I find that the longer I live the Christian life the more the journey itself brings me joy. In my opinion, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has done the most to depict the winding path early Christians called the Way, full with its many frights and thrills. In the classic allegory, Pilgrim makes his way to the Celestial City and encounters several characters and places that alternately serve to buffet and aid him. What I can never escape when reading the story is the intimacy that characterizes Pilgrim’s relationship with his Lord as he progresses, a friendship that sustains him before he ever reaches the eternal city.
I’ve met Christians in life that concern themselves too much with getting to Heaven or, surprisingly, are unsure about what awaits them on the other side. This is not God’s desire for us: Heaven is his promise. Our concern now should be accomplishing his will and developing the wonderful relationship he has given us to share. We will discover this relationship to be an ever-evolving fellowship. It is our privilege to hear God’s voice, watch him answer prayer, and work through us to heal and redeem the wretched. But it is also his loving care of us to let the heavens close at times, forcing us to trust him. Our character is perfected as we learn to confidently rely on the promises we already know. With time and progress, through good and bad situations, that relationship becomes incredibly real and dynamic.
It’s hard to convey this to the person on the outside looking in, the unsure seeker who needs to own all of his confidence on the front end. Augustine, however, explained, “Faith is to believe in what you do not yet see; the reward for faith is to see what you have believed.” To put it in a slightly different way, a person should take God at his word and bet on the process. Let me use an illustration.
I enjoy tennis. I have also enjoyed introducing others to the game of tennis. I’m not nearly a pro—I’ve been much better than I am now—but I can strike the ball and control it well. So I can play. If you ask any person who plays tennis decently well, they will tell you that it is frustrating to teach the game to a person who only wishes to get out on the court and bang balls. Tennis requires a moderate degree of skill just to control the ball. So to play with a mere novice usually means that the more skilled person will be the one chicken-footing it around the court after wild balls.
But an aspirant who takes the time to study the game and learn technique; practices intensely and develops hitting with power; works through complex shots and strategies; and wins as many points, games, and sets as he’s lost—in the end (and well before then) that person will have gained a confidence in the game at which he may have thought he was only going to fail. His joy will renew itself each time he steps on the court and displays his prowess.
So it is walking with God. The Lord has buried incredible joy in the instruction of the course. We don’t have to know everything before we embark because all that is necessary will come in God’s time. The surest thing we do need, however, is the knowledge that as deep as our need is for God so is his longing to intimately acquaint us. And, like Pilgrim, that relationship will usher us from earth to glory and last forever.