I have this incessant nagging in my heart to go on a trip someplace where I return changed. And I don’t mean changed in the “I went on a mission trip, helped some people, and came back rattled for a couple weeks because I saw how unnecessarily lavish my life is.” I mean, the way I view the world, the way I operate from day to day, the way that I encounter and connect with people, the way that I interact and walk each day with my God and Redeemer, changed. Is it possible that I’ve already gone on that trip and not known it? Could it be that I’m waiting in anticipation for something that I never will experience? (There’s my hook for you to keep reading.)
Enter Jacob, you know, the one from the Bible. To set the scene, the father of twelve has just found out that Joseph is alive and down in Egypt as Pharaoh’s right hand man. In response, Jacob uproots the whole family with all of their belongings and moves from Canaan to Egypt. Shortly following, Joseph introduces the Pharaoh to his father. Jacob must have been looking exceptionally aged because Pharaoh’s first response is to ask him how old he is. Jacob responds, “My pilgrimage has lasted one hundred and thirty years.” Pilgrimage? Jacob must not understand that a pilgrimage is a visit to a shrine to honor a divine being. How does this encounter with Pharaoh have anything to do with Yahweh, the one true God that Jacob recognizes and worships?
A journey has a destination by design, or at least is supposed to. What did Jacob understand about his pilgrimage in life that myself and so many of us today cannot seem to comprehend? I’ll say this despite the possibility of some concluding their reading at this point. My wife, Maria, and I both attended the University of Alabama, which for the past few years, has been using the phrase, “Trust the Process.” This expression is a great reminder that significant achievements in life are worthy of engagement despite the challenging and problematic endeavors. Is this what Jacob is referring to about his life? Not that there is a journey to a geographic location which changes you and gives proper honor to the one true God, but that the whole life of an individual is the very pilgrimage that we desire. This pilgrimage is not a journey of arriving, but a journey of becoming.
This becoming that God has purposed for us in Jesus Christ is not merely a mental ascent to deeper knowledge or consciousness, nor is it just emotional development, or physical progression. The pilgrimage that God yearns for each of our lives is a holistic approach (mentally, emotionally, physically, socially, spiritually) of becoming like Jesus in all things so that ultimately, we may fully reflect Him as the righteous and living temples, which His blood has obtained for us. Whether we are willing to recognize the reality or not, we are in the process of becoming something. Every emotion, every thought, every action, and every decision is a crossroad in the journey of becoming. Each presents the question: do I want to travel down a path for my own glory or one for God’s? Yet, by no means are we deprived through the process. Believing that God has told the truth in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has secured the support of His Spirit to propel us on the pilgrimage of becoming like Him.
What I find so interesting in the story of Jacob is the moment in between his decision to move the family to Egypt and his interaction with Pharaoh, when he has an encounter with God. In this encounter, God reaffirms the goodness of His character and declares to Jacob, “Do not fear to go down into Egypt, for it is there that I will make you a great nation.” If you’re familiar with the rest of Israel’s history, you know that it is here in Egypt where the Israelites become slaves for hundreds of years. Why God allows this to be a part of the process for Israel is confounding to the human brain, but it reminds us that it isn’t what the journey of becoming contains that matters, but who is directing the journey. God’s glory, through Jesus’ resurrection and Spirit, is the true pilgrimage for our lives that empowers us to move from depravity to holiness; from wandering to intentionality; from death to life; and from a deceptive journey to ourselves to a deeply satisfying journey to God Himself.