Those two words are so pleasant to the ear of a stressed student. Those words also mean that this girl finally feels guiltless in sitting down for an hour or two to meditate on Scripture, comprise a few meaningful thoughts, and craft a little message about life, without the urgent call to work through a mountain of homework.
I can safely say that this has been the most stressful semester I’ve yet experienced. I know it could be much, much wilder, but the busyness has still had some significant effects.
I don’t need to go into every detail, especially because I’m not that busy, but here are a few of the things that have added to the craziness of this semester:
- Sixteen hours of college courses (six of those for honors students, four for a Spanish course I’ve seriously considered dropping, and the other six for English undergrads);
- A now year-plus internship for a local Christian student ministry;
- A twice-daily, thirty-minute commute with a kind, but talkative carpooling mate;
- The conviction as a believer to spend time with and to disciple younger Christians around me;
- And the continuation of living at home with a large family, calling for my responsibility to help with chores and to hang out with younger siblings who yearn to do so.
Now, I should add two postscripts for the list above. One, everything in that list is good. I love the impact that college has had on me, the growth and knowledge I have gained from my internship, the relational training I have earned from my carpooling experience, the joy I gain from helping younger believers to grow, and the family with whom I am blessed to live. All of these things together have been used for my good in transforming me into a more zealous woman for the glory of God (Rom. 8:28).
I should also add the fact that this list is nothing compared to that of so many other people in my life. I’ve never had to pay for housing on my own (besides paying for my portion of the bills, as I do now), nor serve as the primary model in child-rearing and care-taking in a family, nor hold a full-time career; and I can’t imagine the stress of those things and more. It makes me glad to not have those things on my list—at least, not yet.
Even so, my small list of responsibilities is taking a toll. But I have no right to complain. I know what I ought to do to alleviate this stress as I walk on this wild journey of life and academia, internships and human relations.
I need to have daily communion with the Ultimate Guide on this journey.
This communion is precisely what I need, and it is what I have not been doing as often or as intimately as I would like. It seems that every evening (my preferred time for communion), there is either a paper to write or an assigned text to read, and so I place my time of focused prayer and meditative Scripture-reading on the back-burner. And the following morning, when I could catch up on communion, I am either so tired that I press the snooze button or so busy that I work on more homework before heading to school.
But most often, I skip this quiet time because I lack the motivation to do so or because I feel guilty for having missed so many days already. And even on the days when I do have communion with Christ, I am rushed and thinking of other things to do, the meant-to-be sweet and rejuvenating moments of reflection thus tainted by a tangled mind. When this occurs, I am left feeling more tired and stressed than before, regretful of having attempted at all when my time of meditation was paltry and paper-thin.
This trend of either skipping or rushing through a quiet time with Jesus is an unwise one for me to have implemented. Rather than moping about it, however, I want to change. I want to consider how to become more disciplined in this area of my life and, in doing so, to rely on the power of God, rather than my own.
I have to rely on God’s power in this. If I tried to rely on my own abilities in my drive for sanctification, I would be completely lost and helpless, living as a gasping trout on a bustling sidewalk in the city, a flower wilting on a mussy, wooden table, a dove in the church with two white, broken wings—unable to support others when I myself am unsupported and evaporating under the frailty of my own fruitless human independence. I cannot walk this journey on my own, and I cannot find the motivation to daily dwell with Christ by my own means, but I can be like a child holding the hand of the guide on the path toward a higher home.
Let’s consider these ideas. I’d like to reflect on my own experience, but also on the importance of communion with Christ and the journey to sanctification for all believers. As we consider this, I’d like to back up my thoughts with two references: Psalm 43 and a video game called Journey.
First: this journey is a blessing, not a curse.
Life may feel crazy right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. In fact, it is often through these crazy and difficult times that God teaches us to rely on Him and to trust Him with our future. If life always felt smooth and steady and easy to handle, we would never learn to draw our strength and sustenance from the sovereign, immutable God who has everything under control and in place for His glory. Therefore, it is in these times that we learn to say, “You are God my stronghold” (Ps. 43:2), and to humbly admit that we need a Helper—a Helper who is constantly present, ready, and willing to vindicate and to rescue (Ps. 43:1).
