April 01, 2005 | Fresh Start | Karl Haffner

I have done some very stupid things in my life.

Need an example? Very well.

I was in Porto Allegre, Brazil, when I decided to take an afternoon jog. I threw on some shorts, strapped up the sneakers and said to my friend, “I’ll be back in an hour or so.” I took to the streets, meandering through quiet neighborhoods and bustling business districts. Soaking in the sights, smells and sounds of a new culture, I reveled in my perfect life. Perfect, that is, until I tried to return to my hotel.

I took a left then a right—but nothing looked familiar. I wondered if I should have gone right then left. I searched for an hour. Two hours. Three hours. Worry paralyzed me since I had no identification, no money, no shirt, and no idea how to speak Portuguese.

A marathon later, I did something that does not come naturally to me as a guy—I asked for directions. “Excuse me sir, do you know where the hotel is that I am staying at?”

“Vut hotel ooo stay it?” he queried in broken English.

“How would I know,” I said, “you live here.”

He glared at me as if I were a few beans short of a stuffed burrito. Since I couldn’t remember the name of the hotel, nobody could help me.

It is a frightening and foolish thing to wander aimlessly. This is true in a personal sense (as I discovered in Brazil). It is also true in a spiritual sense (as you may have discovered in your life).

Nevertheless, some Christ-followers seem content to drift. They appear to have no direction, no goals, and consequently no growth when it comes to God. For them, faith is something that is stuck into a compartment labeled “church.” And most everything else—from buying Alicia Keys’ latest CD to landing a date with “blue eyes”—overshadows a focused craving for rich, spiritual growth.

The apostle Paul wastes no strokes in explaining that a flat, ho-hum pattern of spiritual growth is unacceptable for the fully devoted disciple of Christ. Instead, Paul urges believers to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, 16 RSV). Paul also describes how he felt the intense “pains of childbirth” until Christ would be formed in His followers (Galatians 4:19). Clearly, Christ longs to see His children grow into His likeness.

High in the Alps is a monument raised in honor of a faithful guide who perished while ascending a peak to rescue a stranded tourist. Inscribed on that memorial stone are these words: HE DIED CLIMBING. Similarly, a maturing, growing Christian should foster the same attitude, right up to the end of life. Every day should find us climbing always higher into the likeness and presence of God.

So keep climbing. Maybe for you that involves a faith adventure of planting a church. Perhaps it means stepping out of the insane, driven, success-addicted lifestyle of our culture. Or it could mean a renewed commitment to serving others.

Whatever you do, ask yourself this question: Am I more Christlike today than I was last year? Last month? Yesterday? If not, perhaps you are wandering aimlessly—which is a frightening and foolish thing to do.

I ought to know. After all, it took me six hours to (accidentally!) find my way back to my hotel in Brazil. Trust me, you don’t want to go there.