Who Would True Valor See
Life is lived in one of two ways, as a quest or as a pilgrimage. The difference between these two patterns is as great as that between dating around and a focused pursuit of a woman irrepressibly loved.
Within a quest, ambiguity is part of the journey. A knight goes out in search of the Holy Grail, but he has little to no idea what the grail looks like or where to find it. Most of his energy is spent looking for clues rather than pursuing clear objectives. He often gets waylaid, and side adventures end up being as important in the long run as the original task itself.
Most Christian men today live their lives in this way. They have some fuzzy idea in their heads regarding what they are after (‘God’, ‘happiness’, ‘peace’, ‘holiness’, ‘fulfilment’), but each concept is too ambiguous to be meaningful. They wander, in part, because they are distracted and, in part, because they lack concrete direction. To take an example, until a man has a clear idea regarding what ‘peace’ or ‘fulfilment’ is, he will not be able to mount a full spirited attempt to go and chase it. The same is true of ‘holiness’ or ‘godliness’. If men look as if they are drifting from one well to another in search of living water, the reason is because they are. Without a fixed destination, wandering is the most productive thing that a man can do.
A pilgrimage is different from a quest because, within a pilgrimage, the destination is as definite as a home address. The pilgrim knows precisely what he is after. Wake him up in the middle of the night with the question, ‘Where are you going?’ and he will unflinchingly give the answer. There may be surprises along the way, and mistaken diversions that delay progress, but the final goal is specific and incontestable.
No one has captured the power of viewing life as a pilgrimage as memorably as John Bunyan. The whole of Pilgrim’s Progress demonstrates the way in which clarity and determination go hand-in-hand. The clearer I see the final goal, the more doggedly I can pursue it. The great pilgrim hymn by Bunyan captures this truth perfectly:
Who would true valor see let him come hither;
One here will constant be, come wind, come weather.
There's no discouragement, shall make him once relent,
His first avow'd Intent, to be a pilgrim.
Who so beset him round with dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound; his strength the more is.
No lion can him fright, he'll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right, to be a pilgrim.
Constancy, intentionality, relentlessness, fortitude, diligence, resolve – these are the virtues that result from seeing life as a pilgrimage.
There Is No Need to Feel Lost
Men who desire spiritual maturity need to live their lives as pilgrimages. They need to know with precision what the final destination of life is. It is not enough to say ‘holiness’ or ‘union with Christ’. Terms must be defined. Theological ideas must be described. If I tell a man to go to Scotland, he will look at me and ask, where should I go in Scotland? If I add, travel to Stirling, he will reply, where? If I clarify, ‘Go to the William Wallace Monument,’ no further questions will be required. The man will have all the information he needs to complete the journey.
Having a clear destination is no less important on the way of faith than it is on a road trip. Men do not need to be sent to park benches to contemplate the meaning of life. They need to be given detailed coordinates. They do not need to gaze into their navels looking for a mysterious purpose. They need to be told unequivocally that the judgment seat of Christ is the final stop of every bus, and that the chief objective of each individual life is ‘to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Col. 1:10). For any reader of the New Testament, there is no excuse for running aimlessly. There is no reason to beat the air. The Bible has revealed a finishing line so that each of us can run, like an athlete, to win the prize (I Cor. 9:24).
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
A lot of Christians are wandering through life in search of a calling. According Paul, each of us already has a calling (I Cor. 7:20). What is the calling of every Christian (c.f. Matt. 28:18-20; Matt. 5-7)?
How would your life change if you used Colossians 1:10 as a mission statement for your life?
Christians live in a world that identifies the destination of life (i.e. overarching goal) as health, pleasure, comfort, collecting stuff, success, fun, adventure, beauty, and so on. What happens to our walk with Christ if we adopt one of these counterfeit goals as the highest aim of life?
The belief that Christ will judge the world is a fundamental truth of the gospel. Read II Cor. 5:9-11 and Rom. 14:10-12. How did awareness of the final judgment of Christ influence the life choices of Paul? How should this knowledge influence us?