|Becoming Thankful Pilgrims ....|
When a person comes to Christ, "old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is because the Savior's glory outshines any glory in this world. No possession or fortune can match the gift of the Holy Ghost. No physical pleasure can compete with the touch of the Master's presence. No award or position can equal eternal life. No academic contemplation can rival the solemnities that abide in heavenly places.
Those without Christ confine their hopes to this life only, but this life, despite its delights, is fraught with grief. Mingled with our best successes are painful failures. Disappointment, despair, and even death confront all. The potential for any of these disasters to immediately devastate the happiest celebration detracts from every activity. Worry and fear, although sometimes irrational or unfounded, undermine our enjoyments and sabotage our peace.
Disciples of the Savior do not avoid the difficulties of this life. They endure the same predicaments befalling all people. The disasters they encounter simply do not diminish their hope. This is because their hope lies in Christ and his kingdom in the life to come. By discovering Christ, they discover that there is no place so destitute nor any condition so horrible that Jesus is not already there. When mankind in Adam fell from God's presence through sin and became mortal, Jesus, through the virgin Mary, took our mortality on himself and endured its consequences. Anxious to be with us, he suffered, bled, and died so that he could enter the grave and rescue us from that unending prison. By this we know that however bleak our circumstances, we can still find his presence and receive the gifts that he gives through the Holy Spirit.
The most bitter events of life cannot separate the devout from their Savior. Sorrow, pain, disaster, persecution, torture, and even death never isolate the faithful from the love of God. Instead, the steadfast are comforted with celestial soothings when they are confronted with any difficulty, for he who bore their sins on the cross bears them when they endure the crosses of this world. The Christian martyrs happily confessed that "he who is near the sword is near God." Temporal adversities only lift believers closer to their Master. Although hard to bear, they are often the portal for divine recognition, acceptance and consolation. Instead of overcoming the steadfast, they more firmly seal believers to their source of eternal joy. Paul explained it in this way: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Since the ultimate source of peace and comfort for the Christian lies in heavenly places, believers have little solace in this world. While they enjoy the benefits of this life, they know by experience that its happiness pales in comparison with eternal bliss. Their feet are on earth, but their hearts are in heaven. The apostle explained, "For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we should be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life" (2 Corinthians 5:4). Those espoused to Jesus yearn for his presence. The things of this world no longer satisfy their desires. They follow a heavenly King and long to be where he is.
Because those sealed to Christ fix their hearts on him and his abode, their interests turn from the things of this world. Temporal desires increasingly become foreign to them as they learn to enjoy the words of eternal life. Gradually, they become strangers and pilgrims on earth. Like their spiritual father Abraham, they look "for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10) and can be satisfied only when they arrive there.
The discipline of any pilgrimage, especially when combined with its accompanying hardships, can weary the most devoted. Like Jesus who fell under the burden of his own cross, a pilgrim may stumble under the weight of his discipleship. Almost every Christian encounters times when he grieves the difficulty of the way. Despite longing to follow his Savior, he may find little strength to carry his cross. He may say, as Jesus revealed, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). Such burdens can tire a disciple until he is no longer content with the blessings God supplies. Worldly rewards may become sufficiently attractive to him that they eclipse for a moment in his mind the comforts available from the Savior.
When wearied by his Christian walk, the pilgrim must learn to remain content with what God supplies. Believers recognize that all the blessings they receive, whether temporal or spiritual, come from their heavenly Father. Since they trust Him not only to raise them after death to immortality, but to prepare them before death for their resurrection, they must believe the provisions He supplies best equip them for eternal life. After all, God always acts with utmost wisdom and in that wisdom continually effects their life for good. Believers become thankful pilgrims by learning to remain content with the provisions they receive from God. They must say, like Paul said, "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philipians 4:11).
By remaining content with only the provisions God supplies, the pilgrim proves his preference for heavenly places. Jesus said, "Ye cannot obey God and Mammon" (Matthew 6:24). If a person chooses to follow man, then he prefers the benefits of men. On the other hand, if he chooses to obey God, then he prefers the rewards of Christ. The difficulties of the pilgrimage, especially when mingled with the temptations of the world, more convincingly testify that the pilgrim successfully bearing them prefers celestial glory to all other alternatives. They prove that, like Moses, they esteem "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt' (Hebrews 11:26).
When godly pilgrims, content with their divine allotment, refuse worldly benefits, they overcome the world. The Savior freed the apostles from their fear of death. Content with that liberation, they proclaimed the gospel throughout the earth. Not only did they convert the world to Jesus, but they transcended it by their valiant testimony. Every trial, mocking imprisonment, and torture raised them closer to their Master, until death brought them into his presence. No amount of evil, whether abusive or alluring, could sever them from the freedom found in Christ.
The Pilgrims who came to America were sufficiently free from the wants of this world that they left the comforts of civilization to brave the difficulties of a wilderness, armed only with the promise that "God, our Maker, doth provide." His provisions abounded until the nation they began has flourished into a bastion of opportunity and plenty. Modern pilgrims must learn to be content with God's provision. Like their forefathers, they must leave all worldliness and every temporal want, learning to be content with only the riches God gives. When they do, they will become free from worldliness and every evil consequence. They will grow closer to their Savior and nearer the celestial city. They will be enabled to help build up the kingdom of God on earth and abide the Millennial reign of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.