Well summer is over, have you noticed? And part of the mystic of summer is the vacation trip. You know where you pack everything you own, get a neighbour to check the mail, drop the pets off at the pet hotel and then lock yourself and your family into that metal capsule called a car for hour upon hour of aggravation.
Between all the trips I made to NB this summer and trips that I’ve made recently it got me thinking of some of the trips that we used to take with our kids. Because the family home is in Saint John and Beulah camp is on the Saint John River every year involved a half a dozen trips to New Brunswick, and little kids can make 4 ½ hours seem like an eternity.
Have you ever taken a long trip with children? Sure you have, you’ve gone to visit Grandparents or gone on a vacation and depending on the age of your children anything over 20 minutes can categorically be classified as a long trip. Been there? Done that? My parents could tell you horror stories of how they travelled with my sister and I all over Europe when we were between the ages of five and nine.
Travelling with Children was a real joy during the time we spent in Australia. In those four years we ventured south to Sydney, west to the Out back and north to the Great Barrier Reef. Each of those trips was 15 or sixteen hours of driving, and if you add to those the 28 hour plane trip to and from Oz we became experts on travelling with kids, and you know the formula, X being the unknown quantity and spurt being a drip under pressure. And in retrospect car trips with children made our theology come alive. Those closed vehicles became theology labs where we furiously began to examine our faith. And what we discovered was that our trips mirrored our faith journey, which is the trip that stretches from Salvation to Heaven.
The fact of the matter is that we are the children of God and we are on a journey and so there are bound to be some similarities. So what have we learned
1) Sometimes the Answer is No. Probably the most common utterances heard when we were on a trip were, “Daddy can I have this” or “Daddy can we stop here”. Now let’s be truthful, how far do you think we would have got if we stopped for every request that our family ever had on the trip. What would happen if we stopped at every store, every restaurant, every playground and every park that the kids wanted to stop at? We’d never have gotten to where we were going, would we?
Those request weren’t evil, they weren’t immoral, they weren’t bad. They were just things like ice cream, or stopping to slide on the slides and swing on the swings. Or I gotta go to the toilet, for the eighth time in two hours. And while there was no evil par say in the requests, they were not in the best interest of the family’s ultimate goal, whether that goal was Carnarvon Gorge, the Whitsunday Islands or Saint John New Brunswick. If we stopped at every request then we would have wallowed along from stop to stop, bloated and full and unable to function because of the amount of junk food we had consumed. About half way through our trip we would have given up in frustration, finally realizing that we allowed the tyranny of the immediate to consume our plans.
Now Angela and I are not ogres, we aren’t monsters. We did stop from time to time for ice cream and to let the kids slide on the slides and swing on the swings, we did grant their request as often as we could. But if you were to ask our kids they would tell you that we didn’t stop nearly enough. From their limited perspective they didn’t realize that we were doing the best for them that we can.
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if God answered every prayer that you ever uttered? What would have happened when you knew that you just couldn’t live without that particular person and prayed fervently that they would marry you? But they didn’t. It was St. Teresa of Avila who wrote “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”
Saint Garth of Oklahoma wrote “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you talk to the man upstairs that just because He doesn’t answer doesn’t mean he don’t care, ‘cause some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
Any unanswered prayers in your life that you want to thank God for? What about that job that you just had to have? The one you prayed for and didn’t get. You know the one that was made redundant two months later. Or the car that you knew you couldn’t live without and you prayed that you could raise the money and couldn’t. You know the one that a friend bought and had to replace the transmission. I wonder if when God doesn’t answer the prayer on our lips it’s because He knew best. And it is our best that He wants for us, God’s not some celestial spoil sport. He is concerned that we will finish the journey that we have started on. And that is His number one priority.
When people talk about God answering prayers they often quote Matthew 7:9-10 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! To many this means that God will give us what we want, when in reality it is God giving us the best. We are told that the round rocks of Palestine can sometimes look like a round loaf of bread, so if you child asks for a rock thinking it is bread would you give it to them? Of if they thought a snake was a fish and asked for it, would you give it to them? Of course not, you would give them what they really needed not what they asked for.
God does answer prayer. You know that and I know that and the Bible confirms what we already know, God is a prayer answering God. But just as our kids don’t think that we answer enough of their request in the affirmative, sometimes we are like that with God. If God was really good he would answer all of our prayers with a “yes”.
God does answer prayer, but tell that to the thirty year old, single gal who has wanted nothing more than to be a wife and a mother and God hasn’t answered that prayer. But maybe it’s because God is more interested in getting her to heaven then in getting her to the altar, or maybe it’s because He has kept her out of more than one abusive relationship.
God does answer prayer but tell that to the worker who is at wits end working in an atmosphere that is totally opposed to the things of God and who is constantly praying for a change in job. But then again maybe God knows that worker might be the only Bible that his colleagues will ever read.
We have to not only believe that what God does is good but we need to believe that what He doesn’t do is good as well. Sometimes when you tell the kids “no” they pout and make the trip unbearable. I’m sure that yours would never do that, but mine may have. And sometimes when God tells us no we pout and make the trip miserable. Let’s realise the truth of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
We need to believe, really believe, and not just say that we believe, that God our heavenly father wants only the very best for us.
