Pursue the right goal in the right way

hiking trail

When I was in high school, some friends and I cut school a day early for a backpacking trip in Yosemite National Park over Memorial Weekend.  We planned out a round trip which required us to cover a set distance each day, but from the beginning, everything seemed to go wrong.  Our car broke down along the way, and we had to wait for one of the parents to switch vehicles with us.  We had further car trouble along the way, so we got started hiking much later than we had planned.  On top of that, we brought raw chicken to cook our first night, but as it sat in the hot, broken-down car, it went bad, so the next morning, one of our group woke up with food poisoning.  We waited around for much of the day, but being foolish, self-centered high school students who were intent on completing our loop, we did what one should never do to a friend: We left him behind and hiked on without him.  (Fortunately, he caught up with us the next day).  Since we started late again, we felt driven to reach our planned camping spot even though the sun set before we got there.  We pressed on in the dark with a couple of feeble flashlights until we completely lost the trail.  We set down our sleeping bags and fell asleep.  Early the next morning, I woke up, climbed out of my sleeping bag, took a few steps and looked down a sheer cliff that any one of us might have tripped over in the dark.  We were so focused on reaching our destination (completing the loop) that we risked the life of our friend while leaving him behind, and we risked our own lives while hiking in the dark.

Since that time I have grown up a bit, and I have learned that the destination is never more important than the people who accompany us along the way.  And I have learned that the most important goal to reach is not a point on the map but the kind of person I am becoming.

John Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

As I read Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, it seems clear to me that Paul knew where he was going (he was intent on helping the Thessalonians to grow in the likeness of Christ).  He was going that way himself (he was growing in the likeness of Christ).  And he was showing them the way (he was demonstrating Christ-likeness in how he lived with them).

In verses 7-12 he writes, “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.  Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.  Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”

Quite some time ago, Pastor Mark Thompson of Faribault, Minnesota, suffered terrible knife wounds from an assailant in his home.  One of consequences of his difficult recovery was being forced to miss watching his son Chris run in the state cross-country championship meet.  Pastor Thompson asked his brother Merv to go in his place.  According to an account in the St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch, Mark told his brother, “I can’t be there to see Chris run, so I want you there at the beginning of the race. Holler a lot…. Then at the end, I want you to really cheer loudly.  And I want you to make your voice sound like mine.”  With his uncle’s encouragement, Chris ran a strong race, finishing in second place.  Merv, also a pastor recognized the theological significance of what he did: “That’s what Jesus wants us to do,” he said.  “Make your voice sound like mine.” (Leadership Journal, summer, 1989)

This is the task given to Christians: Cheer people on toward the goal of growing more and more like Christ, while making our voice sound like His.

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