The Odyssey (Part 19)

GOING THE DISTANCE
by Rayola Kelley

    As we begin to wind down this “great spiritual adventure,” as believers we must realize that finishing the course requires us to go the distance. The Apostle Paul talked about pressing forward to gain the prize (Philippians 3:14). We know that the prize in the Christian walk is gaining a fuller or complete measure of Christ. To gain such a measure requires us to come to terms with the high calling that we have in Him.

      Since our life in Christ is a heavenly life that comes from above, the call in the Christian life is always to come higher, beyond the base ways of the world, to reach towards that which is excellent. Reaching for what is excellent prepares us to not only obtain what is exceptional, but it prepares us to walk in the glory of the next world. Keep in mind, if a person lives like the devil, the glory of heaven would be foreign to him or her, while the tormenting darkness of hell would be foreign to a saint. It is for this reason every saint must keep in mind that the middle ground of the present, temporary world is to prepare individuals either to enter into the glory of heaven or fall into the abyss of hell.

      As Christians we must consider what it means to go the distance. The Word of God is clear that we are in a race and a battle, constantly being buffeted by the terrain of the world and the enemies of our souls (1 Corinthians 9:22-27; 2 Timothy 2:2-4; Hebrews 12:1-3). We will encounter trials that will test our resolve, tribulations that will prove our character, and adversities that will establish us spiritually or break us emotionally (Romans 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). Although such challenging winds and terrains are not constant, they reveal what we are doing in those times when we are not confronted by such challenges. Are we spiritually preparing or are we assuming that everything will work out alright in the end? After all, we survived the last challenge, so we assume we certainly will survive the next.

      I don’t know about you, but every challenge has proven to me that I need the Lord’s constant intervention. The older I get the more I need His strength. The more experience I have, the more I know that God’s grace is the only sufficient means to see me through the next leg of the race or the next battle. The true wisdom of age and time has always brought me to the same conclusion, which is I will never manage to go the distance without the strength of God, I will never finish the course without abiding in Him, and I will never endure the battles without the indwelling power of His Spirit.

      Clearly, time has wisely taught me my great need for God, while experiences have humbled me to receive His mercy and grace, and age has tempered and disciplined me to walk in them. Admittedly, at times I get concerned. It seems that at the end of one’s life the temptation can become greater to let down one’s guard, causing a person to fall into sin. We see this in the life of King David and Solomon. Although both should have been wise to see the traps, David had ceased to go to battle and Solomon had failed to adhere to a fundamental principle regarding coming into an unholy agreement (2 Samuel 11; 1 Kings 11:1-9). We know that David repented of his sins of adultery and murder, but great trouble plagued him through his remaining days, and as for Solomon, the book of Ecclesiastes implies he may have regained his senses, but not before the consequences for his idolatry was pronounced. The kingdom of Israel would be split, and much of its glory would be stripped before its final demise as a nation.

      As I consider the presence of temptation that easily can thwart one from crossing the finish line, I must remember who keeps who. God is the one who keeps me. He knows how to preserve each of us in spite of the days we live in and the trials and temptations that can befall us, regardless of how young or old we may be (Psalm 25:20-21 Psalm 121:3-8; John 17:11; 2 Timothy 1:12).

      This brings me to what it takes to spiritually go the distance. We know that God is the one who keeps our feet from slipping on the path, but we need to walk in the path (Psalm 121:3). The one practice that ensures we finish the course is going the extra mile (Matthew 5:40-42).

      Recently, I read a book called, The Second Mile People. It was written by missionary Isobel Kuhn. She highlighted the lives of six people whom she called the second-mile people. They earned this title because they did not hesitate to go the extra distance for the sake of Christ, regardless of what it personally cost them. Admittedly, I only recognized one of the individuals among the six I read about. As I read about these people, I realized they were for the most part ordinary people like me. As I considered their lives, the one thing that stood out to me was that they had consecrated every aspect of their lives for the cause of Christ. They were willing to fade into the background as they poured out all in light of their higher calling. As a result, they lived extra-ordinary lives in obscurity as heaven looked on and the powers of darkness raged against their resolve to stand against the obstacles. Ultimately, they were willing to die if necessary to ensure that they finished the course set before them.

