In the early 1800's the people of our country began a voluntary exploration and expansion that stands as one of the great monuments of all time to human determination and durability. The westward pioneer movement was a challenge of courage and determination. The reasons that lured people to join that great migration were varied. For some it was merely the call of adventure. For others it was the opportunity to leave life in the city [which they regarded oppressive] and return to the land. To still others who faced a future without an opportunity, it was the call of hope found in free land and the right to live a life of choices. Whatever the reasons, for each it was a vision he/she believed would become reality.
I seriously doubt many of the people in the eastern United States had an accurate understanding of the demands and hardships of the journey when they decided to go West. Neither written words nor the testimony of those who personally saw the wilderness could honestly picture the danger and exhaustion of traveling the Santa Fe Trail, the Mormon Trail, or the Oregon Trail.
The first objective was to get to the Missouri River--which was no small task! Whether one took the river route on flatboats or the overland trails through the mountains, the course was tedious, demanding, and treacherous. In actuality, getting to the Missouri River was just the process of preparing to begin the journey. Once the Missouri River was crossed, the journey was ready to begin in earnest. If the family was to travel all the way to the Pacific coast area, they faced a journey of over 2000 miles. If there was not excessive trouble along the way, the family could plan on the trip taking from four to five months.
For protection and guidance, the family would become part of a wagon train. In that wagon train, they would move at a pace of two to three and a half miles an hour. How far they traveled in a day would be determined by the availability of water. If water was scarce, they might push themselves forty miles in one day. If water was readily available, they might make no more than fifteen miles in a day. Every foot of the journey was rough, jolting terrain. It was rough enough to churn the milk carried in containers on the side of the wagon--just from the bouncing during the day!
The common, most desired mode of travel was the Conestoga wagon. It was approximately 15 feet long and 6 feet wide. It had a double canvas top stretched over high hoops. The front and back ends of the wagon were elevated so the steepest grades in the mountains would not cause the cargo to fall out. Those ends also made it possible for the wagon to float. Also the wheels had broad rims to help prevent bogging.
Imagine a family in an eastern city who had decided to go West. They had just managed to buy a Conestoga wagon. Standing in town on a desirable road as it was passed by local buggies, it looked like a massive house on wheels. The husband thought, "The journey might be trying at times, but nothing will be too difficult for this piece of machinery to handle!" The wife thought, "I will be able to carry with me far more of our possessions than I thought! Why, this wagon can hold everything we own!"
The day came to load the wagon. Some hard choices had to be made about what to leave behind. Often the wife's wishes prevailed to "take just one more piece." Several fresh oxen were hitched to the wagon, and as they moved out of town on well established roads, the husband and the wife thought to themselves, "We will have no trouble taking all this with us!"
After a few days of travel, they reached the wilderness mountains east of the Missouri River. The oxen have begun to tire a little, and it is obvious they will never pull that load up the narrow mountain trails or hold that load when they descend the mountains. Reluctantly, the wife admits there are several things that are not essential. Those things are off-loaded and left behind.
Finally they reach the Missouri River, cross it, and join a wagon train. They half expected the trail to get easier on the plains. The roughness of the undeveloped land and the absence of traveled roads take a toll on the oxen. Keeping up with the wagon train becomes harder and harder. It becomes obvious something must be left behind.
The wife dearly wants to keep everything on board. The thought of leaving any of it behind is almost unbearable to her. Every single item would be useful in building a new home. The bleakness of the wilderness reminds her that all they have is what they have with them.
As she hesitates with a look of deep despondence, her husband catches her attention. He looks her straight in the eyes and says, "Go inside the wagon and mark all the pieces you love so much you are willing to die for them. If we do not significantly lighten our load, we will be left behind and we will die."
Startled, she disappears behind the canvas. Quickly, she returns with no look of despondency and says, "I am not willing to die for any of it. Getting there is all that is important. Leave anything you need to leave any time you need to leave it."
Never again did she hesitate to lighten the load. They reached their destination.
- Significant New Testament emphasis is given to the fact that Christians do not belong to this world (we are merely passing through it).
- Jesus said of his apostles in John 17:14-16:
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
- The writer of Hebrews declared concerning the great people of faith:
Hebrews 11:13,14 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.
- Peter issues this Christian challenge in 1 Peter 2:11:
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
- Paul in Philippians 3:13 said those Christians should "forget the things which are behind, and stretch forward to the things which are before."
- The successful Christian in every generation lives with the knowledge and acceptance of the fact that he/she does not belong to this world.
- Living successfully for Christ as we travel through life to reach our home with God is similar to that pioneer family going West.
- When we are first converted, we are so impressed with God's power in our salvation that we easily conclude God successfully can take us and everything we like through the journey of our pilgrimage.
- Not long after we are converted we are forced to face the reality: Salvation's real question is NOT God's ability to save us, but our willingness to follow God.
- When we follow Jesus Christ and God, it is frequently over rough, uncharted territory.
- That is when the load created by the things of this world attack our strength and cause us to fall behind.
- Some of our early decisions make it evident that some things simply must be left behind.
How important is my regular worship with my spiritual family to my faithfulness?
How important to me are Christian standards and values?
How important to me are Christian ethics?
Basic decisions make it evident I cannot travel the way of righteousness with the cargo of a formerly sinful life.
- Yet, these early decisions do not compare with the more difficult decisions as I travel to greater spiritual knowledge and maturity.
- Concepts such as the living sacrifice, stewardship of blessings and abilities, and responsibility to others demand difficult decisions that depend on prayer and love for Christ.
- Often we find that with all we left behind, it is not enough.
- There is the constant need to reevaluate our lives, to consider our relationship with God, and to consider our relationship with other Christians.
- The decision becomes less a sacrifice of things and more a sacrifice of self.
- Inevitable, a crisis arises that forces decisions: How badly do I wish to follow God? How much do I want to spiritually succeed? Shall I move on with God or stop here?
- It is at these moments we must say to ourselves, "Look at everything holding you back, and mark all you are willing to die for."
- Anything that will keep us from following Christ will eventually kill us spiritually.
- It is at these same moments we need to say to ourselves, "None of it is worth dying for. Getting home with God is all that is important."
- Trying hard with an impossible load and trying hard with no unnecessary weight will not produce the same result.
- Consider Hebrews 12:1, 2:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
- Consider Paul's statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3, 4
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
- Consider Peter's statement to discouraged Christians in 2 Peter 2:20:
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.
- One of our primary purposes in obeying Jesus Christ is to free ourselves from destructive burdens.
- Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
- Ephesians 4:22-24 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
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