Monday, May 17, 2010

Spiritual Lessons from a Physical Hike

Recently I completed a thirty-mile hike on the Appalachian Trial (AT) with my twenty-year old daughter, Catherine. The AT is a 2,175 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine over mountains, hills, beautiful streams, and fourteen states. My father has hiked the entire trail; I have now completed 227 miles; and this was Catherine’s first time hiking the AT. I have not hiked the AT in over seven years, thus forgetting how difficult and tiring it is. However, I see many parallels between a hike like this and the Christian journey. I will give nine ways in which hiking the AT is like our walk with God:

1. Don’t hike alone. It is much more enjoyable with someone else. The first day of our hike, Catherine and I met a young woman who was hiking alone. I asked her if she had it to do all over again, what would she do different, and she responded, “I would find someone to hike with me.” God made us to need others, and our maturity in Him will be greatly enhanced as we are in intimate fellowship with others. “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more, as you see the Day approaching” (Hebr. 10:24-25). “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

2. Progress takes perseverance. To make progress on a hike, and especially to get to the places of excellent views, requires hard work and perseverance. There were many times on this hike when I wanted to give up. I got tired, had sore feet, and a few times wondered when the top of the mountain would ever come. But once I made it to the top and looked out on the magnificent view, it was all worth it! In the same way, spiritual maturity takes prayer, Bible meditation, resisting temptation, obedience, and keeping on keeping on! “Do not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not” (Gal. 6:9).

3. Always have a weapon. For this hike I carried a gun, and I did so for several reasons: snakes are not uncommon on the trail; there were reports of a bear that had torn into five hikers’ packs within the past few weeks; and there have been a few killings on the trail over the years. I felt much safer having a 40 caliber Glock strapped to my side. In our walk with God, we face a variety of oppositions as well, namely the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Therefore, we should always have in our heart the weapon of God’s Word, and be sure to put on the full armor of God each day. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:11).

4. See people’s needs along the way. One thing I enjoy about hiking is the many interesting people you meet. On this particular hike, we encountered some heavy situations. One man told me he was hiking because his wife had just informed him she wanted a separation. Another man told me of how he had come back early from serving the Army in Panama, only to find another man living with his wife. Then his second marriage ended because his wife did not want to live with a man who kept getting deployed. He was now in his third marriage. Oh, how our world is full of hurting people. They are all around us, every day, if we just take the time to be interested in peoples’ lives . . . and listen to their stories. The song I hear on Christian radio challenges me: “Give me Your eyes for just one second. Give me Your eyes that I might see . . . "

5. Take breaks to rest and enjoy the journey. Some hikers are so intense about making the miles each day, they forget to stop and “smell the roses.” I made sure to notice the plants, flowers, smells, and views. I even took pictures of small flowers along the path. Catherine and I had no problem stopping and resting when we needed it, because we often got tired. Catherine developed nine blisters on her two feet. Ouch! I am now forty-nine years old, and felt every bit of my age on this hike. I have no problem admitting my need for rest. God wants us to rest in our walk with Him. We need to schedule into our lives those things that will help to recharge us. Jesus said, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).

6. Follow the map. We had an excellent map showing us where to find water, the locations of shelters, and the exact mileage to various points of interest. As long as we stuck to the map, we did fine. Had we taken a side trail, we could have gotten lost. In the same way, following Christ means we must follow the map of God’s Word. His Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Ps. 119:105). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).

7. Make good use of water. This hike reminded me of how important water is to life. We needed water to drink, bathe ourselves, cook our food, and wash our clothes. A pure flowing mountain stream was like pure gold to us on the trail! One night we were able to camp right by a beautiful stream. Therefore, we pretty much had everything we needed! It is no surprise that Jesus calls Himself the living water. We need Him for everything! Jesus said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘streams of living water will flow from within him’” (Jn. 7:37).

8. Do your part and trust God’s sovereignty. We certainly had to prepare our packs, plan well, bring the right supplies, etc. but at the end of the day, we chose to rest in God’s sovereignty over the weather, the bears, our bodies, and the people we came in contact with. In the same way, with God we do our part (i.e., obey, trust, pray, witness, etc.), and we rest in His sovereign control. Being a strong Calvinist (which I am!) is not only biblically sound, but immensely practical. We can trust that everything entering our life has first been sifted through the loving and sovereign will of God. “The mind of man plans his ways, but the Lord directs His steps” (Prov. 16:9; NASB). “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

9. Keep the goal before you. Our goal was to make it from Springer Mountain, GA to Neels Gap, GA—thirty miles. Having this goal made our progress more enjoyable and our destination more anticipated. As our bodies got more tired, our minds were hopeful as we got closer and closer to the end. Finally, when we reached Neels gap and the little store where we could buy some goodies, we were quite excited. In the same way, God wants us to look forward to our final destination and reward of heaven. What a great destination we have to look forward to. No amount of suffering or hardship on earth is ultimately comparable to eternity with God in heaven. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the eternal glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). God wants us to live with an eternal perspective, fixing our eyes on Jesus, for whom one day we will see face to face!

Catherine, the best part of the hike for me was being with you! You are great company and an amazingly tough hiker. I love being your dad and friend.