If anything encapsulates the heart of my personal journey, the above statement does.
Over the years I have had a number of life changing exposures to the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. So many undeniable things happened to me that I have arrived at the place where I am no longer just giving mental assent to the reality of God’s existence simply because that is the way that I was brought up. I believe that He is real, that He exists and furthermore, that He deeply cares for me in a hands-on and in a focused way that blows my mind every time that I become aware of it. I believe that He is not religious at all neither does He fit into the Christian box that I tried to squeeze Him into.
There are a number of scriptures that, when I read them, I want to stand on my soap box and bellow the loudest Amen!! - that I can. They talk about truths that are real to me, but at the same time those very same truths also seem to be quite elusive. It is as though I can taste them and greet them yet not experience them to the extent that my whole being longs for.
Some examples of these scriptures are Paul saying to:
· The church at Ephesus that we have received the down payment of our ultimate redemption and that we have been stamped with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit. He is given to us like an engagement ring is given to a bride, as the first instalment of what’s coming! He is our hope-promise of a future inheritance which seals us until we have all of redemption’s promises and experience complete freedom—all for the supreme glory and honor of God!
· The church at Corinth that we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what's coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we're tired of it! We've been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home.
There are numerous other similar expressions that describe, not only the longing in my heart for the shalom that we abandoned, but also the reality that I carry within me the presence of the future.
I am a firm believer in the sustaining power of a pilgrim heart. By that I mean the settled knowledge that I belong to an age that is to come and that the down payment of that future age is inside of me. Yet I have to work the implications of this reality out within the ambit of my own imperfections and in this present age that marches to the sound of another drum.
I love how the sons of Korah, in Psalm 84, cry out their longing for a permanent dwelling in the presence of God. They say that even the birds of the air can make their nests and raise their young near his altars, but their soul longs, even faints in its yearning to be in His presence in an uninterrupted way. It is as though they, and I, instinctively know that such an existence was and is ours by virtue of God’s creative intent.
There are a number of important points that they raise in this Psalm, but the one that is pivotal for me and that provides the context for all the others is:
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;
They don’t only think that a pilgrimage might be something that can be considered. No, their hearts are set on it and consequently their strength or support in life is now in God. They go from strength to strength, from their strength to His. They exchange their way of life, their control and wisdom for His. In the process they go through the valley of Baca, or the valley of tears, but because they see the bigger picture they turn this valley into a life giving place, a spring.
That is the power and effect of pilgrimage.
The writer to the Hebrews says:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Pilgrimage does not mean that I am seeking an escape from this world, that I have had enough and would rather not be here. Quite the opposite. It is the realisation that I already have a citizenship elsewhere, that I have been stamped and sealed with the reality of that other country, BUT that I am now an ambassador of that country, representing its King in the age in which I live.
My prayer is “Papa, help me to incrementally lay hold of my new passport, the one that I already have and empower me to live patiently, but fruitfully, as a citizen of the age to come. Help me to work this out with others, encouraging one another and placing our lives at one another’s disposal as you have given your life to us.”