As I was thinking about this morning’s theme, and the ideas of laziness and diligence that we’re exploring today, I was aware of this real tension that we have to keep hold of as we’re talking about them. On the one hand we’ve got lots of warnings in the Bible about the dangers of laziness, and not making the best of what we’re entrusted with, and on the other hand we’re also told that rest is really important, with the theme of the gift of Sabbath rest appearing repeatedly through the whole Bible.
When we look at the flip side, at diligence and perseverance – there are lots of encouragements to keep going and to work hard at growing in our faith and discipleship but we are also warned that we cannot work our way into God’s good books, that our relationship with God is a free gift, given to us in grace, in Jesus.
So, in summary, rest but don’t be lazy. Work, but don’t rely on your own strength.
As I was reflecting on this, my mind was drawn to one of my favourite books, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the brilliant way that it can help us think about this theme. This book was written about 400 years ago by John Bunyon, and it describes a journey. In the first part of the book the journey is made by Christian, and in the second part of the book the same journey is made by his wife, Christiana and their children.
This journey is one full of adventures, joys and sorrows.
It takes them through different parts of the country – through the famous Slough of Despond, where Christian almost gives up, through the narrow gate, via the cross of Calvary, where Christian’s burden of sin and shame is cut from his back, over the Hill of Difficulty, down the Valley of the Shadow of Death, into the dangerous town of Vanity Fair, and on to their final destination.
Different travelling companions appear, some like Evangelist, Great-heart, and Hopeful are encouraging and helpful to the heroes in their journey. Some, like Sloth, Mr Wordly-Wiseman, and Talkative are troublesome and try and persuade the travellers to leave the path they’ve chosen.
As well as other people on the road they also come across fearsome monsters. Apollyon – the great destroyer of souls who attacks Christian and almost defeats him, until Christian thrusts him through with his sword and cries out “In all things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us”. The giant Despair who lures Christian and Hopeful into imprisonment in Doubting-Castle, until Christian remembers the key of promise that he had been given, and which releases them from captivity.
What is this journey that is so important to them? Where have they come from, and where are they going, that motivates them to keep travelling, to keep going, through all these difficult places and facing such opposition? It is the journey from the City of Destruction, where they lived previously, to the Celestial City, where they will live safely with the King of heaven forever. This journey is the journey of their lives.
Throughout this journey we find Christian and Christiana being offered opportunities to rest and restore themselves for the next stage of the journey.
Fairly early on in his journey Christian is faced by the Hill Difficulty. At the bottom of the hill he had a choice, there were paths that went round the hill, but the narrow path, his path, goes up it. Bunyon writes “he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and his knees, because of the steepness of the place. Now about the midway to the top of the Hill was a pleasant arbour, made by the Lord of the Hill, for the refreshing of weary travellers. Thither therefore Christian got, where also he sat down to rest him”
And that’s all fine, but then Christian fell asleep, and he slumbered long and deep until night came and he awoke with a start and hurried on up the hill in the dark. Unfortunately in his haste, he dropped a parchment he’d been given earlier in his journey, which is his passport into the Celestial City, so he has to retrace his steps and go back for it.
In the second part of the book we see Christiana and her party, including a friend called Mercy, arrive at the same place, and Mercy says, “How sweet is rest to them that labour! And how good is the Prince of pilgrims to provide such resting places for them! Of this Arbour I have heard much, but I never saw it before. But here let us beware of sleeping, for as I have heard, for that it cost poor Christian dear”.
Without wanting to labour the point – the place of rest had been provided for him by God, but he lingered there too long, and in the end it caused him even more weariness.
At other points, the travellers find other places to rest and recuperate – the House Beautiful and the Delectable Mountains among them. In each they tell the story of their journey so far, recover from their wounds and receive encouragements, warnings, and equipment for the next stage of the journey.
We’re going to leave the Pilgrims on their progress there. If you have never read it, it is still available, in audio book as well as printed editions, and is well worth the time. There is a modern retelling of it by Ishmael called Children of the Voice, which is particularly accessible for youngsters. I’ve put the url of the place you can get hold of these on the screen.
Children of the voice – https://tinyurl.com/y3w7kt3z
But, anyway, to bring this illustration of journey up to date, it is the time of year for journeys. Lots of us have been driving to go on holiday or to see friends and family around the country. I wonder what kind of traveller you are. In your ideal world, if it were only up to you, how often would you take a break on a journey. Are you a straight through, no stops kind of person. Or are you a stop every hour for a coffee and a loo break, perhaps a longer lunch break for a picnic at a National Trust property. Is the journey part of the holiday, or the thing that has to be got through before the holiday can start? One way gets you there quicker, as long as you don’t fall asleep at the wheel. The other gets you there more relaxed, perhaps, if you ever get there at all.
I wonder where you are in the journey of your life? How is the balance between rest and work? Physically, mentally, spiritually? Do you feel like you’ve got stuck, fallen asleep, and are struggling to get going? Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you again and get you moving. Are you weary and struggling on – God provides places to rest – ask him to show you one.
Rest but don’t be lazy. Work, but don’t rely on your own strength.