Time for Restoration (6)
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84.5-7
The journey of faith
In his sermon, “The Christian Pilgrim,” Jonathan Edwards elaborated the idea of the Christian life as a journey. There is an end to the journey, and they travel most efficiently who keep that end in sight, so as not to become distracted along the way. We are travellers, pilgrims, and we must neither dawdle nor delay in making progress toward the vision of Christ and His Kingdom.
The end of that journey, of course, is the Presence of the Lord and the fully restored creation – the new heavens and the new earth. This is the destination of our journey, and though for now we must often travel through a vale of tears, yet we know the outcome is secure in the Lord.
Edwards’ teaching about our pilgrimage dovetails nicely with his sermon on “The Preciousness of Time”. Together, these sermons provide a framework for thinking about the life of faith that can help us in making the most of the time of our lives, doing the work of restoration as we journey each day in the glory of God.
The idea of the life of faith as a journey has solid Biblical roots, for example, in Psalm 84. In this psalm, the sons of Korah anticipated the preaching of Jonathan Edwards by teaching us how to regard our lives in the Kingdom of God, so that we don’t squander our time but use it as God intends.
The psalm begins with a joyous exclamation concerning the destination of our journey: the courts of the living God (vv. 1, 2). The place where God dwells is exceedingly lovely, so much so that the psalmists’ soul longs and even faints to be there with the Lord in His glory. The vision of that glorious, eternal destination fills the psalmists with joy and leads them to sing to the Lord with all their strength, and to turn even the hardships in their journey to opportunities for growth, progress, and restoration.
Everyone has some vision of life, some way of thinking about their lives that give direction to their journey. For many Christians, that vision too often overlooks the journey that must take us to our appointed destination, so that they are content to hope in the promise of eternal life, but sit out the journey that realizing their goal requires.
Advertising encourages us to believe that everyone is longing and fainting to be one of the beautiful people, to own a new car, and to enjoy a prosperous and entertaining retirement. If this is the commanding vision of our lives, the way we use our time will find us mainly involved in getting and spending. Within the framework of such a vision, we live as consumers and not restorers of the reconciled world.
If our vision, however, is that we are pilgrims journeying to eternal glory, called to refract that glory as we journey, then we will expect our time to be employed rather differently.
Psalm 84 envisions the journey of life as a kind of “living sacrifice,” not unlike the way Paul describes our lives in Romans 12.1, 2 (cf. Ps. 84.3, 4). Every day we offer ourselves up like birds on an altar, so that our lives, in all their facets, may be pleasing to God, because we live in a manner agreeable to the progress of His Kingdom. We offer to God all the details, activities, and work of our lives, that He might receive them as part of our “worthy walk” (Eph. 4.1ff), and bless them in line with our eternal destination.
Such a view of life comports well with Jesus’ instruction to take up our cross daily and follow Him in works of self-denial and self-giving (Matt. 16.24, 25). Life is a struggle. There are toils and tears. But the prospect of our glorious destination enables us to bring spring rains and fresh growth to our every step.
Drawing on the strength of the Lord
But in order to live this way we will need to draw on the strength of the Lord (v. 5). The “highways” that lead to eternal Zion can be difficult to travel. Temptations and trials arise; we experience hardships and opposition; and it can be difficult to keep the vision of our destination in mind.
Indeed, our journey in life can often feel more like the Valley of Baca than Happy Valley (v. 6). But, knowing that we’re on a journey to eternal glory, that we are devoted to serving the living God en route, and that we journey every moment in the strength of His Word and Spirit, we turn our trials to rejoicing and our setbacks to renewal, using our time to “go from strength to strength” (v. 7) as we prepare to appear before the Lord at the end of our lives (cf. 2 Pet. 3.11-14).
So we hang our lives, and all the time of our lives, on prayer (v. 8), and shield ourselves under the Word of the Lord (v. 9; cf. Ps. 12), as we strain to improve our vision of and progress towards the heavenly courts of the Lord (v. 10).
Every day we walk according to the good and upright Word of the Lord (v. 11; cf. Rom. 7.12), in the light of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of blessing He holds out to us (vv. 11, 12). That word “uprightly” in verse 11 is the Hebrew תָמִֽים, tomim, and means something like “full and complete.” As we seek to use the time of our lives in a full and complete manner, according to the full and complete Word of God, God blesses our journey with every “good thing” we need. Living this way each day fills our lives with anticipation, rejoicing, strength, and hope – a hope which can become visible and infectious to those around us (1 Pet. 3:15).
Seeing our lives as pilgrims on a journey to eternal glory and bliss can help us in making the most of the time of our lives, so that we invest each moment for the glory of God and His Kingdom, doing the work of restoration, “full and complete” at every stage of our journey.
1. How is it helpful to think about our lives as a journey? What should characterize our lives as we journey toward our destination?
2. What is the end toward which we are traveling in this life? How should focusing on that end affect the journey we undertake each day?
3. What does it mean to live “full and complete” before the Lord in each stage of our journey?
T. M.M. Moore
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