If you've spent much time browsing this site, you've probably figured out by now that I'm a fan of hiking. Some of my best times of thought, meditation, and prayer happen on a quiet trail through the woods to a mountain peak.
But my priorities in hiking have changed quite a bit in the last few years. For a long time I set as a goal for myself to hike all the four-thousand-foot peaks in the state of Maine. What? Maine has four-thousand-footers? You bet! We have fourteen of them. And I intended to hike all of them. So far I've hiked ten of the fourteen. The last time I bagged a new four-thousand-footer was about seven years ago.
So what happened? Well, there were a couple things that happened. The first was that I hiked some mountains like Redington Mountain and Spaulding Mountain, which -- despite their impressive heights -- had little to no views. When you are used to hiking mountains with nice views, an eight-mile hike with no views is a bit off-putting.
The other thing that happened was: I got married and had kids. Now when I go hiking, most of the time I'm trying to find mountains that a five-year-old (and sometimes even a three-year-old) can do.
Suddenly, I don't even care about bagging four-thousand-foot peaks. The truth is, I'd rather hike mountains I've hiked ten times already, like Mount Chocorua, or Kearsarge North, or Tumbledown, or Bald Mountain -- mountains that I know and love for their beautiful views -- than to hike a mountain I've never done, no matter how big, if I know there are no views at the top.
My priorities changed a bit during the last few years. I still love hiking, and get out to hike when I can, but it's less important to me now than it was.
In Luke 12, Jesus said:
This is a bit of what I've experienced. More and more, my treasures are found right in my own home, rather than on a list of mountains to check off. And where my treasure is, my heart follows.
The context of this verse is not about children and mountains -- it's about the treasures of heaven:
The principle is this: if your treasures are in heaven, you will prioritize the treasures of this life far more lightly. Why is the believer willing to sacrifice and give with generosity, not seeking anything in return? Because the believer sees a treasure far beyond the riches of this world.
Whenever we find something greater our heart follows that greatness, even if it means leaving the lesser behind.
Last Thursday I did something I've wanted to do for a long time. I got up early in the morning and drove to New Hampshire to hike one of my favorite mountains -- Mount Chocorua. I say early, and I do mean early. Normally when I'm hiking, I hike with other people, and they never want to get started as early as I do. I left the house at 4:45 a.m.
Why did I want to get started so early? Because I wanted to be on the summit while the sun was still low on the horizon, on a cool fall morning. I had something particular in mind...the contrast of light and darkness.
The colors on the mountains are always interesting, but there's something special about the colors early in the morning and late in the afternoon. When the sun is low on the horizon, much of the land is in shadows, because it lies behind hills that block the sunlight. These areas of darkness make the light stand out as all the more beautiful.
As I stood on the summit looking out at the scenery around me, enjoying the fall colors, and appreciating that visual interplay of light and darkness, it occurred to me that in this simple scene, there was an important spiritual lesson for me.
"You are the light of the world," Jesus says. What Christ wants of me is that I be like an autumn leaf, ablaze with color, standing out brightly from the shadows of the dark world around me. Except, to be honest, I don't always feel all that bright. And suddenly it dawned on me (literally and figuratively!). The leaf, by itself, is not much to look at either; its true beauty comes from having the full glory of the sun shining upon it.
So it is with us. I, in myself, am just another dried up, dying fall leaf. But I'm not "just me" anymore; the full, glorious light of the Savior shines on me!
And if the world around me is in shadows and darkness, shouldn't I stand out all the more? 2 Corinthians puts it this way:
Like a fall leaf, I turn my face to the glorious Light of the World, and let his brightness transform me with ever-increasing glory!
Today I celebrated my birthday by hiking Blueberry and Speckled Mountains in Evans Notch, Maine -- 8.2 miles over two mountains. It was a cool day with great visibility. The beautiful views are always what I anticipate most about hiking, but today I discovered something I wasn't expecting.
I know, since the mountain was named Blueberry Mountain, I ought to have expected blueberries, but mountain names don't always match up to reality, so I hadn't thought too much about the possibility of finding blueberry bushes on the mountain.
