“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.” Psalm 37:23
Pilgrims in this World
It is said in worldly wisdom that everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. This is interesting because it shows that the sages and wise men of the world know two important things about this life. First, there is a common end or goal; and second, there is a way or journey that one takes en route to his end. In this very broad sense, everyone who lives is travelling on a path—much like a pilgrim.
But, what defines a pilgrim from just anyone who is travelling? The origins of the word “pilgrim” gives us a good idea; in its origins, the word has meaning related to being from another country, or being a foreigner. The philosophy of the worldly wise is to truly live by being at home and as one with the world. One who makes himself or herself at home in this world cannot be called a pilgrim. A pilgrim is someone who is acutely aware that his surroundings are strange, and who earnestly looks for a dwelling-place of permanence, one whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).
If you were to travel to another country—imagine a place you have never been to before—you will definitely feel that you are a stranger and foreigner there. You would not know how to get around, you would not know which places were safe or dangerous, and if you wanted to ask for directions or information, you might not even know how to speak their language! But, Christian pilgrims are yet something more than that. We are strangers not because of physical reasons like we are from another country, or because we speak another language; we are strangers because of a great spiritual difference between us and those of the world.
This difference is vast, as different as life and death—yes, spiritual life and spiritual death. Because we have been saved from our sin and misery through the Cross and quickened by the life of our resurrected Lord, we are spiritually alive people who live in the midst of a dark and sinful world. Immediately, we realise that the world is strange—just as they would consider us strange. Our spiritual eyes are opened to the dangers and vicious traps that lie in wait to cause our downfall (1 Peter 5:8). We find it difficult to understand the language and conversation of the world—just as they struggle to understand us and consider our lives foolish (John 15:18-20).
But yet, we are good pilgrims, only because we have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood and are covered by the righteousness purchased for us at the Cross of Christ. We are saved by grace alone, and not because of any good in us. We do not embark on this pilgrimage because we consider ourselves holy and worthy enough for this journey. No, we embark on this journey because we are thankful pilgrims who have been given new lives, and so we willingly obey our Lord who has called and given us the privilege to be pilgrims and strangers in this world (Romans 12:1-2, Colossians 3, Ephesians 2:1-7).
Finally, a good pilgrim differs from any other traveller because the way he takes is one of struggle and difficulty. There is always another path that seems so much easier—both physically and spiritually—in so many aspects of a pilgrim’s life, but yet he chooses to walk the strait and narrow path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). It is foolishness to the world that we should carry the burden of sin on our backs as we daily flee to the Cross with weary footsteps and faltering breaths (1 Corinthians 1:18). It is foolishness that we should forgo the pleasures of sin and instead choose to suffer affliction with the people of God (Hebrews 11:25). It is foolishness to obey and serve the true and living God when the whole world is walking merrily in the opposite direction of godlessness and man-worship.
Are you a good man on a journey? Are you a pilgrim in this world?
Our Sovereign God
Those who journey with a purpose will often try to plan where they would like to be and how they should get there. They will direct their life according to their plans and do all in their power to accomplish their goals. However, the Bible says, “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). This means that no matter how hard he tries, man will never be the one who determines what happens in each step of his life. Even if life appears smooth sailing for a season, he will still be frustrated and troubled because he cannot rest in a sovereign Being who loves him and works all things out for his ultimate good. When the storms of life come upon him, everything comes crashing down because he realises that he is helpless and there is no comfort around him.
In stark contrast, though the journey of a pilgrim in this world is a treacherous one, he can be at peace because God’s Word says that his steps are ordered by the LORD. What wonderful knowledge is this that lets us rest no matter what troubles are around?
Our journey in life is full of ups and downs, horizon after horizon, and paths of all different kinds. It would be easy to forget what a step means in such a journey. When you walked out of your house this morning, do you remember what the 35th step was like? Of course not, we could not even be bothered about such a small detail; and so how amazing it is when God tells us that he is concerned with each and every step of our journey! Every single detail of our lives comes to pass by the hand of our almighty Father (Luke 12:7) and so we never have to question if something happened by chance, or whether it happened because God had overlooked something and things spun out of control—never.
Jehovah’s sovereignty is also shown in the order of our steps. Sometimes, when things do not go according to plan, we may not question “Why?” but instead, we question “Why now?” We had a plan in our heads which we loved so much, but the sequence of things went haywire and we are left in distress. The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD. Our sovereign God does not just plan things that will happen in our lives, He plans and carries out His will down to the exact timing of every single event—and step—in our lives. You may have to take an extra year to complete your studies; you may have to wait years for the right person to come along, and then some more for a little one to follow; your father may have been brought home while you were little. Remember, with your loving Jehovah God, nothing happens a moment too soon, and nothing a moment too late. Every step takes place at the right and perfect time whether we realise it yet or not. My life in all its perfect plan, was ordered ere my days began (taken from Psalter 383, versification of Psalm 139).
That our steps are “ordered” also has a very important meaning that holds further comfort for a pilgrim. Our steps are ordered in the sense of being commanded and established with power and authority. A little child can plan his own birthday party to the minutest detail with a timetable of events down to each minute, but it would be meaningless if he could not book the venue because he was too young or he could not order a birthday cake because he had no money. The LORD who plans the way of a pilgrim—down to the steps he should take—is the One whose Word created heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8); and He is also the One whose will is undeniable. The perfect plan of our lives as pilgrims is commanded and established in its exact detail by our sovereign God, and this holds infinite comfort for us pilgrims who love this God (Romans 8:28).
His Delight, Our Comfort
To understand anything about delight and any resulting comfort in this verse, we must first of all understand that the LORD delights in His own way. Knowing who He is as sovereign Creator of all things, it necessitates that everything He plans must first of all serve His glory and good pleasure. What is the greatest work of God in your life? To give you the best academic results in your school? Or, to give you the highest paying job possible? Or, to make you live to a ripe old age? No, God’s greatest work in us as pilgrims is the work of salvation that He is bringing to pass in our lives.
Specifically, He orders all our steps so that we may be sanctified daily as we journey our way to heaven. God showed His pleasure and acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross by giving Jesus a seat at His right hand. This delight extends to His work and way of sanctification in our lives. This is comforting to us as pilgrims because we are reminded that we are in Christ, and so God as long as God delights in the work of His Son, we will always be the objects of God’s delight and concern (Hebrews 10).
It follows, then, that God delights in the way of a pilgrim who walks in His will and way. In God’s plan, a pilgrim may sometimes wander down paths of danger and temptation. But if such a pilgrim is one who belongs to Him, then he will always be found and returned to the right path, to the great delight of the LORD (Luke 15:20-24). By God’s grace, pilgrims will continue to walk in the fear of the LORD, and though the way might be difficult and full of trials, they maintain their hope in His mercy. God takes pleasure in the way of such pilgrims, and this knowledge gives added strength and encouragement to them (Psalm 147:11).
A pilgrim’s comfort is that he can rest in God’s work and delight in him. These are unmovable anchors in his life that will remain no matter how the winds and waves may rage (Psalm 121:3). Just like Paul and Silas did, a pilgrim in the worst of circumstances can pray in faith and sing joyful praises unto God (Acts 16:25). And so he, in turn, delights in the way and will of God in His life. He is happy with his lot in life, and continually enjoys sweet communion with the God of his salvation who he knows delights in him first.
Are we happy pilgrims? (to be continued…)
Written by: Paul Liu | Issue 39