Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament (Christian Focus, 2016). You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
My husband and I have wanderlust. Now, before you get concerned, raise your eyebrows, and prepare to click away from this page, you should know that wanderlust means "a desire to travel."
Once, we were at the airport having just landed from a domestic flight. As we pulled our suitcases past the ticket counters for international travel, my husband looked wistfully at those standing in line and said, "I would love to just hop on the plane and head somewhere in Europe." I shook my head and laughed.
Some of our travels take us to cities within driving distance. Others have taken us to the opposite end of the country. Still others to another country all together. We enjoy visiting large cities and small villages. We delight in touring historical sites and museums as well as hiking mountain trails and exploring national parks. We loved seeing the Eiffel Tower as much as dog sledding on a glacier in Alaska. We enjoy trying the foods unique to a culture and place. It's exciting to travel to someplace unknown and explore it for the first time.
Our Spiritual Journey
The Apostle Peter referred to believers as sojourners and aliens (1 Peter 2:11). The author to the Hebrews described the heroes of the faith as strangers and exiles. "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11: 13-16). Jonathan Edwards commented on this passage: "this life ought to be so spent by us, as to be only a journey or pilgrimage towards heaven."
Spiritually, we are travelers. We are on a journey. We are merely visitors here because we belong in heaven. There are many parallels between our earthly travels and our spiritual pilgrimage. Here are just a few:
Traveling and Pilgrim Life
1. Pack lightly: I always tell my kids before we embark on a trip, "Pack your bags with what you wouldn't want to miss while we are gone. But remember, you have to lug it around yourself." Anyone who has traveled knows how much easier a trip is if you don't have to drag multiple bags around a city. On our first trip to Europe, we got lost searching for our hotel in London. Our suitcases were huge and we dragged them up and down streets, searching for the hotel (they didn't have the spinning wheels to make it easier). The longer we walked, the farther I trailed behind my husband. When we finally got to our room, we promptly fell asleep (breaking the big rule of travel—always conform to the time zone you are in).
Baggage in our spiritual journey will weigh us down as well. In the beginning of the classic allegorical tale, Pilgrim's Progress, Christian gets stuck in the Slough of Despond. He was weighed down by his sins (a weight titled "Burden," which he carried on his back) and the guilt over those sins, so much so that he sunk into the slough. Later in his journey, Christian came to the cross and that's when he finally dropped his Burden. Paul says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
We lay our sins and burdens at the cross of Jesus as we appropriate what he did for us in his life, death, and resurrection. Christ has set us free from all our burdens. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
2. Nothing goes as planned: One of the things I most looked forward to in Scotland was exploring the Highlands. We rented a car, got trail advice from a local, and promptly drove off to find a hiking trail. We made it less than a mile before we got into an accident (something to do with having to drive on the opposite side of the road and all). The rental company wouldn't let us rent another car. So no hiking in the Highlands for us.
Another time we were in Nicaragua and headed back to the airport. It was a two hour drive down a rural dirt road. Our driver only spoke Spanish and ours is minimal at best. Midway through the journey, we broke down on the side of the road. Talk about nothing going as planned!
Our journey in life rarely goes as planned. How often do we begin our day only to look back on it at the end of the day and realize how little we accomplished on our to-do lists? "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). In fact, God often interrupts our plans to help us grow in faith as we learn to depend more and more upon him and his grace. "Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now" (Hosea 2:6-8). Obstacles block our path. Unexpected twists and turns delay us. Sometimes we have to make u-turns and start over. The good news is that God governs it all for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).
3. A guide is helpful: We've used local tour guides a few times to help us navigate unfamiliar cities. A guide drove us up the famed Lombard Street in San Francisco. Another walked us through the WWII sites of Northern France. But our favorite tour was through the city of Paris. Our guide took us on a walking tour of each neighborhood, explaining the history and pointing out important sites. She helped us learn the transportation system and told us the best places to eat. The tour prepared us for going out on our own the next day.
