Monday, January 30, 2012

Knowing Jesus + Suffering = Joy

Years ago I got it into my head that I wanted to jump out of an airplane with a parachute. I managed to do a few static line jumps, which is a fancy way of saying that your rip cord is tied to the airplane, before hanging the hobby up due to funds. It hardly qualified as skydiving I would say, but it was quite a thrill all the same.

I've recalled that experience many times since as I've attempted to grasp the word faith. I can still remember what it felt like, climbing out of the airplane at 3000 feet and standing on the landing gear of that little Cessna; the wind, the noise, the adrenalin rush. I'ts actually a fairly well fleshed out understanding of faith I think. The truth is that I trusted the rig on my back with my life and was willing to act on that trust while the danger with which I was confronted was very real and present.

As of late I've been considering this analogy of "faith" in a deeper sense. I realized that it didn't really serve to clarify the understanding of faith in a way that I needed because the purpose of my parachute, and by extension my faith, in the analogy was to save my life. That is to say that my faith was wrongly centered on me and this body of flesh in which I live. I have become convinced, you see, that if this is the reason that I have faith in Christ, I am missing the mark. If I am to understand faith in a way that will ultimately bring the joy that I need to my heart, I need more... much more actually.

You see, while faith in a parachute to save this flesh is a great thing in the natural, in the end its purpose is not much more than a seat belt. Such a thing's purpose has only to do with keeping my flesh in tact. But I am much more than flesh. I am spirit also. And my spiritual being is the being that should be the most interested in faith, for it is by faith that my spiritual being is saved from, not death, but an eternal death of torment. Why would I worry about something that will kill this body, when I should be worrying about what can kill both soul and body? (Luke 12:4-5)

So I changed the analogy. Now, when I recall those jumps, in order to better understand faith I rename the purpose of the symbols. Before, the purpose of the parachute was to save my body. In my new understanding the parachute exists to be known. This is key... and I think somewhat difficult to grasp.

In both ways of understanding this the parachute represents Jesus. But in the true understanding "I" cease to be the reason and the center for the parachute's existence. Instead, the parachute exists to be known. Please try to grasp this. In this way everything shifts to make much more sense of the life I experience. In this new way, you see, the analogy puts me in a position where I cannot reach my new goal of knowing "my parachute" unless I jump out of the airplane. And I reiterate that knowing the parachute is EVERYTHING. In this way I hope that it can clearly be seen that I cannot KNOW Jesus properly until I obey Him in a way that does not necessarily make sense in the natural, but trust him to come through in a way that glorifies Himself. It is key to understand in this that when I say "Him coming through", I mean Him revealing Himself to me in a way that I KNOW Him all the more, and so therefore, am better able to serve and worship Him, all the more, and to allow this flesh to die to all these things, all the more.

I began right away, with this new insight, to realize that this was a recurring theme in scripture. It was after Noah built the ark, you see, that God's salvation, and thus glory, came. Abraham was not able to see God's glory until after he left his father's land. It was after Joshua marched around Jericho that God's glory was displayed. It was after Daniel went up into his room and prayed that he witnessed first hand the glory of God. It was after Jesus was raised up that he was glorified. On the contrary, the Israelite's unwillingness to take the land the first time cost them forty years in the desert. Key to all of this is God's glory; his exaltation, his majesty. Perhaps when we approach these scriptures from this perspective we can begin to see why faith plays such a major role in God's redemptive plan. We believe, then God's glory is revealed, then we get credit for righteousness that we don't possess. No belief, no God's glory, no redemption.

So, the only way I can know my parachute is to jump out of the airplane. Sure, I can put it on my back in case the airplane begins to go down and experience the parachute as a back up plan. I have known Christians who wear Jesus in this way. They all seem to have one thing in common, a joyless existence because their flesh is their end goal.

I can also take it out of its pouch within the safety and security of the airplane. I can study it, a tangled mess of thin fabric and strings. I can talk about it, argue about it, hold positions about its construction; but I can't know it as an inflated canopy until I take that step of faith. Knowing the parachute in this way misses the parachute's and my reason for existence, at least as it pertains to faith: its reason being to be known... my reason: to know.

