“Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:5, NIV version)
This Psalm is addressed to the people of Israel, pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. In particular, these folks are journeying to the Temple – that place they were to visit at least three times a year in order to worship as God Himself had prescribed in the Old Covenant law of Moses. These pilgrimages were not easy for many; they demanded time, great effort, hardship and sacrifice. The Psalmist is speaking to those who, despite these many challenges, have embarked on this worthwhile journey. He encourages them to (1) draw their strength from God; and (2) keep totally dedicated to their final goal, their hearts’ desire.
Recently, I read somewhere that hope is the “fortitude of wayfarers”, the virtue that helps us on the way. That spoke to me, because sometimes I can become discouraged and lose hope. I can, for example, look at my life and feel regret and sadness about the past – the ways that I failed to love others well, the ways I resented the difficult circumstances of my life at various times, and so did a pretty terrible job of “picking up my cross and following Jesus”.
“Carrying the cross” is hard; there’s no doubt about that. At times, we will stumble beneath it, try to avoid it, blame others instead of carrying it ourselves, even put it down and try to run away. And we will certainly fail to love others as we ought, as Jesus loved us: unselfishly and self-sacrificially.
When I feel discouraged in this way, my journey sort of stops for a while. Instead of moving forward, it’s as though I have “set up camp” by the side of the road; I end up spending my time ruminating on the way I’ve already come (with all its detours and obstacles) instead of looking ahead to my ultimate destination: that heavenly Jerusalem where I hope to enjoy my loving Savior’s glorious Presence forever.
When I focus too much on how imperfect I am, I lose hope, and that makes me stop moving forward for a while. I feel then how profoundly true Jesus’ words are: “without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Relying on my own resources, I’ve run out of “gas” and can’t continue. Mercifully, though, the Holy Spirit (ever faithful) eventually reminds me that, despite all my failures and inabilities, “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). My hope renewed, my journey can resume.
Like those pilgrims the Psalmist speaks to, I need always to draw strength to continue my day to day journey from the Holy Spirit’s vast store of mercy, wisdom and strength – those mercies which are, “new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23). When I manage to do that successfully, I actually experience that state of “blessedness” referred to by the Psalmist. I am peaceful and, indeed, truly happy despite the hardships and setbacks. My heart is once more focused on moving forward on my pilgrimage. And I am able to remind myself of how worthwhile the daily struggle is, for the goal is glorious and the supply of strength bounteous and neverending.