October 1, 2019

The Christian Hike

We have to go the distance to appreciate the view.

Cheryl Howson

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).

The Lord can be found in stillness. He invites us to join Him there. For me, the quiet place I go to be with Jesus is found on a mountaintop.

Getting to the top of a mountain isn’t simple. Similarly, walking with Jesus daily isn’t always akin to a Sabbath afternoon stroll in the park. Honestly, it’s more like a hike. A tough hike—often breathtakingly gorgeous, sometimes exhausting, but always invigorating. The Christian version can take you to the brink of despair before the glorious view is finally revealed.

Joy in the Journey

There are usually no shortcuts to the end of any worthwhile hike. “I wish we could magically be transported to the summit without the hiking!” said no one ever at the start. But a lot of people will say it when they’re exhausted. What they mean is “I wish it wasn’t so hard!” They want to fast-forward through the tough parts straight to the reward.

But what they fail to realize is that part of the joy of getting to the top is, in fact, the journey. All the memories of the trail—especially the difficult ones—are cherished and laughed about later, but only among those who were on that hike. The bonding experience of overcoming common hardships to reach a destination is much like that in the song of the redeemed: a song that can be sung only by those who share this Christian hike together (see Rev. 14:3).

I am reminded of a particular hike I did in Sri Lanka. With palpable excitement we surveyed the trail as it stretched away before us. The lush landscape looked like a scene from The Lord of the Rings. In the distance was our ultimate goal: a hazy mountaintop glowing through the rain and mist, as if someone had used an Instagram filter on it.

This hike stands out in my mind because everyone on it encountered so many difficulties along the way, but the mood of the group stayed positive. For months after the trip, the five of us laughed and talked about all that happened on it. Jonathan forgot his raincoat and shivered the whole way home. Debbie’s shoes broke, so she completed the hike in socks. Margret’s knees gave her problems, and she had to use a walking stick at the end. William took a wrong turn and ended up at a different viewpoint. I would suddenly disappear because I kept falling in the tall grass clumps. Near the end of it we were so wet and tired that Jonathan, William, and I lay down in those grass clumps, waiting for the others and staring into the falling rain. We felt strangely at peace, bonded with each other; most important, we felt closer to God.

Catching Sight of the Big Picture

C. S. Lewis wrote: “A glimpse is not a vision. But to a man on a mountain road by night, a glimpse of the next three feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon.”

When our group started our hike, we caught a glimpse of our destination, but somewhere along the way we lost sight of it. The trees, the hills, and the mist obscured our vision; and all we could do was focus on the trail ahead of us. So often we want to know what’s going to happen next, what God’s endgame is. Or we want every moment to be a glorious view, such as a vision of a lovely waterfall. But during a hike every single step counts. Every day of our lives counts. We may feel that what we do today is unimportant, but that need not be so. God is there in the mundane, the ordinary, and the boring. And if we look closely, we will start to notice the little butterflies flitting across our paths, or the wildflowers snuggled in the grass by the side of the trail, or the chameleon camouflaged among the leaves.

But the most amazing thing about this Christian hike is the One who has gone before us. He has cut the trail where there was only wild overgrowth before. He has faced despair and encountered every obstacle you and I face today. In the final hours before His ultimate sacrifice, He wanted to give up, but He didn’t. For my sake and yours.

So today, on each step of our Christian hike, just like the one I did in Sri Lanka, we must realize that there is no way forward but through it. But knowing that Jesus has been here before, we look around and see bits of higher ground here and there, just enough for a step, and just close enough to jump to. Although our shoes get soaked completely, and our clothes get splattered with mud, we make it through to the other side.

During a strenuous uphill climb, when we give it our all but feel as if we’re getting nowhere, we are not left without hope. The One who went before has left a map more accurate than any Google map. There’s even a GPS to help us: we cannot get back on track until we realize we are not on the trail anymore. For encouragement, we know we are in the last stages, near the end, and that gives us a little hope.

It’s OK to turn to one another, as my friend Jonathan did, and say, “I. Can’t. Breathe.” It’s OK to struggle; to realize that we need food, or water, or rest. This is where we are happy to have company and it’s always OK to ask for help, for this is how we encourage each other to keep going.

At Our Own Pace

Everyone hikes at their own pace, so naturally we may reach the end at different times. Getting to the end first doesn’t mean superiority to anyone else: the victory at the end is what counts, regardless of how long it takes or how difficult it was.

I loved watching the faces of my friends as they emerged slowly out of the gloomy, dripping woods. The appearances of frustration and misery immediately gave way to looks of wonder and hushed awe. Debbie said to me, “I was so angry with you for bringing us on this hike! That last part was so hard. But it was worth it.”

Jesus said, “Follow Me.” Thankfully, He hiked our difficult trails—every single step of the way—without shortcuts. By walking the trail He walked, we learn, but never alone. When we stand at the beginning of the trail, we can say, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” (Ps. 121:1). And we can say with certainty, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (verse 2). And “the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (verse 8).

Jesus is not with us just at the end, or only when we are in trouble. He says, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” He watches over us during every single step of our Christian hike. He is taking us to be with Him in that place of eternal peace and joy.

Cheryl Howson is cofounder of an interior design company in Sri Lanka, where she worked and hiked for 12 years before she moved to Hosur, India.