I am very thankful that the Bible is good at using illustrations. In part, that’s because I am useless at coming up with my own but it is also because daily life should remind us of the Lord and what it means to live for Him.
As part of my holiday I spent four days travelling round the north-east of England on a rail rover ticket. I am not a train expert but have always found rail travel a pleasant way of seeing the country- and it seems to have provided the church with entertainment as people guessed where I might go next! However, one day in particular made me reflect on a couple of images of the Christian life.
On that day I visited Carlisle and spent some time at the castle. In a sense it was a history of warfare- it was the scene of various battles around 1745 during the Jacobite rebellion. It was also the home, until relatively recently, of the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment and the castle hosts a museum of military life. I found that rather moving, seeing the service of the regiment during the First World War. A number of members of the regiment were part of the First Airborne Division that fought a heroic battle in the Second World War at the Battle of Arnhem. The two hours that I spent around the museum and castle were marked by a reflection on what it is like to be part of military combat- whether in the 18th or 20th century. There is the expectation of sacrifice, of absence of comfort, a daily alertness to what the enemy might do, a sense of living on the edge and of pulling together for the sake of comrades. There was the call for each man to do his duty and a sense of shame about cowardice.
At a personal level I am grateful that we live in peacetime. At school when I was 15 I very definitely opted to do community service rather than joining the cadet force. However, as I was walking round the museum, I was reminded that this really is the life that we are called to as Christians. In the deepest sense it is not peacetime. It is war. We are in the midst of battle against principalities and powers according to Ephesians 6. All of us will have desires that war against our souls says the apostle Peter in his first letter. And we live in a culture that will seek to lead us away from the values of our suffering King.
The problem is that we don’t think like that. Our desire is for comfort and ease. However, this is a day for courage as we fight the battle to be wholehearted for Christ, a day for sacrifice as we face the pain of living with the cross as our banner, a day to be alert to Satan’s schemes as we consider that he is ruthless and a day for seeking to live to please our commanding officer. The images of war should be what we draw upon to think about the Christian life.
However, the same would apply to the scenes that I saw later the same day. I caught the train from Carlisle to Leeds- a justifiably famous journey through the Yorkshire Dales. The train works it way through delightful pastoral scenes with rolling hills and grazing sheep as far as the eye can see. It really was beautiful. As I sat on the train it dawned on me that I was seeing another picture of the Christian life. The passage that I had particularly in mind was John 10- the Lord Jesus as our shepherd who brings us into pasture offering us life to the full. The beautiful pasture I could see out of the window was a picture of what Jesus offers me.
Like the war scene, the problem is that we don’t think like that. We can often see the Christian life as a humdrum thing rather that being deeply nourished and refreshed by our loving Shepherd.
Now you might argue that the two pictures are incompatible. Rolling pastures are very different from castle based warfare. And yet the Christian life combines both for it is the one who is enjoying the refreshment of life offered by the good shepherd who is empowered and equipped to face the daily onslaught of Satan and the sinful nature.
The danger is that we forget both pictures and we play down both the nature of war and the depth of life that Jesus offers. Instead we need to see the power of both images and realise they point to authentic realities- we are at war and we do have one who restores our souls in the midst of it.
The Bible uses powerful illustrations to help us. Perhaps as we go through life we could be more alert to seeing the images of the Lord and the life He calls us to live in front of our eyes.