By Gloria Wessner
You may know what it feels like to look at the wonderful sights, sounds and shops in Italy. You may know what it feels like to dig your toes into the wonderful white sand of a beach in the Caribbean or experience the richness of wildlife in the Arctic. It takes good research and effort to put together an excellent trip that can be richly enjoyed.
There is another journey that one perhaps is already trying to prepare for; or it may just be getting some thought or perhaps not any thought at all. In the end, this journey will be the ultimate trip – worth every effort to make it happen. The preparation for this trip includes promises that not only guarantee one’s destination, but also promises help along the journey itself.
I’m talking about the journey to a new life in God, and then learning to walk the rest of this journey of life with him and for him, and ultimately the destination of the journey of living with God forever.
The story of the prodigal (means to wastefully use your wealth or substance) or lost son in God’s word gives us one example of running away from but then ultimately coming toward God.
“Then he (Jesus) said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.” (Luke 15:11-24 The Message)
In this story many of us can identify in some way with the son. Many of us are living that way now. We go our ‘own way’ down different kinds of not-so-good paths until we realize we aren’t living our life in the best mode or in a wholesome way, but eventually come back to a better way of living. This story that Jesus told takes us a step further than that and shows how we can find and live our life in God by recognizing our wrong ways of being (sin), and then he in turn forgives us and sets us up to live this life the best way possible.
Even if one hasn’t necessarily walked down that kind of pathway as described in the story, we often are what most people would call ‘good living’ (we are basically honest, loving and caring people). If we live this way, we sometimes think we don’t need to accept God’s gift of forgiveness because we’re good people. However, God’s word says nothing we do can be good enough to get into heaven on our own.
“We are constant sinners;
how can people like us be saved?
We are all infected and impure with sin.
When we display our righteous deeds,
they are nothing but filthy rags.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall,
and our sins sweep us away like the wind.” (Isaiah 64:5, 6)
A person would have to be absolutely perfect in order to get to Heaven on their own. It doesn’t take much soul searching to see where each of us has done something wrong or even thought something wrong somewhere in their life. A person would need to let God cleanse their heart and mind, and only he, by his Holy Spirit, can work in our lives so we realize that we do need his gift of forgiveness. Once we realize we need God, he is right there to hear our talk or prayer with him (we can talk to him the same as good friends talk to one another) and he will hear you. For some, that journey may take years to make it a personal choice to follow God and his ways. For others, they realize their need for God sooner (or so it seems) and make their choice for Him. Every person’s journey is unique to him or her. That is one of the neatest things about God – he works within each one of us as individuals, meeting each person exactly where they are at, at any particular time. The important thing to grasp is that once we do realize we need God in our lives, we should act on that and follow through.
“So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts…”
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:7,8a, 12)
Asking God to take away our wrongs and accepting his gift of forgiveness is a relatively simple process – we just need to ask him and agree with him that we accept his forgiveness so we can start our new life in Christ; but it must come from a sincere heart because He knows all our thoughts and intentions. His word says – “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” and:
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 & 21) Making the decision is more or less the simple part – living the life (the second part of this journey) is making a daily choice to follow Him. One needs to be aware of the seriousness and the cost of following God so that this personal choice isn’t made lightly or without a permanent commitment to Him so a person doesn’t fall back or away somehow. God is forever committed to you – he will help you stay committed to him.
“Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily (every day), and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24, parenthesis mine) Jesus is saying that each day we need to let him be in charge, not us. Another translation of the Bible puts it this way (same passage expanded):
“Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in his entire splendor in company with the Father and the holy angels.” (the Message)
There are many helpful ways to learn how to follow Jesus daily. One of the most important ways is to read His word on a daily basis. Reading from a modern translation such as the New International Version or New Living Translation with ‘study helps’ in them is very helpful to understand God’s word better. Attending a solid, Bible-believing church and/or being a part of a small group that studies His word on a regular basis is also very helpful. Attending something like the ‘Alpha’ course to understand your new choice to walk with God is also a good choice to start with.
A little booklet called “Daily Bread”, available in booklet form or online is also helpful for getting to know God better on a daily basis. This part of the journey, everyday life, is not always the easiest because this is where a person gets tempted to make wrong choices; but God promises his help to us along the way if we give him each day. If we do a wrong thing or make a wrong choice, he will prod us (you’ll know!). Then I need to ask his forgiveness for that and keep moving forward each day in my life with him. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9 NLT) We won’t become perfect in this life, but we will become more like him if we persist because it’s His life we’re now depending on to help us live each day and help with each decision we make.
The last part of this ultimate trip will take place the second this earthly body doesn’t breathe anymore. When we first make our decision to accept God’s gift of forgiveness, eternal life actually starts right then because that is our new life in Christ. When this body is done, we simply continue our eternal life not here on earth anymore, but in Heaven with Jesus.
“So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 NLT)
“And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11 NLT)
It’s up to each of us as individuals to choose to walk the journey of finding God and ultimately giving our lives to him. No other journey is worth the preparation, research and actually going on the journey than this one. Going to Hawaii, joining a safari in Africa, seeing and being enthralled with the Seven Wonders of the World, or even climbing Mt. Everest can’t hold a candle to this journey to God and with God. And going to Heaven – there just is no comparison to that wonderful place where there is no crying, sadness or pain. Just to be in His presence will be worth it all!
Readers are invited to write Gloria at firstname.lastname@example.org and give your thoughts and/or questions.