by Joe Leavell
A few years back, on a much needed day off from work, my wife Rebekah and I decided to celebrate the day off by ordering carry out pizza and watching a movie as a family. We thought it would be fun to surprise the kids so I asked my two older boys if they wanted to join me on a short car ride. My oldest boy, Philip, is analytical like I am. He instantly wanted answers on all the details of the trip so that he could assess whether or not it was worth his time to come. He immediately began guessing where we could be going, guessing dozens of plausible destinations. I gently informed him that this time I was not going to tell him where we were going. Our destination was a surprise and I wanted him to just enjoy going with his dad. Instead of agreeing to come, he doubled down, insisting that the trip meet his approval before he committed to this mysterious outing. He was concerned he would be bored or would be disappointed with where we would end up. I didn’t have a lot of time for him to make a decision so I told him he could either be with me or stay home. He grudgingly agreed to come…just in case he would miss out on something good.
For the first part of our short drive, my son would not stop complaining about my cruelty in not revealing the destination. So, I let him in on the main reason for my secrecy. “Son, I’ve been working a lot so I asked you to come in order to just be with me, not because we’re going someplace fun. I want to you to be with me because I love you, and I want to just enjoy being together as father and son.” I explained that sometimes, just being together as a family was the best part of what we did together, not just the activity we choose. He seemed to get the point and settled down for a few moments…until I made, what he thought, was a wrong turn. “That’s not the way to Wal-Mart Dad! I thought that was where we were going! I wanted to go to Wal-Mart!” Ironically, even though he had no idea where I intended us to go, he was quite sure he knew how to get to the destination better than I. He was quite frustrated that his ideal destination turned out to be different than mine.
It only took a few minutes to get to the pizza place. When we pulled up and he finally understood what we were doing that evening as a family, my son was pretty excited, but obviously embarrassed at his sour attitude throughout our journey. Before leaving for home, I stopped and asked both my boys for their continued trust. I told them that I love them and asked them to simply enjoy spending time with me rather than constantly worrying about our destination. I knew all along exactly where I was taking them, and just wanted them to enjoy being with me. I want my children to learn to value our relationship instead of just judging the worth of the destination to see if they will participate.
Many people, even believers, look at the Gospel through the same lens as my son. There is much to learn from this story, but let me bring you in to my own journey with Christ. For years, following Christ was supposed to mean automatic blessing for “successful” goals and desires. My life however, continued to take turns in which I did not approve. Like my son, I began to complain. “What are you doing God? I certainly don’t understand how I will get where I am going when you’re taking us this way! Where are you taking me anyway?”
My questions revealed a lot of “I’s.” They spoke nothing to my relationship with Christ. I simply wanted God to be a chauffeur through my life and I felt like my obedience was a way to get God to do what I wanted Him to do. Just like my son, I found myself becoming obsessed with questioning anywhere God took me and informing Him of the best routes to get there. Yet the lesson that He has been teaching me in recent years is that being a believer is about knowing Jesus, not using Jesus. As the Psalmist penned in Psalm 23, sometimes the journey with my Shepherd takes me to green pastures and leads me besides still waters, but at other times He takes me through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet, though I may not understand why He has led me the way He has chosen, if I am truly delighting in my Savior, I am comforted by the presence of my Shepherd and the intimate relationship that we share.
I admit that when He asks for my trust, I sometimes desire to gauge whether or not the end result is worth the journey to me, regardless of the promise of His presence. Paul stated in Philippians 3:10 that his life goal was, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul’s road trip with God included being beaten, starved, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and finally, ended with being beheaded. I doubt he was excited to experience any of those things. But experiencing the journey with Christ, sharing life with Him, and knowing the end of the journey was an eternity with Him, made his life worthwhile. The Gospel is about knowing Christ. As a good God, His objective is to plan our lives in ways that reveal our own need for Him and to enjoy the experience of a relationship with Him. In this way, wherever He takes us and whatever He makes of us in the meantime is worth the trip, no matter where He takes us. He knows the end destination is great and asks us to trust that He loves us and wants us to just enjoy His presence. He’s worth it.