So what do we do from here? We have established that when life feels crazy, we feel needy, and we must shift our neediness to open dependence on God. But how does this relate to communion with Christ? Well, one way to admit our need for and dependence on God is to come to Him and to draw what we need from His Word and from conversation with Him. It is good for us to have this time at least once a day so that our hearts and minds will be focused on things above (Col. 3:1-2) and so that we can anchor ourselves in truth in preparation for the wild and uncertain hours ahead. This needs not happen only once in the course of the day’s events, of course, but at least once is good. I, for one, am able to note a radical difference in my mind, heart, and stress levels when I have focused communion with God, as opposed to the days when I do not.
It should also be noted that while the journey to sanctification is difficult, it is so worthwhile. To preface the reasons for it being so, I need to explain the source from which the pictures above have been taken: a video game called Journey.
In each of these pictures, you may see one or two red characters with long red scarves who are looking toward a looming mountain, a large distance separating themselves from the geographical feature. In Journey, this mountain is the characters’ destination. It is not revealed exactly why they are traveling to this mountain, but from several murals shown along the way, it is made clear that they are the last of their kind to go on this pilgrimage. They are traveling on the same path as those who came before to reach their final destination—their last and perfect home.
These characters face many obstacles along the way. Monsters, fierce elements of nature, and physical weariness are just a few, and the game does a stupendous job of making the player feel the strain and exhaustion of this journey. Yet the game exudes the stunning worth of the journey, as well, depicted through the joy of fellowship between the two red characters and the beauty of the scenery around them. It is a journey of strife, yes, but it is also a journey of great growth and awe. It is a multifaceted experience, one which the characters will smile upon when the mountain is beneath their travel-worn and tired feet.
Journey, then, can be taken as an analogy for the slow, arduous, and beautiful trip which you and I are taking toward sanctification today. And the journey is certainly worth all our effort.
Second: it is necessary to rely on God as we walk this path.
I have a choice in this. I could mope about my lack of discipline in communing with Christ. I could stay in a place of regret and say over and over along with the psalmist, “Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” (Ps. 43:2). It would be easy for me to stay in this place, and it is where I have dwelt for far too long.
But no more! No more moping or whining or grief or regret. It is time for pursuit. It is time for me to move on and to ask God for His aid—for me to ask Him to grant me motivation and development in time management skills. So I choose to present my weakness to the Father and to ask in humility, “Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (Ps. 43:3). I choose to admit that I cannot do this on my own.
This is key, I think, for every Christian to come to admit. If we cannot admit that we desperately need help, we will definitely not experience full and lasting satisfaction. There is real peace that comes in recognizing one’s incapability and Christ’s complete power, in understanding our utter weakness and His omnipotent strength. God is our Helper on this journey to the mountain (Psalm 121), and we must come to realize that we cannot reach the mountain by our own means, but by His grace alone.
This element of recognizing our need for help and guidance from God is present in Journey. For example, in the picture above, it is obvious that the two creatures are different. One is red, and the other white, and the white creature is taller than the red. These white, angelic beings appear numerous times to the characters in red, most often when the red creatures reach various temples and sit down before stone altars. When the red characters sit, the white creatures appear and impart visions, sharing important pieces of the red creatures’ history, explaining what happened to their people and hinting as to why they are now being called to travel to the mountain. These visions are presented as murals, as seen below:
The act of the creatures’ sitting down at the altar to gain help, advice, and guidance for the journey ahead points to our need as Christians to do the same. We, too, ought to “go to the altar of God, to God, [our] joy and [our] delight” (Ps. 43:4) if we are to find the strength we need. Reliance upon our Heavenly Helper is key to moving forward with passion and purpose on this journey.
Third: it is good to form ties with those traveling to the same destination.
Not only do we need to rely on God for sustenance and support, but we should also teach, rely on, and learn from fellow travelers who are likewise walking (or have walked) on the path to the mountain ahead. Let’s focus on these varying kinds of travelers.
