In the 1650′s, John Bunyan wrote a book. It was an allegorical novel, said to describe a dream. He titled it “Pilgrim’s Progress.” If you haven’t read it, it’s a great read – although the original version is a little harder to get through; old English and all. When I was about ten or eleven, I had an easy-read version that I read over and over again until the cover wore thin. I loved the symbolism, even as a child. If you haven’t heard of him, John Bunyan was a Reformation preacher who lived in England. During the difficult years of religious upheaval, when for a time it was illegal to even own a page from a Bible, this part-time tinker (repairman/handyman) gathered many together with his teachings about the love of God. He was a man who understood the compassionate side of Abba Father. His daughter, Mary, was blind. I have wondered many times if he wrote his allegory for her. In the years since it’s initial publication, “Pilgrim’s Progress” has sold more copies than any other book ever printed, except for the Bible. So, take my word for it; it’s a good read.
Which brings me to my story. This morning, the Holy Spirit reminded me of an experience I had when I was child, reading this old classic story. As I said, the book is an account of a dream. It describes the story of a man named Christian, who is making a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Along the way, he meets many who help him, and many more who hinder him. He gains companions; he experiences pain; he loses loved ones; and he finally makes it to his destination. All along the way, he learns and grows, becoming the person he was created to become.
In the middle of his journey, Christian has travelled a long way. Everywhere he goes, he looks for indicators to show him the next step in his journey. He has a map, but sometimes he can’t decipher it well. Continually, he needs others to help him figure it out. But he keeps moving. He comes to a steep hill, and looks upward. Sadly, overwhelmingly, it appears that the road continues up this small mountain; so he sighs and moves forward. He is tired; he is forlorn; he is weary; he is hungry and thirsty; he doesn’t know if he can do it. As he climbs, the mountain becomes steeper than he anticipated. Finally, he has to clamber on his hands and knees just to make headway. It takes all the energies he has in his possession. But now he is committed. He can’t go back. He can’t stop. He must finish this part of the journey.
Soon, he comes to a clearing. He is close to the peak of the mountain. He sees a large house, nestled close to the summit. He thinks “I could get some refreshment there, if they will take me in.” So, he moves on towards the house. But then, as he draws closer, his heart sinks. The pathway to the house is guarded by two large lions, who, although shackled to rock posts with neck irons, look at him with menacing eyes. Fear rises in his heart. He stops in his tracks.
Suddenly, a voice speaks from the front door of the house. The Caretaker shouts to him, “Don’t be afraid! They are chained to the posts! Keep to the middle of the path and they won’t be able to reach you!”
With a flash of hope, Christian slowly and carefully moves past the lions, who growl as he passes. He arrives at the front door untouched. He is safe. He breathes a sigh of relief.
“Welcome!” says the Caretaker. “We have been waiting for you.”
Surprised, Christian discovers a Place of Refreshment. He is bathed, and receives medical treatment for his injuries. He is given clean clothing. He eats at a banquet table. He laughs and relaxes in an atmosphere of safety. For several days, he stays. He finds his heart again. He gains direction. He asks questions. He listens. He learns.
Then, on the third morning, the King’s daughters; Faith, Hope and Charity, help him get ready to complete his journey. They clothe him in armor, hand-fit to his person. He is given a sword and a shield. He is provisioned, and given a scroll of promises. For you see, the House on the mountaintop was the King’s House. It was a place of refuge.
In the next chapter of the book, Christian faces the dragon Appollyon, his nemesis; the image of Satan in his own weaknesses. Because of his provisioning, he prevails victorious. He emerges from the battle battered, but wiser; stronger somehow. He would have died in the battle had he not been to the King’s House.
It’s my favorite place in the book. The House of Refreshing.
This morning, the Holy Spirit reminded me of an experience I had during one of my many readings of “Pilgrim’s Progress.” I was ten years old. I had just finished the King’s House chapter, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of the Presence of God. “When I grow up, Jesus, I want my house to be like that. I want people to go away from my house stronger than they came in. I want to help people.”
That hope has remained a center in me for the past forty-three years. When I met Bill, in our many conversations, building relationship, his heart resonated with that focus as well. (It’s wonderful when you marry someone who carries some of your same pages in their own instruction manual for living.) As as result, that same hope has filtered into the way we approach pastoring and leading people. “Let them leave stronger than they came in.”
It has become a personal mission statement for my counseling ministry as well.
All that being said, dear reader, I bring you a request for prayer. My Doll-House Toehead (see blog by the same title), and her mother (see blog titled “Peaches”), move away this weekend. They are on to the next step of rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of abuse, court systems and custody battles. I miss them already…
I sent my toehead away with a jar of Play-Doh… one we played with together…. small offerings. Someday, at journey’s end, we won’t have to go in different directions.
Pray for these two precious souls. Pray for their armor to remain strong; that they lose nothing — and gain everything.
The world is a learning environment. Some life-lessons come harder than others.
We all need safe places of refreshing.
Someday, I want to build a House of Safety for women in such stages of life….. God knows. Pray for our ministry as well.
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