We are not sure when or even how it happens. One set of eyes peers out into the inviting blue sky. Muscles ignite. Wings stretch. Lift is generated. The Arctic Tern begins her climb. She is the first but not the last. Another sees her flight and follows suit. A chain reaction has been put into place. Domino after domino fall until finally the last Arctic Tern stretches forth its wings and reaches for the sky.
What has been put into place is the longest migration observed on planet Earth. These modest birds will travel roughly 49,700 miles over the course of the next year. This means that “over a tern's lifetime of up to 34 years, the migrations add up to about 2.4 million km [1,491,290 miles] — equivalent to three return trips to the Moon or a dizzying 60 times around the Earth” (Doyle, 2010).
The vast majority of the Arctic Tern’s life is spent in migration. As a whole, they spend countless hours flying — searching. They circle the globe and are constantly on a journey to the next stop. Every nest, very place of rest, is just another pit stop on a journey that seems to never end.
As a Christian, I can relate to the Arctic Tern’s life on the move. “This world is not my home. I'm just a-passing through” as the old song says. As Paul reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20, English Standard Version). We are on a journey in this life towards another life.
Much like the small bird, our entire lives are set with eyes fixed on a destination that is not here and now. We find ourselves in this world but not truly members of this world (John 17:16). However, within the context of our journey towards a destination that is laid up “somewhere beyond the blue,” it is interesting to note how much time we spend looking around — comparing ourselves to those around us.
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At the beginning of this year, I had the opportunity to spend some time talking to a great elder in my life. He told me about when he was young in ministry and the struggles he had watching all of his friends become pastors, evangelists, missionaries… while he sat in a little nowhere town helping his father-in-law grow a church.
He mentioned the numerous times he would take this to the Lord in prayer. Each morning asking that God would anoint him and open doors in his ministry. Prayer after prayer. Day after day. All the while he continued to be faithful where he was at and do the work of the Lord in what he had been given.
Years would go by, and eventually, he was invited to preach at a conference near where he lived. He preached and the Holy Spirit moved in the room — many were touched. At the conclusion of the service an elder approached him and asked him where he learned to preach like that. “I’ve always preached this way,” this man of God said. The esteemed elder looked at him and told him that there are many, many good preachers, but the anointing he had that night when preaching was something different — something special.
His eyes began to well up as he looked at me, “Zac, I firmly believe that all the hours I have spent in prayer solely seeking God have produced the anointing I have been blessed with. But, it took me years to realize that God’s anointing and plan for my life are different from my peers. Don’t get stuck chasing another man’s anointing and neglecting your own.”
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Social media has this exceptional ability to be both absolutely encouraging and helpful, while at the same point remarkably demoralizing. Scrolling through a feed on a single day you can at once be impacted by the transparent post of a friend and depressed to see yet another friend living the life you think you should have. Maybe it’s a wedding day, baby shower, a new job, a new home, or a new car. Maybe they are preaching their twentieth revival in the same amount of weeks, or maybe they are going on that missions trip you wanted to go on so badly. Comparison is a deadly game that we play.
Envy, as a Biblical vice, is all too dangerous in our highlight reel social timelines. At its most foundational element, envy grows from a sense of comparative self-value wherein love becomes convoluted and self-destructive (DeYoung, 2009, p. 46, 51, 53). Once again, envy grows within comparative self-value, meaning that the self-worth we have ascribed to ourselves is correlational to how we see ourselves within our social network.
There is nothing wrong with aspirations and desiring to be the greatest you can be. I began this year by listing seven specific goals that I desire to accomplish — dream big. However, if we are not careful, aspirations can warp to envy wherein we devalue ourselves to such a level that we seek to tear down the accomplishments of others while accomplishing nothing ourselves.
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Let’s take all these loose ends and begin to tie them together. At the beginning of our discussion, we talked about the tenacious Arctic Tern who travels some 50,000 miles a year. The mass migration is incredible. However, do you think the birds at the tail of the pack strain their wings to catch up to those in the front? Does the front bird soar with beaming pride that all the other birds are in active pursuit of him? When that final bird touches down at the destination, does it shuffle over to the marginal fringe of the flock — defeated and broken?
Migration is not a race — its a journey. Ministry is not a race — its a journey. I am privileged to have numerous friends in all different areas and seasons of ministry from my own. We must be real with ourselves that there will always be someone doing what you wish you were doing. As the elder in my life noted, we will always have friends and peers that seem to be outpacing our own lives and ministries. The point, however, is not position in the pack but arrival at the destination. Our fast-paced world places so much pressure on us to hurry towards the destination. Alan Fadling (2013) reminds us, “Hurry rushes toward the destination and fails to enjoy the journey.”
Do not allow your perceived stagnation to hinder your pursuit of the destination. It is quite ironic at times we romanticize the lives of others while failing to see the problems and circumstances that rest behind the curtain of their lives. We compare our struggles to their perceived success. Remember, there are numerous individuals out there who would gladly take what you have been given.
Life viewed through our rose tinted glasses, we flourish at finding all we do not have and neglect what God has given us. “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use” (Soren Kierkegaard). Our consumer driven society makes this pursuit extremely difficult. Each and every day we are bombarded with an onslaught of commercials and advertisements praising what we do not have. Today, try to make a proactive effect to cherish what you have been given.
Lately, I have seen an uptick in discussion about waiting for God and waiting for the right time and waiting for the promise. Now, I’m not undermining the point at all. In fact, I believe there is significance to the discussion of using wisdom to wait to discern God’s perfect will and timing in our lives (Psalm 27:14; Isaiah 40:31). John Milton beautifully summed up the wait by saying, “They also serve who only stand and wait” (On His Blindness). Sometimes God’s providence truly means standing, waiting ceasing to move forward until the path ahead is clear.
However, what if you are not waiting in life? What if your road to the destination is just longer? It is nice to talk about waiting, but if my destination is to get to New York City and my neighbor’s destination is the Wal-Mart down the street, he’s going to be there and home hours before I ever even get out of the state. Great destinations often require longer journeys. Please, do not confuse the wait with the journey.
It is true that we can face the struggle of looking at the lives of our friends who seem to be skyrocketing, while our launchpad has yet to even begin construction. From a distance, their lives appear to entail all we are hoping or longing for in our own lives. Remember, though, their journey is not your journey. The route that God has for my life and the route God has for your life are not the same.
Moses had to spend forty years roaming around the blindside of the desert before he was prepared to go back to the palace that he was raised in — can you imagine his cognitive battle? His brothers were literally being groomed to be the next leaders of the greatest empire in the world, and he was wasting the best years of his life caring for his father-in-law’s sheep (Exodus 2-3).
Comparison is a deadly game. It is not always easy, but the question we must truly face is not whether we are living up to the social position of our friends, but if we are living up to ourselves? Are you taking active strides today to be the person you want to be tomorrow? Are you seeking God’s providence and will for your life?
Regardless of social class or perceived accomplishments, at the end of the day, our journey is towards a destination. Personally, I do not care if I am the last person on this planet to walk through those gates.
“Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away”
(Albert E. Brumley, I’ll Fly Alway).
DeYoung, R. K. (2009). Glittering vices: A new look at the seven deadly sins and their remedies. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.
Doyle, A. (2010, January 11). Arctic terns' flying feat: same as 3 trips to Moon. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-terns-idUSTRE60A4NV20100111
Fadling, A. (2013). An unhurried life: following Jesus' rhythms of work and rest. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books.