Christian Living

Spiritual Life

We Are Made for Progress

Cross-country bicycle travel is a powerful means of understanding the world in which we live. It also clues us into life long ago. In between the two, progress cries out.

Glimpses of the Past

In 2016, my wife, Debbie, and I pedaled to the dock in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and boarded the SS Badger to begin a four-hour ride across Lake Michigan. Immediately, I noticed railroad tracks in the hot top on the bottom deck of the ferry. They seemed so out of place.

Built in the 1950s, the SS Badger carried rail cargo across the lake for decades. Eventually, rail routes dipped south through Chicago or were eliminated altogether in favor of progress. Into the sunset floated an entire fleet of railcar ferries. The only one remaining, the SS Badger, transports tourists and locals back and forth across the lake. This historical ship doubles as a floating museum to educate and entertain its passengers about commerce from yesteryear.

Debbie and I had bicycled alongside the Erie Canal years earlier. Was that ever striking! We cycled for days beside a shallow, narrow, motionless channel of water. In most places, I could have tossed a rock across that meager canal. I pondered the challenges of moving substantial cargo from the Great Lakes to New York Harbor way back when. How things have changed!

These intriguing relics once represented cutting-edge innovation. Now, they are technological dinosaurs. Visitors today realize immediately that we’ve advanced far beyond these archaic shipping methods. The more economical St. Lawrence Seaway and a well-developed interstate system rendered them obsolete.

Higher Stakes Progress

The pursuit of progress has been an axiom in economic development throughout history. It also applies to our individual lives today. Whether for money or another gain, most people want to get better, smarter, faster and healthier.

God, too, wants us to improve. He calls us to grow spiritually in James 1:2-4 (ESV):

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Our spiritual growth comes not through innovation but rather as we wrestle with difficult circumstances and look to God. The Apostle Paul faced trouble yet did not waver from his faith. The harder the test, the harder he leaned on God. His exemplary attitude illustrates how we too can mature spiritually – if we persevere.

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV). In this passage, “it” refers to the prior paragraph in Philippians. In verse 9, Paul spoke of “the righteousness of God that depends on faith.”

It’s clear from other passages that God empowers us to improve in all facets of life. He only asks that we follow Him. Psalm 32:8 (ESV) says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Furthermore, consider Paul’s encouragement from Philippians 4:13 (ESV): “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Assuredly, we are not alone.

Spiritual Progress Checkup

Technological development, economic progress and the expansion of artistry and knowledge continue to accelerate at breakneck speed. Yet have we kept up spiritually – and relationally? Honing our connection to our Creator is the best way to improve relationships because we learn humility and grace while putting aside selfishness. We also develop a deeper understanding of people. God wired us to make progress in this fashion.

Difficult relationships may signal a broken connection to the One who invented relationships and can help us navigate them. Does the phenomenal growth around us carry over to the more important facets of life – the ones with emotional and eternal implications?

As we age, we should be able to look back and readily detect progress. Our hindsight should prompt the same reaction as when someone boards the SS Badger and sees rails embedded in the asphalt. Those glimpses from yesteryear remind us of how far we have come!

When we look into today’s mirror, do we see a heart in the same condition it was years ago, akin to stagnant water in an undersized, lifeless canal? Or do we see a heart transforming day by day, far removed from the spiritual condition we once had? Positive change on all fronts glorifies the One who grants the impetus, wherewithal, and ingenuity to move forward. The rewards of such growth last forever.

Copyright © 2017 Tim Bishop. Used by permission.

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