If you have ever watched one of those game shows in which they allow a player to "call a friend" or "use a lifeline", you probably associate this maneuver as being their last-ditch hope for the possibility to move forward or to remain active in the game. As they opt for this, they get "outside" help to solve a problem bigger than their ability to solve on their own. This is the purpose of a lifeline - rescue. A person who knits will tell you a totally different meaning of the term lifeline, though. In the process of knitting a complex pattern, the knitter may actually insert a "spare thread" of yarn through an entire row of knitting. This "lifeline" is not actually "knit into" the project and can easily be removed when the knitter is finished. The purpose of the lifeline is to give a place to which you may return if you make a mistake beyond that point. If you are attempting a complex pattern just above a whole lot of other knitting you have already completed, you may want to have a place to "return to" just in case your venture into the unknown new stitch proves to not work out as you planned. In essence, they give themselves a place to "restart" without having to start at the beginning again. The lifeline serves as a place of return whenever a "calamity" of sorts occurs beyond that point. I think we make actually have all kinds of these types of lifelines placed into the "stitches" of our lives, as well. In fact, we probably have a few more than we'd like to admit to at first!
We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us... (Hebrews 6:18-20 MSG)
Whenever we give ourselves a place of return - the point to which we may "go back" without losing out totally - we are placing a lifeline. An example of this might be when we make a decision to do something new, with the idea running through our heads which goes something like, "Well, if this doesn't work out, I can always return to doing it this way." So, when we look at the lifelines we have placed into the "fabric" of our lives, we may see a whole lot of loose threads - each holding a particular "place marker" just in case our step of faith doesn't pan out. Ummm...in the practical sense, this might make sense, but when it comes to actually making any spiritual progress in life, this doesn't work so well. In fact, if we are always giving ourselves an "out clause", we rarely will commit with the same tenacity. When we take the "all or nothing" leap of faith, we aren't placing a lifeline. We are trusting this step (or leap) of faith will result in a positive outcome and we are turning back, no matter what.
In rock climbing, the climber will tell you the rope makes all the difference, for it becomes their lifeline if there is even one tiny misstep. They may slip a little, but they won't plummet to their death! For this reason, they both select their ropes carefully, and determine the best place to anchor those ropes during their climb. The wrong rope could make the difference between life and death. The wrong attachment could result in free-fall and innumerable injuries. Even more importantly, their ropes anchor them to each other - serving as a link between them and their partner as they climb. It is this lifeline upon which they rely - for when they begin to experience "slippage" or a "misstep", their partner "cinches" up on the rope and prevents them from "going too far" in their fall. They anchor them on that rope until they can regain their footing and start their climb again.
Now, I think most of us would agree that we might have a few lifelines woven into the fabric of our lives. It is natural to want a place where we can return to without having to start from scratch all over again. What we may not realize is what this type of lifeline actually does to our level of commitment. When we know we always have a place to return to without losing too much in the process, we don't actually grow to the same degree as when we are willing to risk it all. The lifeline limits our risk - and we humans are all about managing risk! Maybe not consistently, but we definitely have areas in our lives where risks are managed - maybe in relationship when we don't get too close at first because we have been hurt in the past, or maybe in obedience to something we know we should be doing because we know we have tried before and haven't done so well. Either way, risk makes us uncomfortable, so we place the lifelines! Yet, this isn't God's way of doing business - he actually wants us to rely upon him, not the lifeline!
Probably the closest "spiritual" reason for us to use a lifeline in our lives would be to use it as the climbers do. In fact, I believe God gives us others to "tie into" in this journey since he knows we face some steep climbs in this journey. There is much to be said about having the right climbing partner - for your very life depends upon the one you partner with! Notice the climbing term "tie into" - it doesn't just imply we hang around with, or free-climb alongside other climbers. The idea is of being linked together - purposed to aid each other as we climb. There is always a lead climber - one who goes before and prepares the path for the other climbers. This lead climber places the various anchors upon which those following behind may anchor in, belay to another point, and rest upon when they just plain get weary in the climb. The one who takes the lead is then is at a higher risk - putting it all on the line for those who will climb behind.
May I take some liberties here? Christ is the lead climber! He has gone before, skillfully placing anchors, determining the best footholds, and giving us the path by which we are to climb in life. He went before, not because he loved the risk, but because he loved the climbers who would one day risk it all to climb with him. In turn, he provides the lifeline upon which we may rely in our climb. We might take a misstep here and there, slip a little, or even free-fall a ways, but when we anchor into him, we cannot and will not fall too far! We need to "tie into" each other in this climb, for we learn from those who climb with us. Sometimes they will lead, and we will see how and where they climb, giving us insight into the climb ahead. Each climber has to obtain their own foothold, but we can learn from those who have climbed this way ahead of us. We might think we can "free-climb" and be the one placing the anchors, but trust me, even the best climber will eventually find themselves at the end of their own rope! We need the lifeline of Christ if we want to finish this climb. Just sayin!