There are those who walk behind. These are younger believers in the position for you to teach, perhaps being new in faith, lacking in maturity or discipline, or in need of a mentor. You can build relationships with these Christians in order to help them to grow and to become the strong men and women they need to be. God employs us as examples and heralds in these relationships, using us to encourage these ripening travelers to keep walking ahead and to show them that the journey is possible and that discipline is good. You can show the fruit of communion to these walkers, and you can put what you’ve gained from this communion to good use. You can share what you’ve learned on the portions of road they have yet to travel.
There are those who walk beside. These are the believers who walk alongside you and can be relied upon, possibly being in similar situations in life, sharing similar levels of maturity, or in need of an accountability partner. You can form ties with these Christians so as to draw joy and strength from fellowship as you both move forward to greater maturity, bringing each other to more intimate communion with God and walking along together to sanctification.
This is best exemplified in Journey, as the two red characters journey together to the mountain. As a result of a function of the gameplay, these characters are forced to stick together, and if one falls back, the other must turn around to help. In addition, one character can “feed” on the energy offered by the other, so as to be able to run and jump more quickly. And lastly, the characters often communicate with each other through cheery chirps, seeming to encourage each other and to say, “Come on, let’s keep moving.”
This ability for the red characters to turn back to help their companion, to offer energizing support, and to encourage through communication is a wonderful model of a functional and God-glorifying relationship between believers. This kind of mutual believer-to-believer relationship is one that is good for Christians to have with at least one other person in life, helping to ensure that they will have the diligence and zeal to press on for Christ.
And finally, there are those who walk ahead. These are more mature believers from whom you can learn, who will likely be older, more mature, or maybe even deceased. These are the people who can teach you helpful lessons from their experience on the road ahead and are those who will serve as mentors for you, teaching through either living conversation or through words shared from the past (via text, song, or other, more contemporary means). These are the people who will remind you to look to Christ and to rely on Him for your own personal growth.
This is not to say that you cannot learn from those walking behind or alongside you. However, I think it is crucial to form ties with all three sets of these believers as you travel, as these ties will provide necessary fellowship, accountability, friendship, and support. These are the ties that will season you into a more capable traveler.
Fourth: communion is primarily a heart matter.
This is important to note because it is often forgotten: our communion with Christ is primarily a matter of the heart, not of time or content or comparison to others. Yes, how long we spend and what we study in the presence of God is important, and we can certainly learn from the habits of others’ communion, but as I’ve touched on above, what truly matters is the nature of our attitude. We may be studying the most interesting aspects of theology, the most crucial characteristics of God, or the most enlightening parts of Scripture—and we may be doing this for hours at a time every day—but if we are not coming to God in humility, can we really expect to grow?
When you have a quiet time with Jesus, consider your attitude as you enter His presence. Come to the altar with the intention to beg for His help and to “praise [Him] with the lyre” (Ps. 43:4). Come to Christ knowing that you are nothing, that He is everything, and that only He can guide you on the journey to sanctification.
Fifth: we can look forward to the destination.
I’ve said it before, but this journey is definitely worth it. It is a trying and difficult experience, and it’s a little hard to me to believe right now that there are good things ahead, what with the craziness of life at this point. But I can look at Scripture, and I can see that God is good and powerful and willing to help. I can see that He loves me, a speck of dust, and that He is working for my growth and sanctification, as well as yours. I can look at history, too, and see that God has supported every one of His chosen travelers—those who have traveled in the past, those who are currently walking, and those who will soon begin their journey to the mountain.
God is our Ultimate Guide, and the destination draws ever nearer. So, “[w]hy, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 43:5). Let’s you and I put our hope in Christ and praise Him together as we walk along.
By the way, the red characters made it to the mountain in Journey. And you know, I think we’re going to make it, too.
P.P.S. One more thing about Journey: there is no dialogue in the entirety of this game. The only words spoken are the lyrics for “I Was Born for This,” a beautifully lulling song played during the end credits.
This song features gorgeous bits of game play and translated lyrics (as the song is a collection of foreign quotes and poetry), reflecting on the idea of being born for a purpose, walking through the journey of life, and pushing forward in difficult times. I’d say it’s certainly worth five minutes of your time, but I’ll leave that up to you. ^~^ Click HERE to watch the video.