This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe. (John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress)
No sooner have we taken our first steps in this life than we quickly discover that there are obstacles. Things stand in our way of getting what we want! While not all of our wants are legitimate, many of them are good, yet just out of reach. We are fallen people, who get confused about what we truly want. We are finite people, not able to always get what we want.
When my son, Reece, was still in a highchair, he had one of these early existential crises. Wanting to get down and play, his mother, my loving wife, required him to eat his vegetables. Faced with the obstacle, he clinched his fists and declared, "I hate to struggle with myself."
We all do. So much so do we hate the struggle, we start looking for shortcuts. If I want something, then I'll find a way to get it. And, honestly, that works...for a while. However, what comes quickly and cheaply in the beginning, exacts a heavy toll.
Immediate gratification comes with longterm side effects.
Jesus often finds us in these moments of quiet and heartbreaking realizations. The grace of God in Jesus awakens in us a new possibility, not an easy way -- but one filled with promise. Where once we were ruled by insecurity and fear, God gives us faith. Far from a crutch, as the skeptic would have us believe, faith is a force to be reckoned with.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," (Hebrews 11:1)
The substance of faith, the writer says, is a strong conviction. It is a deep assurance for that which we hope. The object of faith may be unseen by human eyes, but that does not diminish the substance of faith. This becomes evident as you read all of Hebrews 11.
With the grace of God, the heart collapses under the weight of hope deferred (Proverbs 13:12). By God's grace, even as we struggle to wait, our faith in God grows stronger.
"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him," (Hebrews 11:6). God is not looking for finished products! God is looking for faithful people who journey by His grace.
Hebrews 11 is not a list of heroes. The people of faith listed there are not heroic in the sense that the world defines heroes, "not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar [they] acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth," (11:13).
Not having found what they were looking for, these people of faith continued to journey.
"For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city," (Hebrews 11:14-16).
Psalms 120 through 134 are songs for this journey. It is a journey like one described in The Pilgrims Progress: "Better, though difficult, the right way to go, Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe."
Thought to have been sung as the people made their way up to Jerusalem, these Psalms describe different aspects of the journey of faith for all those who are in Christ. Instead of looking for an earthly city, we are looking for the City of God.
Eugene Peterson has written wonderful book about this journey, about these Psalms. He took the name form a quote by the infamous German atheist, Frederich Nietzsche. The name of the book is "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."
A long obedience is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, "We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve [our] souls," (Hebrews 10:39). Instead, we follow the One who has gone before us, "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God," (Heb 12:2).
"Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear."