The Privileged Life: Why You Should Go on a Pilgrimage

“Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage….each one appears before God in Zion.” (Psalm 84:5,7b)

Ever consider going on a pilgrimage?

Dictionaries define it as a long journey to reach a sacred place or achieve a goal, usually to pay homage to someone or something. Actually, that could apply to our hikes around Appalachia where we look for rewards such as waterfalls, spectacular views, caves, etc.

But a true pilgrimage is driven by a calling higher than just taking a stroll alongside a mountain creek. For pilgrims, there’s an eager anticipation of finding a treasure, being healed, or fulfilling a dream—the destination inspires perseverance when the way gets tough.

My husband and I had long wanted to visit the “Holy Lands” of Israel. When an opportunity recently came, we joined a tour group to explore biblical sites around Galilee and in Jerusalem. We had only one objective—to walk where Jesus walked. I took along few expectations of what we would find…except for knowing there’d be rocks…lots of rocks. I even discovered a small one wedged in the sole of my sneakers after we got home.

Yet, despite my minimalist hopes for the trip, our visit turned into a pilgrimage…the trip of a lifetime.

The best way I can describe it is in comparison to “The Wizard of Oz.” In the original movie, when Dorothy arrives in Oz, the screen images change from black-and-white into vivid color. As we meandered along the very streets where Jesus would have walked, the black-and-white pages of the Bible came to brilliant life. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures—all blended together into a fascinating mélange of ancient places surrounded by modern Israeli life.

There we were, following original footpaths up the Ein Gedi passage…touching the carefully-aligned blocks in the old wall of Jerusalem from millennia ago…savoring the exotic flavors of sweet dates, tangy olives, fresh fish…reading the Scripture stories of Christ’s friends and His last days…and boating on the Sea of Galilee. We had one foot in B.C. and the other in A.D.! I’m still trying to process all of it.

The greatest blessing came during our worship together. We heard devotionals from gifted members of our tour group, we prayed, and we sang together—in a remarkable choir, despite not ever having been together before. We belted out “It is Well with My Soul” in a stone church with perfect acoustics in Jerusalem. We sang in the depths of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the dungeon below what is believed to be the house of high priest Caiaphas, and in a cave below Bethlehem. We sang in gardens at the Mount of Olives and took communion at a possible site of Golgotha.

Our tour guide at the Garden of the Tomb captured the essence of our pilgrimage to Israel: “We don’t know if this is where Christ was crucified or if this is the tomb where He was laid,” the guide said. “It’s a good example of what things could have looked like. But we don’t worship this place…we’re here to worship the risen Savior, the living Christ.”

If you’re interested in embarking on a pilgrimage for yourself, here are three observations for you:

  • Go without expectations. Wait and watch to see how God shows up. You can’t generate your own spiritual renewal or revival—only He can make that happen. (See the recent events at Asbury University to understand how that works.) Dig deep into your Bible to see what He will reveal to you during your journey.
  • Go somewhere you haven’t been before. A pilgrimage should be an adventure, with opportunities for quiet contemplation along the way. Step outside your comfort zone to try new activities, dine on exotic foods, or talk with Christians from other cultures. Expand your horizons.
  • The “holy” may be closer than you think. You don’t have to travel miles or spend exorbitant amounts of money to take a pilgrimage. It can be as simple as going to a beautiful setting in nature, spending time alone in a church, or visiting in the home of a godly friend. You’re not there to idolize a place or event—your focus needs to stay on Jesus. Look for Christian centers near you that offer spiritual retreats. (The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, near Asheville, N.C., is a beautiful place for getting back to your faith roots…see
  • Make it memorable. Take photos, write your thoughts in a journal, and take home a souvenir, even if it’s just a rock. When you reach your destination, you’ll recognize that the journey itself was the real prize. And when you get home, ask God to open your eyes to new possibilities in your life that didn’t seem feasible before your pilgrimage. Use your journey memories to find new ways to love Him more and serve Him fully.

If you’re in a spiritual rut, I encourage you to plan a pilgrimage—if possible, to the Holy Lands—and see where God leads you. He’ll walk beside you, every step of your journey.

Living Savior, Lord Jesus—how we exalt You in the highest and lowest places of our lives. May You always walk beside us to guide our steps on this pilgrimage of earthly life. Show us Your glory along the way, and help us to worship You at every milestone as You lead us onward toward heaven. In Your great name we pray, Amen.

An ancient pathway at Bethsaida, alongside the Sea of Galilee
Our feet on the original stones of the Via Dolorosa…where Jesus would have walked, deep below the modern street above
The amazing precision of the cutting and placement of massive stones in the old Jerusalem wall, accessible from a water tunnel
On a hike up to Ein Gedi, a refuge for David when Saul was in pursuit
Gnarly olive trees, maybe thousands of years old, in the middle of Jerusalem
The Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the invalid on the Sabbath
Another intrepid pilgrim, overlooking the road from Jericho to Jerusalem
With my beloved during a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee…calm and smooth as glass
View of the Dead Sea from high atop Masada fortress
Some of the rich, colorful flavors of Israeli cuisine, with wonderful fresh produce!

© Copyright 2023 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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