By the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon
Trials and Challenges
As we travel to our heavenly city we face trials and challenges that can feel like they are more than we will be able to bear. The sufferings of this present age are considerable. When we are alone facing difficulties, it can seem like there is no hope. Christian faced a problem that he could not overcome early in his journey:
‘Christian was left to tumble in the Slough of Despond alone: but still he endeavoured to struggle to that side of the slough that was still further from his own house, and next to the wicket-gate; the which he did, but could not get out, because of the burden that was upon his back.’
The good news is that no pilgrim is expected to make it home alone- we are not expected to cope solely on our own resources. So there is a character in Pilgrim’s Progress called ‘Help.’ Bunyan writes:
‘I beheld in my dream, that a man came to him, whose name was Help, and asked him, What he did there?
CHRISTIAN. Sir, said Christian, I was bid go this way by a man called Evangelist, who directed me also to yonder gate, that I might escape the wrath to come; and as I was going thither I fell in here.
HELP. But why did not you look for the steps?
CHRISTIAN. Fear followed me so hard, that I fled the next way, and fell in.
HELP. Then said he, Give me thy hand: so he gave him his hand, and he drew him out, and set him upon sound ground, and bid him go on his way.’
It is unlikely we will meet anybody today called ‘Help’ – but we are all instructed by Jesus to help one another in the difficulties we face on our pilgrimage. So we read in Galatians 6:2- ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.’ One of the reasons the New Testament knows nothing of a pilgrim who is not part of a local church, is that pilgrims are all to help one another. We find and give help to one another within our church families.
Some of us might really need the help of another, and need to have the vulnerability to be willing to ask for help. Others who are coping well with their pilgrimage may do well to look around and enquire if any in the fellowship need help. A listening ear, an invite to coffee, an encouragement, an offer of prayer. There should be none left to flail around in the Slough of Despond, alone and helpless.
Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon is minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells: www.emmanuelanglican.uk