Finding Your Way Home
One of our lifelong goals is to “find our way home.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus assures his disciples, and by extension all those who would follow Jesus throughout all time, that he is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-3). He is preparing a place and he will return to take us with him, so that we may be where he is, so that we might be home.
Do you remember the first time you were homesick? I remember as a young boy being homesick many times. My mother did not believe in allowing me to hide behind her skirts, so from an early age, five or six years of age, she encouraged me to spend time away from her with relatives and friends.
On a few of those occasions I remember being desperately homesick, so sick that I could feel a pain in my stomach. I wanted to go home, not to the apartment where my mother and I lived, but to my mother.
Later, when my mother, who was a widow, remarried, we moved from Texas to California. I thought I would die. I was nine years old. I was homesick even though I was with my mother and step-dad, but my aunt and uncle and my cousins were all back in Texas. Here I was in California, not south Texas. It might as well have been France. California had too many people, and most of them talked funny—they didn’t talk like we did in Texas. There weren’t any farms near where we lived in metropolitan Los Angeles—no fields, no cows, no chickens, no creeks, no wide open spaces. Just concrete and asphalt. Lots of cars. Lots of smog. I hated California—and yearned to go back to Texas.
When we got to California I remembered our diet back in Texas. It was simple, but I loved it. We had pinto beans and cornbread for dinner a lot—and sometimes we had “Kentucky Wonder” beans.
Thinking back, at my tender age of nine I had feelings similar to those expressed by the nation of Israel when they were brought out of Egypt and delivered from slavery. They still longed for the diet they enjoyed back in Egypt—as the Bible puts it, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic (Numbers 11:5).
In my case, I was out in the wilderness of Southern California and compared to the humidity and moisture of south Texas, it was a desert. Here I was in Southern California, a strange place (some say it still is!) with my family—no more pinto beans, because California food was all about hamburgers, tacos and pizza. Well, it didn’t take me too long to become addicted to hamburgers, tacos and pizza, but at the beginning I didn’t like that kind of food because it wasn’t what I was used to.
In our passage in Psalm 137 we read the plaintive cry of the nation of Israel in Babylon. They are in captivity, in exile, away from their native land. They are homesick.
Being homesick is not bad—it’s not necessarily a negative emotion. Nostalgia for the past can help us remember what we hold near and dear. Positive memories from the past can encourage and inspire us to restore what is good and necessary in our lives.
That’s part of the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It was the lost son’s homesickness that helped him, as Luke says, to come “to his senses” (Luke 15:17). He was in a foreign country. He had run away from home, away from his father, away from what he had been taught and had determined that he would make his own way in life. But his own way didn’t turn out so well, and he determined that even the servants in his father’s house were better off than the life he was now living. Home, in the case of the Prodigal Son, was his moral base. Home was where he belonged spiritually. And of course, the Prodigal or Lost Son found his way home.
But you know, there are times when we can be homesick for a home which never was the home that God intended. After all, if you start out in the wrong spiritual location, then home for you is not the home that God intends for you. If you are lost to start with, then that’s not your spiritual home.
Let’s assume you started out (or wound up at some point) in the wrong spiritual place. I did. I was in a spiritual world which was more about religious legalism and authoritarianism than it was about God’s grace. I found myself, and you may have as well, at some point in your past, in a religious swamp, a religious place of bondage, a spiritually toxic place that was more about the human founder of a church, human authorities and their interpretations than it was about Jesus and his Cross.
How does that old book title go? Something like, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably Wind Up Somewhere Else.
You’ve heard the old joke about the airline pilot who came on the intercom and told the passengers that he had good news and bad news. The bad news, he said, was that they were lost. The good news, he said, is that they were making great time.
Our reference point, our center, our spiritual touchstone can be slightly off kilter or it can be in a completely wrong place.
We can be nostalgic, as the Israelites were in the wilderness, for a spiritually unhealthy past experience—the slavery of Egypt. The Israelites were homesick for their home in Egypt even though that home was a place of bondage—because that was the only home they had ever known. Egypt, their geographical and spiritual home, was a place of security. They were in a comfort zone there. They knew what would come next. Prisoners usually do. Prisoners have a routine. Long-term prisoners who are released often have severe adjustment problems with life “on the outside” because life outside of the walls of prison is filled with, by comparison, unprecedented freedom.
This is precisely why many people today hunger for the wrong spiritual home. They hunger for, as the Bible says about the Israelites, the leeks and onions of Egypt. When I moved out to California as a young boy, I just wanted to have pinto beans and corn bread—I wasn’t interested in hamburgers, tacos and pizza.
