The Difference between a Sojourner and a Settler
To be sure, a settler, like a sojourner, is a person who is on a journey. My image, as a white, middle-class 49 year old —who grew up watching western cowboy movies—is of a covered wagon, with all the earthly belongings the settlers can fit inside, headed for the promised land of what would become the western United States.
On the surface, a settler has a lot in common with a sojourner but there are striking differences as well. The settler can’t wait to get moving, he wants to make progress toward his new home on the range. He takes along everything that he thinks he will need. The trip may be dangerous, there may be hardships, it may be that much of the stuff he thought he “needed” will be discarded along the way. But those difficulties aside, he sees them as relatively short- term heartaches. He is going to the ‘homestead.’ When he gets there, he begins to settle it, to tame it.
Clear the land. Find water. Get a shelter built. Cut firewood. Build an outhouse. Put in a garden. Put up fences. Dig a well. Replace the dirt floor with a hardwood floor. Order some glass for his windows. Get some cattle. Clear some more land for a bigger crop. Eventually, build a town, put up a church and a school.
Life revolves around basically three things: Security, comfort and convenience. Life becomes an endless pursuit to gain security, to move from less comfort to more comfort, and from less convenience to more convenience. Security, comfort and convenience are the driving passions of the next forty years. The devastating thing to the settler, the unthinkable thing to a settler, the thing that creates the greatest fear and anxiety to the settler, is when his or her security, comfort, or convenience is threatened. He has labored too hard, too long and at too great a cost; he has dreamed the American dream for too long to risk living for anything but the security, comfort, and convenience that he has carved out of the countryside.
A sojourner on the other hand has a different dream. Like the settler, he is going somewhere, and like the settler he can’t wait to make progress. But, he is not traveling to a physical home that he will tame so much as he is traveling toward and in the companionship of a relationship. He is on an adventure with new vistas to explore and new people to meet around every new bend and dip in the road.
The sojourner lives for the stories he will tell around the campfire at the end of each day. He longs to retell the adventures he had and to celebrate with the people he meets in the lands of his sojourn. At the end of his journey he will retell and swap the adventures with a large family who traveled the same path before him. Since the relationship and the stories he will tell about his travels are what he is living for, he isn’t so much interested in security, comfort, or convenience. He is “just passing through,” learning, growing and enjoying the companionship of his friends. He is on a quest to learn and grow and observe, and love and serve so that when he arrives “home,” he and his beloved, will have wonderful memories and stories to recall.
He isn’t collecting things. Things slow him down. He is not driven by greater comfort. Comfort might keep him from his next adventure. Convenience for him is nice but not necessary. And security is far less important than faithfulness to his traveling companions and honoring those who have traveled the same path in the past. He also wants to leave a legacy to those who will come after him. Not a physical trust of things, but a pattern of behavior and a way of living. He wants others to go on the journey that he traveled because the journey and the companionship and yes, the destination too, but even more importantly the Person at the end of his journey, is the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46). In fact, he will lay down his life for his companions because the companionship that he shares with his fellow travelers—past, present and future—is pretty nearly the whole story for him.
He isn’t in a hurry, but he is living lite, celebrating each moment, and risking everything to get to the end of his journey and tell his stories to all those who have loved and traveled the road he has traveled. The sojourner’s life looks risky and foolish to settlers. The settler keeps asking him, “Where is your stuff? What do you have to show for your journey? Don’t you ever just want to settle down?”
And the sojourner keeps responding, “Every day I am tempted to settled down. But I keep reminding myself that this is not my home (see Hebrews 11:9-10). There is a better one up ahead. I have been promised an inheritance that is being prepared by the Master Himself (John 14:1-7), so I am enjoying the companionship of my friends (cf. Heb. 10:24; Phil. 2:3; Rom. 12:16; 15:5, 7; 1 Pt. 5:5; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13), and longing for the day of my redemption (cf. Rom. 8:19; 2 Cor. 5:2; Eph. 4:30).”
On the surface, the settler and the sojourner might look similar, but the difference between them is radical. They might sit in the same pew or row at church. They might read from the same Bible. But one is living for security, convenience and comfort—things that will burn and never enter eternity. The other is living for things that will forever expand and deepen with savor in the glow of the Father’s glory and grace.
We are called by the Great Shepherd to love Him and journey with Him, to love nothing we find or that He gives on our journey more than Him and to celebrate with all whom He calls to travel with us on the journey. I love the song by Caedmon’s Call, You Created.4 The chorus goes like this:
“But You created nothing
That gives me more pleasure than You
And You won’t give me something
That gives me more pleasure than You.”
That captures both the sojourner’s heart and the heart of God’s design for us in Christ.
This disquiets the settler. He or she believes in Christ but still looks for fulfillment and joy in things and experiences and accomplishments, rather than in Christ Himself—in the gifts of Christ rather than the person of Christ. The settler often doesn’t like many of those called into the sojourner’s company. True sojourners generally do not come from “polite company,” and so they are often deemed a threat to the “security/comfort/convenience” crowd.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
3. I’ve decided that I am going to be 49 for the rest of my life!
4. Cademon’s Call, Back Home, Essential Records, 2003.
Tomorrow ———> The Settler’s Struggle with the Sojourner
© 2010 Marty Schoenleber, Jr.