Ride, Boldly Ride
What does it mean to you when you hear someone say, “It’s the eleventh hour”? For most this is a calling of attention to the state of time for some given set of circumstances wherein little time remains for accomplishing one’s goals or purpose. It means—for whatever scenario one is considering—the allotted time is nearly up. As we honestly assess—meaning we pull away from the main-stream media and peruse alternative sources for our news and research—the economic and geopolitical conditions of our nation and world, we can’t help but be left with the sense that time is definitely running out in terms of correcting the growing list of life-altering, looming disasters facing us.
The possibility that we are facing an eleventh hour scenario at this point in our history is prompted by two significant considerations. The first arises from the reality that the problems confronting mankind today, given the failed and corrupt political structures we have, are virtually beyond the province of the common man to seriously and hopefully address. The second consideration for an eleventh hour mindset lies in the Christian belief and hope in the second coming of Christ wherein he will bring the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Of course we have no definitive timeline or predictions for when exactly Jesus will return. However, we do have both New and Old Testament prophetic clues which strongly suggest we are indeed residing in an eschatological eleventh hour.
There is a strange and dangerous phenomenon that attends eleventh hour circumstances. There is a great tendency to slack off, to tire in one’s efforts, to grow weary in the pursuit. I am not speaking here of short term physical efforts or goals where one may wear out by the end of a day’s work. Rather I am addressing the long range pursuits where the signposts of one’s progress appear to be few and far between. In many respects the Christian life is far more analogous to running a marathon than participating in the 100 yard dash. In the dash a sprinter gives all he has from the sound of the gun. In a marathon it is all about having the ability, stamina and intestinal fortitude to reach down and find whatever it takes to be competitive for that last mile or so.
Interestingly the Bible has a lot to say about endurance. In Matthew’s eschatological chapter 24 Jesus very straight-forwardly proclaims that it is those whose faith, loyalty and commitment are enduring that will experience salvation. That is a very sobering word!
But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 24:13 NLT).
Most persons seem to understand endurance in terms of biting the bullet while navigating some difficulty on their way to achieving a particular goal. The principal object is the achievement of their end. The biblical concept of endurance is really quite different. Biblically, endurance has more to do with the spiritually transformational value of what one experiences while journeying toward a goal. Although achieving the goal is important, it is the all importance process one experiences while traversing the obstacles and difficulties on the way that serves to shape one’s life. Ultimately, being conformed to the image of Christ is the end game we are all called to in our Christian walk and relationship with God. All other goals in life become subservient to and subsumed under this end. If we choose to confront life’s challenges and difficulties with chagrin attempting simply to overcome them as expediently as we can, we risk forfeiting God’s eternal design in them for shaping us in the image of Christ.
Back in the 60’s I was privileged to participate in the Marine Officer’s training regimen at Quantico, VA. Everyone involved in that exercise held the same objective—they wanted to come out at the end as commissioned Marine officers. However, between you and that end lay twelve weeks of training filled with obstacles designed to test the fiber of your very being. For those conducting the training, simply turning out a bunch of guys who end up with gold bars on their shoulders was far from their focus. The character of those in the program was their principal concern. Shaping lives that would conform to the Marine Corps conception of an officer was their paramount issue. How one responded to the designed trials and tribulations had everything to do with their success in the program. Running was one of the essential parts of the training, and it was incrementally increased to push persons to the limit of their endurance. In this program, falling out on a run resulted in immediate termination from the program. It was understanding the ultimate purpose in all these interim trials that helped participants embrace each challenge as well as seeing their trainers as assets rather than enemies.
Like Poe’s knight, followers of Christ are—metaphorically speaking—searching for the “city of gold.” The searching I am speaking of here is not in the sense of attempting to locate something that is lost. Rather, it is the pursuit that leads to the fullness in Christ that he died to make available to us. Our city of gold is the new Jerusalem, it is the new heaven and the new earth, it is the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, it is that ultimate ruling and reigning with Christ in his kingdom. For us, this is a lifelong spiritual journey. The signposts along the way are the evidences of Christ’s life being formed in us. It is faithfully addressing the very trials, tribulations and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our journey that catalytically move us onward unto completion in Christ.