Many people today find themselves in the religious environment in which they were raised. They are comfortable in that religious place and atmosphere because it was their parents’ religious environment, and perhaps that of their grandparents. Many people therefore feel spiritually “at home” when they are in a religious environment that is the only religious environment they have ever known.
People think, “This must be home—it feels so right to me. It must be my spiritual home, I feel special when I’m performing the ritual, doing the activity, singing the song, chanting or saying the prayer. It must be my spiritual home, God has to be happy seeing me do all this stuff, making myself miserable—after all, isn’t that what makes God happy, when he sees me being miserable?”
A giraffe, lion or elephant might be comfortable in a zoo if a zoo is all they have ever known—if they were born in a zoo. But their real home, the home for which God designed them, is not inside a caged enclosure.
Several decades ago, just after my wife and I were first married, we lived in England where both of our children were born. We discovered, in our travels through England, that much of the countryside is extremely rural and the culture is insular, just like rural locales in North America. There are many places (maybe you live in or near one) where people live only a few miles from their place of birth, and seldom find any reason to go anywhere else.
In some of the rural places where we lived in England, when people first met us, it was as if they were meeting aliens. They had never met a real, live American, and we were happy to discover they often found out that they could actually get along with us! After going home to live in the United States, we returned to England for a visit and made a point of driving to a small village where we had rented a house ten or more years before.
We knocked on a few doors, and found one former neighbor who was home. The lady immediately went out into the street and yelled up and down the street of the village, “The Americans are back! The Americans are back!”
It was in such places in England that I often had the experience, as a young pastor, of stopping to ask for directions. I would often tell a local resident where I was going, and on more than one occasion, they would scratch their head and say, “Well, if I was going to Brighton or Chester or Nottingham or Leeds (whatever the destination about which I enquired) I wouldn’t be starting from here!” There’s a lot of spiritual truth in that statement. You can be on the road, headed in what you think is the right direction, but you may not be taking the best route. You can be on the right road, but you can be going the wrong direction.
You can think that you believe in Jesus, you can go to church regularly, you can support the church with your prayers, your time, your offerings and donations. You can try to live a good life and you can try to help others. You can try to do all the things you have heard will make God happy and avoid doing the things which will displease him.
But that’s not necessarily the same thing as following Jesus. That’s not the same thing as finding your way home to be with Jesus. The church you are regularly attending, and all of the religious behaviors in which you regularly participate could be just as bad as driving on the right road but in the wrong direction.
The road to being at home with God starts at the foot of the Cross. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). The Bible is our map, and the Cross of Christ is our compass. Jesus Christ should be the very center of our lives as we journey toward our real spiritual home.
That may mean that you need to make some adjustments. To continue the analogy of roads and travel, in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that the narrow road leads to heaven, but the broad road, the well-traveled road leads to destruction.
The pull of the past is a powerful force which can cause us to automatically defer to familiar traditions simply because they are “what we have always done.” But our spiritual compass is the Cross of Christ. Our spiritual road map is God’s written revelation. But for many, comfortable traditions and the well-worn religious status quo is the real standard by which they live their lives.
Are you “at home” in your spiritual journey? Are you headed for the home Jesus has prepared for you? Or, are your cherished religious traditions influencing you so much that you might be on the right road but headed in the wrong direction? Is it possible that you are heading away from God—away from the home that Jesus went to prepare for us?
Is it possible that you have somehow wound up in the wrong spiritual location, and as a result, the place that feels like home to you is not one and the same as the home Jesus has for you?
As you consider what’s involved in Finding Your Way Home think about these three principles:
1) The road to God’s home starts at the foot of the Cross. Authentic Christianity is founded in the Cross of Christ, and of course in his resurrection that followed on the third day. That means that God’s home is all about him. It’s not about the stuff you do. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
2) God’s home is Christ-centered. The home Jesus has prepared for us has a focus on Jesus. The décor, the furnishings, the ambiance, the mood, the paintings on the walls, everything is centered in Christ. If your spiritual home has some other center, then chances are you are in the wrong place. If you want to know God, you will need to know Jesus (John 14:6-14). Jesus came to reveal the Father. There is no other way to God—no one comes to the Father except through Jesus (John 6:44, 65; 10:9). Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).
3) We are welcomed into God’s house on the basis of his grace. He doesn’t collect the rent as we enter, he doesn’t ask for our credit card, he doesn’t ask for a deposit. We can’t afford the house God has prepared for us. Nothing we can do will earn us one night’s stay in God’s house. Jesus has prepared a house for us, given to us on the basis of God’s grace. If you are trying to check into God’s house on the basis of religious deeds and performance, you’re at the wrong spiritual address. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).