by Tom Wacaster
It has been observed that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu). I thought about those words of wisdom early Monday morning as I began the long drive home from Bristol, Virginia; total distance, 982 miles. I don’t recall having ever driven that distance by myself in a single day. Come to think of it, I can’t recall having driven that far even with someone else in the car. I had intended to break the trip up into two legs, and spend the night somewhere around Brinkley, Arkansas, but once I arrived at Brinkley it was early afternoon and I thought, “I can get further than this.” Sure enough, I could, and the further I drove the closer home appeared in my mental window. With each mile behind me there remained less ahead of me and the shortened distance to my destination motivated me to press on. I managed to miss the heavy traffic in Knoxville, Cookeville, and Memphis, but not so with Nashville. If you ever find yourself on a freeway in Tennessee it might be wise to follow the advice of a native Tennessean in order to calculate the proper speed limit on one of their freeways: “Subtract your age from 100. Double this number if your car has dual exhaust. Conversely, add your age to 100 if you are driving on I-40 or suffering from a midlife crisis.” The same person suggested that when driving through Knoxville, never use your turn signal, unless of course you are on the freeway with no intention of merging. I digress, however, so let me return to the subject at hand.
Abraham is said to have “looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10). Like Abraham, those men and women of faith listed in Hebrews chapter eleven “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). Their faith motived them to endure great odds in order to reach a destination that cannot be found on a GPS or located in some Rand McNally Road Map. It is, however, as much a journey as was my trip from Bristol, Virginia to Fort Worth, Texas. This journey is not measured in miles, but it does demand maturity on the part of those who would successfully complete the trip. You and I are traveling the same road as our ancient predecessors. Here are some things to keep in mind.
First, don’t get distracted. It is unfortunate that the devil has successfully “blinded the eyes of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:4), so much so that the masses are not even aware of the existence of the inevitable destination to which they are travelling. My journey from Virginia took me past the exit for highway 66 that would take the traveler to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smokey mountains. I could have visited Rock City, Lookout Mountain, or Ruby Falls, but those side trips, and hundreds and thousands like them, would have hindered me on my journey, perhaps even keeping me from my destination. I sometimes wonder how many precious souls are kept from reaching their spiritual destination for no other reason than the fact that they took a “side road” to enjoy some pleasure for the moment, allowing the devil to deter them from the truly important. The “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life” (1 John 2:16) distracted them along the way and they ended up pursuing things temporal rather than things eternal.
Second, don’t get discouraged. The sheer distance, when carefully calculated and considered, would discourage any sane person from attempting to complete the journey in one day. Then there were the inevitable obstacles along the way: road construction, heavy traffic, pot holes, work zones with their “fees doubled when workers present.” This does not even take into account those rude and obnoxious drivers that one might encounter along the way. Quite often when I begin a journey someone says, “Drive carefully!” I appreciate that thoughtfulness, but is there some reason that I would not drive carefully? So I often respond, “I will; but so must everyone else with whom I come in close proximity along the way.” There are also obstacles along the road to our heavenly home that, if permitted, could discourage us in the journey. There are unforeseen circumstances that come along that would defeat us. We have to struggle with ourselves; that may very well be the greatest obstacle we encounter along the way. Then there are people who discourage us. I’m not suggesting they do it intentionally. An unkind word, a failure to uphold our hands in the work we are doing; these are things that often discourage us. When we do not see the fruits of our labors immediately, we tend to get discouraged in the work, often giving up in despair. If you find yourself discouraged along the journey, take your Bible and read again those words from the Holy Spirit penned by the hand of Paul: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).
Third, let us be determined. Thomas Jefferson is credited with having said, “When we see ourselves in a situation which must be endured and gone through, it is best to make up our minds to it, meet it with firmness and accommodate everything to it in the best way practicable. This lessens the evil, while fretting and fuming only serves to increase your own torments.” Some years ago I came across this interesting true life example of determination:
The year was 1983. In Australia, the long-distance foot race from Sydney to Melbourne was about to begin, covering 875 kilometers - more than 500 miles! About 150 world-class athletes had entered, for what was planned as a six-day event. So race officials were startled when a 61-year-old man approached and handed them his entry form. His name was Cliff Young, and his “racing attire” included overalls and galoshes over his work boots. At first, they refused to let him enter. So he explained that he’d grown up on a 2,000-acre farm, with thousands of sheep. His family could afford neither horses nor tractors so, when the storms came, his job was to round up the sheep. Sometimes, he said, it would take two or three days of running. Finally, they let Cliff enter, and the race began. The others quickly left him way behind, shuffling along in his galoshes. But he didn’t know the plan included stopping each night to rest, so he kept going. By the fifth day, he had caught them all, won the race, and became a national hero. He continued to compete in long-distance races until well up in his seventies. He was an inspiration to millions and a great encourager of younger runners. In his honor and memory, in 2004, the year after his death at age 81, the organizers of the race where he first gained fame permanently changed its name to the Cliff Young Australian Six Day Race. What was the key to Cliff Young’s success? It goes by various names: determination, perseverance, persistence, tenacity. It means keeping one’s eye fixed steadfastly on a goal, and not stopping, no matter the difficulties or the obstacles, until that goal is achieved.
Here, then, are three important keys to beginning, enduring, and completing our journey to heaven: Don’t get discouraged, don’t be distracted, and be determined. Take the journey one step at a time, and never lose your love for heaven. The history of mankind is marked by a long list of nameless men and women who began the journey, who faced calamity and hardship, only to give up. In the words of the Psalmist, “They turned back” (Psa. 78:9). Let me remind you that the benefits of determination and the reward for successfully completing the journey far outweigh the alternative. Like I said when I began this article, and with but slight alternation in the words, let me remind all of us: “With each passing day behind me there remains one less day ahead of me, and the shortened distance to my destination motivates me to press on.”