A Pilgrim’s Path: Hope

There are a few ways in which one can treat this topic of a Pilgrim’s hope. One may do so exegetically by expounding on specific texts. Or one could deal with it thematically by writing on various aspects of hope, and making reference to relevant passages in Scripture. But it is the intent of the author to take a slightly different approach in this article. And that is to write of hope from the personal perspective of the child of God as she makes her pilgrimage through this earth. While both of the above methods (exegesis and themes) will still feature, they will be applied to the pilgrim’s journey with all its sorrows, trials and afflictions.

Why, you may ask. Simply because hope is not a cold and objective truth that belongs behind the doors of our sanctuary or catechism rooms. Rather, what is written in Scripture about this is real and true to the experience and life of the child of God. While this hope may sometimes be a flicker, and other times a roaring fire, it truly lives in the heart of every pilgrim. Hope, that causes one to cling fast to the sure promises of God even when the waves of life’s tumults come crashing down. And perhaps, in this pilgrim we will see ourselves, and her hope may be our very own.

Not too long ago, the Lord dealt a heavy hand upon my family. An affliction so difficult to bear that we thought we would all but be consumed by it. It gave us countless sleepless nights and damp pillows. It was the cause of tension, resentment, frustration and anger at the dinner table. I struggled. Work became a comfort and a refuge, while church, somewhat of a dread. I coped by ignoring the problem, under the pretext of waiting on the Lord and submitting to His will. It was a case of waiting the storm out. Yet all the while, a more bitter storm raged within my soul.

One morning, I received a call from a dear friend in USA. A friend who, like me, bore a burden from the Lord. Indeed, a burden so great, it made mine feel small and light in comparison. In that conversation, she impressed upon me truths that I absolutely needed to hear. Or perhaps truths that I had known all along, but had chosen to ignore. These were the simple, straightforward principles of love and humility. The conflict that we were embroiled in had often left me feeling wronged, maligned, and mistreated.

This provided me justification to pursue my self-righteous course of action. I did not know how to, and perhaps refused to, resolve this humbly and lovingly. However, by laying before me snippets of her own life, this friend taught and encouraged me to do so. Though completely at odds with the pride of my human nature, this hour- long chat brought such calm to my soul it was as if Christ Himself had said “Peace, be still”.

Sometimes the Lord has a way of teaching us lessons so that they really stick. At around the same period when I had this chat, a small group of us had been practising to sing at a friend’s wedding. The proposed song was titled “No Greater Gift”. What more, it was based on 1 Corinthians 13. It was as if the call from halfway around the globe was not sufficient and God, in His providence, had me sing from one of the greatest chapters on love. The lyrics gripped my soul. They did. It does not always happen with choir singing, but these words resonated with me as they left my lips.

Love is kind and gentle, rejoicing in the truth.
Love is not proud. Love is not rude.
Love never fails, though all other gifts will cease.
Love hopes and endures, love bears and believes…
If I have no love, I am nothing at all.

There is no gift greater than love.

How does hope fit into all this? The words of the Apostle John sheds light, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3) If I have certain hope that I will be like Christ when He appears (and I do), then will not I purify myself? As John Calvin puts it, “it cannot be but that this hope will excite and stimulate us to follow purity, for it leads us straight to Christ, whom we know to be a perfect pattern of purity.” This, I believe, is one of the hallmarks of hope. Rather than vindicate ourselves, we ought to desire to be like Christ! Christ, who is no less the embodiment of meekness and love. Let pilgrims who thus hope find in themselves such a yearning for purity. In a similar fashion, the Apostle Paul exhorts “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12) Likewise in 1 Corinthians 15:58 and its preceding verses, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Our salvation is at hand! In the twinkling of an eye, we shall be changed! We shall put on incorruption and immortality! The hope of such a future is the basis for our holy pilgrimage at present.

This was a trial that brought my own sins, and the sins of others around me, under the spotlight. It was dismaying, yea, despairing, to witness the reality of the cry, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) While striving to be pure, I grappled intensely with my sins; the quickness of the mind to conjure wicked thoughts (quicker, I almost feel, than my conscious mind can stop it); the fire of a tongue, truly, an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

Early one morning, as I was starting yet another day’s battle, I received a text from a mother in church (indeed, one whose children arise up and call her blessed). She called my attention to Luke 7:36ff, which records the account of the woman who washed Christ’s feet with her tears. I read “… Her sins, which are many, are forgiven…” (v.47) It was her faith that saved her; faith that was a gift from God. Faith that He gifts to each of His children, freely. This forgiveness of sins and hope of perfection will cause us to lift up our voices in echo of the prophet Micah, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18,19)

It has been a long-drawn ordeal. Just when you think you have reached the peak and overcome the fight, you see an even higher peak beyond and with a sigh continue the weary trudge up. As your feet slide on the loose gravel, threatening to obliterate your past labours, the Lord mercifully sends relief yet again. This time, it was a sister-in- Christ, my “mirror” [1], who was the instrument of grace. She brought to me these wise words from Scripture the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.” (Proverbs 27:18) The farmer painstakingly cares for his fig tree, tenderly cultivating it, pruning it, nourishing it, with the eventual reward of eating of its fruit. In like manner, as the servant waits on his Master, faithfully observing His commands, he will be honoured. Elsewhere, we have the promises “…for them that honour me I will honour…” (1 Samuel 2:30), and “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” (John 12:26)

An aspect of hope includes the longing for the reward that is to come. At judgement day, we shall receive our reward of grace, and Christ will be our all in all. In hope of this reward, we do well to patiently labour and wait upon our Master. Even when the present returns are small, and even when we are at the brink of exhaustion. We press on!

And so, my fellow pilgrims, as we continue our sojourn which will undoubtedly be filled with tribulations, let us hope in the coming of our Lord, in the reward which is to come, in the forgiveness of our sins, and turn not to the left hand nor to the right. Let us confess with one accord “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” (Habakkuk 3:19)

[1] Prov 27:19 As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.

Written by: Cheryl Lim | Issue 39