Now that we’ve spent the past three blogs (week 12- Hawk Nelson’s Diamonds, week 13- Phil Wickham’s Response and Newsboys’ Born Again, and week 14- Tenth Avenue North’s The Light Meets The Dark) exploring the notion of God’s unconditional love, the fact that to be a Christian all we need to do is believe into the cross and His resurrection, and the concept of most fear originating from a lie that the devil has spoken over us; let me take this ‘mini-series of sorts’ one step further and give you a stark and telling reminder. That the Christian life is not easy. It’s not all flowers, rainbows, candy canes, fairy floss and sunshine! No way, not by a long shot. It’s not like you accept Jesus, and then suddenly life is easier, you have a million friends, and everything works out the way it wants to. It’s more like the opposite. It’s more like- you now follow Jesus, and the devil, using the tools of maybe your deepest material desires, will place a target on your back, that will always be there until the day you die. So, at first glance, yep the Christian life is perhaps morbid, yep it’s way hard, yep it’s challenging, yep sometimes you wonder why you believe in the first place after so many things that you think go wrong actually do; but deep inside all of the seemingly overt discrimination by others that comes with being a firm believer for Christ, is a peace. An eternal peace that surpasses all understanding, and a sense of God’s love over us that cannot be compared to any other earthly thing.
Let me tell you a bit about my favourite story growing up, which so happens to be one of the greatest stories ever told. No, it’s not stories from the Bible, but rather, when my brother Jon and myself were younger, Dad would tell us stories every night, of Cornelius Mouse and Licki Mickey the Cat on their way to the Celestial City. Back when I was 5 years old, I didn’t really know any better, and I thought these adventure stories were made up on the spot by Dad, but little did I know that Dad simply was inspired by probably still one of today’s most respected and popular works of fiction/non-fiction ever. John Bunyan in the 1600’s penned one of the most currently recognised and respected books called Pilgrim’s Progress, and in it, speaks about an everyday man called Christian, who is on his way to the Celestial City.
Along his journey, he meets fellow travellers Faithful and Hopeful, and together, they make the rough and tough journey along the jagged terrain to the place where they will live forever, free from destruction and free from oppression. Of course, there are plenty of obstacles along the way that the three travellers encounter (of which you can all read on the Wikpedia page here), but what stood out to me in this timeless classic is that at one point in the journey, Christian and his friends had to choose as to whether to travel on the wide path, where everyone could see, or the narrow road, which on the surface looked harder- which essentially is the decision we all have to make as we actively decide to be a follower of Jesus.
Now of course you’d automatically think that the wide road was the way to go, because after all, it’s the easy option. It’s the one with the least stress, the path of least resistance, and the path where you immediately get what your heart thinks it is longing for. If there was an option today, let’s say the M5 in Sydney at one point was divided into a narrow part and a wider part, and we each had our own ‘life-influenced glasses’ to put on, what would we see? Well, material possessions abound, everything your human heart can fathom, is available on the road. Candy, food, video games, women, drugs, musical instruments, stacks of DVD’s and CD’s, clothes, handbags, shoes, even good friends, family, appliances for the home, holidays, tickets to concerts and sport games, even worship conferences, can appear on this road. You put on your glasses, and you would see different things according to your likes and dislikes. On the surface, anyone with a slight weakness for any of these guilty pleasures, can decide to start upon this road. And ordinarily they’d be justified in their reasons, right? I mean, we’re feeling good, we’re worshipping Jesus, we’re hanging out with friends, we’re going on holidays, we’re playing computer games together, binge-watching TV shows together, having fellowship, and growing the Kingdom in Jesus’ name, surely this world isn’t all that bad? But is Jesus really at the centre?
The one thing that I read about Pilgrim’s Progress that I found interesting, was that Goodwill, who is literally Jesus Himself, our Saviour and God in human flesh, was in front of the narrow gate, welcoming people through. He was not in front of the wide gate, no matter how much ‘Christian’ material is there. He’s at the narrow gate; and let me say one thing. If the M5 was split into a wide part and a narrow part, many of us, sad to say, would travel the wide part. Not because they do not understand the ramifications of travelling upon this part, of course we all do; but I think it’s because we’re afraid of the difficulty and the hardships of the narrow road. Walking the narrow road is lonely sometimes, and we don’t always receive what we ask for. We pray constantly for us to have more friends, but we still feel like an outsider most of the time. We don’t always receive recognition, or accolades on the narrow road, and sometimes, the wide road promises ‘good’ things for us that are instantaneous- such as friends for life, or awards and recognition for the good things we do. Sure, we all know that in the end the narrow road is ultimately best because it leads to Jesus, but sometimes the ‘quick fix’ and the ‘gratification’ wins out. After a moment of weakness and a lapse of judgement, suddenly we’re on a road we don’t want to be on, and as much as we want to go back, it’s difficult (though not impossible), as it’s a slippery slope that is harder and harder to navigate without Jesus Christ by our side.
