Let me share with you from my journal before I also share two key prayer requests…
Jesus told us, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13). In this fallen world, broad and easy are the ways that are not God’s ways; narrow and difficult is the way of Christ. But perhaps we miss the other truth: this narrow gate on the hard way leads to a broad place.
Job speaks of a broad place with longing: “He also allured you out of distress into a broad place where there was no cramping, and what was set on your table was full of fatness” (Job 36:16). Job is always a challenging book to understand: who is speaking, and what is their perspective? And does God agree? I suggest that Job is sharing a wonderful insight about God’s offer to those who seek him. God offers us a broad place. But given the “narrow way,” is that “broad place” surprising to us?
When reflecting on the narrow way, Pilgrim’s Progress rightly comes to mind and perhaps C.S. Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress. But has our imagination extrapolated this biblical metaphor beyond its proper place and into eternity? Could it be, because the gate is narrow, that we may picture perfection as narrow and singular, the “just right” state from which no deviation is permitted? If so, and since heaven is perfect, then we might image heaven to be quite narrow and certainly not a broad place. But God’s perfection is not narrow. Remember, God is infinite, eternal, and omni-everything! He is not small and narrow. For God a life without sin is not smaller, but bigger! In fact, Martin Luther suggested that sin is “curved in upon itself.” For Luther, sin is as small as you can get, perhaps like a black hole. I agree! So, while the way to God through this fallen world is narrow, God is leading us on the narrow way to true freedom, fullness of joy, and a broad place. A place which is as deep and wide as God, infinitely joyful, and gloriously broad.
We have a glimpse of this move from narrow to broad in the land-promise of God through Moses. He writes, “I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8). The land is good because it is broad, and to be “in the land” is to anticipate being forever “in Christ.”
So David declares when he was delivered from Saul, “He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:20). And in Psalm 18 he sings: “He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19). These are descriptions of events in David’s life that also seem to anticipate David’s ultimate hope. He also writes, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:96). Your commandment is broad? That last one may be a bit unclear. I wonder if the root of this idea of a “broad command” may be found in Eve’s discussion with the Serpent when he first spoke, maligning God: “Has God said you shall not eat from the fruit of the trees of the Garden?” God makes all this and denies it to you? This Eve denied. But even in her denial, she began to accept the lie that God is one who denies what is good, limits delights, and restricts his creatures from good things; his law keeps us from what is delightful! No. James may pick up the same idea when he writes, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). James proclaims that God’s law is liberty for all who have been freed from sin in Christ, and so freed from thinking of God and his law as limiting and constrictive. Rather in Christ we are freed to delight in God and his law. Indeed, God and his law offer his people the broad place, the broad land of hope and joy that is ours in Christ. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but this leads not to a narrow and small perfection, but to fullness of joy in the freedom of God—the broad place from which sin has been eradicated for God’s willful, human creatures and in which all that is before us is good.
How can you pray for Bethlehem College & Seminary?
First, please pray for our non-traditional cohorts. We are in the last weeks of building our cohorts for our non-traditional programs—the Bachelor of Theology (degree completion program) and our Master of Arts in Exegesis and Theology. Each year our goal is to complete admissions for these programs by the first of July, but the pandemic has made plans fluid for many potential students. As I write this, neither 2020–2022 cohort is full and the Master of Arts is particularly small. Please pray that God will provide the students needed to build strong and interactive cohorts and to cover the financial costs of education.
Second, please pray for all our programs as we begin in-person classes this Fall. For some schools, meeting in person is a financial necessity due to dorms that must be filled and other overhead costs, but that is not so for us. We do not have the same pressures; our motivation is discipleship! While Zoom is a useful platform to hold classes online, nothing can replace meeting together for the work of discipleship. Many have worked to develop a plan that allows all our programs to meet safely in person so that we can effectively disciple our students this Fall. Please pray that God will allow those plans to bear the fruit of discipleship, and to do so in safety.
Rick Shenk, Ph.D.
Director of Non-Traditional Programs