2) Children have no concept of Time or Distance “How far? How much longer? Are we there yet? We’ve been driving forever.” Sound familiar? Of course it does. But how do you explain time to a child who can’t tell time? “It’s only three more hours, honey” “Three hours how long is three hours?” In Australia the kids loved to watch “Full House” so we would tell our kids, “Three hours is like watching six ‘Full Houses’” “Six Full Houses, Six Full Houses is forever.” Three hours isn’t very long to us but to a child three hours is eternity personified.
“How long do I have to endure this pain? How long do I have to endure this job? How long do I have to endure this marriage?” Do you really want God to answer? He could although he seldom does. Do you want the answer in terms you can’t understand? Two more years of pain, ten years in the job, a lifetime in the marriage. Is that what you want to know?
We live in a time of instants, I remember when we got our first instant on TV. and didn’t have to wait for it to warm up. Instant soup, instant hot chocolate, instant communications, we used to have instant photos that were ready in a minute, now that is too long to wait, we can take them and see them right away. The longest part of my day is waiting for my computer to boot up.
Even though I don’t like it I agree with the person who wrote, This is the age of the half read page, the quick hash and mad dash, the bright night with the nerves tight, the plane hop with the brief stop. The lamp tan in a short span, the big shot in a good spot, the brain strain and the heart pain, the catnaps until the spring snaps and the fun’s gone.
But you know God usually doesn’t measure time in our terms. Instead he usually opts to measure the here and now against the there and then. This is life, and this room is eternity, and when you compare this life against that life then this life ain’t very long at all. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who wrote “The supreme lesson of life is to learn what the centuries say against the hours.”
We need to recognise the truth of God’s word in 1 Chronicles 29:15 We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.
Psalm 39:5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.”
James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.
Psalm 103:15-16 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here.
And Jesus’ best friend writes in 2 Peter 3:8 But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.
And so for us the trip is short, it’s no challenge. What is a half a day in a life that has already spanned 20,000 days? But to a child it seems endless, and so we try another approach. When we drove to Carnarvon Gorge which is an Oasis in the Outback of Queensland we were driving through miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles including almost two hundred kilometres on unpaved roads and we would tell the kids, “Just think how much fun you’re going to have when we get there. Why at the gorge there’ll be kangaroos and platypuses and koalas. And we’ll be able to see the rock paintings and the tree ferns.” But they don’t buy that and that leads us to the third point.
3) For Children The Reward Doesn’t Seem Real. For us, as adults, twelve hours on the road is worth the price because we know what’s at the other end. I don’t mind the drive because I know the reward, I don’t mind the journey because I know the destination. But kids can’t always picture what’s ahead, and sometimes what is immediate is more appealing than what is immanent. They have forgotten the thrill of finding new places and besides the night is dark and the road is strange.
And so it is up to me so it is up to me as their father to try to help them picture the rewards ahead. And so on the trip to the Gorge we talked about how green the trees would be and how wet the creek would be. And let me tell you when you are driving through the Arcadia Valley and there is nothing but mile upon mile of brown it’s a real challenge to draw that type of word picture.
And so we try to describe our destination in terms that they can understand and appreciate. Descriptions that make the destination worth the trip.
When the trip is going well nobody notices the distance, and when life is easy everything is great but life isn’t always easy. And when life seems to get hard God reminds us of the rewards at the end of the trip. Because sometimes the trip is long and sometimes the nights can be dark with illness and divorce and betrayal. Because sometimes the way seems strange and the destination seems distant our heavenly father provides us with descriptions that we can visualise.
That is why He had John write some of those descriptions in the book of Revelation. It was at time that the people of God were going through immense persecutions, when being a Jesus follower could mean that you could lose your job, your family and your life.
Revelation 21:2-4 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
Revelation 21:21-25 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass. I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there.
Revelation 22:5 And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.
A little girl was walking with her father in the country. No neon signs, no car headlights or street lamps marred the stillness of the crisp evening. As she looked into the deep blue velvet sky studded with and array of diamonds which put the most dazzling Tiffany display to shame, she said, “Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful what do you think the right side will look like?”
The promise of the Bible is this: someday everyone who has accepted the grace and forgiveness of Jesus and turned their lives over to him, will know the trip was worth it because they will get to see the right side of heaven.
Will the streets really be gold? I don’t know but I do know this, that whatever they are, the only word that John could find to describe what God had shown him was Gold. The greatest thing is that God will be there., that is the exact message that Paul tried to convey when he wrote to the Christian in the city of Corinth, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
And so we need to be able to visualize the reward and that brings us to the last point.
Let’s go back to the scripture we started with Philippians 3:14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. At the end of the race, or in this case at the end of the journey there is a prize and so the thing we need to realize is 4) When we Get Where We Are Going the Trip will be Worth it
Whenever we got to our destinations the excitement of discovery always seemed to outweigh the trials of the trip. You ever notice that Children never interrupt their fun to remind us of how long it was between stops, or how we had failed to stop for that ice-cream that they wanted, or how rough the road was.
When we get to the end of our journey and our Lord tells us “Well done my good and faithful servant.” When we look around at gates like giant pearls and streets like gold. When we realize that there is no longer pain, and sorrow has gone. When we stand in the presence of almighty God and marvel at his glory, then the trials of the trip will fade, we will forget the pain, we will lose sight of the heartache and disappointment.
In the end the destination makes the trip worthwhile.