The pilgrim is meant to make progress. This is a great joy for many of us. But perhaps it has to be contended for in our day. In Bunyan's tale, our protagonist puts miles between himself and the City of Destruction on his journey heavenward. But in real life one sees uncertainty as to how much progress can be made on this side of the Jordan's icy flow.
C.S. Lewis, critiquing his book The Pilgrim's Regress 10 years later, said it suffered from "needless obscurity." (He was right.) Here are three simple wishes for your new year:
Pray to have friends (at least one) who have more faith than you do. It is much easier to understand the Scriptures when you have a living, breathing, walking example beside you. It helps hermeneutics like nothing else I know, putting sinews on spiritual words, coalescing a page of instruction in a seamless incarnation you can imitate. Paul was bullish on imitation (Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). Faith-filled friends give a godly infection.
Specify that it be a friend who knows how to do spiritual warfare, like how to employ the weaponry of truth and promises to argue himself from a spirit of heaviness to a place of joy (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). He will have details and experiences, not vague generalities.
God "has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13)-where all things are possible. Your friend will keep you honest. He will remind you of how to press into that ocean of possibilities, through concerted prayer, and fasting, when necessary. Start asking today. Good traveling companions are the glorious ones who will be your delight (Psalm 16:3). They will keep you established (Romans 1:11-12) and walking within the guardrails of grace.
The prophet Isaiah (who never read Bunyan) describes the time of the Messiah thus: "And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray" (35:8).
So my next wish for you is to get rid of everything doubtful in your life this year, since the unclean may not pass by that highway. "Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). "If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work" (2 Timothy 2:21).
Some will balk at your resolution, or your language. Get used to that and get serious with God by fleeing from defiling entertainments that nibble away at the life of the Spirit in you. The one whose heart is set on pilgrimage "shuts his eyes from looking on evil" (Isaiah 33:15). The mature do not confuse this resolve with the false asceticism Paul denounces in his letter to Galatia. It is a self-centered, Christ-independent technique. God is not opposed to determination; He is opposed to earning. The early church saw salvations by the thousands as normal (Acts 5:14). We see no hint that they dissipated their spiritual power on preoccupations that divide the heart.
My third wish for you is mastery of the tongue. The Lord liked that advice so much He put it in both His Old and New Testaments: "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit" (1 Peter 3:10; Psalm 34:12-13). You want to love life in 2011, don't you? You want those 365 days to be "good days"? Here is the short version for readers too busy to bother with wishes No. 1 and 2: Speak slowly, put on a filter, let out no lie.
The year 2011 is a woman on the birthing stool, and we don't know what's in there yet: weal or woe; the sun rising or the sun setting on our nation; the beginning of the end times, or the end times in earnest. In any case, "a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you" (Psalm 91:7). You will pick your way among the dead and make it home.