You would think we’d be more alike.
Growing up homeschooled (and 2 ¾ years apart), my brother and I spent most of our waking hours together. We did our schoolwork across the table from each other, racing to finish so we could dash off to one of our rooms to play. Every meal we fought over who would put silverware on the table and who would fill all the cups with water. We know each other in ways no one else can.
A couple of years ago, he went off on an adventure to study abroad for several months. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I visited him in Germany for a week.
So there we were. We had been in the US all of our lives and had only traveled without our parents once or twice, but now we found ourselves navigating intercontinental flights and exploring on our own.
And wouldn’t you know it. We traveled differently.
As we walked down historic German streets together, I tried to document our entire trip for our parents and anyone else. He would mentally observe his surroundings and describe them in detail later (long after I had forgotten those details).
“Stop taking pictures,” he would whisper to me as I tried to get a better angle of some random restaurant. He wanted to blend in with the locals and his main goal was to not look like a tourist. I was very comfortable in my identity as a guest and didn’t mind if other people knew, too. (And I figured it was probably obvious – at least with me.)
We were traveling through the same places. But differently.
Not Like in the Old Days
The first mention of “travel” in the ESV Bible is in Exodus 13, the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It was a wait-on-the-Lord-every-moment kind of expedition, a cloud-by-day-fire-by-night leading to the Promised Land. This was not a joyride. Not a vacation. It was a journey, full of danger and deprivation and more danger. The Israelites would walk for miles every day through the Middle Eastern wilderness, all for the goal of the destination. The Promised Land.
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (see Exodus 13:17-22).
This intentional, difficult traveling is not what we think of when we plan a vacation. These days, we travel in relative ease and comfort, without the fears and frustrations travelers would have faced centuries ago. We usually have less of a goal in mind—while we have chosen a specific destination, we go there to visit and not to forge a new life.
Maybe it’s easy for us to forget that this modern 21st-century life is not intended to be a joyride. We are on a journey, too.
And sometimes we travel differently.
Here to Try It All
While I walked many miles on that trip to Berlin, my goal was to take in all the sights and sounds and experiences I could while I was there. To live in the moment.
I wanted to see and hear and taste and smell and touch and feel everything I could. I wanted to get up early and stay up late. The time was short and I will likely never pass that way again—I had to fill my time with as much as I could while I had the opportunity.
As Christians, we are called to live with purpose and wisdom wherever God has placed us for now (see Ephesians 5:15-17). We are to seize the moments of each day and fill them with obedience, leading to an eternal reward. Not experience. Not fulfilling our senses. We are not tourists in the journey of life.
To live with the goal of temporary experience or pleasure is to miss all the eternal treasures God holds out for us, if only we will reach for them. How are we getting to know Him better every day? How are we seeking Him? What has He taught us and shown us during the moments of our days? He is with us every moment of our journey, bringing eternal purpose to our daily experiences. If only we could always see that.
Just One in the Crowd
My brother, on the other hand, wanted to blend in and pass as a German. He wanted to be seen as someone who belonged there, someone who knew what they were doing and had learned to live in that culture.
But he didn’t belong there.
The Israelites were different from the people around them because their God was not like the other gods. We may be a few thousand years later, but we are different from people around us, too. Because our God is still not like the gods of this world.
We usually won’t fit in. And as others see how often we stand out, they will venture closer to see why we are different. Therein lies our opportunity to share with them why we are here and where we really belong.
All the Way There
We are called to persevere even when it’s hard, not to seek out only the pleasures of the moment. We are called to be “sojourners,” “exiles” (see Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11)—we aren’t going to look like the locals.
To be sure, there is a balance to this: On the one hand, we don’t need to be unnecessary killjoys. It’s admirable to try to adapt to the culture we are living in as long as we don’t compromise our identities in the process. On the flip side, we don’t want to set unnecessary obstacles to the gospel in front of others—we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with living in the moment that we forget why we’re really here.
Even when it’s hard (it will be), even when we feel like the only traveler in a world of tourists (we’re not), and even when we fail miserably at finding the right balance (we will so many times), we will continue on. Because we’re going Somewhere. And God, our guide through every moment, will lead us all the way there.
“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; lets neither faint nor fear.”