I was reading to my children recently the story of Christian in the Little Pilgrim’s Progress, an adaptation of John Bunyan’s famous work: Pilgrim’s Progress. The story begins in the City of Destruction where Christian, our hero, is unhappy and burdened even as his playmates are happy and carefree. He has been told by the Evangelist that:
“The Prince to whom your city belongs is wicked and cruel, and he hates our good King. But one day an army will come from the King’s country to fight against your Prince and this city will be burned, and all the people in it will be killed.”
“Little Christian had heard this many times, and he often thought about it; but whenever he said to his playfellows ‘Shall we go to the Celestial City?’ they laughed at him, and told him that it was only a make-believe story about the King and that no city could be better or safer than their own.”
We Are Torn Between Two Worlds
Christian was living between two worlds and was miserable. He felt the burden of sin on his back and yet fear of the long journey kept him from moving forward. And, of course, as all his friends told him: “no city could be safer than their own.”
We are all probably a few steps ahead of where Christian was. We have started on our journey but we often long for the City of Destruction the way the recently freed Israelites longed for Egypt. It is comfortable in the City of Destruction and it is what we know. And the journey ahead of us is long and difficult.
Each day when we rise, we face the challenge of deciding which direction to walk. Towards the Celestial City or back to the City of Destruction? We know the right way and yet some days we might take a few steps back towards Destruction. Or we might go one step forward and then take two back. Like any long journey, we can lose steam, our knees might start to ache, and the rains can dampen our enthusiasm.
Pilgrims Stepping Backwards
Why do we do this? Why would we ever reverse our steps? For one, we are still tainted with sin which infects all the parts of our being. What are we searching for? We long for security, peace, and a lack of want. We have all these things and more with Jesus who “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,” and yet we go searching for them in all the wrong places. Just like the Israelites did on their way to the Promised Land:
“We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic, but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes” (Numbers 11:5).
It’s depressing, but strangely encouraging at the same time, to realize that we are just like our fathers before us. Israel had just been gloriously led out of Egypt, the most powerful nation on Earth, and had also been enriched by the Egyptian people on their way out of town. Freed after four hundred years, they immediately start complaining about their present and longing for bits of their past. They had some inkling of what lay before them: a land flowing with milk and honey. And the picture in their head should have guided them, as ours should guide us. But on a long journey it is easy to forget about the wonders of the Promised Land or the Celestial City and focus instead on sore feet and bland food.
Temptation on Every Side
To make matters worse, we have far too many images in our head about the pleasures and ease to be found back in the City of Destruction. That is the folly of partaking in the media of our age. It is almost all dedicated to luring us back to the City of Destruction or keeping us there.
And we have too few images in our head of the joy of the Celestial City. We don’t partake of the stories of those who have made it successfully. We don’t avail ourselves of the truth that Jesus is the only source of real security, peace, and a lack of want. We fail to write down and reflect upon the miracles, the acts of generosity, the kindnesses, the security, the blessings, we’ve been given by our good King.
Recognize Your Direction
So then what do we do when we find ourselves stepping backwards? We must first recognize that we are doing so and stop. We must meditate on what we are looking for and realize the folly of looking in bad places for good things. We must remember the good King’s words:
“And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you” (Deuteronomy 7:13).
We must remember that we are not alone, either in our sin or in the battle in fighting our sin:
“When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
And we must turn around, repent, and move towards the Celestial City once again. And we must wake up tomorrow and do the same again knowing that:
“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
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