As believers, we all need guides, mentors that lead us through unfamiliar terrain. We need those with spiritual wisdom who can lead us in our journey as pilgrims. That's what Titus 2 is all about, "Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled" (2:3-5). We need other believers who have walked the path before us, to disciple us in God's truth and spur us on in the faith. After all, they know what it's like to lose jobs, to struggle in marriage, to have prodigal children, to have doubts and fears. Spiritual mentors know what it's like to cling to the gospel when nothing makes sense; their wisdom is essential to our journey as pilgrims.
4. As fun as traveling is, there are always reminders that it's not home: Everyone knows what it feels like to return home to your own bed and realize how much better you sleep there. My husband and I were recently in NYC and remarked on how loud it was. The incessant honking was aggravating. The long lines reminded us of waiting for a ride at Disney. As much as we loved our time exploring the city, we were happy to return to our more sedate home and life—and favorite pillows! Though we enjoyed visiting, we just didn't belong there.
Much in our pilgrim journey will remind us we are not at home. Sin, sickness, brokenness, and grief remind us on a daily basis that we don't belong here. We were made for something more and someplace better. Just as our body knows it's not lying on our bed at home, our souls know we are not where we belong. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14). These reminders keep us from growing roots that cling to this world. Instead, we need set our minds on things above. "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:1-2).
5. No matter how much you try not to look like a tourist, you still stand out: When we lived in Florida, we could spot a tourist at the beach without any effort. They were pale and arrived at the beach like they were moving in, with bags and bags of gear. They were also the only ones who went into the water in the wintertime.
My husband and I try hard to fit in and look like we know what we are doing while traveling but inevitably we give up and stop someone to ask for directions. While touring around Boston last year, we got lost on the train system. We asked an attendant for directions. In her thick Boston accent she said, "You aren't from here are you?" (Was it that obvious?) "No," we smiled. "We're from Florida."
Those who believe in Christ will inevitably stand out in this world. We have to because we represent something and Someone different than the world around us. Our accent is different because we speak God's word stored in our hearts. Our clothing is different because we are robed in Christ's righteousness. The work we do is different because we work to please our Maker first and foremost. We'll even look different because the glory of God shines on us and we reflect those rays in greater brilliance the longer we know him. And all of this is to have an impact in the world in which we live, "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation" (1 Peter 2:22).
As believers, we are strangers and aliens in this world. We are citizens of heaven, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:20). Our life on earth is a journey to the Celestial City, to our home, the place where we belong.
Are there any other comparisons you've experienced between traveling and your life as a pilgrim?
Last year, I found my kids these fun Star Wars Valentines. They had cute sayings like, "Join the heart side" and "You're my only hope."
This is the month of love, the time of year when we enjoy heart shaped candies with phrases printed on them like, "Be mine" "True love" "One and only." It's interesting how a concept like "love" can be reduced to red hearts, cheesy phrases, and chocolate. (Though I do love me some chocolate!). It's fun and sweet to give one another cards and gifts on February 14. But on the whole, it's a yearly reminder that our culture doesn't have a firm grasp on the definition of love.
In studying for my forthcoming book, I spent some time in the book of 1 John. Written by the author of the gospel of John and Revelation, 1 John is written to believers to help them test the genuineness of their faith. One of three tests mentioned in the book is that of love. And unlike conversation hearts and Valentine cards, it takes John more than a few words to describe the love we have for God and one another.
This is Love: 4 Truths about Love from 1 John
Love is rooted in the gospel: "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another" (4:11-12). Love begins with God's love for us. As Ephesians 1 says, "in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ" (vs. 4-5). We didn't love God first, he loved us when we were still sinners, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We love because God first loved us (4:19). Our love for God and others is rooted in God's love expressed for us through Jesus Christ.
God is love: "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love" (4:8). To understand what love is, we have to look to God because he is love. John goes on to describe God's love, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him" (4:9). God showed us love, he demonstrated his love by giving us his Son. "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (3:16).
