The summer I worked in Yellowstone National Park was when I first started to do a lot of hiking. My friends who go hiking with me will tell you is that I am a destination hiker. I like to hike to places where there is something to see or do, like waterfalls or the top of mountains, and when I start hiking I just push until we get there. While I am a destination hiker, many of my friends are not. They love to hike for the simple joy of hiking. They like to look at the plants and flowers and rocks and trees all along the way. They take the time to look at everything around them because they love the trail and the journey – I like the destination.
This leads me to believe that there are fundamentally two kinds of people in the world. People who are fixed on the destination and people who love the journey. There is the person who sets out on a vacation with their family and pushes to drive 600 miles in a day so they can get to where they are going and then there is the one who suggests stopping at every tourist attraction along the way. On family vacations are you the destination person pushing to get to the end or are you the one who wants to stop because every rest area or road side attraction looks so inviting? For a good vacation, we actually need both types of people. Those who want to stop at every attraction and rest area need the destination person to help them get to where they are going but the person who loves the journey can help people like me slow down.
On the trail, many of my friends have helped me slow down which means that I have been able to see more wildlife and wildflowers than I would have otherwise. I have learned to appreciate the journey and not just focus on the destination. This is not just a good lesson for vacations, it is a good lesson for life. As important as it is to have clear goals that move us forward and as important as it is to have a clear vision of where we are going in life, we must also pay attention to all God has for us along the way. If we are only focused on the destination, we may miss the lessons or the blessings or the opportunities God has for us. Rest stops are important because it is often those times that we are able to really listen, learn and love.
In the Old Testament, the ultimate journey we read about is the one Israel made out of Egypt. After living as slaves in Egypt for generations, God sent Moses to lead the people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. In many ways the people were focused on their destination because they were told it was a good land that flowed with milk and honey so they were anxious to get there, but there were some important rest stops they needed to make along the way and one of those was at Mt. Sinai.
Not long after the people of God had crossed the Red Sea and escaped from the army of Pharaoh, they arrived at Mt. Sinai. Exodus 19:1-9. God had planned this stop so he could give his people instructions on what it meant to actually be His people. Israel had lived in a foreign land and been away from God for generations and they didn’t know how to order their lives around God’s will and purpose so this rest stop was an opportunity for them to learn more about God so they could follow God’s ways.
God said he would bless and care for his people if they followed him but they didn’t know what it meant to follow God so while they were stopped at Mt. Sinai, God gave the 10 Commandments. It was these commandments that helped the people understand what it meant to truly love God and what it was going to look like to love others which is how God called them to live. Love for God meant worshipping only God and honoring God’s name and loving others was going to mean the people would honor marriage and family and respect others in the community by not stealing, lying or murdering others. This rest stop was an opportunity for the people of God to learn more so they could live more fully and faithfully.
Rest stops in life are important. They aren’t vacations and time away but opportunities God gives us to stop so we can learn more in order to live more fully and faithfully. Sometimes these rest stops are focused times of learning like when we go back to school or get retrained for a new job. For a destination person like me, taking three years to go to seminary was not easy, but it was what I needed to learn what God wanted from me.
Rest stops might be seasons of learning, but they also might be just slowing down where we are to make opportunities for growth. A rest stop might be adding a small group or bible study into our schedules. It might be taking a day off this week to attend the Leadership Summit or even just stopping in one afternoon to see what it is all about. Rest stops are important opportunities for us to learn – but only if will take them. As you plan the rest of this summer and look to the fall I encourage you to consider a rest stop to learn and grow in faith and in life.
Jesus also took some rest stops on his final journey to Jerusalem. About half way through the gospels we begin to hear about Jesus making his way to Jerusalem. Jesus was going there on a mission – which was to give his life on the cross and his determination was clear but as important as this destination was for Jesus, he also understood the importance of rest stops along the way. For Jesus, these weren’t opportunities to learn but to listen and love.
In Luke 17:11 it says, Now on his way to Jerusalem… so Jesus has set his eyes and mind on his destination but almost immediately Jesus is stopped. 10 lepers cried out to Jesus for help. Luke 17:12-13. Jesus is faced with a decision. Does he keep going toward his destination or does he stop? Jesus understands that rest stops are important so he stops and listens and when they asked Jesus to heal them from their disease, he does. Jesus stopped and listened to needs of the people and he helped. I am convinced that God has many opportunities for us to help those in need if we would just take the time to stop and listen.
Jesus continued on his way to Jerusalem when people started bringing their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them to bless them. Once again, Jesus had a choice to make. Does he keep going to his destination or does he stop? Luke 18:16. This rest stop was important to Jesus because it gave him an opportunity to show people the unconditional love of God. God has all kinds of people for us to love if we would stop long enough to notice their presence in our lives.
Jesus then continues on his way – Luke 18:35-43. Jesus again could have kept going to his destination without stopping. He could have kept his eyes fixed on what was important to him but he didn’t, Jesus stopped and again was willing to listen to the cry of the people around him. It is often only when we stop that we are able to hear the cries of those in need around us and it is only when we stop that we can offer any kind of help.