For me though, if I was in Christian’s shoes in Pilgrim’s Progress, I would choose the narrow gate. Even though I haven’t been placed in straight up a situation where it’s ‘choose your friends, family and the things you do every day, or Jesus’, it was kind of like that when we as a family chose to work in a café in Bankstown, far away from the Eastern Suburbs, away from all of our friends, and spiritual brothers and sisters at church, around 3 and a half years ago. If you want to put it like the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress, working to Bankstown was like the narrow road, and we chose it, not because we thought it’d be easy, but because we felt a prompting in our hearts at the time that this was the right thing to do. Go the harder way. Take the longer, more scenic, and more difficult route. Face persecution, discrimination, and even abandonment from our friends. Potentially die a violent death if it meant that Jesus would be glorified in the end. That may seem ‘foolish’, and you may think that right now I’ve grown two heads or three sets of hands and feet or something like that; but I’ve found that I have grown more in Jesus in these past 3 years while working at Bankstown than I have in my entire life. Even though I’ve probably lost almost all contact with most of the people in our lives who knew us from before the café (hopefully I can conjure up a friendship from what was lost sometime in the future…), I wouldn’t trade these past few years for anything. We’ve come into contact with many people from all walks of life, each with different needs, all from different belief systems and world views. And we talk, and sometimes challenge each other. Call it whatever you want, but I say it’s church in the marketplace, and this is our ministry at the moment. Ironic, isn’t it? That the closest we feel to God is in the places we least expect…
There’s a band called Sidewalk Prophets, and they’ve released countless radio singles and impacting melodies, from their debut smash hit single “The Words I Would Say” to their most recent song “Come To The Table”. In particular, I’d like to highlight their 2nd album Live Like That, which released in 2012. And while I may have already reviewed the album for the now defunct website Christian Music Zine, and while the album holds extra special significance for me in that myself and my brother are one of many ‘everyday people’ featured as profile pictures on the album cover because of a contest we entered into; there is another reason why I can safely say that this album is one of the most influential albums I’ve ever heard. It’s because the album has ministered to me greatly during the time when I have been at Bankstown, doubting whether this is God’s plan, despite the sometimes cliché-ness of quite a lot of these songs.
Quite a few times when I have had a bad day at the store, I find myself crying out the earnest words of “Help Me Find It”, which is essentially asking God to show us our will, that ‘…if there’s a road I should walk, help me find it, if I need to be still, give me peace for the moment, whatever Your will…can you help me find it?…’, and in the times that I wonder why I’m even walking the narrow road in the first place, I have found myself drawn to songs like “It’s Good (Love’s Not Safe)” and “Keep Making Me”, and though these songs have slight theological concerns, the essence of these songs inspire me to keep going, reminding me that Jesus never promised this life to be easy, but said that He’d be with us all the time. In fact, if a road is maybe too easy, which is how the wide road presents itself (like a too-good-to-be-true scenario), I reckon we all should be wary of such a road, and we all should try to encourage others to think first before acting and walking on an ‘easy’ road which may not even be an easy road at all. In fact, what Sidewalk Prophets have taught me in this album and me listening to it numerous times throughout ministering to the people of Bankstown, is that the roads that are probably the hardest at first glance, are the most rewarding.
But if you’re not at all convinced of walking the narrow road towards Jesus, even though you know that He is all powerful, and He is all you have been searching for, then I guess you can rest assured- many heroes in the Bible, inclusive of Daniel, David, Moses, Solomon, Job, Jonah, every one of the 12 disciples, Samuel, Jacob, Joseph, even Jesus Himself, endured hard times and trials first up, before realising the road that they were on, while difficult, was the road that they were meant to be on. I wont go into detail of all of these heroes (you can read them in the Bible if you’re interested- and I’d say start with Job!), but what I will say is that sometimes God allows certain things to happen in our lives, things that we think aren’t ideal, in order for us to grow as people, and grow as Christians. God certainly doesn’t cause hardship (the fact that he may allow suffering in order for His glory to be praised and our good to be realised, is another blog in and of itself!) however every event in our lives can and will be used by Him to shape us to the people we are today, and the people God is moulding us to be.
As we walk upon this road called life, and wonder whether we are travelling the wide or narrow roads, and as we reflect and ponder upon the fact that we may need a correction re-course in terms of where God is calling us to, things may be a bit too overwhelming for us to even act. We may say ‘oh, this is too much’, and then just stop and be comatose. But remember friends, Jesus is with us. The One who flung the stars in space is our Saviour and Friend, and maybe, just maybe if we call on Him, and ask Him where He wants us to go, the path will become all the more clearer. Let us remember to look straight ahead, and not behind or to the left or the right at the people whom you think are better than you; but may not actually be. Rather, let us focus our eyes on Jesus, fixing our eyes on the prize of eternal life. While instant gratification is ok for a while, it doesn’t satisfy. Nothing ever does, except for Jesus.
What is your favourite Sidewalk Prophets song? Are you walking on the wide road right now or the narrow one (Let’s be honest and vulnerable now, shall we?)? Let us know in the comments below! Til next time!