If you could draw a map of the Christian life, what would it look like? I don’t just mean a concept diagram, like a mind map, but an actual, geographical map.
It turns out that the Bible actually does picture the Christian life with a map.
It is a map of the great desert of Sinai, which the Israelites crossed on their 40-year trek from Egypt to Canaan, under Moses. You’ll remember that God rescued them from Egypt, met them at Sinai, and eventually delivered them safely to the Promised Land of Canaan, across the Jordan River.
It is this journey which is in the Apostle Paul’s mind as he writes to the church at Corinth: For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud [the presence of God] and that they all passed through the [Red] sea (1 Corinthians 10:1 NIVUK). When Paul goes on to say that the people of God were “baptised” in the cloud and the sea (in rather a dry way!), he is clearly drawing a parallel with the Christian lives of his readers in Corinth.
The same map is in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews. In chapters 3-4, he focusses not on the start of the journey but its finish, entering the “rest” that God promised. This was Canaan, but, he says, there is a much bigger ‘rest’ that God has for us, in heaven.
In other words, the Christian life is a journey from Egypt to Canaan, from slavery to sin all the way to the Promised Land of glory.
This map of the Christian life is one that some of our spiritual forebears loved. Most famously, it is the basis of John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, which follows “Christian” on his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City – through what John Newton called “many dangers, toils and snares”.
It is a picture that should encourage us to persevere. Read the book of Numbers, and we see that the desert is a tough place, where God’s people are tempted to doubt God’s promises. We need to respond in trust and obedience, not unbelief and rebellion; then we will reach the Promised Land. And what gifts God has given us for the journey!
This picture of the Christian life is also the key to one of our most famous hymns. Why not sing the map?
Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand;
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.
Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer;
Be thou still my strength and shield;
Be thou still my strength and shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises, songs of praises,
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.