With this in mind I read Paul's words and his passion in "knowing Christ, and him crucified", or "I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings," or "I count it all loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ" with new understanding. He is glorified in our hearts when we are knowing Him with increasing intimacy, and as we experience his glory on display we experience joy, which glorifies Him all the more. This is our taste of heaven on earth: knowing Him. This is the source of our power over sin, knowing Him. This is our power to consider it all joy when we face trials of many kinds: knowing Him. This is our ability to count all the fruits of our efforts to satisfy the flesh as dung: knowing Him. We look up, as a parachutist looks to his canopy, to worship the thing that has happened in response to our step of faith, the revelation of our savior that we may know, glorify and worship Him in ever more ways.

We miss it when we see Jesus as existing to make this life better. Such thinking puts us at the center, and we are not at the center. That's why the analogy of the parachute breaks down when we see its purpose as saving our bodies. To reflect the spiritual reality of faith it would have to exist solely to be known in its true inflated form, and then worshiped. Actually, for anyone who has jumped out of an airplane, worship is actually not all that far fetched. There is a special feeling one gets, at least the novice, after the transition from hurling toward certain death to gazing up at the wonderful and beautiful canopy quietly gliding oneself safely to the ground, takes place. There is a realization that the parachute was in fact trustworthy. In a spiritual sense what could be better than knowing our savior better as we trust in him to reveal himself to us?

I have made thousands of decisions in my life based, not on my espoused faith, but rather on ensuring minimum suffering and increased comfort. More of those decisions than I'd like to admit have been based on not trusting God to take care of me, or avoiding the feeling of discomfort about my "faith" before others. As a result my life more closely resembles a life in which my lips honor God when it is safe, but my heart is far from him. (Mt 15:8) But therein is the problem. I am wanting to trust God to take care of me when what I really need from God is that I can know Him in a way that causes all the things of this world that would hinder me to fade away. What I will eat, and what I will wear, and where I will lay my head are all necessarily secondary to that one all encompassing hope: to know Him!

In thinking this through, I discovered that my developing little "parable" could actually be mined for more. In the next post I will discuss how the airplane represents my flesh.


Susan said...

"You see, the purpose of my parachute, and by extension my faith, was to save my flesh." OUCH!! This statement made me think and reflect how much time, effort, prayers, thinking, etc. we expend to save our flesh, when our entire walk with Christ and our redemption in the first place,is all about learning to die to our flesh/self.

Eager for your next post and expanding my thinking even more.

Dan said...

You get it Susan! Most people I tell about this only understand it from the perspective of the "parachute" representing something you wear on your back in case your life goes down in flames. But to live a life of increasingly knowing him we have to learn to trust that he will reveal himself to us in increasing ways as we trust in him.

So many people I know who have walked through horrible trials know him in ways that those of us who haven't can't fathom. My guess is that you can speak to this yourself. No one wants to walk through a horrible trial, but given the reality that we all will, I feel better prepared, I think, to face them as I realize that in them I will know him in newer and deeper and more beautiful ways.

Anonymous said...

Wow Dan.

Stepping out in faith can be scary as it requires the believer to trust that the Lord will finish what He's started even when we are well aware of the weaknesses of our own flesh.

You've done a great job articulating the struggle I've felt for many months...only I've never been skydiving.
It has become my prayer that the Lord would increasingly make His presence known to me and yet it can be a huge temptation to listen to the persistent urge to protect myself.

I think the message of comfort, rights and ease with which our culture saturates our minds makes it particularly difficult to recognize the need to diligently seek a relationship with Christ.

Dan said...


I have many times wished that other Christians could experience jumping out of an airplane. It is perhaps one of the scariest things I've ever done, and it is indeed a exercise in faith. I can still feel the wind and fear as climbed out onto the landing gear to get into position. It is a vivid memory.

In my life though I have always been the one inside the airplane studying the parachute. I've always had a nagging feeling however that something was missing, and my life has reflected that. What is missing is joy in Christ. Joy is missing because I haven't trusted him. I haven't trusted him because I have tried to trust him for the wrong things which was minimum suffering and maximum comfort. I think I am better off rather if I embrace the reality of suffering in this life as a means through which I may know my savior and thereby accurately reflect his glory.

Anonymous said...

I think I am better off rather if I embrace the reality of suffering in this life as a means through which I may know my savior and thereby accurately reflect his glory.

I hear that.
Looking forward to your next installment.


christian soldier said...

Decisions that I have made on emotion instead of Faith have never gone well...
When I ask God for direction=I receive an answer=sometimes not the answer I want -
We do Walk By Faith -Don't we!

As to Jumping out of a perfectly good air plane-now that is a different story-
I have practiced mid air stalls-no problem...

Dan said...

Carol, I just finished my next installment. It will take a few days to clean up, but it talks about jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Thanks for stopping by.