Our culture is taking part in what the famous Christian cultural commentator Os Guinness calls the “survival of the fastest”.
One click ordering; cutting sleeping hours; being on our phones sorting other things while we’re doing something else; fast-food and internet pornography to quicken supposed intimacy. Don’t get me wrong – there are many great things about living life at a fast pace!
But many are suffering from the inability to slow down and be present in one place at one time. And even more are struggling with the paralysis of having so many choices, as I noted in chapter two of my book where I quoted from another author. But considering the topic of rest while considering pleasure travel is an unusual one. Isn’t travel already so pleasurable and restful that we ought not worry about this topic?
Well, from talking to other travellers, I think it is still vital to mull over what rest could mean for us, even for those of us who feel so free that we lose track of the days! I remember coming home from holiday and suggesting to my housemates that I need a holiday to recover from my holiday!
Travelling people seem to still feel rushed for several reasons:
Travel has admin. There is always more to book in advance. Weather changes. Hostels are full. You meet someone who tells you about a must-see attraction. You fall in love with a place and want to stay longer there. There are always things to change, and that’s hard, even when you enjoy tasks like admin. Even something like making Instagram pictures can start to weigh in on your mental energy not to mention editing vlogs or keeping in touch with people.
Time is not infinite. Most of us only have a certain amount of time travelling. There are exceptions of those who’ll stomach being away from any friends and community for long enough that they can always be on the road, but even they after a few years often grow weary of constant transitions and lack of depth in relationships. And even for those who can afford years on the road, they only see a fraction of what the world has to offer. Their one Instagram account does not account for every place that millions of other users have been to or seen in a different light. There is often a lust for more that drives us onwards and equates resting with missing out.
The bigger we are in our own worldview, the more we’ll need rest. The more we’re consumed by our own goals, our own problems and our own desires, the more we’ll find life exhausting. Partly because we’ll frustrate ourselves, and partly because all the circumstances around us will frustrate our goals and desires. This is fine if it just means we’ve to find perfect matches of people to travel with, and perhaps cut out the people in our lives who are toxic, so as to avoid stress. But when major illness, relationships going wrong, or difficulty occurs in life, it’s harder to control. This is not to say that the solution I suggest is belittling our own humanity, but finding some way to free ourselves from being consumed by ourself.
So what’s the solution?
In short, there aren’t any easy solutions. Life doesn’t come as easily solved problems, and your life is different to mine. But here’s a few pointers that I’ve been mulling over on all three – why not leave a comment with your thoughts or what you’ve found to work?
Find your rhythms. Humans seem to be built for tradition and rhythm, over chaos. Whether that’s doing all your emails at one point in a day, or only letting internet messages/apps have your attention at certain points, or reading up on your travels weeks/months before you go – find a monthly, weekly and daily rhythm that suits you.
Find something that motivates you, without consuming you. You’ll never sort the problem of being a finite being with finite time and energy. The world is some ways, is not your oyster. A small part of it may be. But nor do we want to just give up on desiring travel, just because we can’t have it all. Somehow we’ll need something in our worldview which will stop us hurting when we don’t see everything, and will so give us perspective, that we’ll not be consumed by our desires, yet will still take great interest in life and the world.
Find something bigger in life. For a secular person, it might be daily reminding yourself of how small you are as a human in history and science, which will lower your expectations that the world should revolve round you and fulfil you in every way – why ought that be the case? For a spiritual person it might be meditating daily on something higher. Neither particularly explain why we feel so bitter and so robbed when major catastrophes strike our lives, but they at least put problems and desire in perspective a bit more.
And how does this look in practice for me?
Well, in worshipping an infinite God, I find something bigger to give me perspective. My problems are dwarfed by His big-ness and ability to solve them.
In having a personal God who comes close in the person of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ, I find one who honours my humanity, and crafts it uniquely and individually. His big-ness doesn’t lose my humanity.
In worshipping a creator God, who calls us to enjoy His creation, I’m given an appetite to roam and enjoy all things (in their place).
In living in a world described as broken, that ought to be better, I set my expectations accordingly, for suffering, for being broken, for not always being fulfilled.
In being made for an infinite New Heavens and New earth, I know that I don’t have to be consumed by my travels here in the old order.
And in being made in God’s likeness, we’ve been given rhythms to heed. Daylight to enjoy. Darkness to rest in. 6 days to work, 1 to rest in.
