The Pilgrim Spirit

This sermon examines the ways that Christians can maintain the pilgrim attitude so necessary to successfully navigate this world on the journey to the next.
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There isn't much call these days for Pilgrims. I don't mean the ones who visit religious sites on tours. I mean true "pilgrims." People who leave everything behind to go to a new land or new world to live (like those who left Europe to come to America centuries ago). Unless we colonize some the planets in our solar system, the Pilgrim experience is mostly a thing of the past. Except, of course, when it comes to religion. You see, there is still a pilgrim experience for those who are Christians. Of course, there are other religious groups who claim to be on a spiritual journey of sorts.

  • Awaiting enlightenment
  • Awaiting some ecstatic moment or rebirth
  • Awaiting a new world order of some kind

But of these, only Christians are consciously living a transitional life here with the expectation of going to a completely new dimension, a different place while retaining their full conscious self. In other words, only Christians see themselves as Pilgrims merely passing through this world, this dimension, on a journey that will take them to a completely different place while they remain fully conscious of who they are. Only Christians will be conscious of being in a new place while retaining memory of the old. This experience makes the Christian life a true Pilgrimage.

Now the antithesis, the opposite of the Pilgrim experience, is the one where a person seeks diligently to find their "niche" in this world, their spot, their 15 minutes of fame, their place in the sun. The problem, of course, is when a person tries to do both — be a pilgrim and find their place in this world. You see, the moment you've found your spot in the world, carved out a place for yourself — this is the moment the world has found its place in you, and when that happens, your pilgrimage is over. As much as we don't like to hear this, you can't have it both ways. This is why the proper relationship between the pilgrimage and this world is that you live in this world, but you do so as a pilgrim... and you do so because you belong to and are on your way to another world.

  • So many Christians claim to be pilgrims but amass enough stuff to last them two lifetimes.
  • So many Christians claim to be on the pilgrimage but spend most of their time and energy carving out a place for themselves here.
  • So many Christians don't realize that if we don't keep the pilgrim spirit alive within us, then we will be tempted to exchange it for a place in this world.

So, I'd like to share with you a few practical ways to keep the pilgrim spirit alive within us so that we all will eventually arrive at our heavenly destination.

Keeping The Pilgrim Spirit Alive

1. Keep Your Heart Pure

Jesus said:

"Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God."
- Matthew 5:8

The word "pure" here means clean or innocent. How does the pilgrim keep his heart pure? Clean? Innocent?

A. Fill Your Heart With the Word.

"Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you."
- Colossians 3:16

Some people wonder why they are so worldly, why this world is so enticing to them — even though they confess Christ. The answer usually lies in the type of things they fill their hearts with. If all we consume is worldly, then we will become worldly. However, if we make an effort to fill ourselves with the word and ideas and thoughts from the word of God, we will maintain the spiritual edge to our character.

B. Maintain Your Heart With Prayer.

A pure heart requires the nourishing act of daily prayer to remain attuned to God. Many Christians lose their way, lose their faith, because they don't stay in touch with God through prayer. People have cell phones, email, etc., and other gadgets to stay plugged in to everyone and everything in this world, but they neglect to use the avenue of prayer so they can stay plugged into God.

C. Protect Your Heart Against Sin

Jesus said that the heart is the source of all manner of evil — murders, adulteries, lies, slanders, etc. Matthew 15: 19 The heart is where the plan hatches, the resentment is stored, the anger fails, the hatred finds a cover. To keep a pure or innocent heart the pilgrim needs to consciously and realistically deal with sin — every day. This includes:

  • Knowing your weaknesses
  • Avoiding situations and people who cause us to sin
  • Dealing with our sins with a view to minimize and eliminate them.

A pure heart is not a perfect heart, it's one that consciously seeks to eliminate those things that hinder the pilgrimage. And so, if you want to maintain your pilgrim spirit you must keep your heart pure. And, a pure heart is filled with God's word, prayer, and a conscious effort to deal with sin.

2. Keep Your Mind Focused

James says it best in his epistle:

13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in
peace by those who make peace.
- James 3:13-18

You can tell whether a person's mind is focused above or below by examining what his/her life produces. Now, not all things below are sinful, but all things from below are from below. Some call themselves Christians, Pilgrims, but spend every moment aside from sleep and work on worldly activities instead of heavenly ones. A good way to judge your spirituality is to check your agendas, your "to do" lists, and you will quickly see where your focus really is — with God in heaven above, or with the busy world here below. Jesus said:

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
- Matthew 6:21

For some, their true treasure is something or some activity that belongs to this earth, this world. They should be crying out to God to give them a hunger, a thirst, a love for spiritual things but they don't because they love this place more than the one to come. Like Lot's wife, they have a longing for this world and its treasures.

The spiritual pilgrim, on the other hand, lives here, succeeds here, enjoys the beauty and blessings of this place — but is focused on the things above and the Lord above. Here'e a secret I'll share with you: You won't be satisfied if you don't hunger and thirst, and you'll never hunger and thirst if you don't focus on the things above rather than on the things below. Spiritual pilgrims keep heaven in view at all times and their lives here demonstrate that fact.

3. Keep Pressing On

Paul says that he kept pressing on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14). One thing I've noticed about pilgrims, they don't settle until they've arrived at their destination. They press onwards. They stay for a while and then move on. Now when I was younger, I used to thing that this meant that a spiritual pilgrim had to go from place to place from one work to another. So for the first fifteen years of my ministry I moved around a lot — from one work to another. Start a work here and move on to help another congregation there.

As I grew older, however, I came to understand that although the Lord does leave us to different places and circumstances for various reasons — this is the exception, not the rule. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years but then remained in the same land for over 1500. No, I've understood that being a spiritual pilgrim has more to do with the direction of your will than the direction of your wandering. For example, the Lord calls pilgrims to move:

  • From disbelief to belief
  • From service based on duty to loving submission
  • From hearing His word to searching His word
  • From learning a ministry to leading and teaching others how to minister
  • From a religious exterior to the heart of a true spiritual pilgrim

In other words, the journey is within, not without. But the spiritual journey within however, will ultimately take your whole mind, soul and body to places you would never imagine you would be. The key, of course, is movement:

If you are not pressing on within, then there isn't any pilgrimage no matter how much movement there is on the outside.


As I close out the lesson this evening, I ask you to examine your lives and ask yourselves these questions:

1. Am I a Pilgrim?

Have I begun the journey that will take me from this world to the next? The first step of this pilgrim journey begins with a decision to confess our faith in Jesus and a step forward into the water of baptism.

2. Am I Living as a Pilgrim or Have I Settled Here in the World?

When Moses wanted to lead the Jews into the promised land, many refused to go because they had become used to l if in Egypt — even though they were slaves. We will never reach our destination of heaven if we don't leave this world behind. Decide today brethren and don't look back.

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