The Danger of Arrival

Article by Aaron Shaw

I always have loved traveling, but I have a special place in my heart for air travel. Growing up whenever my brother and I heard the words, “we fly out next week!” or “pack your suitcase, we’re flying!,” my eyes slowly grew wider, a smile consumed my face, my heart quickened, and I joyfully galloped off to my room to pack my bags. When I traveled for a bike race, or for vacation, or for ministry, I began to arrive earlier than I had to to the airport. The reason? Airport culture. Getting to the airport four hours early was always exciting but my favorite memories were made in the arrivals to new cities.

The arrival was nothing short of exhilarating. But it wasn’t just the arrival to new places that got me excited, it was the “arrival” in other areas of life. For example, as a former bike racer, I constantly told people towards the end of my racing career how I felt like I had just about made it. How I had just about made it to the tippy-top of the professional level. (I hadn’t, I had a ways to go.) The mentality of arrival was strong and alive. Just the thought of, “I’ve made it,” whether it’s a job, a spouse, a new car, or even a new way to serve in the church is very powerful. When we consider “arrival” in light of our relationship with God, we begin to see how the danger of idolizing arrival is all around us. Eventually, we realize that arrival has tricked and lured us away from the Gospel to a sub-biblical life of thinking. “But really, I have made it. I’m fine. Everything is okay.” The question I pose to all of us (and myself!) is this: Are we living by justification by arrival? Are we abandoning the life-transforming power of justification by faith in Jesus for a counterfeit Christian faith?

We’re Better than God

Although it may not be as explicit as “better than God,” we subtly make the excuse with our behavior that we don’t need the Word of God, community, accountability, prayer, or even works (not for salvation, but the overflowing joy of God’s abundant grace that moves us to serve continuously, not to be served continuously). How does this happen? A few weeks ago I was reading through a passage, studying, and preparing a talk that I was giving to some college students. As I got more and more into the passage, the only thing that I was able to think about was how great it would be to teach and how great it would land on the students who were listening. Hear me on this: that is not a bad thing at all! But what was missing was the most important part: I didn’t see the passage as something I needed, but more importantly I saw it as something that only they needed. The Bible ceased being a mirror and became a tool for others. The thought, “I’ve already read this before; I know how this goes,” and “I don’t need to reread that,” is all the language I need to know that in my heart of hearts, I have a hardened heart towards God. I assume I’m doing great so I don’t need to read, pray, or spend time with God.

When I begin to skip times in the Word, pass on accountability, become a spectator of my small group, retract my service of others, passively criticize others and do nothing to extend grace and seek understanding, become more of a consumer than an ambassador for Jesus, stop paying attention during a sermon or small group when I know the passage that’s being preached or taught on, it communicates “arrival”, an elevated status of my walk with God. It says, “I don’t need this for my soul, but someone else does. I have experience, I have a job in ministry, I have… fill in the blank.” That might be the most dangerous self-talk I have. Galatians 6:1-2 is hard on those who “think they are something when they are nothing”. Legalism takes many forms but although this seems more like recklessness than legalism, the undergirding reality is that when we begin to assume, take for granted, or stop paying attention to the Word of God for our own souls, we’ve somehow convinced our hearts that we’ve arrived at a higher class of Christianity which portrays the Bible and God as a tool for others, not food or the God for our own soul. The truth is that this paradigm doesn’t exist. We’re all poor and needy, we are all in need of Jesus, the Word, and community. There is no exception. For anyone.

