My kids started school yesterday – real, live, in-person school. Who would have thought going, actually going, to school would be so monumental? Ah, life in 2020….
But even as this year takes every system, institution and way of life and turns it upside down and inside out, our family has put a stake in the ground to remain anchored to Truth (John 17:17) as we put one foot in front of the other.
For the past four years, part of our back-to-school routine has included reading The Dangerous Journey aloud to my kids in the evenings leading up to the first day of school. The Dangerous Journey is Oliver Hunkin’s rendition of John Bunyan’s timeless classic, Pilgrim’s Progress*.
Yes, I read aloud a from a book originally written in 1678 to get my kids ready for middle school and high school in the 21st century. How on-trend am I? All joking aside, we gather in the evenings to read a chapter in The Dangerous Journey to prepare for the classroom, the halls, sporting fields and social settings in the coming school year. It’s amazing how relatable a nearly 350-year-old book is to 2020. I read (and re-read) this book to them because I’m serious about teaching my kids perseverance while they are under my roof. I want to take every opportunity to speak perseverance over them and impart wisdom they hopefully don’t have to learn the hard way.
In the story, The Dangerous Journey’s the main character, Christian, encounters trials of every kind on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City. His charge at the beginning of his journey is to stay on the path – that’s it. Just stay on the path. However, along the way, other people, fear, physical ailments, and temptations all try to divert him and knock him off his path away from his final glory. Who can relate?
The Dangerous Journey is a message of perseverance in the Christian faith. Through this story, I can help my kids see the bigger picture of their walk with Christ, help them understand that the decision to follow Christ will not be easy, but it will be worth every penalty, every sacrifice and every worldly disappointment. Throughout the story we ask, “What would you do in this situation?” or “How would you handle this temptation?” While these questions are hypothetical, it is still a rich training ground for perseverance.
It might be helpful to define what perseverance is (and what it isn’t). Perseverance, according to Merriam-Webster is “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure or opposition.” However, I think my favorite definition/analogy of perseverance comes from the great evangelist, Oswald Chambers who said: “Perseverance means more than endurance — more than simply holding on until the end. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in a while, the saint says, ‘I can’t take any more.’ Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly.”
Perseverance is not just holding on to the finish, it’s a holy endeavor – a core discipline of the Christian life. We are living in a fallen world that is not our home and it is growing uglier by the minute – as it must. Since Jesus promised us that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33), we know we will need to persevere while we are His ambassadors on this earth.
While reading The Dangerous Journey, these concepts come alive. It’s worth noting that the author, John Bunyan, knew a thing or two about perseverance. He was a “tinkerer” meaning he fixed kettles, pots, etc. But his real passion was the Bible. He immersed himself in the Bible and books of religious devotion. From the overflow of his reading, he became what we would call a “lay preacher,” but in his day was called repulsively a “jack-leg preacher.” Because he was preaching without a license, he was jailed for three months. That three-month sentence turned into 12 years because Bunyan refused to promise to stop preaching if he were released. He was finally released, only to be imprisoned three years later. It was during his second imprisonment that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.
Upon reading his completed work, none of Bunyan’s friends thought it was any good. They discouraged him from printing and distributing it. Without the encouragement of his friends, Bunyan persevered and released Pilgrim’s Progress in two parts. It became the most widely read book in the English language, second only to the Bible and has been translated into more than 100 languages. The English colonists in North America usually owned two books – the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress. Later, U.S. troops in World War II received copies of Pilgrim’s Progress as standard issue.
Why do I kick off every school year by reading a version of Pilgrim’s Progress? For the same reason I stock our home’s bookshelves with stories about war heroes and faithful, valiant “everyday people” who showed up for their God-ordained assignments. Simply put, we need to be inspired by stories of perseverance because we will be called to be or do more than we think we are capable of being or doing.
After all, none of us will survive this Dangerous Journey.
Dear Lord, thank You for giving us the strength to persevere through the trials of this world. Let our hearts not be troubled, but give us peace, strength, and perseverance for the work You’ve assigned to us. May we look also for those who are struggling and cheer them on. Thank You for the faithfulness of John Bunyan and for giving him the gift of story to creatively share Your heart with millions of readers for nearly 350 years. Amen.
*Pilgrim’s Progress is an amazing work, but it was just a little too advanced for our kids when we started reading it four years ago, so the younger version, The Dangerous Journey fit the bill. That said, The Dangerous Journey is not too juvenile for adult readers. Also, the artwork is exquisite in The Dangerous Journey, but a little scary for children younger than six years old.