Lessons from the Journey
When I joined a local walking group earlier this year I had no idea it would result in me walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Nine months later and I can now say I have completed the 24.5 mile route, including 5,200ft of ascent up the mountains of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in 12 hours. It was simultaneously the hardest physical challenge of my life and the most rewarding. Not only have I gained a massive sense of achievement, but I think perhaps some principles for my journey with God.
Anyone who has travelled anywhere with me knows I’ve never been good at packing light. But, I learnt early on in training that what I do and don’t pack in my walking rucksack is enormously important. I am now obsessive about only taking what I absolutely need. However, I am not as critical about my spiritual journey. Hebrews 12 says “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. So, I have been taking time to ask if what I am carrying has become dead weight. God wants to deal with our excess baggage; our sin, faulty mindsets, guilt, shame, offence and disappointment. The things which once seemed necessary or obvious but are now hampering us. Moreover, I’ve been asking Him what I am not carrying enough of? On a walk water is the most essential of all my supplies. Second to that is food. The Holy Spirit is as vital to life as H2O, so I’m wanting to learn to drink deep for real refreshment. And Jesus calls himself the bread of life – in our journey of faith, we need to feast on the word of God to go the distance.
Keep on keeping on
Despite months of training, long distance walking always brings with it the immense temptation to quit. It would be much easier to concede part way through that I have gone as far as I can and just stop. For me it is as much a mental battle as a physical one. Which isn’t dissimilar to my faith walk if I am honest! There is so much I don’t understand about God, His movements in my life and in the world at large. So many unanswered questions and unfulfilled expectations. The temptation to quit arises more often than I’d care to admit. But a truth I’ve learnt is that the good bits get even better thanks to the hard bits. Whether it’s a magnificent view or a well-earned pint, there is satisfaction that you can’t get without embracing the challenges along the way. I think we will find we miss the beautiful sweetness of life by avoiding the hard, unexplained bits and quitting before we’ve seen the end. Hebrews 12 says “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith”. Perseverance is not a very comfortable word but it’s a key tenant of faith. Fixing our eyes on Jesus gives us the grit we need to keep on keeping on; putting one foot in front of the other and looking ahead with expectation of victory.
Picking your team well
Walking isn’t a team sport, but in my humble opinion it is much better when done as part of a group. When my protein bars and will-power failed me, it’s the team that got me through. Knowing I am believed in when I doubt, is the motivation I need to finish a walk well, or finish it at all in some cases. Hebrews 12 talks about past heroes of the faith being “a great cloud of witnesses”. I think we can surround ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses today! Every one of us needs people in our team on our faith journey. And the people we pick for this role are crucial to our quality of life and to our end destination. Negative voices, doubters, and naysayers are everywhere. I want the people surrounding me to be people who overflow with hope, encouragement, faith, love and commitment to me. There are so many seasons of life I know I wouldn’t have made it through without the loving care and challenge of my ‘team’.
So, a simple pattern for our journey with God might look like – firstly packing light and smart; loading ourselves up with God’s truth and presence, and throwing off sin and unnecessary baggage. And then keeping on keeping on; pressing ahead, knowing that challenges make the wins sweeter and that the ultimate victory has already been won. And finally, picking those you travel with well; choosing people walking in the same direction who will encourage and exhort you to continue on towards Jesus.