Years ago in Canada, a friend was celebrating 25 years in the pastoral ministry. On our way back from a conference on the East coast, one of the other preachers in the van asked with a wink: “So, Tom, after 25 years what was your greatest achievement in the ministry?”
With his mustache curled upward in a comic snarl, Tom said: “I survived!”
The older a Christian gets, the wiser that remark seems. We stumble and fall many times on the wilderness path toward our heavenly home. Faith’s honesty is less impressed with what a fine job we’ve done and is more and more impressed with what Christ has done for us. Faith’s honesty admits that we have not done all that could have done or should have done even on our best days.
The closer to Christ we live, the more we get it: “Just as I am without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me…”
It takes an amazing amount of God’s grace to get through a single lifetime, to simply survive, to be kept in the faith unto eternal life. Anything else is frosting on the cake in this sinful, broken world.
Jesus makes the same point in today’s portion of St. Mark’s Gospel: “He who endures to the end shall be saved.”
In that spirit one writer refers to the heroes of faith in the Bible as “survivors of the fog.” He points out that the great heroes of faith share one common experience – a time of dread testing – when the fog descends and everything goes blank – when they are called upon to keep faith in the face of everything that contradicts that faith.
What made these “survivors of the fog” the heroes of faith that they were was not some noble decision on their part, but the testing hand of God in their lives.
It’s sort of like that self-deprecating remark made by President Kennedy when someone asked him how it felt to be a war hero (that famous PT-109 episode in WW 2). Kennedy replied: “It was totally involuntary. They sank my boat.”
We have little or no control over the trials and tribulations which fall to us in this broken world as it gallops toward Judgment Day.
But what happens when the storm clouds roll in – this is what a God-given faith in Christ is all about. It’s about waiting for Christ, sure of His coming, enduring to the end, trusting that He who bought us at the frightful cost of His own blood will come back to reclaim us forever.
Then, robed in white, standing before the throne, we shall say – by grace – with unending joy – “We survived!”