October 2019

Are you a tourist or a pilgrim?

We’re all on a journey of faith, but which path will you take? Dave Ayling considers what lies ahead.

This Christian life is a journey of faith. We are walking with the Spirit through this life as we follow Jesus. The Psalmist calls pilgrims ‘blessed'. He encourages us to see our lives as a pilgrimage to our holy destination.

Psalm 84:5 says: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” He was speaking to those who were travelling to the temple to worship. Our pilgrimage is longer but no less blessed. We are journeying toward our eternal destination. Paul says we are citizens of heaven and that we are walking through this life towards that glorious destiny.

I remember being gripped by this theme as a young Christian as I read Eugene Peterson’s ‘A Long Obedience In The Same Direction’. I loved that title… it reminded me that following Jesus is not simply about a moment or an experience but about a journey – about following, moving and walking. It is the journey of a lifetime and it takes a lifetime to work it through.

Peterson contrasted the journey of the pilgrim and the tourist. Each is on a journey, but their expectations and attitudes are very different as they move towards their goal. The tourist changes for his journey, he changes his expectations, his clothes and his attitudes. He wants to experience as much as possible for the least expense.

He has a time restraint and wants to pack his days with activities and movement. After all this effort, expense and investment, the tourist ends up back at his starting point!

The pilgrim has a different expectation. He changes through the journey. It is the very fact that each day starts afresh with opportunity to follow the path of life and faith that enables him to make progress towards his goal. Sometimes the progress is quick and exciting, the view is awesome and the company is delightful. Sometimes the path is difficult and lonely and takes him through places and experiences where he never planned to go.

I recently watched a group of celebrities as they walked a pilgrim trail toward Rome together: as they experienced the highs and lows of the journey; as they encouraged one another; as they walked by themselves and reflected on life; as they fell behind the group; and as they ran ahead of the others. This picture of the journey was lived out before me. Each day they drew closer to their destination without seeing it.

That is what this life of faith is like for us who follow Jesus. Not every day will be exciting, but each days leads us closer to meeting him, to entering into his kingdom, to seeing him face to face.

I am a pilgrim but sometimes I find myself thinking like a tourist! I want my life to be exciting and full of meaningful moments. I want as much as possible for the least effort. I want the shortcuts to experiencing all that God has for me. I want someone else to lead me on the mystery tour to somewhere exciting.

It is then that I hear the small voice of the Spirit saying, “This is the way… walk in it.” It is then I remind myself again that I have set my heart on pilgrimage.

Dave Ayling is Senior Pastor at Derby City Church

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