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How to Grow from Spiritual Pilgrimages

  • Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jun 18, 2012
How to Grow from Spiritual Pilgrimages

Editor's note: This article is a report on the practical applications of Dr. James Emery White's new book, A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life (IVP Books, 2012).

All of life is a journey, and at any point in time you’re either moving closer to God or farther away from Him. Taking a spiritual pilgrimage – visiting a site that has played in an important role in Christian history – can propel you closer to God as you learn the lessons of His work in that place and incorporate them into your own life.

Here’s what you can learn from visiting some of the world’s many spiritual pilgrimage sites:

Learn how to be converted. When you visit the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford, England, you learn the history of how famous Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien converted to Christianity after spiritual discussions there. God intends for you to be converted just as they were: completely. As you grow to understand who Jesus is, devote yourself to Him completely so you can love Him with your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Make experiencing God your top priority, invite God to work in your life, ask questions and listen for God’s responses as you pursue Him, and develop a strong character centered on the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

Learn how to be spiritual. When you visit Iona Abbey in Iona, Scotland, you enter what is called a “thin place” in Celtic spirituality: a place that is so spiritual that the boundary between the physical and spiritual dimensions becomes thin enough for them to merge into each other in ways that are powerful enough to change people’s lives. Take an honest inventory of your relationship with God and ask yourself how close it really is and how much time and energy you’re actually devoting to cultivate it. Invite God to break into every part of your life with His truth. Begin regularly practicing spiritual disciplines that will help you develop more intimacy with God, such as daily prayer and Bible reading.

Learn how to be led by God. When you visit St. Catherine’s Monastery in Mt. Sinai, Egypt, you experience the place where God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, getting Moses’ attention in a powerful way and then giving Moses important guidance. St. Catherine’s Monastery is located in the middle of a desert – a desolate physical place that is symbolic of the desolate times when you feel as if your spirit is broken and needs refreshing through a new encounter with God. Spend time regularly in solitude and silence so you can focus without distractions on really listening to what God may want to say to you. Keep in mind that God’s guidance comes through His Holy Spirit speaking to you day by day and even moment to moment, not through a one-time plan that looks far into the future. Follow where God leads you – step by step – as He guides you through the Bible, the godly counsel of other faithful people, and prayer. Record God’s messages and obey them by taking action whenever he calls you to do so.

Learn how to participate in community. When you visit The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, you learn the tragic history of how badly people can mistreat each other if they’re not committed to following God’s principles of how to live in community with each other. Decide to treat other people gracefully because God is constantly giving you grace. Be committed to your relationships and do your best to work through conflicts as long as others are willing to go through the process with you. Rely on God’s power to help you forgive people who have hurt you.

Learn how to enjoy a healthy sexuality. When you visit Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France, you enter a beautiful sanctuary that engages all of your senses with holiness. Let Chartres inspire you to think of your body as God sees it: as a cathedral in which His Holy Spirit lives. Commit yourself to treating sex as the sacred act it is by respecting God’s design for it and living a sexually pure life (virginity until marriage and fidelity within marriage).

Learn how to discover and fulfill your calling. When you visit The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, you learn the story of how God called one of the world’s most famous evangelists to step into a great adventure of sharing the faith with people in need. As you reflect on Graham’s remarkable life, keep in mind that God has called you just as strongly and clearly to serve Him, since God calls all believers to expand His kingdom on Earth. Ask God to help you discern your calling (what He made you to do in the world), and to fulfill that calling integrity, faithfulness, and passion.

Learn how to make history. When you visit Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, Germany, you encounter the place where Martin Luther made history by starting the Protestant Reformation of the church. Luther believed in the priesthood of all believers – that anyone who loved and trusted God could serve Him and make history as a result by changing the world for the better. Ask God to show you how He wants you to join Him in his history-making work in the world today. Then go to work with conviction and courage.

Learn how to trust God’s will. When you visit the Ten Boom House in Haarlem, Holland, you’re in the famous hiding place where the Christian Ten Boom family saved the lives of many Jewish people during the Holocaust by hiding them from Nazis who wanted to kill them. Just as the Ten Booms chose to do what was morally right (even when doing so led them to be sent to concentration camps themselves), God wants you to discover and follow His will by constantly evaluating your decisions by the Bible’s moral principles.

Learn how to deal with your doubts. When you visit Dachau Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany, you enter a place where some of the most terrible human suffering in history happened, bringing many people face to face with their doubts about God. God wants you to face your own doubts, and express them honestly to Him by asking Him the difficult questions that are lingering in your soul. God is big enough to handle your doubts, and when you let those doubts motivate you to seek God more, you’ll discover valuable truths about God in the process.

James Emery WhiteAdapted from A Traveler’s Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying Through the Christian Life, copyright 2012 by James Emery White. Published by IVP Books, a division of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill., http://www.ivpress.com/.

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he previously served as the school's fourth president. Dr. White holds M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Seminary, where he was awarded a Garrett Teaching Fellowship in both New Testament and theology. He has also done advanced university study at Vanderbilt University in American religious history, and continuing education at Oxford University in England. White is the author of over a dozen books, including such Gold Medallion nominees as Serious Times and A Search for the Spiritual, Christianity Today Book of the Year award-winner Wrestling with God, as well as The Prayer God Longs For and A Mind for God. For White's blog and further resources visit www.churchandculture.org.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles, at: http://angels.about.com/. Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.com to send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience like an answered prayer.

Publication date: June 11, 2012