So today I stop, to meet with God’s people, to enjoy spending time meditating on His character and words, and to do things that I wouldn’t normally do on other days in the week. It’s a rhythm that worked for me in the middle of important exams, when I’ve been most under pressure at work, and even as I travel. It may be counter-intuitive, but it sure is effective, and I’m glad I didn’t need to invent it or keep it in balance myself.
The two things that pub conversations usually bring up quite quickly with folk who are getting to know me and seeing where I stand on things as a Christian, are whether I know my religious festivals, saints, or other-things-very-religious-people-talk-about, and whether I am as old-fashioned, naive and conservative as they think religious people are.
And once more this week it was true. A German man was slightly shocked I didn’t know his country’s public holidays, which are largely religious festivals. Similarly I still remember the shame of my primary five school teacher as she publicly derided me at the age of 8 for not being able to say the “Our Father” word for word accurately in the translation of the English Bible she had chosen.
Some day, for the sake of loving my friends who value some church’s carefully selected days and Saints, I may sit down and learn them but for now, I’ll happily praise God each day for those who’ve gone before me, both religious and not, who have made this world a better place. (Thus this post was highly unusual and a delightfully “ecumenical matter, Father”)
Whether I am old-fashioned, naive and as conservative as you think religious people are, I’ll leave for you to find out in person. But for now just one more comment that often gets thrown my way:
“Peter, wouldn’t you just love to go to Israel?”
To which, strangely for once, isn’t anything to do with them stereotyping Christians as a right-wing, Israel-supporting (DUP?) people, and more a genuine question that they think I’ll jump at.
“Oh Israel, the land where my God walked! I’d love to go!”
^The line I’ve never said.
And as many Christians run off left, right and centre to go there, why am I not so keen?
Well in all honesty from what I’ve heard from many others, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Lots of guesswork on where exact (fairly unimportant) things were, and for the things that are known, lots of tourist money to be had. And for what reason? To get a feel and experience of where Biblical characters lived and walked. For me, I feel like I’ve had enough theological training and experiences in middle eastern like cultures, that I don’t think I’d come back with any paradigm shift in understanding or experience, but perhaps that’s just my arrogance or naivety.
But more what I was fascinated to know, was that several of my new believing friends were off there to get baptised. To be baptised in the same waters/place that Christ was baptised (they think). To which baffles me given:
they have largely been baptised already in a faithful Irish church
the people who are baptising them have no clue who they are, or whether their profession of faith is genuine or not
baptism is surely a sign of baptism into something…The Church, and so having it isolated from such a local expression of church (elders, deacons, those who will be “one-anothering” each other in future etc), seems bizarre to me
to do another baptism for the experience of it, makes a mockery of the real thing, which is sufficient and which is there as a lifetime reminder of God’s covenantal love to His (unfaithful) people.
Instead of chasing another spiritual experience like a second baptism, I hope we can:
enjoy committing to our own church, and letting them enjoy our unity in Christ, reflected in baptism, even when it seems less glamorous. Why not even try chatting with them on why you feel like being baptised again?
see how you can avail of the spiritual gift of baptism to us, by improving on your baptism! (Now there’s language I don’t often hear used about baptism!) As the authors of the above (linked) post remind us, baptism is not just a cannon that was fired once in life and then sits there rusting as a relic of the past.
So for now, apologies to those who still really want to go to Israel – let me not stop you in that! But when you’re there, please don’t be persuaded that you’ll be more spiritual if you practice certain things over there.
Sing loudly? Get agitated by other drivers? Listen to drivel (and useful things) on the radio or podcasts?
Recently I’ve been encouraged to be part of a movement to memorise chunks of the Bible (more about this later). Someone suggested learning it as they drive. I struggle to do that well (and the Gards have interesting thoughts on verses on the dashboard too), but I do find the hours per week I do of driving, extremely useful time to pray.
Driving has the beauty of being phonefree (largely) apart from taking phonecalls through the speaker system, so there’s no messages to check and no scrolling newsfeeds.
So how can we use our travel time well as we commute or travel longer distances?
Well it’s one of my favourite undistracted times to pray. Get too many prayer updates into your inbox to read and pray through immediately? Well, I like to be honest with those I support, and yet still to pray. If they’re long I print them, but if not, I take five minutes to recap them before I start my journey and then have a few hours praying for them and whoever else is on my mind.
