While in Australia, Usha and I were able to go for long walks regularly along the beach. Strolling along the waters edge on the warm white sand early in the morning was really very relaxing and peaceful.
As we walked one particular morning I was intrigued by the many different sets of footprints left in the sand by others who had gone before us. As far as the eye could see there were hundreds of footprints trailing into the distance; all of different sizes, shapes and patterns. Some were clearly barefoot prints revealing the outline of every toe; others were flat prints probably made from flip flips, whilst others bore the strong imprint of a trainer or running shoe. Some indents had a long pace in between them and others much shorter distance. Some were big heavy indents in the sand and others were much more petit and lighter, barely scuffing the surface of the smooth flat surface. Some trails were straight and others were curvy and irregular. Some footprints pointed outward, some inward each according to an individual’s gait. The point is this; everyone who walked the beach that day was on their own unique journey and each created a walking pattern that was distinct to them. As I passed by each print was now just a memorial to where someone had trodden in the past, but at the moment they were created they were formative and fresh, forging a new and unique journey!
As we walked further I started to put my foot into the tracks to see if I could copy them, you know like we all did when we were kids! Interestingly I had to adjust my own stride pattern in order to fit into theirs. In fact for some tracks it was quite awkward and unnatural to try and walk the exact same manner that they did. The reason for this of course is clear; it wasn’t my journey I was walking. It was someone else’s! The footprints were a natural consequence of their journey not mine.
That’s exactly what we all have before us every day. Each one of our lives is like an uncharted and untouched beach that God has given us to enjoy, and he invites us to create our own foot tracks. Your journey and your tracks are unique; so don’t try to fit into someone else’s. It will not only be unnatural and uncomfortable for you, but you will have to focus on mimicking another’s journey rather than enjoying your own. An old Yiddish proverb says ‘if I try to be like him who will be like me.” If we all try to be like someone else we give up our God-given individuality and miss out on what God has tailor made for us.
The temptation can be strong. Particularly if we perceive success in another; a success that we want for ourselves. Yet the bible says we are ‘new creations’ (1 Cor 5:17) not clones of one another. The word ‘new’ incorporates the whole idea of uniqueness and differentness. One of the greatest tragedies for me is a Christian’s who just do not believe God has a plan that is tailor made and unique for them. They are always trying to copy others. In Ps 139 we are told that we are all individually hand crafted by God in our mothers womb. The Psalmist goes on to say that ‘all the days ordained for us were written before any one of them came into being.’ If God has a unique diary planned out for your life, why are you following someone else’s?
I remember when Usha and I first came to Woodford, a well-meaning person in the church at the time said to me “you know you have some big shoes to step into.” Normally I am quite acquiescent in these situations and just smile politely, but on this occasion I felt I needed to make something clear. “Sorry” I said gently but firmly “I have come with my own shoes and I won’t need to wear anyone else’s.”
This is not only true for individuals but for churches also. Don’t get me wrong; there are some great churches around of all different styles, flavours and models. There is much we can learn from the journey of other churches but we must never make the mistake of cloning ourselves on them. It is their journey not ours! For example, ‘Hillsong Church’ is an excellent model of church; for Hillsong!! What I find disturbing is that there are so many other churches striving to be like just like them. I am not talking about resonating with their values, vision or principles, which is healthy and helpful; I mean copying everything they do and in the style they do it! What this means sadly is that their resources, priorities, energy and vision are all channelled into making them like Hillsong rather than what God wants them to be. (I am not knocking Hillsong of course, its just an example)
In modern church circles we have slipped into the language of ‘successful’ church, and worse still we pursue models that are perceived so. I know what people mean by this but I’m not sure it actually exists. The bible uses the language of ‘faithfulness’ rather than success, and that sits much more comfortably with me. My primary desire is for Bridge Church to be faithful. Faithful to what? To the unique footprint that God has invited us to create with our own church journey. Whether or not that brings any trace of what is perceived as ‘success’, that is not our concern.
How’s this for an oxymoron; the one thing in which are all the same, is that we are all different. Whether it’s as an individual or a church let’s not sell out our own uniqueness for a photocopy of someone else’s journey. Instead, why not explore untouched parts of the beach. Celebrate your unique opportunity to make fresh footprints in the sand and see where it leads.