Have you ever been hiking in a densely wooded area and you came across a path that look interesting; then as you turned onto that path and continued down it, you realized that it was a very low-traffic path, sometimes disappearing altogether and making you feel nearly lost?
Yeah me neither,
I don’t get a chance to hike much. I wish I could, because I know that I would love it, but the climate and topography of Dallas, Texas doesn’t allow for much hiking fun; or if it does, I have yet to know about it. Despite my physical hiking drought though, I have come to realize that my Spirit has been doing a lot of hiking over the past few years. In fact, if you’re a Christian, your Spirit has probably been doing a lot of hiking too.
Recently, though I’ve found my Spirit taking on brand new trails that I had never seen before. Ignoring the analogy for a second, I’ve found myself stretching my faith for the first time in a long time. And it’s been…scary.
A lot of us, after being Christians, enjoy staying on the main path, per se. We feel more comfortable reading our Bibles, praying, and going to church and calling that a good relationship with God. What we don’t realize is that when we let our faith remain in a stagnant routine like this, it slowly dissipates.
As I write that, I realize that I am speaking only from personal experience, so I could be completely wrong. Take my words with a grain of salt because this may not be the case for everyone; but if you’re anything like me, you probably know what I mean.
I was hoping not to tell another story for a while, so as not to ruin the novelty of it, but I feel like this is the best way I can put these scattered thoughts of mine into words. So let me tell you about these three guys who took up hiking as a fun hobby.
Their names were John, James, and George, and they lived at the same time in the same city but were unknown to one another. Each of them visited the same hiking trails just outside of their city.
John started his hiking routine on the main trail. After several weeks of hiking this trail, it was getting pretty easy. But John liked the trail – he felt comfortable with staying on this trail and not moving elsewhere. He tried a couple of other harder trails, but he found that they were too difficult for his liking so he stayed put. He was simply satisfied with his ability to call himself a hiker without actually stretching his hiking experience to new levels. So he never saw anything but that main hiking trail.
James started off the same. He hiked the main trail to get the feel of it and after a few weeks, he found this main trail to be getting pretty easy. So he moved on to other trails – ones that were harder and less traveled. After a while of doing this, he decided to start going down trails that were barely visible. One day though, one of these nearly invisible trails disappeared and he couldn’t find it. Panicked and feeling lost, James slowly tried to retrace his steps until he found the main trail; and he never tried the most difficult trails again for fear of getting lost.
George also began by hiking this main trail for a couple of weeks before moving on to the harder trails. Once he had picked up the tougher trails, he moved on to even harder ones, constantly stretching himself to his limits in an effort to get better. When he came across trails that disappeared, instead of panicking he kept moving forward until he picked the trail back up again. One day, he decided to make his own trail and went off into a densely wooded area. After navigating large boulders, splashing through bridge-less creeks, and detouring around walls of rock, he came to a stop at the edge of a cliff. And it was from this cliff that he saw the most amazing and beautiful sight that cannot be captured by pictures or words.
So how is your Spiritual hike right now?
John’s Spiritual hike was comfortable. He never tried to stretch his faith and was content to keep following the same spiritual pattern over and over again. His faith never strengthened and as a result, neither did his relationship with Jesus.
James’ Spiritual hike was one of a person trying to stretch his faith but not allowing God to teach him much or take control. So when he did stretch his faith to places that required him to relinquish control over his life in places, he immediately retreated to more familiar ground in fear.
George’s Spiritual hike was one out of pure faith in God and His ability to give us just enough of what we need to get through anything. He stretched his faith far without turning back; and as a result his relationship with God was able to reach new and wonderful heights. In the end, he was able to see the gorgeous and wonderful culmination of his faith.
So where are you? Which path of faith do you follow?
Personally, I’ve been feeling a lot like James as of late. With the departure date for my ministry in Côte d’Ivoire growing ever close, I have been feeling a lot of stress over things that I have no control over – things that were very important to this ministry. What I didn’t realize was that in my prayers to God for patience and my Bible studies teaching me to rely on Him, God was training me to do these very things. And instead of relinquishing some control over my life and trusting Him, I panicked.
But God is faithful, and He reached out His hand and pulled me up from the churning water, just like He did with Peter; and I hope I have learned my lesson.
So now, how do we go about being George in the story when it comes to our faith and relationship with God?
Well, as I said earlier, everyone is different, but there are plenty of ways my church, my friends, and myself do this. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Instead of just reading the Word, we should read it, apply it, and make an effort to start living for this application. Instead of just asking God to forgive us of our sins, we should repent of them (by definition, repentance requires one to do away with it completely, as in remove it from one’s life). We should pray that God will help us change attributes of our character, and then notice the opportunities He gives us to do so. We should take a leaps of faith outside of our comfort zones – whatever they may be – and let God guide us where He wants us to go. This last one is particularly difficult, because sometimes God wants us to go somewhere that we absolutely do not want to go (Jonah and Nineveh is an extreme example).
This helps get us toward being more like James instead of John in the analogy – actually making an effort to have a stronger faith and better relationship with God.
The hard part comes when we make the single step from having faith similar to James’ hiking experience to having faith that is similar to George’s hiking experience. This single, simple step is the hardest one of all – that is to absolutely trust God. He is in control, He loves us, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. He has exquisite timing and His plan is always perfect. Whatever results may come, as long as we are following Him, our lives will be changed for the better. And someday soon, we may be able to come out at the end of our trail and see the spectacular sight God has prepared for us.
“Have nothing to do with godless myths or old wives tales; rather train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8
Remember to remain in contact with Him and stay in the Scriptures. I am obviously not God, so don’t take my word as gospel. This is simply my take on life and Christian living.