By: Elder David Leong
“Begin with the end in mind” is an important adage for our spiritual journey. When we have a clear picture of our destination we can make sense of our journey even when we feel that things are going in the opposite direction from what we may have planned. Times of dryness and darkness are often difficult and challenging. But if we understand how they can help us arrive at our ultimate destination, we can welcome them as normal and even necessary parts of our journey with Christ. It was Bernard of Clairvaux who said, “when you have heard what the reward is, the labour of the climb will be less.”
So what is our reward? Is it the good life or “being blessed” or going to heaven or a life of purpose and significance? While these may be part of our experience as Christ’s followers, there are also examples of inadequate or less than biblical notions of the journey’s end.
The true goal of the journey is captured succinctly by the great and beloved apostle, John who wrote, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2).
Seeing Jesus face to face and becoming like him are the two dimensions of our destination – communion and union. Unlike a physical journey in which you are either at your destination or not, the goal of the spiritual journey is progressively realised. As we walk with Christ, our communion with him deepens and matures. The simultaneous result of greater intimacy with God is growth in Christlikeness. Likeness is the result of communion. We become like Jesus by being with him. Living our lives in his presence will transform us from the inside out.
In Romans 8:28-29, Paul describes that God is working all things together to conform us to the image of his Son. These verses are often used an an attempt to comfort those in painful circumstances by pointing out the truth that God will work everything out for the “good”. Whether this actually comforts those suffering is another matter. What needs to be taken seriously is that the “good” that Paul refers to in this passage is that of God’s purpose in conforming us to the image of Christ.
Therefore, when I am clear about the destination of my journey, I can view every circumstance as an opportunity for spiritual formation in Christ. There is nothing that is outside the reach of God’s redemptive hand. It leads a courageous one to say that “I would rather be afflicted with this debilitating illness or physical incapacity and know Christ than to be in perfect health and not know him.” This is the perspective that distinguishes the spiritual pilgrim from the spiritual tourist! Tourists go wherever mood, pleasure or whim takes them. Pilgrims always have one eye on their destination, which gives meaning, hope and joy to their present place in the journey no matter how unpleasant that may be.
Let us all remember to keep our eyes always fixed on our final destination – to be in the presence of the Lord in the fullness of his joy, in communion and union with our God even as we struggle (and sometimes with pain) through our journey here on this side of heaven.