The Pilgrim’s Progress
1. the act of progressing; forward or onward movement.
2. a passing successively from one part of a series to the next; succession; sequence.
The path of the spiritual pilgrim is full of both ups and downs, glorious mountain tops and deadly valleys. At times we all experience joy unspeakable (cf. 1 Peter 1:8). But there are other times when, like Much Afraid in Hinds’ Feet on High Places, our constant companions are Sorrow and Suffering. The inexperienced pilgrim arrives at either one of these places and believes that it could be their final destination. However, with time all pilgrims learn that seasons come and go, and that the most important duty on both the mountain and in the valley is to not get so distracted by the surroundings that one ventures off the path.
I have come to realize that the spiritual journey is one of near constant progress. Yet, for much of my life if you would have asked me if I was progressing I would have responded with some evasive, guarded, ambiguous, vague, non-committal, passive, neutered non-answer. You know, something like, “I’m not sure. I hope so. It’s hard to say. How do you measure those things? But yeah, I think I’m more mature now than I was several years ago.”
Maybe you don’t relate to that at all. Perhaps you have always recognized the progress of your growth in Christ, and more importantly, his growth in you. Well, good for you. I don’t say that tongue in cheek. That really is great for you. But for me, it’s taken awhile to come to that realization. And I suspect there are a lot of others out there like me. How do I know? Because I’ve heard the answer above too many times.
The problem here is not that spiritual progress is so hard to come by. The problem is how we choose to measure progress. Before I go any further let me be clear about this. I do not believe that spiritual maturity happens automatically as we move forward through time. I do believe that it is possible to sit down on the path, move backwards on the path, and leave the path altogether. However, I also believe that we are often progressing when we feel like we are regressing. Progress on the path is about moving forward, and our task is to stay faithful to that. It is up to God to make things grow (see 1 Cor 3:6-7). That is why at times we feel stuck when we are really just still, and why sometimes God just wants us to move.
Having said all of that, now consider Proverbs 4:18:
The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
All around us the world is falling apart. We are overwhelmed with constant news of economic collapse, natural disasters, genocides, political wars, all sorts of crimes, starvation, extreme poverty and the sort. All of which reminds me of this, but you get the point. It is NOT the call of the pilgrim to stand idly by while people’s lives are shattered. However, it is the pilgrim’s call to continue on the path. And that path is a path that gets brighter and brighter as one progresses along.
I don’t know if the world is going to seem to fall apart in 2012. My question is, Will our path continue to get brighter? It seems obvious to me that that is exactly how it is suppose to work. Despite what the popular end time literature will tell you (I’ll save my critique of dispensational eschatology for another day), there are no potential developments in our future that will call on pilgrims to hole up and hide in fear. There is only one path. It leads to one place. And it gets brighter as you go along…no matter what.
I LOVE Pilgrim’s Progress and all of its allegory, so this post meant a lot to me. I do think that it’s important to point out that the Pilgrim didn’t really “progress” linearly in terms of spiritual maturity … i.e. he reached some very dark places and made some very bad decisions even quite late in his path. What he was “progressing” toward was Heaven; his path had a definitive beginning and end. This is great encouragement to me in times when I don’t exactly feel like I’m a spiritual Superman.
Same to me! We tend to measure progress in the wrong ways sometimes!
I guess I can agree with you in principle, but I don’t think spiritual growth is as orderly as all that. You appear to be saying that if spiritual growth seems stalled, it’s really just our perceptions that are skewed.
I disagree with that part. I don’t think growth in our relationship with God is linear and constant. Yes, there are areas in our journey that only God can affect, but as you say, we have a responsibility as well. We can choose to stay in one place in our relationship with God and not go any further. In fact, I think that describes a fair amount of people sitting in church pews on Sunday. It’s human nature to get to a comfort zone and then to stay there.
I think that spiritual growth is, by and large, uncomfortable, even when it is comprised of joy and wonder. It’s sort of like planning your own wedding. You know the end result is what you want more than anything, but the process of actually getting there is really anxiety provoking. Even the day of the wedding is really nerve wracking (it was for me, anyway).
My wife and I have been married for 30 years and we have always had our “ups and downs”. I think that’s what spiritual growth is like. No wonder God used so many “marriage metaphors” in the Bible. Love, faithfulness, sacrifice are all part of the relationship and the journey. Many marriages settle into a comfort zone (which for some couples resembles a war zone) and that’s where they stay. Of course, both members of that relationship are human and imperfection can be introduced by both parties.
The one big advantage we have in a spiritual relationship with God is that only one party is human. But our participation is absolutely necessary. Sometimes along the path, God waits a long time for us to catch up.
I understand, James. It’s meant to challenge our traditional view on spiritual growth. My question to you would be the same question I asked to myself, which led to this post. That is, what then is your interpretation of Proverbs 4:18?
That describes the behavior of the path, not necessarily the person walking on it. Also, we can still be blind to the spiritual realities all around us. Peter kept his eyes on Jesus long enough to start walking on water, but the second he became distracted, he started sinking like a rock.
All I’m saying is that walking the path of righteousness isn’t as easy as we’d like to believe.
[…] Stone recently wrote a blog post called Pilgrim’s Progress in which he discussed the matter of spiritual growth (or lack thereof, in my opinion). Stone says […]
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