There’s a pretty decent documentary on Netflix on the pilgrimages that muslims make. It’s a pretty huge thing. The documentary followed several people, one from the U.S., as they traveled to Mecca and participated in the occasion and formality of what is the “Hajj,” one of the largest pilgrimages in the world. There are entire companies set up to take care of pilgrims as they travel to Saudi Arabia, and house them, feed them, give them traveling arrangements, and help them stay within the laws and customs of Islam as they are on the pilgrimage.
It really is a pretty fascinating documentary, providing an insight into the mind of the Muslim, explaining in part why they do some of the things they do, and act in certain ways.
In contrast, Christians have no prescribed physical pilgrimage. We don’t have to travel to London, or to Rome, or to Jerusalem (though all three would make fascinating and spiritually enriching journeys!). However, the scripture says that we do have trials and tests, and gives us directions, wisdom, and insight not only to recognize the trials, but to pass them joyfully, with the result being that our spiritual maturity and faith increases. We are even promised the “crown of life.”
James 1:2-4 tells us to:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
It is conceivable that on a pilgrimage, the life of comfort is forsaken and trials occur. Take one of the most famous (even if fictional) Christian pilgrims, “Christian” in “Pilgrim’s Progress.” As he is journeying from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, his way is interspersed with grave trials and conditions. He is captured in the city of Vanity. He is diverted by deceivers. He is captured by a giant in Doubting Castle. They have all sorts of trouble on their pilgrimage.
Dictionary.com defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.”
It is safe to say we cannot make such a pilgrimage without acting, and moving. We will experience opposition, trials, and troubles. If we do not, then there is no sacrifice, there is no process of refining, there is no growth, and there is no need to exhibit faith.
I’m amazed at how we Christians sometimes avoid and attempt to avert trials, when James clearly points out that these are a good thing. We would sooner rebuke trouble from ever occurring than grow as a result of experiencing it. The storm on the boat in the Sea of Galilee was not a bad thing! It produced faith in the disciples as they observed Jesus’ command of the storm. And storms in our life aren’t necessarily bad either. They provide unique opportunities in our life to see God glorified. They provide circumstances in which we cannot rely upon ourselves, our goodness, or our ability to cope and move on. We have to reach outside of ourselves to find resolution and redemption. If my life is made controllable by my own efforts, then what need do I have to reach outside of it for help? If the disciples could’ve calmed the storm, then what need would there have been to call upon Jesus?
We are all born into a condition in which none of us can do anything about…the condition of sin, thrust upon us by our humanity, absolved only by the sacrifice of an unblemished Lamb, which was provided by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, on behalf of all who would receive.
Brothers and sisters, let us be wise enough to recognize the benefit of storms. James 1 continues in verses 5-6:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
As we are on the pilgrimage of the Christian life, encountering obstacles in our life just as “Christian” did in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” let us not get boggled down by every single obstacle. How easy it is for me to default to the lowest common denominator and react as “Harvey” would react instead of being the person God has intended for me to be and to become. God has intended that as we walk, we grow, and as we grow, we remain steadfast in the storm, displaying faith in Him.
James 1:12 –
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.