Packing for the Journey

Hebrews 12:1-3

A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to see our grandkids down in Florida. We wanted to avoid a checked bag so we packed everything into two carry-ons. For a week-long trip that was quite an accomplishment, though it’s a lot easier when you’re going to Florida and all you need are shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. But there are certain things you know you are going to need for the journey and you prioritize around those items. You want to pack light, but you need to make sure you take the important things.

We’ve been talking about the journey that we’re on this year: a closer walk with God. We’ve already talked about some of the things that you need for the journey: the Word of God and some helpful study tools, a consistent prayer life; take companions for the journey and make sure you’re walking in step with the Holy Spirit.

Just as important as what we pack, is what we leave out. And the Bible tells us there are certain things that just can’t go along for the journey.

The Hebrews writer uses the imagery of a race, with a heavenly stadium full of fans cheering us on. But he tells us there is some preparation for the race: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:1-3)

The writer begins by reminding us that we’re not on the journey alone. Though at times we might feel like we’re isolated and alone, we have a “cloud of witnesses” watching on and cheering for us. And don’t forget that you have a church family here on earth who are cheering you on and praying for you.

Back when we started this closer walk with God, I began handing out this sheet every week. Now on one side you have a scripture reading plan and memory verses to help you lay up God’s word on your heart. But on the other side of the sheet are some things that I hope you have also been making use of: a place to write down the names of people you want to encourage and people you need to pray for.

It’s also the Hebrews writer that says our preparation for the journey also includes preparing our hearts for our times of worship and fellowship: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24-25)

Do you spend time during the week praying for your travelling companions? Last week we talked about how important it is to have someone who will “get your back.” Whose back do you have? Who are you praying for during the week? Who is it that you spend time considering how to spur on to love and good deeds? This isn’t a spur of the moment, if the mood strikes you kind of thing – this is an intentional investment of your time and yourself in the lives of others. Are you praying for others with whom you sit across the aisle at church every week? Do you take the time during the week to think about the people you are going to heaven with and encourage them in their walk?

A lot of times, the thought will hit us and we’ll think to ourself, “I ought to give them a call this week and see how they’re doing.” Or we hear a prayer request for somebody and we intend to pray for them, but as soon as the last amen is said, our mind is on to which restaurant we’re going to eat at.

Well, that’s what this sheet is for. It’s a place to write down the names of people you intend to pray for; it’s a place to write down the names of brothers and sisters who need a word of encouragement. Now that means you don’t stuff it in your Bible and not look at it again until next week. You have to take it out and use it. But it’s a great tool for reminding you to do what you intend to do.

There are people around you right now for whom a small note in the mail or a phone call in the evening saying, “I was just thinking about you this week, and I want you to know that I appreciate you and you’re a real blessing to your church family” – what a huge blessing that would be. One of my most valuable possessions is the file of cards that different people have sent me over the years encouraging me. Yes, I save them and keep them in a file and every now and then I’ll pull them out and read them again to be reminded that I have made a difference in someone’s life.

And it’s such a blessing to me when people tell me, “I’m praying for you.” To know that I am actually on someone’s heart and mind and they are speaking my name to God, asking him to bless me.

It’s one thing to appreciate what someone does and keep it to yourself, or to pray for someone in the quiet of your devotions. But to actually tell someone, “I appreciate you” or “I’m praying for you” – it doubles the effectiveness.

The second thing the Hebrews writer says about the journey is that there are some things that weigh us down and trip us up, and we need to get rid of them. He says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us.”

Sometimes our walk with God gets sidetracked by things that distract us from the journey. Too many times we confuse urgent with important, other times we confuse cost with value, and still other times we confuse wants with needs. In other words, we crowd God out of our lives with things that don’t really matter, things that are of lesser importance – and in the process we find ourselves on a different path than the one we intended and God is nowhere to be found because we’ve wandered off on our own chasing things that have drawn us away from him.

And then, there is the sin that so easily entangles. Sin keeps us distant from God. Ezekiel talks about sin separating us from God. When we choose sin, we push God away and choose to walk alone.

And that’s not to say that we aren’t sinners and won’t sin – we are and we do, and God is free with grace and forgiveness. But when we cling to a sin, knowing that it is hurting God and that it is keeping us from walking closely with him, we choose a path on which God cannot join us. And so the writer says, “throw off everything that hinders.” That means you have a choice to make – you can cling to sin, knowing the harm it does and the path down which it leads and the damage it does to your relationship with God – or you can let go of it and experience the closeness and intimacy that God wants you to have with him.

And that’s why the Hebrews writer says what he says next: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…” The difficulty on the journey is losing sight of the goal and getting discouraged and losing hope. And so the writer says “fix your eyes on Jesus.” He is the goal to our journey. Our goal is not heaven – heaven is only the destination – and we are going there because that is where Jesus is. We want to be with Jesus. And so, this journey might lead us through bright sun or dark nights, smooth paths or rocky climbs, gentle breezes or raging storms, but through it all we keep our eyes on Jesus.

One other thing you need for the journey is a little travelling music. I know, for us, music is utilitarian. Sometimes, especially in our worship, it feels like we use it to fill the gaps between the important stuff like prayers and communion and sermons. But it’s surprising how integral music is to the journey.

We all need a soundtrack for travelling, music in the background for our journey. It’s scriptural you know.

When Jesus and his disciples were in the upper room the night before his crucifixion, what did they do before they headed out to the Mt. of Olives? Matthew and Mark tell us “they sang a hymn.” I’ll bet you’ve never really thought about that. This wasn’t a perfunctory closing song before they can officially be done, this is something they’ve probably done hundreds of times together, as they walked on the roads from Galilee to Jerusalem and back again – they sang songs – and what was their songbook? The book of Psalms. That was the songbook of the Temple and the Synagogue and the early church. Those were the songs that helped them express their hearts and their feelings, that spoke the struggles they were going through and the victories they accomplished. Most of all, their songs focused their thoughts on God.

The early church was filled with music. Paul wrote to both the Ephesian and the Colossian Christians to sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs to each other – and neither of those passages are “worship” passages – they are “as you go through life” passages. It’s a tragedy when we separate out “church music” from “real music,” and relegate the music that talks about God to an hour a week on Sunday.

God created us to be drawn to music. Now we choose the music, and some of it’s not a great choice, but whoever we are and whatever culture we live in, human beings have always filled their lives with music. God created that in us.

Why, what does music do? Does it have some kind of hidden power? Yes, it has the ability to train and guide our thinking in a way that mere prose does not.

David said, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)

Solomon wrote, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Prov 23:7)

Paul wrote, “… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil 4:8)

I want to encourage you to fill your life with the kind of music that is going to encourage you in your walk with God and strengthen your faith and affirm the things in your life that are God-centered.

And there is lots of good music out there, whether you like acapella or instrumental, country or rock, the Gaithers or Toby Mac, gospel quartet or classical. Fill your ipod with Zoe and Hallal, find a Christian radio station, stick a cd in your car stereo, and let it play. Let the music fill your heart with thoughts of God and righteousness. You’ll be amazed how much more joyful the journey will be.

So, while you’re packing your bags for the journey, remember that it’s important to pay attention to what you’re packing. Remember to pack the important things first and get rid of the things that slow you down and keep you from God. And don’t forget to share the journey with the folks who love you.