by Riaan Taylor
On a 2019 trip to New Zealand, my brother and I were engaged in a few outdoor activities, most notably hiking and mountain biking. That country must have some of the best trails on earth for these types of activities! The highlight was to attempt a 19km walk across an old volcanic crater near Lake Taupo, a beautiful place with breathtaking views of mountains, the lake, indigenous forest, the Huka Falls, and snow-capped Mount Ruapehu with its volcanic crater. A great place to observe the magnificence of God’s stunning creation!
But the hike did not materialise due to bad weather with the trail being closed. Good thing too. I was not geared to do a 19km hike in sub-zero temperatures! Instead, we opted to do a 15km hike through some indigenous forest and mountainous terrain near Rotorua, where we camped overnight at a hot water beach.
On this trip I experienced something that made me think just how much hiking a mountain trail is like negotiating life. For a start, we can say “what goes up must come down”. For every hill you climb there’s a downhill on the other side. So many amazing parallels can be drawn with our own lives and I want to share a couple I took away from this experience.
Now on this trail, right towards the last hour or so of the five-hour hike, there was a rest spot way down in a valley, where we stopped for a while. Thankfully this was the case, because the next section turned out to be very taxing. There was a steep uphill over the last saddle before descending back down the other side to the campsite. For the record, slogging up and down, up and down for four hours with a backpack, all the while suffering the after-effects of a serious bout of food poisoning from the previous night, was a daunting task to say the least! I honestly thought it was going to take forever!
At the start of this last section, a small sign sternly warned: “No stopping for the next 300m”. The path turned narrow and treacherous, and once you started on it, there was no safe way of turning back, no safe way of stopping to rest or to take in the views. Fortunately, it wasn’t wet and slippery – that would have made it even more dangerous. There was only one way – forward.
Our Christian lives are somewhat similar in many respects. We are all set on a path by God. It is a narrow path, full of ups and downs. Yet sometimes when life gets treacherous, we have to press forward just like the apostle Paul so beautifully explained to the Philippian brethren, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
Once we’ve started on the journey of Christianity, we dare not stop or go back, because that would be disastrous.
What made my brother and I press forward on that treacherous 300m stretch? It was the knowledge that there was a reward waiting for us on the other side, even though we could not see it. We believed there was a downhill on the other side of that hill – even though we only saw it from afar off. We heard about this wonderful hot water beach at our destination, yet neither of us had ever seen it. Nevertheless, we knew it was there! We could almost taste it and that kept us going. There was a belief that somehow all the suffering would be worth it and we were proven
right. Why do we press forward in our Christian lives? Because we know there is a reward at the end, a prize, even though we cannot physically see it, we believe it is there and it drives us!
Just how did we negotiate those 300 metres and beyond?
Firstly, Jesus Christ helped us (I silently asked Him). But the vision I had of the joy that hot water beach would offer, drove me forward. The same principle can be applied to our spiritual lives. We have to try and visualize our ultimate prize – an eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We have to keep sight of it and press forward to attain it, one step at a time.
Secondly, we put our heads down and tried not to get distracted. Sure, there were distractions along the way: birds singing, breathtaking views, thirst, the sound of my brother complaining (or was it me?). However, we tried to keep our heads down and eyes focused on the path. We were determined to make it!
Jesus Christ set us a perfect spiritual example of not getting distracted in Luke 9:51-53. He was on a mission and nothing could deter Him. He was determined to finish His journey even though He knew that the path thereto was mostly uphill and very difficult. He never got distracted and because of that, you and I can look forward to something magnificent.
Whenever you face an uphill – and maybe you’re on one right now – try and imagine that end goal and visualise that reward that awaits you. Finally, as Christians, let us not waiver or get distracted or hesitate, but rather press toward our end goal – it’s right there on the other side of that mountain.