      As I meditated upon what it means to go the extra mile, I realized that the second mile would ensure one has indeed gone the distance. It is “human” to just get by in all matters of life. Let’s face it, we do not like to step out of comfort zones or be interrupted by inconvenience, but just getting by as we settle down between the columns of self-serving comfort and selfish convenience will never inspire us to reach heights of excellence by going the extra distance.

      As a Christian, I realize that the epitome of Christ’s walk on earth was comprised of many second miles. He went the second mile of love when He allowed himself to be robed in humanity in the womb of a woman. He went the second mile of submission, when as God in the flesh, He submitted to His earthly parents. He went the second mile of preparation when He allowed Himself to be led out into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil for forty days. He went the second mile of obedience when He allowed Himself to be led to the cross. He went the second mile of redemption when He allowed Himself to be put in a grave. As a result, He paid in full our redemption, secured our salvation, and now insures us an eternal inheritance. The final mile He traveled was when He ascended to heaven to serve as our High Priest before the throne of God. Jesus clearly went the distance by extending Himself to walk and endure those many “second miles.”

      This is brought out in the last part of one of my favorite choruses by Rick Founds, Lord, I Lift Your Name On High.

           You came from heaven to earth to show the way,

          From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay.

          From the cross to the grave,

          From the grave to the sky;

          Lord, I lift your name on high!

      Through the years of my Christian walk, I have tried to go the second mile. Most of the time the obstacle before me was not the distance of the second mile, it was my lazy self-serving flesh or my unwillingness to be inconvenienced with irritating intrusions and interruptions. My attitude often revealed that I was more spoiled than I had thought, and that at the core of my flesh and pride was foul selfishness. However, I have learned a few things about what it means to walk in the narrow path set before me. Even though what I am about to share is scriptural and well known, it is important to remind ourselves what the Christian life is all about. Although I have not yet finished my course, I have been aware of what keeps me on the right path. Hopefully some of the insights I have gained will prove helpful to you.

      Examination: It is easy to replace the various aspects of our life in Christ with religious things and activities. It can be easy to replace Christ with the church building and leaders. At such times, we do not recognize our attitude towards Christ being taken captive and veering off in idolatry to embrace something that can prove to be lifeless or flawed. Then when such things fail us, we become disappointed and often succumb to unbelief towards the true God of heaven. This is why it is important to periodically examine ourselves as to our devotion, agendas, priorities, and calling. I believe this is one of the reasons the Apostle Paul instructed believers to examine themselves during Communion (1 Corinthians 11:28).

      Consecration: The Apostle Paul instructs us to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). This is not an occasional offering, but a daily one (1 Corinthians 15:31). It is for this reason consecration often requires us to go the extra mile to ensure its quality. True consecration involves offering daily, on the altar our lives, our present activities, goals, and dreams. We must then ask the Lord to sanctify everything on the altar with the purifying fires from His altar. We must trust that He will burn up the unholy, separate the dross from what is pure, and refine what is right. Consecration is clearly the godly exercise that will keep us in the narrow path.

      Obedience: The Bible talks a lot about obedience to God, but many of the watered-down beliefs have erroneously put such obedience into the category of works. Obedience to God is a matter of faith in what He has said, and love for who He is. We do not try to please God with good works; rather, we are showing our confidence in who He is and what He has said by our works. We know unless God counts our activities as being righteous, they will not be associated to the type of faith that is able to please Him (James 2; Hebrews 11:6).

      Lordship: The concept of “lordship” is foreign to most Americans. Although we all start out enslaved to sin, we fail to see it as the oppressive, harsh taskmaster it is (Romans 6:6, 18, 22). However, those who live in a society that enslaves others understand the dynamics of “lordship.” Although as Americans, we like to believe that slavery is a matter of the past, it is alive and present throughout the world. Even today, there are deluded people in our government who are trying to transform America by making every one of us slaves to wicked, oppressive ideologies. If we are being honest with ourselves, we must admit that we are beginning to taste the bitter oppression of slavery in our society through higher taxes and the obvious suppression of free speech and religious freedom.

