The cold mountain wind rips at me like the dead of winter, while the sun scorches my chapped hands with desert-like heat. I spit gritty sand – miniscule molecules of the beige granite surrounding me – and continue my ascent. Glancing upward, I’m only sixty yards from the summit. Sixty grueling yards of rough rock outcroppings and sheer drop-offs of over 1,000 feet.
I’ve barely begun the decade of my twenties, and I’m certain I’m invincible. Certain I’ve figured out most of what I’ll need to know for life. I have no idea.
I claw my way to the summit of the 12,000-foot mountain and lie flat in the flogging wind, the bandana in my hair whipping like sheets on a clothesline. It’s my day off work at AWLS, the wilderness leadership school where I’m spending my summer. Climbing mountains is my greatest passion in life, and I can think of nothing that would ever be more important. I have so much to learn.
I stare at MacLeod Lake, over a thousand feet below, and I plan my descent. There’s no easy way. There’s only a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on each side. I’ll have to risk it.
Much to my parents’ relief, I survived my summer in Wyoming’s mountains. I’m a little embarrassed as I look back at my unwise risks and poorly discerned decisions, but I thank God I’m not the person I was. This all came to mind this morning, as I opened my Bible to my daily reading plan.
Chapter 14 of first Samuel finds King Saul’s son, Jonathan, preparing to advance on the Philistines. Verse 4 reads: “Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.”
Jonathan needed to make forward progress to achieve his goal, but he found himself in a precarious situation. He needed to cross a mountain pass with a sharp crag on each side of the pass. I can relate.
The Hebrew word “Bozez” refers to something that is gleaming or slippery. The word “Seneh” means thorny. On one side he faced a steep slope of thorns. On the other, a dangerously slippery descent.
Despite the risks, Jonathan pressed forward, advanced against the Philistines, and overtook them. He braved the thorns and the drop-off, and he pressed forward toward his goal. Because I’ve climbed many mountains, the analogy strikes me poignantly: When the journey grows perilous, keep your eyes on the goal and keep walking.
Jonathan’s goal was to overtake the Philistines. My goal at age twenty was reaching a literal summit. Our goal as followers of Christ is to love him and make his love known to others.
The lesson from Jonathan’s journey is relevant, regardless of the goal. Whether I’m aiming to start a business, hoping to overcome the pain of a past heartbreak, wading through the deep waters of troubled relationships, trying to parent with love and compassion, or seeking healing in a difficult matter, I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and keep walking.
The slippery slope of fear will threaten to take me down. The thorny path of painful self-sacrifice, slow progress, and failure will threaten to stop my progress. But I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and press forward.
I’m thankful for the author of Hebrews, who reminds me exactly where to fix my eyes when things get tough: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus could endure the cross on my behalf, I can endure this trial on his behalf.
Wherever life has you walking a delicate chasm between a thorny downfall and a long slippery slope, be encouraged by Jonathan. Keep stepping forward. It will be worth the journey.
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