It’s surprising how unhurried the journey becomes, how hard it is to get annoyed with other drivers, and how refreshing car journeys can then be. Sometimes things I see out the window (junctions of a road that lead to churches, beauty and brokenness of the world, evocative things in my personal experience etc) stir a heart to pray for things. Not that it always works. Sometimes distractions and thought patterns still consume. Other times, I haven’t had time to read through updates again, and I’m just hoping I can remember what to pray for various folk.
So why not give it a go?
Do you make a regular journey by car, public transport or foot? Why not start each journey this week with 5 minutes of thankful prayer. Perhaps next week you can add things that are on your heart, and week the after some requests of those mission partners you prayerfully support across the world. And if you’re short of those, you’re welcome to drop me a line and I can suggest a few that will excite you with what God is doing in this world!
Someone who paints a far better, more persuasive picture than I do is Glynn Harrison in his book about sexuality “A better story”.
Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:
As I recently made a reading list of what books I’d read in the last 7 years, I noticed a distinct lack of eschatology (end times) on it. And by that, I don’t just mean end times debates about what will happen, but heart-warming thinking and meditating upon the new heavens and the new earth. And that’s all the worse for me – I’m missing out. So often I get lost in philosophising over what I don’t know, or getting angry and arguing about what precise end-times view someone holds, instead of marvelling at what is to come. It’s where I’ve found Nancy Guthrie’s latest book “Even better than Eden” to be a wonderful start.
Feedback from readers on the chapter:
Interestingly this chapter contains the most shared quotation so far: that “Christian culture” should not be our goal – making ourselves comfortable in our own societies (pg. 132). Here’s one example of a review that spoke of it. I find it fascinating that this should be something that the generation of travellers would be passionate about. So why do you think that is?
From living amongst them, and from my own heart, it’s obvious that the culture they react against is the over-politicised, right-wing conservatism, that cares a lot for enforcing “moral laws” (think: abortion, drugs, sexuality, gender etc) but are not as evidently mixing and mingling with, and helping those they are perceived to be campaigning against (often they are not campaigning against them at all, but their lack of engagement on the ground makes it appear that way and implicitly speaks volumes).
And whilst the traveller’s critique is often a fair one, I do wonder whether our own travelling culture needs also challenged here – as we sit creating our own conservative culture in hipster coffee shops, lauding our travel stories to each other from craft-brewing pubs, and going out of our way to know everything about what everyone is doing via social media, without engaging with them. The result, is arguably not much different, in terms of engaging meaningfully with people. Perhaps slightly less influence on national laws, and slightly less public square bitterness towards Christendom. But if we can expect that simply by sitting quietly drinking lattes and engaging positively with the world’s best sights, coffee and news headlines, will win the next generation to Christ, we will be sorely disappointed.
Does living “dead” to self mean Flight-free-travel? I wrote a ‘starter’ about the environment here and would love to have included more on this relevant topic, but for space (and lack of expertise), it was rightly given the axe. I’m not yet convinced that personal responsibility of carbon cutting by not flying, is a significant enough thing to stop me visiting my family, or other gospel callings. You can convince me otherwise – I’m open!
Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:
One helpful resource that shaped my thinking on this chapter was the Assemblies of God (USA) resource “The LiveDead Journal“. Made by Dick Brogden and team, this helpful devotional journal seeks to shape our hearts into a attitude of worship, even when that is hard. I have copies I’m willing to post to those in UK/Ireland, or for those in America, it’s easily orderable.
Feedback from readers on the chapter:
“You need to set higher standards of sacrifice Peter. Where you have thrived in your life is sacrificial living but you need to call others explicitly to that. No books are written anymore about sacrifice after your IFES predecessor Howard Guinness wrote his. Why did you not say more about what living dead looks like? You’ve only touched on the basics.” (Reader in Belfast)
The trouble with writing a book about sacrifice on any topic, is that no-one picks up a book on travel, to be told not to travel. Similarly with enjoying any of God’s good gifts to us. But asides from that (which hopefully would not have stopped me), the article I linked to above contains a few reasons I’m nervous about delving far more into what sacrifice should explicitly look like in your life and mine but I might summarise why I didn’t say more in 3 ways:
The Scriptures only say so much. General principles give radical calls to us to sacrifice, but often leave things to be worked out in our own context.
