While Priscilla and I were away on vacation last month, an interesting thing happened to us and had me pondering. Several times throughout our 4,800 mile trip, we used our phones to find maps of the area where we were and to get directions to our next destination. On one occasion, we wanted to go see Niagara Falls, so we typed in that destination and up came a map to lead us there. It took us from Syracuse west on I-90, through Buffalo and then up I-190 over the Niagara River a couple of times and closer to the town of Niagara Falls. As we got into the town and closer to the Falls itself, for some reason, the names of the streets didn’t show up on our map. Consequently, we didn’t know exactly where to turn. Also as we got closer to our intended destination, we saw several ‘official’ looking sites for all things Niagara. There was an “Official Welcome Station” and a “Gateway to the Falls” which in reality obscured our view of where we wanted to go. We naively thought that we might quickly drive by the Falls and see them from a distance.
With the malfunction of the map, we knew we were close to the Falls, but we didn’t exactly know how to travel the last 200 yards!! If we had continued on with the flow of traffic, we would have come to a crossing into Canada (which we want to do some day). Not knowing which way to go, we finally pulled into a parking lot which seemed closest to the Falls. Later we learned that the state had a lot for parking at the Niagara Falls State Park. This makes sense, but we didn’t figure it out at the time! That lot and the state park were just behind the lot where we parked. Parking where we did, the Falls were obscured by a 4-5 story building with a “Gateway to the Falls” sign on it. The “Gateway” sign was on the opposite side from the Falls. Clearly the intent of the proprietors was to have visitors come through their building on the way to the Falls and thus be able to sell them food and souvenirs. I would add that to me they were cheap souvenirs.
Once we got past the touristy foods and t-shirts and shuttles, we came to the state park. Soon we were walking down to get a view of the Falls and as we approached the site, we could hear the roar of the water rushing over the edge. At last, we beheld the water and could sense in some slight way the power, majesty and magnitude of the water rushing over the cliff. It was indeed an impressive and dangerous sight to observe 70,000 gallons of water a second going over the edge.
As we observed the Falls from several different angles that comfortable afternoon in early July, it dawned on me that oftentimes our relationship with God is like our trip to see the Falls. We start out on our journey to know God and we have good intentions about getting there. We even have clues about how to get there (prayer, study, reflection) and we have a road map in the Bible. Or we pursue a relationship with God and think we know where we can find God. We use familiar prayers or meditate in similar ways, but sometimes God is not where we think God is. At other times, we are focused on getting where we want. We have a goal in mind. We know where to find God and connect with God, but there are obstacles before us. When we find our way to God, we know that we will discover something wonderful and awe inspiring, but there are plenty of things that block our way. Those obstacles are like the “Official Welcoming Station”, the “Gateway to the Falls”, and the countless parking lots – all of which wave signs and clamor for you to come and park. In essence, each obstacle is marketing itself, selling itself to get your attention – to deter you from your actual goal. They may even think that they are trying to help!
As we continue to pursue a relationship with our Lord and Savior and make every effort to cultivate that relationship, let us not be deterred by all of the glitzy, attention grabbing distractions along life’s way. To borrow a line from the apostle Paul, let us press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14) of seeking God and striving for a greater understanding of his love and grace poured out on us all.
– Pastor Bill