Recently, I have been reading through John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and I had the opportunity this past Sunday to watch a new animated version of the book (1). The movie was very well done, accurately portraying the journey of Christian and his friends.
If you are not familiar with the story, Bunyan narrates in his allegory the journey of the Christian life, describing the trials and difficulties along the way, but always leading us onward to the precious promise of our eternal home and the glories that await us there. There are many times in the story when Christian and his comrades feel like giving up, like there is no point in going on, that there is not even a way to go on. Yet always, though they do stumble and fall, they rise up and continue on their pilgrimage all the way to their journey’s end.
It is a great story, but to leave it there is to miss the entire point. We have to realize that each one of us is on a journey, though we may not be physically taking a pilgrimage to a distant land. However, we have been told that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). There is a path that we are on, a course that we ought to “run with endurance” (Hebrews 12:1). It is what we are called to do as Christians.
Now all that sounds great and everything, but how committed are we to finishing that journey, of making it all the way to the finished line? Oh sure, we have “mountain-top” experiences with God, times when we feel especially close to Him and we surrender our lives to His service. But what about the daily grind, the monotony of daily life—will we serve Him even then?
I’m not talking about the trials we endure, the times of difficulty we face. Those are another matter, but in some ways, they might actually be easier. You see, there is a very real danger that crouches in the shadows, lurking, waiting to entangle our minds. I am speaking of an enemy: an attitude of complacency.
There are times in the story of Christian and his friends when they start feeling pretty good about how things are going. They aren’t fighting any giants or demons, and though the road is a little rocky in places, there is nothing to cause too much concern. But in those times, they often encounter deceivers and temptations that lead them astray from fully following after the Lord. The problem was that they started looking at and relying upon themselves instead of remembering that they live for Someone else.
Similarly, complacency is a deadly evil that creeps into our hearts, making us ineffective for the Lord and leads us into sin. At least, it has for me. I find that when I don’t have any particular “major” battles I am facing, when my prayers are being answered, and when life in general seems to be going pretty good, it is those times –not the trials—that I start living for myself.
No, it is nothing all that obvious, but it is there in the small, little decisions where I refuse to ask, What would God have me do with my time now?” Or even worse, when I ask, but do not follow through in obedience to the answer from the Spirit. I start thinking about what I want, not about how to please the Lord.
This is an extremely dangerous place to be. It is these times of ease and comfort that God sternly warns His people to be on guard (Deuteronomy 8:11-14). A wise man name Agur earnestly begged of the Lord to keep him from having too much, “so that I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” (Proverbs 30:8, 9). Now he did ask to be kept from poverty as well, but he specifically prayed against having riches. Why? So that he not be tempted to turn his back on his God.
Think of complacency as a Trojan Horse. There is nothing that seems alarming about it, but it can destroy us. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we are going to enjoy the blessings that God has given, but we never stop there. Instead of enjoying them and praising the God who gave them, we start to use His gifts for our own purposes, and we fall. Or if we don’t fall, we at least become so rusty, we cannot be used for the Kingdom in our current state.
This is a far cry from what Christ has called us to. He said quite plainly that if we loved our own lives and what we can get out of this world, we will lose it all (John 12:25). In fact, He called us to “deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross and follow” Him (Matthew 16:24). It is not that we serve God with most of our lives and leave a few things for our own self-service. No, we are to die to ourselves completely.
Does that mean we should not do anything to take care of ourselves? Not at all. Remember Agur? He said “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion” (Proverbs 30:8 italic mine). He prayed to have his meets met, nothing more, nothing less.
The point is then is that we do not serve ourselves. Let me illustrate. Let’s say I finish a project I was working on, and I have some time before supper. There is a bunch I could do: read a book, play an instrument, drink some coffee, do some more writing, all of which are good things. My human nature is to justify whatever I want to do, but God wants me to ask, “Lord, what would You have me to do now?” Jesus bought us with His very blood, so we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). We belong to Him, for He is the One who made us after all (Psalm 100:3).
So what am I saying? Well, let me bring this all together. Whether we realize it or not, we are on a journey, this pilgrimage of the Christian life. Every day—scratch that, every minute—we have a choice of whether we will submit to Jesus’ Lordship over our lives, or whether we are just going to go right on doing what we want to do. He laid down His own life that we might live for Him, not that we would continue in our own fleshly sin (Romans 6:10-13). We are to serve the living God, the God who made us, loves us, and redeems us.
We have been given a purpose in this life, and that is to serve God and live in a way that honors the gospel, something we cannot do if we are focused upon ourselves (Philippians 1:27-2:4). Every part of our lives, every decision, is to be brought under Christ’s control. It is so easy to forget this, it almost escapes our notice, but that is the reason why we must be all the more diligent to guard against it. We serve Him, not ourselves, and that is shown by the little, “insignificant” choices we make each day. Do your decisions reflect that you serve the Lord?
Our words mean nothing if our actions do not confirm our profession. It may seem easier to serve God with some bigger decisions, but the moments when we surrender our own will that we so desperately cling to and turn to do God’s will instead, those are the moments when our loyalty to Him is really proven. He is Lord over all. Not part, not some. All. How much is He Lord in your life?
- Here is the website for the new animated version of Pilgrim’sProgress: https://www.pilgrims.movie/