Last month my wife and I spent a few days in Denver. Odd though it may sound, it seemed to me that the Denver area had the narrowest parking spaces I can remember ever encountering. Even if I was parked squarely within the lines of my space, and the car in the next space was as well, I felt cramped. It seemed like we were much too close together, and I had to be very careful when opening my car door not to hit the car next to me. When I mentioned this to a friend who had also been in the Denver area recently she said, “Well, Colorado is supposedly the fittest state in the nation; maybe they don’t think they need the extra space!” She was joking, but at least it is a possible explanation… Of course, it is also possible that I have become used to the area in which I live, where parking lots are as likely as not to have no spaces marked off and people figure it out. I am inclined to doubt that, though, as I do encounter delineated parking spaces often enough. Still, I am not going to blog about narrow parking spaces, which I am sure is a relief to you. You were just about to stop reading, weren’t you?
Instead, I want to write about the Narrow Way. Jesus talks about this concept a number of times in the gospels, most notably in Matthew 7. He said, “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” (verses 13-14). Jesus was making the point that pursuing a life that is pleasing to God, living a life that endeavors to demonstrate Christ to others, will not be easy. It will not be comfortable. Just as I was irritated by the proximity of the cars next to mine while I was parking in Denver, we do not like the feel confined, closed in or restricted. When given the option, most people will choose the wide way, the way with plenty of elbow room, the way that allows them to do their own thing without bumping into anyone else or anything else–anything like walls, fences and boundaries. Of course walls, fences and boundaries, when it comes to life, can mean rules, guidelines and expectations. It can mean putting personal preferences, desires and tendencies aside in order to pursue Christ and live according to His direction. It can mean yielding to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives instead of following self.
It is interesting, I think, that Jesus instruction to take the narrow way comes immediately after His instruction to do to others as we would have them do to us. The Golden Rule is followed immediately by the instruction that taking the wide way will lead to destruction. In fact, if your Bible has section headings, it likely sets verses 12-14 apart, possibly under the heading “The Golden Rule.” Immediately before this section is Jesus’s instruction to ask God for what we need and to trust that God will provide for our needs; immediately after is instruction about false prophets and recognizing trees by their fruit. Taking the narrow way, then, necessarily means doing to others–living proactively in a way that lives out the teachings of Jesus, the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As I have mentioned here before, this was a revolutionary teaching by Jesus. The Jewish leaders had always taught “do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you,” but that is not nearly the same thing as what Jesus said. After all, I can refrain from smacking you across the face without ever being kind to you, without ever considering your needs ahead of my own, without ever helping to bear your burdens.
The truth is, I can refrain from smacking you across the face without being all that uncomfortable. There may well be times when I would like to do it, and when doing so might seem like it would feel really good, but I can probably live a perfectly content and comfortable life while still resisting any temptation to smack someone. Going beyond that, though, can be rather distressing. Showing kindness to you when I do not feel like being kind–or when, frankly, I do not even like you all that much–is not comfortable. Setting aside my preferences in order to make way for yours can be annoying. Forgiving you when you have wronged me unjustly can be, let’s face it, excruciatingly difficult. Still, this is all part of what it means to take the narrow way. As Jesus said, it is hard. It would much easier to take the wide way, to avoid the unpleasant elbow rubbing and shoulder bumping of the narrow way. The wide way, though, leads to destruction. It may be n easier path, but the destination is not worth it. I much prefer life to destruction, even if the path is a bit narrow.