

The King there, in his beauty,

Without a veil is seen;

It were a well-spent journey,

Though seven deaths lay between;

The Lamb with his fair army

Doth on Mount Zion stand,

And glory, glory dwelleth

In Immanuel’s land.