Pastor's Pen - July 2019
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
“We walk by faith, not by sight.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:7
Our family vacation in June took us to Telluride, CO, for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I grew up attending the festival each year with my dad, and I remember hearing world-renowned musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, and James Taylor perform there. I also remember the less glorious moments, like climbing on the shuttle bus to travel from the parking area - miles out of town - into the town park where the festival is held. We squeezed awkwardly into the bus, surrounded by other festivarians carrying folding outdoor chairs, tarps to reserve space on the park lawn, coolers with snacks, and backpacks filled with layers of clothes for Telluride’s variable weather. The time in the festival was always enjoyable, but the cramped bus rides made me wish there were a simpler way to get to the park and enjoy the music.
So when we attended the festival as a family this year, Eileen had a brilliant idea: we would bicycle into the festival each day instead of riding the bus. One child would ride on a tagalong attachment on my bike and the other would ride in a bike trailer which was designed to carry children but which also had plenty of space to carry our chairs and extra gear. The four-mile ride from our campground gave us not just exercise but beautiful views of the mountains which surround Telluride. On the way, we passed fields of wildflowers and a green pasture filled with elk. It was heavenly. The plan worked well until Friday, when we stayed later in the evening to hear Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. It was the longest day of the year, but the sun was going down as we left the festival. Grandpa took the girls back to the campsite on the shuttle bus and Eileen and I set out to ride back through the twilight.
When Eileen and I were commuting by bicycle through the streets of Pittsburgh in an earlier stage of life, we knew we had to have reliable and bright lights on the front and back of our bikes. These lights both illuminated the road in front of us and alerted vehicles on the road to our presence. A few years have passed since those days, though, and I had neglected to bring along a functioning bicycle light on this trip. My camping headlamp would suffice, I thought. Except the batteries were low and the light was dim. Most of this ride took place on a bike path separated from the road, so other vehicles weren’t a problem. But as the sun sank lower, my dim lamp did little to light the way. The path that had been so clear in the day had become almost indiscernible.
Eileen rode in front of me through the darkness. There were no mountains to see, no wildflowers, no wildlife. Just darkness. At times all I could make out were the reflective line that went down the center of the bike path and the red taillight on Eileen’s bike in front of me. Curves in the path came as sudden surprises, unforeseen bumps jostled us, and I found myself saying some extra prayers for safety.
“We walk by faith, not by sight” wrote the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:7). At times the Christian life is like a bicycle ride in the dark. We think we’re following the right path, but confirming signs are few and the dangers seem to be great. This might happen for any number of reasons. Moves, job changes, or broken relationships can leave us disoriented. Seasons of grief or depression might make us feel like darkness is closing in on us. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the ways in which we used to relate to God suddenly go dry and we find ourselves grasping for any sign of God’s presence. This is what spiritual writers call the “dark night of the soul.” It seems that God, in his own wisdom, at times withdraws comforts and consolations to make us desire him more. As I experienced on the darkened bike path, my own helplessness led me to pray and forced me to trust.
We like being able to see. It’s easy to have faith when it seems there is evidence confirming our belief and experience of God. But sometimes we simply can’t see as we’d like, so we have to walk by faith, finding our way by holding onto whatever else God has provided to direct us. Another pastor I know compared these seasons in our lives to times when pilots navigate using only their instruments because weather has made visual navigation difficult or impossible. For Christians, the first navigation instrument we can look to is Scripture. As Psalm 119:105 famously says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Sometimes a single verse can carry us through difficult or dark seasons. The discipline required on our end is to maintain our focus on the words God has given us like I had to focus on the centerline of the bike path. At times I thought that if I blinked I would veer off the path.
Thankfully, we don’t have to navigate through such challenges using solely our own strength. God has also given us the Holy Spirit to lead us by reminding us of what Jesus has taught us (John 14:26) and God has given us the community of the Church to accompany us on the journey. My ride back to the campsite would have been even more difficult if I hadn’t been following Eileen. At times I had to call out for her to slow down so that I could keep up. Similarly, in the community of the Church, God provides us with companions and leaders to whom we can call out when we’re at risk of losing our way.
There will be times when we can’t see the way, but if we press forward in faith, making the best use of the tools God has provided, we’ll arrive at the destination God intends for us. In what parts of your life are you walking by faith now? What Scripture passages are you holding onto? Who are your companions?
That night in Telluride, we arrived safely back at our campsite to find the girls in their pajamas and sleeping bags with Grandpa waiting patiently outside our tent. A simple bike ride had turned into an adventure but, thanks be to God, the adventure had a happy ending. Likewise, however long the dark seasons last when we walk by only faith, we can hold onto Christ’s promise of a home which
he’s preparing for us in his own presence (John 14:3). In the words of the classic bluegrass song “Green Pastures”, we’re “Going back home to live in green pastures / where we shall live and die never more. / Even the Lord will be in that number / when we shall reach that heavenly shore.”
Grace and Peace,