This Pilgrim’s Progress

I laid my forehead on the time-worn wood of my desk.  Sunlight was creeping over the leaves of the orchid there; an orchid that is slow-in-blooming.  It has had a flower bud, tightly closed, upon it’s spike for months now.  It confounds me, this swelling promise that remains so very much in a posture of waiting.  Get on with it, grouses my heart, and show me your beauty!

I laid my forehead there and I prayed, in a way I learned from some wise one once, that:  “God, I worship You, not the You that I can conceive of, but You as You know Yourself to truly be.”

Because I know quite well that I see Him through “..a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12)  That is a great hope, is it not?  That we will not always grope about in the dark as concerns Him?  That all the present mystery will have an answering “Aha!” in eternity?

I laid my forehead there and tears stung my eyes.  You see, can’t you, what a mess I am?  I do not suffer from low self-esteem (in fact, I think the error lies in the other extreme, obnoxiously high self-regard), so do not think to cheer me and lift me.  What I need most, oh yes, is the one who says, “Oh my, yes, you are a mess, and haven’t given to God all that you could.  You are inconsistent in prayer, quick to angry impatience with your children, prideful, and willfully ignorant of your own sins.”  That I could feel as firm medicine.  That I could hold in my hands as a map showing where I’d wandered from the path and how to repent (to turn around) and walk in the right way again.

It does matter how medicine is administered, doesn’t it?

Once, while living in Chile, I had an ear infection which spread to the skin tissue on my face, a very serious thing which demanded an aggressive regime of two shots per day for five days of a powerful antibiotic.  I would go into the clinic and ignominiously expose my derriere for the medicine.  Some nurses were quite adept and gentle, and I’d feel barely a pinch.  Some would jab mercilessly.  The difference was stark.

In the spiritual life as well, there are administrators of medicine and varying methodologies.  There are jabbers, ones who seem to take a hidden delight in inflicting pain.  Even though they are giving a needful cure, they do it in such a way that swallows up all the love in the intent.  There are the silent ones who, hoping not to cause you pain, withhold from you the medicine you desperately need.  There is little real love within them, they preserve their own peace at the cost of your life.  There are the gentle ones who, though they injure you, try to do so as little as possible while still delivering the medicine.  They bring love and empathy and grace in their eyes.  They say to you the life-giving words.

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ “

(Isaiah 30:20-21)

They give you a map of return from your current wandering, they remind you that Jesus himself walks with you and will ensure your safe return to the good way, if you but keep company with Him.

These brothers and sisters are of inestimable worth.  I want to become like them; a loving helper to any and all who need that help.  That is just another way of saying that I want to be like Jesus, that is my pilgrimage, my journey, my aim.

Some use the verse, about the plank in the eye, to say that we shouldn’t judge others.  I think it is rather clear that we are to judge others in the way that a good physician judges the symptoms of a disease; he assesses what is causing harm and ruin and attempts to stop the destruction and encourage healing.  Clearly, the physician needs to be healed as well to do his work properly.  There is no arrogance in offering medicine and help when we are able.  Judging is essential, in medical diagnosis and spiritual diagnosis as well.  Of course it must be done in Christ, that is, with all His love and hope and mercy in our eyes and actions and words.

I will end this Pilgrim’s ledger with this early Puritan prayer:

Searcher of hearts, it is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself; sin is my greatest evil, but though art my greatest good; I have cause to loathe myself, and not to seek self-honour, for no one desires to commend his own dunghill.

My country, family, church fare worse because of my sins, for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small, or that God is not angry with them.  Let me not take other good men as my example, and think that I am good because I am like them, for all good men are not so good as thou desirest, are not always consistent, do not always follow holiness, do not feel eternal good in sore affliction.

Show me how to know when a thing is evil which I think is right and good, how to know when what is lawful comes from an evil principle, such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.

Give me grace to recall my needs, my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture, of wisdom to guide others, of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay, of the spirit of prayer, having words without love, of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends, of joy in thee and thy will, of love to others.

And let me not lay my pipe too short of the fountain, never touching the eternal spring, never drawing down water from above.

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