A Pilgrim’s Look Ahead

Leaping from 2022 into the unknown territory of 2023 could be likened to an airline pilot’s anxiety when faced with the necessity of landing a 747 safely in the Alaskan bush.[1] Or, it can be likened to the proverbial “leap in the dark.” Taking leaps of faith challenges all of us as Christians. We know we can trust God, but we too often attempt to take care of ourselves. We want to “guarantee” our safe landing, if we can. But, personally arranging our most comfortable “guarantee” displays an appalling lack of trust in the very One whom we claim to trust with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). In short, we have merely revealed our own hypocrisy by micro-managing our own lives instead of allowing God to take care of those unknown details and events we might encounter.

A Pilgrim's Mode of Travel

2023 truly represents the unknown. This new frontier in time makes each one of us a time pilgrim as well as a faith pilgrim. Before I take the leap into the New Year, I remind myself that the Lord’s “statutes have become my songs in the house of my sojourning” (Psalm 119:54) — one of my favorite “life verses.” Something to consider: a pilgrim must carry limited baggage. In fact, it serves us well to plan to walk, rather than drive, into our new time journey. Mentally and emotionally, we must remove all the stuff we’ve packed into the back of our SUV and narrow our selection down to what will fit into our backpack. Now there is a challenge!

Our first choice for what to stow away in our backpack should be our Bible. After all, no Christian is properly attired for pilgrimage without taking along “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17) — it’s the second “armor” item following salvation itself. So, which version of the Bible have you determined to read through in 2023? Having read through the NIV Study Bible in 2022, I’ve selected the Legacy Standard Bible to read in 2023.

Since our journey through 2023 will take 365 days, we might want to add a few more books to read along the way. Please allow me to recommend a few for you to consider.

Books to Pack (and Read)

Click on book cover thumbnails to see the book on Amazon.

Let’s start at the very beginning, “Sound of Music” fans! Cornelis van Dam provides a superbly enlightening and perceptive discussion of the issues involved in understanding the opening chapters of our Bible. Throughout In the Beginning: Listening to Genesis 1 and 2 he defends the traditional interpretation. If you haven’t noticed, that interpretation is under attack in this day and age. Here’s a great way to start your 2023 pilgrimage. Know what the issues are and some of the best solutions to the problems involved.

Having just come through the Christmas season celebrating our Savior’s birth, we should continue to focus on Him. The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy presents 100 brief but impactful studies of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament by 46 of our fellow pilgrims (some of them my dear friends). Read one a day together with your daily Bible reading for the first 100 days of 2023. That will take you right up to the day after Resurrection Sunday (April 9).

I have a confession to make: these first three books comprised some of my reading in 2022. They rank high among my favorite reads. This next came as a huge surprise — Natasha Crain’s Faithfully Different: Regaining Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture. During 2022 I participated as key note speaker in two Biblical Worldview conferences. I wish I had known of this book before those sessions. It makes the fifth or sixth book I’ve read on this significant topic and it has become my top pick.

Time to introduce two books my wife and I are reading together as part of our devotional time together as a couple. We’re at the start of each one, so they will continue to be a blessing and a challenge to us during the early days of 2023.

The “Introduction” to John Piper’s Spectacular Sins:  And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ has already gripped our hearts and minds. Although this book was published in 2005, its message fits 2020 and beyond in a spectacular fashion. It is a quick read, but hard hitting and pertinent to every Christian pilgrim. It’s tempting to put it away in my backpack to read on Good Friday, but I’m too hooked already to reschedule it in our reading — we’ll continue onward in its pages.

Lest your backpack for your 2023 pilgrimage grow too heavy, I’ll conclude my recommendations with one final volume. Our daughter recommended it, then gifted it to us at Christmas. I really cannot think of a better choice for those who love theopoetry: Wendell Berry’s This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems. These contemplative poems arise out of Berry’s weekly Sunday walks. Not a bad idea for a pilgrim to find quiet solitude somewhere in the outdoors, slip this book from the backpack, and read it while perched on a beach, a hillside, a large boulder, or a mountain top.

A Pilgrim's Manner of Living

The Songs of Ascents in the Psalter comprise a collection of pilgrim songs. I love the titles provided for each of the psalms in Daniel L. Akin, Johnny M. Hunt, and Tony Merida, Exalting Jesus in Psalms 101–150, Christ-Centered Exposition, ed. by David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2021):

  • The Pilgrims’ Mess (Psalm 120)
  • The Pilgrims’ Help (Psalm 121)
  • The Pilgrims’ Worship (Psalm 122)
  • The Pilgrims’ Longing Look (Psalm 123)
  • The Pilgrims’ Empowering History (Psalm 124)
  • The Pilgrims’ God-Centered Confidence (Psalm 125)
  • The Pilgrims’ Joy (Psalm 126)
  • The Pilgrims’ Dependence (Psalm 127)
  • The Pilgrims’ Family (Psalm 128)
  • The Pilgrims’ Affliction (Psalm 129)
  • The Pilgrims’ Confession (Psalm 130)
  • The Pilgrims’ Humility (Psalm 131)
  • The Pilgrims’ King (Psalm 132)
  • The Pilgrims’ Brothers (Psalm 133)
  • The Pilgrims’ Blessing (Psalm 134)

The New Year offers another new calendar, a fresh set of 365 24-hour days, and many surprises around a number of the twists and turns our paths will take us through. Friends, we’re in foreign territory. We’re resident aliens here on Earth. Jesus Himself said, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). Heaven is our true home and it will be the final stop on our journey as faith pilgrims. That thought stirs a memory from a distant and past milestone in my own life, a milestone year. In 1967 I began the first New Year of my married life by reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress — one of my wife’s gifts to me. We’ve traveled a long way since then, added four children, children’s spouses, fourteen grandchildren, grandchildren’s spouses, and two great-grandchildren. And that doesn’t cover all the travel miles in 44 countries, most of which involved ministry.

My prayer for the New Year is:

Lord, make me the pilgrim You desire that I should be.
Lead me on the paths You desire me to walk.
Keep me faithful to Your Word.
Conform me to my blesséd Savior’s communal attributes.
Bring me safely to my eternal home still singing the pilgrim’s songs.

[1] Okay, my pilot friends (Joe, Paula, and Lionel) certainly think they could manage to land safely — “Sully” Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson might be presented as evidence. I’d have to think twice before purposefully getting on one of my friends’ planes just to let them prove they could land a 747 in the Alaskan bush — just kidding!

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