      This brings us to the significance of lordship. Everyone will end up serving something or someone. In the fallen state, people are the most vulnerable. Lust can easily take them captive, the world can cleverly indoctrinate them into delusion, seductive leaders can deceive and blind them to the destruction awaiting them, and the self-life can easily sell the soul as it strives to experience some false promise of happiness, success, or riches. This brings us to the next influencing factor in our Christian walk.

      Servitude: The idea of Lordship brings us to the reality of servitude. As stated previously, we are servants to something. It is for this reason that we must be wise in choosing whom we serve. The lusts of the flesh will always serve the whims and attractions of the world, while the pride of life will serve the god of this age, and the lusts of the eyes will serve the fading glory of the present world.

      As Christians we only have one lord to serve and please, the Lord Jesus Christ. Compared to the oppression of worldly masters, Jesus is the most benevolent and fair of all masters and lords. The biggest problem occurs when as Christians we try to serve two masters at the same time. Sadly, it is not unusual to try to juggle worldly matters and pursuits with tender devotions towards the Lord. The Bible is clear that trying to serve two masters will not work (Matthew 6:24). It will cause a mixture and inconsistency in a Christian’s life. It is for this reason that the difference between a servant and a bondservant is brought out in Scripture.

      The Apostle Paul called himself a servant of Christ. He said this in 1 Corinthians 7:22: “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.” Regardless of his status, Paul’s life of service revealed that he was a bondservant to the Lord. He carried the bonds of complete love and devotion for him. He strived to turn everything into an opportunity to honor Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:12-20).

      The concept of bondservant goes back to Deuteronomy 15. Every seven years, (the year of release), Jewish people who sold their service to pay a debt to other Jews were set free to go back to their homes or inheritances. If out of love the Jewish servant decided to stay with his or her master until death, the servant would allow his master to take an aul and thrust it through his or her ear unto the door. This act would signify that he or she was a bondservant. Instead of serving out of duty or debt, the bondservant would be serving out of loving devotion and commitment that would span his or her lifetime.

      When the Apostle Paul referred to his obligation as a servant to Jesus, he was making a declaration that when it came to service to the Lord Jesus Christ, he would be one of those who out of love, would choose to go all the way, the second mile for his Lord. It is for this reason that Paul could confidently make this declaration, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7).

      Service: Now that we have talked about Lordship and servitude, we need to talk about service. To be a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, you must give up your rights to serve your flesh, pride, or the world to faithfully serve Him. This brings us to the reality that to be a good servant it is necessary for us to give up our old life of serving the self-life with its various masters and lords. Sadly, new converts to the Christian faith believe that giving up the old is an offering or sacrifice, when in reality it is a necessity in order to ensure godly servitude.

      When a servant simply carries out his or her responsibilities, such actions are considered to be one’s reasonable service. Once again, new Christians have a tendency to think what they do for the Lord is sacrifice, when in reality it is most likely their reasonable service. Reasonable service implies it is the least you can do in a situation to fulfill necessary obligations to ensure order and function.

      Finally, there is a sacrifice in service that is worthy to be offered to God. However, such a sacrifice requires one to go the extra mile. The widow who gave her mites and the three soldiers who broke through the battle line in order to secure water at the well of Bethlehem to offer to King David would fall into this category. Such sacrifice leaves behind the old, steps over the reasonable, and pushes towards offering up everything for the sake of another without regard to personal cost. We see this same example in Jesus when He left heaven, stepped over His human weaknesses and obstacles, and went to the cross on our behalf. As a result, His sacrifice became an offering that was worthy for God to receive on our behalf.

      Much of service is tied into what makes a person feel good. However, if a servant accepts the scriptural responsibility to do his or her reasonable service by doing what is right and obedient before God, he or she will be able to prove what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. However, such offerings will never denote the second-mile of excellence. Second-mile service has nothing to do with how something makes us feel, and it will always go beyond mere reasonable service to doing something that will personally cost us.

      Modern events reveal that everything is winding down to Jesus coming. As Christians, it would be a good time to see if we are going the distance in our lives before God, and even securing the victory and prize by going the extra mile.