We’re Always Chasing Something

When it comes down to it, we’re always waiting on something. We’re always chasing something. One of the things I always hear when I meet with people is how they’re waiting until this season of life is done. Whether it’s an exam, it’s a life stage, a job interview, a job move, a relationship, or even just a day, we’ve somehow settled on this reality that when we get through the exam, week, day, or we get that job, move to that place, start that relationship, we’ll be better. Especially when our lives get busy, we’ll always say things get better when we get through the busy day, week, month, year. The problem that I find in my own life as well as others lives is that even after that week, job, relationship comes or goes, I’m not actually better off. Neither are the people I meet with and do life with. We talk about this phenomenon all the time and ask each other if we’re using that “arrival” as a getaway car, and most of the time, we are. If you’ve spent any time around me or with me you’ll typically get the vibe that I’m busy. More often than not, I use that excuse to explain why I’m not in the Word, praying, hanging with friends, serving, talking to people, or even spending quality time with God. My excuse always ends with me saying, “But next week things lighten up and things will get better.” News flash: they don’t. And to my friends reading this, they didn’t ease up. I chase the idea of next week or the week after because it helps me justify my busy life and forego the important things, like God. This is also the danger of arrival. Arrival is not just believing we’ve leveled up as a Christian, but it’s converse is assuming that one day we’ll drift to godliness, but we’re sure that day is not today. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year.

Anyone see that as a problem? I do! The reality is that we’re all always chasing something. We’re always thinking that the future holds our arrival. We’re always ready to just throw our trust in time, in a job, in a relationship, or something that when it comes or goes, we’ll be better. We just need to get through to that life stage or take that exam and then everything will be better. Will things lighten up? Maybe! Will things be logistically easier? Maybe! Will things be better spiritually? Maybe! There are no definitives and more times than not, when that thing comes or passes, we still assume that our lives will drift towards godliness. The concern I have is for those of us (like myself) who really trust that arriving to whatever thing comes next or passes next will somehow bring us joy or a closer relationship with God. The issue with this belief is that it puts more trust in our own perspective of what we don’t know, it puts our hope in time as if we know it’ll always be in our favor, and it enforces the superstitious perspective of thinking that when we get to that next thing, we’ll be okay. But truth be told, you’re not alone if you find yourself feeling like this. Our whole culture is all waiting, too. I’m waiting, too. We never stop. We’re all waiting for the next thing, the next job, the next life stage, the next exam to pass by, the next quarter to end, the next promotion to come. We’ll never stop being thirsty for more, for the next, for the better, for the relief, for the love, for the acceptance, for the money, for the degree, for the freedom, for the end, for the beginning, for the future.  

The sorrowful part of this is that we sometimes forget to trust God in the midst of the thing we’re walking through. We think God can’t use today but that tomorrow will be better. Arrival says that we’ll eventually be acceptable, better off, more ready, or more adored when we can work through something, get to that life stage, or find inner confidence to change. Friends, that isn’t the Gospel. The beauty of God is that He’s very interested in the today. With all of its inconsistencies, messiness, brokenness, pain, suffering, and longing…While at the same time God is very excited that you’d place your hope in Him who will bring about each tomorrow. The blend of today vs. tomorrow, the already-but-not-yet is a Christian perspective that follows us wherever we go. My plea is that in our hoping for tomorrow, we wouldn’t lose sight of today. Arrival isn’t the goal. Tomorrow isn’t the goal. Perfection is not the goal. The goal is worship of God wherever we might find ourselves. Do we pray for things to pass? Yes! We that we’d see God in miraculous ways and at the same time we hold out our hope for heaven. Our hope is in the reality that one day there will be an end to our decay. As for today, we labor with smiles co-mingled with tears because we know God is our inheritance in glory. I pray that we (myself included) would pray for the sunrise of tomorrow and we’d not forget to trust God through the night. Christian, hear me, you don’t need that next thing to be more accepted, more put together, more loved, more equipped, more ready, more anything. You don’t need to arrive to any higher spiritual realm, discipline, or Biblical intellect to be God’s beloved. The Gospel says that you can’t earn a drop of extra love from God, but that His unconditional love and grace is available for you to take already. Run with it and be transformed from the inside out. If you’ve been walking with God for any time longer than 10 minutes, please be encouraged: God doesn’t regret saving you. You did not and cannot out-sin the cross of Jesus because no amount of sin or darkness of sin surprises Him. He’s chosen to love you well before you came into existence and He will finish what He’s started: to increase your joy, trust, love, and worship of Him and to spread that everywhere you work, laugh, cry, play, eat, drink, and love.

You don’t need to arrive, you haven’t arrived. But one day, my friend, we’ll arrive at eternity to be with our God and worship Him fully, face to face, as He wipes our tears away. That will be our arrival.

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