Steven Curtis Chapman has released more than 20 records. He’s won five grammys and seven “Artist of the Year” dove awards. He is certainly recognized as one of the finest artists in the Christian music industry. However, none of that mattered a couple of years ago when his five year old daughter, Maria, died after she was accidentally hit in the driveway of their home in Franklin, TN. The car was driven by her teenage brother.
In an instance, life lost sense. It lost direction. How do you worship God when you are walking through the unthinking, excruciating pain of a tragic death of a child?
Chapman recounts: “I remember standing in the emergency room, huddled as a family, and those questions, like tsunami waves started washing us away. And I would begin to just speak: “God I trust You. I bless your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord. You give. You take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. I trust you God. You’re faithful. I’m trusting you. And when I would say that with my mouth and just whisper it in my heart, it was almost like I could physically feel this hand catch me and began to lift me back up out of the abyss. And I would just begin to breathe again.”
There will be times in your life and mine when the harsh realities of living in a broken and fallen world will cause us to question everything that we believe. Worship is much like what Chapman was doing above: “I trust you Lord, I surrender all. You’re God and I’m not.” It is much like dropping an anchor to stabilize a storm-tossed boat… like driving a stake again into the ground to stabilize a tent.
Let me remind us of one thing that will help us when we find ourselves in a desert place when we are grieving the loss of a family member, or when we are brokenhearted because someone has betrayed us. Or when we deal with chronic pain or job transitions or anything else that causes us a measure of grief and sense of loss.
How are we to view our earthly lives? A pilgrimage. Life is short. Eternity is forever. What does the patriarch Jacob say in Genesis 47:9? He views his earthly life as a ‘pilgrimage’ or ‘sojourning.’ A temporary residence in exile from his true home. He viewed himself as an alien and a stranger on earth. He was looking for a better country. At the end of his life, the writer to the Hebrews quotes Genesis 47:31: Jacob worshiped God “while leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21).
God’s Word presents our lives here on earth as a pilgrimage, a sojourning, a temporary residence in a land that is not our own. The patriarchs were said to have longed for a better country, confessing themselves to be “strangers and sojourners upon earth” (Hebrews. 11:13). Revelation 21:4 reminds us that this better country is “a city where there will be no more pain.”
C.S. Lewis’ reminds us: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals, who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other word that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither” (118).
Have you embraced your pilgrim identity? Or have you made your home in this world? Do you regard your present life as a pilgrimage?
John Newton reminds us who it is that has “the solid joys and lasting pleasure:”
“Savior, if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Thy name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure, All his boasted pomp and show:
Solid joys and lasting treasure, None but Zion’s children know.”
W.H. Griffith-Thomas in his commentary on Genesis offers sage counsel:
“The thought of life as a pilgrimage will inspire and cheer the heart under the storm and stress of earthly discipline, for amidst all troubles and trials, shadows and sorrow, the heart will ever be darting forward in hope and expectation of the rest that remains for the people of God” (Genesis, p. 448).
Our Savior was born at odds with this world. He too was a pilgrim whose life was threatened… a man of sorrows and a servant who suffers. He was marginalized and deprived of earthly significance and splendor and despised as a Nazarene.
May our own particular pain today remind us of our pilgrim identity as followers of this servant and may the Lord grant us grace to worship today as we anticipate the “joy set before” us (Hebrews 12:2).