top of page

Pilgrim or Tourist?

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and we have been talking this past month about being thankful and thanking God for the many blessings in our lives. Isn’t it a shame that we have only one day set aside each year to give thanks to God as a nation? We should take time each day to give our praise to Him who has blessed us so richly. I was in Walmart this past week and noticed that Thanksgiving has nearly been overlooked. There were a few table cloths and napkins with the Thanksgiving theme, but Christmas, because of its great commercial power, has pretty much taken over. Shouldn’t there be some paper pilgrims around? Or turkey decorations? No, we are bombarded with Santa Claus and snowmen. So lets bring everyone's focus back to Thanksgiving.

We all studied the history of that first Thanksgiving in school - How back in 1620, a bunch of religious people left Plymouth, England seeking a new home where they could freely practice their faith. They landed near Cape Cod, Massachusetts at Plymouth Rock. They did not fair very well that winter and only half of the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers they were greeted by an Abenaki Indian, Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the Wampanoag Indian Tribe.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, they had a celebratory feast and invited a group of their Native American friends. Now remembered as American’s "first Thanksgiving". I remember in school making paper pilgrims and Indians as crafts during Thanksgiving.

But did we realize exactly why we called them "pilgrims"? Why that term? The definition of a pilgrim is: a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons. Think about it, isn't that what we as Christians should be doing?

Growing up in the church, I would often hear the phrase, "This world is not our home, we’re just passing through." It means that since this is not our "true home" (heaven is), we shouldn’t worry about what happens to our world other than keeping our family safe. Hebrews 11:13 talks about the Israelite patriarchs who "confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth"

not because they considered earthly life irrelevant compared to "heaven," but because they "desired a better country"

In contrast, the definition of a tourist is: a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure. Those who see our lives on Earth merely as a brief visit for pleasure are tourists; those who are seeking a kingdom of God that requires more than one lifetime to build are pilgrims.

So this is the question I am putting to you today: Are you a Pilgrim, or just a Tourist?


I. Tourists Are Just Taking Time Off; Pilgrims Are Starting A New Life

When you go on vacation, and travel as a tourist, the idea is to take some time off from your busy, hectic life and return to the same busy, hectic life refreshed but basically unchanged. When you travel as a pilgrim, what you are seeking is an entirely new life. Hebrews 11:9 says about Abraham that he was basically living in tents because it wasn't the land that God had promised, so he was ready to leave at any moment.

If we are truly living as pilgrims, then we should be about as attached to the way we are currently living as though we are living in tents in a land that isn’t yet what God has promised to make it. It is tremendously ironic to say that you’re just a "pilgrim passing through" as a means of justifying a comfortable life in which you have settled in completely and see no need to change anything.


II. Tourists Make Chit-Chat; Pilgrims Make Brothers and Sisters For Life

When you’re traveling with a tourist group, your hope is for the trip to stay as pleasant as possible. You can make light banter with your traveling companions, but you’re going to try your hardest to avoid saying anything that could possibly result in an ongoing conflict that would make the trip unpleasant. You chat with the people around you but you expect no attachment to these people. This is the way many people approach church. Oh they are experts at being nice, but they never have that connection.

One thing I will concede is that many of us (I'm guilty) are actually just introverted rather than being shallow. But that’s the reason why we need to be intentional about creating discipleship spaces in which true pilgrimage can occur. We need a space where we can be vulnerable enough with our traveling companions that we can truly be the brothers and sisters that Christ has called us to be. I used to be really bad about letting people touch me. I hated it, and it seemed like I gave off a feeling of "leave me alone". I never realized it until my horse wouldn't even respond to me. My horse trainer (which seems to be my therapist as well) said the problem wasn't the horse, but I had closed myself off so much, that my horse didn't feel welcome. Then he said he wondered if Jesus felt the same way...that woke me up! He got me to open up and get out of my shell by ordering me to hug so many people each Sunday. He said for me to be more open as a person and a Christian I had to make a conscious effort to change. And he was right, change requires effort.


III. Tourists Pay For Services; Pilgrims Bear Each Other’s Burdens

When you’re a tourist, you pay somebody else to carry your luggage, or to drive you around. In a church environment, what tourists put in the offering plate is payment for a service, the heartwarming songs and inspiring message that offer them a brief one-hour vacation from their lives. To be a pilgrim means that you consolidate your resources with other pilgrims and share the responsibility of carrying your tools. One person carries the tent, another the cooking supplies, and another the food.

In the same way, pilgrims offers 10% or more of their income to God not as a tax or tip for great singing and preaching, but in order to say that percentage of their wealth belongs to the community at large. And we absolutely do not cease being a part of the community with which we share our wealth after we share it. If we give money without participating in the ministries that spend the money, then we’re tourists, not pilgrims.


IV. Tourists Want To Know The Future; Pilgrims Trust God To Lead Them

When you’re a tourist you do a lot of shopping around before you go on a trip. You want the tour company that gives you the most bang for your buck. If one visits 5 museums in Paris and charges $200, then you’re going to pick that one over the one that charges $250 for 4 museums. Tourists need to know exactly what’s going to happen. They don't want the unexpected to happen.

In contrast, Abraham "set out, not knowing where he was going".

To be a pilgrim doesn’t mean being flippant and lackadaisical about the future. But it does mean that you’re willing to adapt to whatever God throws at you. A pilgrim plans for the journey, but a pilgrim is not worried about the future because God will provide and one of the ways God provides is through the shared resources of the pilgrims who trust God together.


V. Tourists Are Seeking Photo Ops; Pilgrims Are Seeking Salvation

There are three basic photo ops having to do with the church: when you baptize your baby, when your baby gets saved, and when your baby gets married. So if you’re a tourist, you only need to go to church three times, plus of course the annual photo ops of Christmas and Easter. Some tourists may go to church and Bible study regularly, but they’ve basically checked out of the journey of discipleship, because to them, salvation was a one-time event that happened on the day they prayed Jesus into their hearts.

When you’re a pilgrim, you hunger for salvation. For pilgrims, salvation isn’t the wildly successful industrial complex that it’s become in megachurchianity (don't know if that is a real word or not). It’s a quest to see the face of God. The closer we get, the further we realize we have to go, but this realization does not disappoint us because the joy increases all the time. Accepting the gift of Jesus’ justifying sacrifice for our sins is the first step on that journey, but we will not stop being saved until we are in eternal communion with God.


VI. Conclusion

So this Thanksgiving, lets reexamine our lives and make sure we are Pilgrims on this journey and not just merely tourist. It is the perfect time to make a change in our life, taking time to thank God throughout the year starting now, and becoming real pilgrims for Christ.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page