Pilgrims Progress and the Fear to Stand

Christian Battles Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation

This morning I was reading my copy of Pilgrim’s Progress and ran across a principle that I have seen in operation too much of late. “Christian” leaves a place of rest to continue on his journey to the celestial city. He descends a hill and in the valley below meets Apollyon (Satan) rising to do battle with him. Fear fills him and he briefly considers running away from the battle but then remembers that no part of his armor covers his back (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20). The darts of the enemy will find him easily if he does not turn and face his foe (6:16).

Be careful.

  • Graduate student, seeking to avoid the sneers of faculty and classmates by hiding your faith in Christ . . .
  • High School student, seeking to a gain entrance into a valued peer group by hiding your faith . . .
  • Office worker, looking the other way, when unfair labor practices benefit you but not all, and you say nothing for fear of being blackballed . . .
  • Soccer mom, seeking to not make waves when the trans identified male is forced into your girls soccer team and you say nothing . . .
  • Nursing student, looking to better your career, and yet keeping your faith in Christ under wraps so as not to arouse difficult conversations with fellow students and professors . . .
Be careful. There is no armor for a retreating warrior.

In my ministry to pastors, I recently heard this story.

A pastor in Pennsylvania, married for 38 years, in ministry with his wife for 36 years, with three adult daughters who all walking with Jesus. Until 9 months ago. I sat across the table from a broken man. He began with these words. “If you would have told me 9 months and 14 days ago, that I would be here at this retreat telling you this story I would have told you that you were insane.” And then he told his story.

As the girls married and left the home, my friend’s wife decided she wanted to pursue a medical degree. He supported her decision and the two tightened their financial belts, made adjustments and she picked up her educational dreams once again. Study was hard, her classmates were often much younger, but her husband supporter her, she worked hard and plowed ahead. But the atmosphere of the education was not friendly toward Christians. His wife began to compromise. She hid her faith. She felt she needed friends. Her period as an internist included long hours. Her time in the word of God became shorter and shorter, and then absent altogether. And then 9 months ago, she came home, and said “I no longer want to be a pastor’s wife.” Walked out of the home. Walked out of her children’s lives. Abandoned her husband and her faith.

And now my friend was telling 19 other men, that in one day, he lost his marriage, his wife, his best friend, and his ministry. His daughters are in shock. One of them, who lives in South Carolina, called him and invited him to come down to be with her husband and family. I hope you will pray for him and his now estranged wife and children. Today, he is driving a Pepsi truck to pay his bills and wondering what happened. 

What did happen?

The answer is complicated. But Pilgrim’s Progress gives a hint to at least part of the problem. There are consequences to turning our backs on the battle for the glory of Christ. Jesus warned us (Mark 4:16-19).

16 “. . . these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

The culture around us is a “pickle juice” seeking to turn us into something that Jesus will judge (2 Tim. 4:1). Make sure your spirit is being saturated by the word of God. Be faithful to Christ. Live passionately for and like the Savior who delights to call you His own.

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