by Tim Pauls
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1–2)
For our second date ever, my wife and I went for a walk. It was a cool fall day, and the local state park had a hike called “The Prairie Trail.” It looked sunny, flat and fitting for casual shoes and conversation.
The only thing I remember from that walk is the burrs. The grass and weeds had long since dried, and our shoes and socks were soon covered with thorns, spiny spheres and prickly seeds that worked their way to the skin. With every step, we gathered more; and with every step, we felt them more. With second-date bravado, I asked myself, “How bad can it get?” Worse, my friend. It can get far worse.
If your socks are full of burrs, I suppose you have several choices. You can grit your teeth and tough it out. You can sing a song as you keep walking, in order to take your mind off the increasingly painful scratching. Perhaps you can count your blessings that it could be worse, that the plants are relatively short and nothing’s gotten lodged in your waistband. Yet.
Or, until you escape the prairie trail, you can turn aside every so often, sit down on a bench and clean the burrs out of your shoes and socks. Sure, they will collect again, so you’ll want to plan to keep stopping and cleaning them out periodically. But each time you’ll feel better and walk faster right away.
It’s always tempting to see one’s life as a Christian as, “Now that I’m saved, living as a Christian is up to me.” If that’s the case, then our lives as Christians will be centered upon what we do, how we act — how we forge ahead. We’ll collect the thorns and thistles of sin along the way, and they’ll do more than just irritate. Left untreated, they will kill.
The life of the Christian is not the path that we forge ahead. The life of the Christian is the life that Christ gives us by His grace. Enlivened by Him, we go about our daily walk; and where sins still cling, we run to the Lord in His means of grace to have them removed. The Christian’s progress is not a straight line: it keeps circling back to the Lord’s Word and Supper so that we might be enlivened and refreshed once again.
As we love because He first loved us, so also we live because He enlivens us. God grant that we keep walking in circles, for that is the way to eternal life.
Pastor Tim Pauls serves at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho; and as a collegium member for DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.