Refugees! (Part Two)
In last week’s devotion we highlighted the incredible refugee crisis involving countless thousands who are flooding into many areas of Europe. The headlines continue to resound with heartbreaking reports of death, displacement, and conflict as nations try to cope with the influx of sojourners looking for a better life.
These news stories serve as a reminder that Christians are described as pilgrims and sojourners in this world:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Like the great Hebrews 11 heroes of faith, we are dissatisfied with the superficial offerings of this earth and have our aim fixed on a heavenly homeland. As such, we travel light, refusing to be encumbered by the things of this world.
A Better Homeland – An Abiding Joy
Living as pilgrims in this world we are reminded that many other faithful travelers have completed this temporary passage. Further, we are to journey with our eyes on the Captain of our souls, who has already trod through and beyond this world. This provides perspective and perseverance for our souls.
Hebrews 12:1–3 tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
With a vibrant faith that compels us to shed every encumbrance, we fix our eyes on Jesus, receiving from His Spirit the very joy that empowered His endurance. We live with that assurance of a home He is preparing for us. This provides true joy; a well-being that transcends the temporary trials of this brief appearance on earth. Hebrews 12:3 affirms, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Unlike the Syrian refugees, contemplating and walking toward an uncertain future, our destiny is fixed. This hope sustains us in and through every segment of the journey, in blessing and burden; through ease and anguish.
The Apostle Peter addresses the lifestyle and focus of our trek toward heaven: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (2 Peter 2:11 & 12).
A purpose-focused journey adds meaning to every part of the sojourner’s lifestyle. We are compelled to stay spiritually healthy as we combat the destructive temptations of the surrounding society. Our goal is to live honorably before those who might also accept the invitation to our heavenly destination through the message of the cross. Peter knows our nonconformity might incite critics and cynics. But, over time, the good works that emerge from our abiding in Christ compel the unconvinced to join the pilgrim way through the message of the Gospel, for the glory of God.
The assurance of a life-transforming, eternally significant mission makes every step of the journey worthwhile. The rewards of the next life far exceed the transitory sufferings and set-backs of this one.
In the Old Testament, God’s people celebrated three pilgrim feasts, when they would go to Jerusalem. There was the Passover, which commemorated the deliverance from Egypt. The feast of Pentecost marked the end of the grain harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated the end of the agricultural working year, also recalling the wilderness journeying.
All these feasts involved pilgrimage, which reminded the people that all of life is a pilgrimage. On the journey they sang the pilgrim psalms, or songs of degrees (Psalms 120-134), especially during the final ascent to the city. The pilgrim theme was a major feature of the calendar.[i]
Likewise, we would do well to create markers to remind ourselves that we are just passing through. It can be hard to be cocooned in our life of luxury, safety, and reliable provision and think of our Christian identity as a pilgrimage. When we are out on a walk with nothing but the clothes on our back, we should pray for a spirit of freedom from all the material encumbrances. When we are on a trip, we should think of those days of minimal possessions as a picture of the attitude we should maintain. When we see a homeless person on the street we should pray for them, and help them as we feel prompted. But we should also pray for ourselves, that we would embrace a “homeless” mentality when we are tempted to settle in to the comfort zone of this life.
Back to the News
This brings us back to the news. As we watch the trauma of dislocated lives we should be reminded to pray for new meaning in our own sojourn. We must also be moved by the fact that every face, every cluster of bodies, every wandering family represent eternal souls. Most of these are living without real hope. They can only wish for survival. They can only dream of a distant and improved future.
As we compare our journey with theirs, we must pray. We must pray that God will redeem this tragedy. We hope that the governments of the receiving countries will have discernment to know how to direct and help these displaced masses. But we must also pray for the witness of any and all Christians that are among the refugees. We must pray for churches in the European nations to be Christ to these strangers. We must ask, “Lord, what can I do to bring the hope and ultimate meaning of my Gospel pilgrimage to these wandering souls and to all the lost souls of this life?” He will show us and we must respond in obedience and sacrifice.
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.