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Struggles on the Pilgrimage: Progress or Regress? 

February 28, 2018

It is true that without struggle, there is no progress. Yet, the direction of one’s struggle is of immense consequence, too. When the pilgrims Christian and Pliable stumbled into the Slough of Despond, they both struggled to get out of the mess . . .  but in opposite directions.

The unexpected adversity had so disillusioned Pliable that he would forsake the eternal blessings ahead for what was familiar and comfortable. He struggled in the wrong direction -- back to his home in the City of Destruction.  Meanwhile, Christian struggled in the opposite direction –toward the Celestial City. He knew in his heart that reaching his destination would be well worth every effort.

This reminds me of struggles in opposing directions that I see in the Bible. I think of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  They thought they knew what religious commitment should look like. But suddenly Jesus came and tore into their paradigm. Rather than moving toward His plan, they struggled away from it. It’s hard to fathom how, as witnesses of Jesus’ extraordinary miracles done in their presence, they only saw infractions. They claimed to cherish Scripture, but in the end the Scriptures condemned them, testifying that they “rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (Luke 7:30). Ultimately, the desire to murder God’s Son consumed their hearts. God sets before such people the offer of life, but their hearts drive them away -- even back to the City of Destruction.

I think of Jacob wrestling with the angel in Genesis 32. He already had the birthright and his father’s blessing, but now he would contend for more. It all should have gone to his brother, but Esau hadn’t valued his inheritance enough to prevent his brother from seizing it. He’d rather contend for some soup to satisfy is craving than struggle to keep his birthright!

We read that Jacob struggled all night for God’s blessing. At contest’s end, he received a new name – Israel -- which means “contends with God,” or “he who strives with God.” Why was he so named? Because he fought for his calling and would not be denied. God explained it like this: “because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Clearly, Jacob’s struggle toward God’s blessings and purposes pleased God and secured his spiritual inheritance.

When you find yourself in a “Slough of Despond,” what kind of struggler are you? The Lord Jesus understands your temptations and struggles. He knows what it is to struggle, wrestle, contend, and fight His way through to victory. One night, facing the Cross, He sweat as great drops of blood. Still, He struggled forward, keeping His focus, choosing the path of great personal sacrifice. In the end, He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and secured eternal hope and salvation for all who believe.

Winning the battles in life will always require struggle. No matter how daunting your circumstances, maintain your focus and struggle forward. Remember, spiritual strength comes as we exert our spiritual muscles in the right direction.

Be like Christian in the Slough of Despond struggling toward his eternal home; be like Jacob whom God renamed Israel as reward for his wrestling his way to victory; and, most importantly, be like your Savior and King Jesus Christ, “ . . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2, ESV).

Remember, persevering in faithfulness through all the struggles along your Christian pilgrimage will bring great reward. Let yours be a pilgrimage that progresses rather than regresses.

By Cheryl Ford