God uses every manner of circumstance in our lives as spiritual building material in the lifelong process of coming into the image of Christ. However, he needs our permission and cooperation in that process. If our response to adversity is first and foremost to simply eradicate it from our lives, we will risk forfeiting God’s eternal purpose in and through that adversity. It is not that the Lord wants us to suffer continually or to languish under some untoward malady. Rather, given our faithful responses, he wants to further shape our lives in Christ through it. We must learn to always look first for God’s design and intent through that which we are facing. As we traverse and overcome the adversity God has permitted in our lives we will realize how changed we are left through the experience.
I have now lived for three quarters of a century (that thought alone could tend to weary one). I have been actively involved in ministry of one nature or another for over 45 years. I would be less than candid if I didn’t acknowledge there were times throughout my career wherein I was tempted to succumb to disappointment or even despair. In hindsight I realize these were times in which my own expectations, aspirations—if not outright ambitions—superseded the eternal purpose of God in and through my life. These were times wherein my focus tended to become more temporal and less eternal in scope. Times when I became more enmeshed in short term goals rather than couching things in the meta-narrative of God. Setting up one’s own expectations apart from God’s eternal design will always lead to disappointment and ultimate despair. The spiritual weariness associated with this kind of failure is profound and palpable.
I believe I have finally come into my spiritual second wind. I have learned to appreciate and embrace all that God has been doing in my life of an eternal nature regardless of the seeming lack of so-called tangible evidences so often used to validate one’s effectiveness and worth. I have come to accept that allowing God what he wants for himself—the formation of Christ in us—is far superior to any temporal accomplishments I may achieve. I personally believe we are on the cusp of some significant spiritual breakthroughs wherein we are going to begin experiencing miraculous manifestations such as have been reserved in the heavenlies for these last days.
I therefore want to greatly encourage those of you who have been in the trenches on the front lines faithfully holding forth with all God has called you to regardless of the seeming success or lack thereof you may have experienced. Know that God cannot be mocked; you will reap the rewards of what you have been faithfully sowing. More importantly, God will have what he desires in and through your life for himself.
As a final thought, I would like to say that I believe God is raising up an authentic expression of the church in these last days. Although many believers are holding out for renewal or restoration within the visible church today, I personally believe it to be beyond restitution in its current ritualistic, institutionalized state. God has been at work honing spiritual stones for his temple that will soon be brought together overtly to express his life and will in a lost world. Recall how the stones being prepared for Solomon’s temple were sculpted without the sound of hammer or chisel.
And the temple, when it was being built, was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that no hammer or chisel or any iron tool was heard in the temple while it was being built (1 Kings 6:7 NKJV).
Many faithful followers are going to have to make some tough decisions in these waning moments of the age. They are going to have to decide whether to remain part of what has been irreparably corrupted or become part of that authentic work which is coming forth without spot or wrinkle. Recall a similar scenario confronting true believers in Nazi Germany. The mostly Lutheran institutional church in that day embraced Hitler and all he stood for. Arising out of that spiritual condition—led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer among others—came the “Confessing Church.”
My brothers and sisters, there is a new day coming. Despite how grim the circumstances appear in the natural and regardless of the spiritually emaciated state of the institutional church, Jesus is on that white horse and he is going forth “…conquering and to conquer.” This is not a time to fall into spiritual lethargy or to lose one’s focus on God’s eternal design. Our “City of Gold” is attainable. So I say to you, “Ride, boldly ride.”
Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old-
This knight so bold-
And o’er his heart a shadow
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow-
“Shadow,” said he,
“Where can it be-
This land of Eldorado?”
“Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,”
The shade replied-
“If you seek for Eldorado!”