If we love God, we will love one another: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God" (4:7). The love we have for others is a natural overflow of our love for God. It's a litmus test of our faith. "If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (4:12). "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers" (3:14). In fact, it is this love for others that shows the world we are Christ's followers. As Jesus said in John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Love reveals itself in action, not words: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (3:16-18). Love is more than saying, "I love you." It is revealed in the way we treat one another. When we lay down our lives for one another, sacrificing time, effort, money, and our very selves, it demonstrates our love.
The book of 1 John would make a lengthy card this Valentine's Day but it sums up love well. As we give our spouses and loved ones candy, cards, and other treats, let's remember that true love is more than a catch phrase stamped on a piece of candy. It is a life poured out for another, as Christ poured out his life for us.
I started blogging about twelve years ago. If you don't already know, blogging and writing can be a lonely venture. At that time, I didn't know any bloggers. So I explored around online and joined a few blogging communities. Some of those communities had hundreds of bloggers!
As I read blogs and got to know other bloggers, I thought I had found my place. After all, I heard familiar words I had grown up with in the church: words like grace, mercy, love, and redemption. It's kind of like when you go somewhere new and you meet someone who knows someone you know. You start sharing stories about that person and you smile and laugh over the shared connection. It started out like that for me, but the more I participated in some of these communities, the more I realized we didn't actually know the same grace that people wrote about. It was like talking to someone about Susie Smith from high school and then realizing there were two Susie Smith's and we were each talking about a different Susie.
What I discovered was, though we used the same word, our definitions of grace were very different.
In Christianity these days, and even outside of Christianity, many people use the word grace. Everyone knows the hymn Amazing Grace and even popular musicians sing it. But not everyone knows the grace of the Bible.
There are multiple ways I've heard grace misused and misunderstood. Sometimes it is nuanced in a way that leads to misunderstanding. Sometimes people emphasize grace in one area of faith but not in others. Sometimes they use it interchangeably with words like patience or forbearance. But the definition that concerns me the most is when it is used to mean overlooking something (most often sin) as in "This is who I am and God accepts me that way. He gives me grace to be myself."
God's grace is bigger, greater, deeper, and more amazing than many people realize. It is important that we understand the grace of the Bible so that when we hear people talk about it or read it in a blog, article, or book, we know what the writer is talking about. Because believing in a grace that is different from the Bible is not only misleading, it is also dangerous to our faith.
There is much to learn from God's word about his grace, but here are few things to start:
A FEW THINGS ABOUT GOD'S GRACE
God's grace provides all things; all is grace: Everything we have, even the very breath we breathe is a gift of God's grace. "Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25). Even those who are not saved benefit from this grace, which we call God's "common grace." "For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).
God's grace awakens us from death to life: Grace is God's unmerited favor toward us as sinners. It is love and kindness that we don't deserve. It began in eternity past when he chose us in Christ to be adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:4-5). By his grace, he awakens us from spiritual death and gives us new life, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked...But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:1-6).
God's grace saves us: We can't save ourselves; salvation is God's work. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8). "Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. He is the One who takes the initiative to restore our souls." (From: The Holiness of God, p. 180).
God's grace trains us: Upon salvation, God does not leave us in our sin. He forgives our sin because of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf and accepts Christ's perfect and righteous life lived for us. But he doesn't leave us there to continue in our sin. He doesn't overlook our sin and say it's all okay with him. Rather, he trains us by his grace to put off sin and put on obedience. "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).
God's grace sanctifies us: By his grace, God changes and transforms us into the likeness of his Son. "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10, emphasis mine). "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine).
God's grace completes us: God will finish the work he began in us. "He will sustain you to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:8-9). "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Grace is a beautiful word that is essential to our faith. It is the ground on which we stand. Because it is so important, we need to know what it means so that we are not drawn away or misled by false teaching. And the more we learn, understand, and consider God's grace—the depth and breadth of it—the more we are able to sing "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!"