Your life is different to mine – what might be sacrificial to me, may not be anything to someone else. My culture, socio-economic class, language, physical ability, mental capacity and personality will all play into this (though are also often used as excuses to neglect thinking through an area).
We must primarily bathe ourselves in the good news of our Lord Jesus, and who He is – otherwise strict and continual calls for sacrifice will wear us out quickly, point more towards ourselves than to Him, and rob us of a gospel that makes us feel like His yoke is easy and burden is light. The hard thing, is that this “higher life theology” might still be using “Jesus” language.
Someone once said to me, that you can tell what people take away from what you’ve taught, by what (or whether) they pray afterwards. I think that’s been so helpful to me as I’ve led Bible studies and given talks. Similarly, when I get people on both extremes of a spectrum complaining, I realise that I’m probably at a healthy middle-ground, of holding the tensions of scripture (though not always, of course).
My prayer is that at the end of this book (assuming you’re not too overwhelmed by the challenge, to get to the end of the book!), you’ll be overflowing with an awareness of God’s good character in different ways, that will make us all willing to grow in our Christ-like response to Him.
For those who are keen on travel being mission-centred, I’ve written a 5 part series of posts here, of which many have been reading and responding to recently. I warn you, they go slightly deeper than most, and may take a few minutes to read, particularly when you see the Venn diagram!
Travel in the New Testament (some of the loose thoughts that the book derived from):
Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:
I mention “Identification, Persuasion and Invitation” in the chapter, and here are some resources that further expand on that. Well worth listening to over the next while – these principles have shaped me enormously in life.
Feedback from readers on the chapter:
Amidst many positive things that you’ve said, your questions mean I must admit that I haven’t been to Vanuatu. Nor a few other places in the book (I tell stories of the friends I mention). Perhaps editing may make it seem like I was in all these places, but for the sake of clarity, I should say this now – not that it affects anything in the book! This chapter originally started with a story of my sister and her husband (from Vanuatu) but was later removed to make the chapter more digestible.
Home: a topic that so much more could be said about, albeit a sub-theme of the chapter’s main aim of taking us through the Old Testament. Here’s one way a university in England got people engaging on the topic with talks and free lunches on the theme all week (see video below), but I’d love to hear your thoughts on “home” too:
Feedback from readers on the chapter:
Another thing that travel got some of us thinking about:
Pilgrimage: It’s the one thing you may have noticed a distinct lack of round here. Ha – there’s an evangelical Christian for you? But as I say in my book’s introduction, that’s not because I fear it, or think it isn’t an “evangelical” thing to do. No, far from it. It’s simply because many before me have written on it far better than I could, and the engagement of faith with pilgrimages is already a massive thing across the world.
But as all the hype around my book launches dies down and I get back to normal life, I was sent a recommendation by a mentor back home to pick up this one and give it a read. I was initially sceptical, knowing nothing of either the author or the book, but I’ve found it a rich treasure trove of scriptural meditations, thought-provoking statements and marvelous quotations!
Rev David Cupples set off on a Sabbatical to enjoy two of the Caminos in France and Spain and has collated his thoughts in this colourful guide for anyone contemplating pilgrimage. Noting that no-one he met in his weeks of walking ever had the original purposes of traversing to the remains of ancient “saints”, he not only leads us in beautiful worship and practical tips, but also adds helpful commentary to many who go on pilgrimage.
For those taking their time and mulling over this as a devotional or as they travel, the added feature of a song for every day is added at the end of the page, alongside the large chunk of scripture and extensive topical thought. There’s just shy of 90 days worth of devotional material in here, and all of it is immensely stimulating and helpful for worship, even if you don’t agree with every single one (I could imagine some wouldn’t agree with David on the extent to which we can hear God and be led by him audibly speaking outside scripture, our conscience and creation).
Regardless whether you call it pilgrimage or not, walking such paths deserve our engagement as evangelicals, partly because so many of us undervalue how much experience shapes us, partly because (as Desi Maxwell recently highlighted at a travel symposium I spoke at) the Bible is such an outdoors book, and partly because we go walking anyway, so why not make it as intentional as this author is? David will surprise you and warm your heart whatever background you come from.
I’ve already ordered a few extra copies and sent them off across the globe to folks who love to pilgrimage and walk in this way, as its an excellent resource, regardless of whether you’re mulling over what is spiritually real for the first time, or whether you’re a seasoned Christian used to rich theology. You can order them from David directly at firstname.lastname@example.org