On November 12th, 1660, an English preacher named John Bunyan was arrested for preaching without a license. What a crime! If only we had more “criminals” like him. Because he didn’t have proper credentials with the Anglican Church and he refused to stop preaching, he was imprisoned for over twelve years. During his confinement, he wrote a masterpiece—the Christian classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. Sources say that book was second only to the Bible itself in numbers of copies sold worldwide for the next three hundred plus years.
The Pilgrim’s Progress captured my interest and imagination in junior high school. It was required reading for literature in the Christian school I attended and it made an indelible impression on me. I read it in the original King James English version (no easy task) and highly recommend that every believer read it in modern English. It is a spiritual allegory of a Christian’s trek from the City of Destruction (the world) to the Celestial City (heaven). It vividly describes all the obstacles and pitfalls that try to hinder our spiritual progress. That remarkable book introduced me to the concept that life is a journey and this earth is not our final destination.
A popular song conveys a similar message:
“This is our temporary home, it’s not where we belong,
Windows and rooms that we’re passing through.
This is just a stop on the way to where we’re going,
I’m not afraid because I know this is our temporary home.”
Twice in the New Testament believers are referred to as “pilgrims.” The Apostle Peter addressed his readers as such, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pt. 2:11). This term was also used to describe Old Testament Patriarchs: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland” (Heb. 11:13).
By definition, a pilgrim is “a traveler, a wanderer, a wayfarer, one who stays in a place temporarily, but who normally has a set destination.” Since we are called to be pilgrims, our motto should be—“Just passing through!” We, like Father Abraham, are looking for our permanent, eternal home. “For he waited for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).
As Christians, we don’t fit in with the trends and fads of this world. The Apostle Paul implored, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). The Living Bible reads, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world….” You see, we don’t fit the mold of the world because we are not of this world. Everything a true Christian believes runs contrary to the carnal mindset. Like fish out of water, pilgrims are misfits.
A. W. Tozer offered this insight, “A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he’s wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passes knowledge.”
These paradoxes explain why we don’t fit in with the world’s system. We’re not supposed to—after all, we are pilgrims! C. S. Lewis reasoned, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” If we can gain a pilgrim’s perspective on life, then we won’t get so entangled in trivial pursuits that impede our spiritual progress. A pilgrim’s mindset guides us towards goals of eternal importance and of lasting value. A pilgrim’s viewpoint lets us see the temporary nature of earthly things and the permanent nature of heavenly things. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18, NIV).
I recall a popular song that played often on our religious radio station when I was a teenager. The lyrics still echo in my mind, “If we are too heavenly minded, we’ll be no earthly good….” That is a valid point. However, the opposite is also true. Many Christians are too earthly minded to be much heavenly good. A pilgrim’s perspective keeps us looking forward to our eternal destination but it also keeps us focused on the most important priorities in our present situation. Paul pleaded, “Let heaven fill your thoughts; don’t spend your time worrying about things down here. You should have as little desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God” (Col. 3:2-3, TLB).
May we never forget that we are pilgrims on a journey beyond this temporary, natural world to an eternal, spiritual world. “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Heb. 11:16). Don’t get too attached to earthly things. Remember, we’re just passing through. So let’s develop a pilgrim’s perspective. Come on fellow pilgrims, let’s get going. Our spiritual journey awaits us.