“You’re going where?” The year was 2012, and we had just finished building a home in Florida. Our friends were incredulous when we announced that we were going to leave the country for a year.
“Why would you want to go half way around the world to South Africa when you just moved into your dream house?!”
Most people did not realize that we were “going home” to South Africa, the land where we spent our first decade of married life. Back in 1992, I moved to South Africa with my new husband. We were part of the first Fulbrighters sent into South Africa as apartheid was being dismantled. The country was characterized by unrest and political instability, especially in Kwa Zulu-Natal where we would be living.
I was filled with both excitement and dread, but reading through Jeremiah one evening, God sparked an inspiring thought:
“Moab has been at rest from youth,
like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—
she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
and her aroma is unchanged.” Jeremiah 48:11
I felt the Lord say, “You are being poured, Mindy, and your aroma will be changed by all you will see, do, touch, and hear in Africa. Rejoice, for this is my plan for you.” And so it was in every way. I was stretched, challenged, and inspired beyond my wildest dreams.
Later, I read John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance and recognized much of what God had been doing in my life. Eldredge points out that “every great story involves a quest…While ‘The Sacred Romance’ may require for some a change of geography, for every soul it means…a decision to become a pilgrim of the heart.” (chapter 10)
Pilgrim of the heart! I felt my spirit leap with knowing. Yes! This is true. And there it is in the Psalms:
“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84:5 (NIV)
(Click on image below to download scripture card)
As we meditate on Psalm 84:5 this week, I’m excited to see what the Lord says to us all. The first line itself prompts me to ask questions of God: “Is my strength in You? How can I tell if I’m trusting in myself or in You?”
Sadly, this is rarely a difficult question for me to answer. I have a tendency to rely on my own strength. I pretend that I’m relying on God, but I can always tell by the fruit that I’m reaping when I’m drawing from my soulish brawn instead of Holy Spirit muscle.
My soulish strengths emanate from my mind, will, emotions, and my body. This toughness of soul is a brilliant resource as long as I am submitted to Spirit, but when my soul turns vigilante, it runs roughshod through my life. (Zechariah 4:6)
My Mindy strength is limited — frustratingly limited – which means that when I’m tapping into my own will-power, I will eventually become exhausted which makes me feel like a tired two-year old pitching a fit.
I do a big-girl routine similar to that exhausted toddler, and just like the smaller version, it ain’t pretty. Grace is gone. Mercy has left the building. Kindness is nowhere to be found.
We all have these moments, but there is one sure way to make it right. Apologize! Yup, repenting to God and to people always moves us back to a place of peace. The only way that any of us can find supernatural strength is when we take on the cloak of humility, admit our own weakness, and stop our soulish striving (II Corinthians 12:9-11).
OK, so we understand that we will be blessed when we find our strength in God. Now what about this idea of pilgrimage? Sometimes I forget that my heart should be set on pilgrimage. I get comfortable. I want to have everything just how I like it. I cling to my routine. I build my little kingdom. But then I feel the call, the whisper, the longing, the fragrance…of…God’s wooing.
When I’m on the fence about following God’s leading or staying where I am, I develop discontentment and anxiety in my heart. I know that to remain in my small world against God’s will is certain to stir up trouble and invite fear. I will never find the peace I seek as long as I am disobeying God. Believe me, I’ve tried. But disobeying God is a recipe for heartache (see Deuteronomy 28 “Blessings for Obedience” and “Curses for Disobedience”).
John Eldredge again weighs in on the choice that faces each of us:
“The choice before us now is to journey or to homestead, to live like Abraham, the friend of God, or like Robinson Crusoe, the lost soul cobbling together some sort of existence with whatever he can salvage from the wreckage of the world. Crusoe was no pilgrim; he was a survivor, hunkered down for the duration. He lived in a very, very small world where he was the lead character and all else found its focus on him. Of course, to be fair, Crusoe was stranded on an island with little hope of rescue. We have been rescued, but sill the choice is ours to stay in our small stories, clutching our household gods and false lovers, or to run in search of life.” (The Sacred Romance, chapter 10)
This passage from Eldredge and this verse in Psalm 84 stir up in me a desire to say “yes” to God, “yes” to pilgrimage, “yes” to finding my strength in Him. I don’t want to stay in my small story, tangled up with counterfeit affections, household gods, or false lovers which draw my heart away from God.
I want to follow the path Father has laid out for me. I want to run the race to which God has called me heavenward. (Philippians 3:14) Join me this week in seeking God’s face with a willingness to step out in faith. It’s a bold prayer, and one that He loves to answer.
God may not take you to Africa, away from Africa, or to any other far-flung geographical destination, but He does want all of your heart. When we say “yes” to pilgrimage, we can move forward in confidence, knowing that we are grasping the hand of the One who will never fail us.