Have you ever been so focused on a destination that you have failed to respond to those in need around you? It happens to all of us. While a student at MSU, a couple of friends and I were in downtown Lansing one Saturday afternoon and we were on our way to get some lunch when we passed an alley and saw a man picking through the dumpster. One friend and I just kept going on our way. We saw the situation but were focused on the destination –lunch, but our other friend stopped. She stopped and said, did you see him? We need to do something. We need to help him.
We pooled all our money and decided we could take him out to lunch so we went back, asked the man if we could buy him lunch and then took him to the only restaurant around for blocks – which just happened to be a pretty upscale place. So here were three college students having lunch with a homeless man we invited from the dumpster. I’m sure we made quite a site, but we were served graciously and we were able to bless that man with both food and compassion, but honestly, we got more out of it than he did. We were blessed and I learned once again that rest stops are important.
Jesus continued on his way to Jerusalem but there would be one more stop he could make. This time no one yelled for Jesus to stop and no one brought children to him, this time Jesus saw the man who needed the love of God and so he stopped. Luke 19:1-6.
This time Jesus chose to stop because he saw a man who needed love. Jesus chose to stop because he wanted to lift up a man who had made some poor choices in his life and needed to be saved. He wanted to bring someone hope and peace and new life. Jesus stopped on his way to Jerusalem and went to Zacchaeus’ home and ate with him and his friends which helped Zacchaeus feel valued and loved and it was this gift of grace and love that changed Zacchaeus’ life so that he chose to no longer cheat people but bless them. This final rest stop on Jesus’ way to Jerusalem not only blessed Zacchaeus but through Zacchaeus God was able to bless many others.
So twice Jesus stopped to listen and help those in need and twice he stopped to offer love and grace and each time Jesus stops he teaches us that rest stops are important. Rest stops are those opportunities God gives us to not only learn but to listen and to love and when we are willing to stop and help in any way, we will be blessed and God can use us to be a blessing. The key is to be willing to stop. We can’t be in such a hurry to get to our destination that we fail to take the time to stop. We need to take the time to stop and learn. We need to stop long enough to listen to family and friend and the cries of those in need around us and we need to stop long enough to reach out in love. Each time we stop we will be blessed and we will be a blessing.
So let me close with a blessing I received when I literally stopped a rest stop along I-81 in Bristol VA. For several years my family would take our winter vacation and visit my grandparents in TN. We would drive from CT and on our way home we always stopped at the rest area just inside the VA state line – Bristol VA. My senior year, the last trip I took along this road with my family, we stopped at this rest area and I had a habit of taking off my class ring when I would wash my hands and I left it on the sink. I didn’t realize this until we were almost home so there was no turning back to get it. My mom had me write and a letter and send it to the rest area. I figured, what could it hurt, so I did and several weeks later I got a little package in the mail with my class ring.
Now fast forward about 20 years and I am a pastor in PA I often took my vacation to the smoky mountains and drove down I -81. The first time I was able to stop at the rest area in Bristol VA I did and it was the first time I had been there since my senior year in High School. There was a big visitor’s center and help desk so I stopped and told my class ring story to the woman at the desk and told I just wanted to say thank you for an act of kindness many years earlier.
The woman kind of laughed and said, you’re welcome and then she said, you know… I was the person who mailed that back to you. I couldn’t believe it, but she said, I remember getting the letter because while we always found lost items we never got letters like yours and I remember packing the ring off and sending it to CT. I couldn’t believe that I was actually thanking the very person who had been kind enough to send me my ring. We talked for a little bit, amazed at how it all worked out and then the woman said, if you had come through here one week later, I wouldn’t be here because I am retiring. This is my last week of work. Again – I was stunned. God’s timing was perfect.
So I mean it when I say that rest stops are important. They are opportunities for us to learn, they are opportunities for us to listen and maybe help someone in need and they are opportunities for us to love and they are opportunities for us to be blessed. While the destination is important and clear goals and a compelling vision need to keep us always moving forward, let us always be open to God calling us to rest stops along the way – they are important.
Rest Stops are Important
Beyond needed bathroom breaks, rest stops are important because they provide needed opportunities to learn, listen and love.
1. Are you a destination traveler or do you love to stop all along the journey?
2. Read Exodus 19. This rest stop for Israel was an important time for the people to learn more about who God was and how God wanted them to live. Take time this week to review the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20. Which of these commandments needs to be the focus of your life today?
3. If we will stop, there are many places we can turn to learn more of who God is and how God wants us to live. Take time to learn in Sunday School, Bible Studies or the Global Leadership Summit this Thursday or Friday. Consider joining a small group this fall.
4. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped several times to listen and love. Read Luke 17-19. Take note of all the times Jesus stopped along the way.
5. Ask God to help you listen to those who are crying out in need around you. Listen to your family, community and world. How might God want you to respond to those in need?
6. Jesus stopped to love children and sinners. Who is currently in your life that God is asking you to stop and love? What does loving that person look like? How can you extend God’s love through service at our Blessing of the Backpacks?