I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I do a lot of writing while walking on the treadmill in my basement. It’s safe to say that many of the sermons I’ve preached over the years were tapped into existence at an average of about four miles per hour on a slight incline. I can do this because I built myself a keyboard tray that attaches to the treadmill. It’s not pretty, but it works.
I suppose the “how” to this strange scene is far less interesting than the “why.”
In short, I’m the last person on the planet who’d ever want to walk but not actually go anywhere. The idea of a treadmill has always seemed ridiculous to me. The fact that I’m getting some much-needed exercise doesn’t placate the mood. Listening to my favorite music doesn’t, either. Neither does watching TV. I’ve always felt that if I’m going to be in motion, I’d better have something to show for it when I’m done.
This comes to mind because of a quotation I just read from Ernest Hemingway. He warned, “Never mistake motion for action.” Hemingway said these words to his friend, A. E. Hotchner, as they traveled together. It would seem Hemingway’s point was to say that, in general, motion happens no matter what. Things move. Action, on the other hand, is intentional. It involves an element of desire, of willing engagement. It employs the science of motion to accomplish a goal. Perhaps in Hemingway’s case, being the adventurer he was, it’s one thing to go wandering through the woods looking at the trees. It’s something altogether different to go hiking, stop at a tree, and climb it to get a better look at the whole forest.
If I’m going to be in motion, I prefer that something be accomplished. And so, I write while I wander stationarily. I hike through my mental forest. I find a tree and climb it to get a better view. When I do, I often discover something I didn’t know before.
In a way, I’m up one of those trees right now. Up here, I can see there’s also a bit of backward truth to this thought concerning action that leads to accomplishment. The fellowship of sinful humanity moves endlessly forward in search of accomplishment. It’s constantly doing and making and executing, much of it aimed at this or that end goal. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with desiring to achieve. As human beings, each of us is wired to do this at one level or another. And yet, in a spiritual sense—the realest sense—we’re all in motion toward accomplishing one final thing: death. Except this accomplishment is the result of another power’s deliberate motion. When it acts on us and carries us away in its undertow, we discover just how impotent we are for accomplishing or producing anything that can stop it. We come face to face with the realization that everything we’ve achieved in this life—all of our tangible accomplishments while walking on life’s treadmill—stay here.
Our house? It stays. Our money? It stays. Our favorite things? They stay.
This might sound somewhat depressing, but please don’t take it that way. Instead, climb up this tree with me. You’ll discover a better context—a better view—of something else.
I also read the text of Revelation 14:13 this morning. At first glance, it seems contrary to what I just wrote. In it, the Apostle John scribbles obediently, “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’”
These words arrive after three separate announcements from three different angels. The first angel promises that the Gospel will never be overcome (vv. 6-7). The second announces God’s final judgment against His enemies, all of whom are consolidated into the title “Babylon the Great.” The angel continues by calling Babylon the Great the one “who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” (v. 8). The third angel announces the terrible punishment awaiting those who worshipped at her altar, describing them as being given “the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger….” The angel says this torrential rage will pour down on the accursed while Christ and all of heaven watch (vv. 9-11).
But then we arrive at verses 12 and 13. In 12, John announces the endurance of the saints “who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” What are they enduring? It’s already been described earlier in the book. Great suffering. Terrible persecution. Cruel martyrdom. Verse 13 caps the entire discussion. Where the angels were formerly speaking, now God speaks for Himself. He booms through all creation the eternal rest to be had by those who believed in Christ while walking life’s treadmill. Their walking wasn’t for nothing. Death did not suddenly snuff out their endeavors. Their deeds followed them. Which deeds? The faithful and productive deeds born from the greatest deed of faith—the chief deed worked by the power of the Holy Spirit through the unconquerable Gospel that produces all other deeds deemed blessed by God. These deeds didn’t save the ones performing them. The text says the deeds followed the believers.
I imagine this “following” will be along the lines of high-fives from Christ and His angels, moments in heaven when they’ll say something like, “Hey Chris, remember when that woman in Washington D.C. spit on you just because she knew you were a pastor by your clerical, and then she couldn’t believe it when you turned to share the Gospel with her? Yeah, we saw that. That was great.”
Another thought directly relative to this one is the peaceful assurance God gives us right now on the treadmill. We don’t have to wait until death to enjoy the rest God proclaims. Yes, the Church on earth—the Church Militant—is an endeavor in perpetual motion. And yet, while the nations rage around us, our faithful God whispers to His own with an earth-shattering tenderness, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). By the power of the Holy Spirit for faith, He nudges us to stop what we’re doing to take a few notes. He points to Moses as he shouts by divine inspiration to the frightened Israelites facing certain death at the mouth of the Red Sea, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent (Exodus 14:13-14).” Following an election in which it certainly seems like Babylon the Great won the day, God pumps the brakes, bringing our motion-filled life to a halt to hear His Psalmist say, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices” (Psalm 37:7).
We stop and ponder this. And then we get moving again. We get back into action, sometimes at four miles per hour, sometimes at what feels like the speed of sound. But always at a slight incline, always uphill. The fight of faith ends when we do.
Until then, we endure. We remain faithful (Matthew 24:13). We do this knowing God has everything well in hand. The One who began and achieved the greatest accomplishment in us—the deed of trust in the Son of God, Jesus Christ—will bring that work to its final completion (Philippians 1:6). It will follow believers into eternal life. As it does, there may even be a few high fives here and there to enjoy—maybe even one from a woman who spat on you but was later changed by the same powerful Gospel that took you from being God’s enemy to being one of His friends.