How did the blueberries taste? EXTRAORDINARY!
As a matter of fact, I don't think I've EVER tasted blueberries so sweet and flavorful as these ones. We have a blueberry bush in front of our house, which produces some great blueberries. We have a grocery store down the street where we can buy big, plump blueberries.
But NOTHING compares to the blueberries on that mountain. Don't believe me? Go hike it for yourself (Here's my hike report at HikerSpace.net: Blueberry and Speckled Mountains). And if you don't hike it, you'll never know what you're missing!
That made me think -- the Christian life is a bit like those blueberries. People sometimes ask if the Christian life is easier, and I say, "No, of course not!" There's nothing easy about it.
If I wanted easy, I'd stay at home, and pick blueberries from my front yard. Or drive to the grocery store and spend a few bucks on some. But easy isn't necessarily the same as better.
Sometimes the best things in life are the things you have to work the hardest at. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his followers a great many things about the kind of life he wanted his followers to live, and the truth is -- living the way Jesus calls us to live is incredibly difficult (harder than climbing a mountain, for sure!). To live without falsehood, to live without lust, to live without pride, to live without grudges -- to be a merciful peacemaker and to hunger for righteousness -- these are NOT the easy way of life. But Jesus makes a promise to those of us who will hear these words of His -- when the storms of life come, we will stand rock solid instead of collapsing in a heap.
Hard work? You'd better believe it! But worth it? Oh yes!
If you're looking for "easy," you might as well just go to the store and buy some blueberries.
But just remember, you're missing out on the best.
If you've been following the content of this site for very long, you've probably noticed by now some of my hobbies, because I do write about them from time to time. I like to play the violin and the guitar. I like to climb mountains. And I like to to paint.
Interestingly, each one of these hobbies has, in some way, changed the way I view the world.
Because I like to play music, whenever I hear music, I don't just sing along with it, I notice how it is structured. I notice the timing, the bass line, the percussion, and a lot of things that I never would have noticed before I started learning to play a musical instrument.
Because I like to climb mountains, I can't even drive down a country road without noticing every single mountain in the distance, and being amazed by their beauty. Strange...before I started climbing, I never even noticed those mountains.
And since I've started up painting again, I can't go anywhere without noticing the brilliant, vibrant colors all around me, and thinking things like, "What color paints would I mix together to get that particular shade of blue?" or "I wonder if this scene would make a good starting point for a painting?"
I think it's interesting that each of my hobbies has, in one way or another, heightened my awareness of the world around me. I didn't start climbing mountains because I always thought the mountains were so beautiful. Nor did I start painting because I noticed and understood color and structure and composition.
No, it was the other way around. My appreciation for mountains, my understanding of color, and of beauty -- these things came after a lot of hard work on my part. The work came first, and then the understanding and the appreciation.
You might not have realized it, but the Christian life is very much the same way. I occasionally hear Christians pray, "Reveal yourself to me," but really, that's sort of a lazy prayer, because Jesus already told us the circumstances under which He reveals Himself to us:
If we want to more deeply understand God, and the work He is doing in this world, it doesn't just happen. It happens because we have his commandments, and are doing them. And we are doing them because we love Him.
The work comes first, then the understanding. I never would have come to such a deep appreciation for mountains without first putting a backpack on my shoulders and doing some very hard work. I would never have understood music so well if I hadn't spent so many hours doing tedious scales and exercises.
Do you want to understand God? Do you want Him to reveal Himself to you? Don't just sit around waiting for it to happen. Put your nose to the grindstone and actually do his work, follow his commands. Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it is sometimes discouraging, and yes, there are sometimes a thousand different things you would rather be doing. But do God's work with the same stubborn determination that a musician practices his scales, or a hiker keeps on climbing, no matter how tired he gets.
In the long run, the benefits are worth it, because bit by bit, God reveals Himself, His character, His love, and His work to us.
And that's more wonderful than the tallest mountain, the most beautiful song, or the most magnificent painting.
Several years ago we had a yearly tradition of taking our church youth group on a hiking trip to Mount Katahdin. If you've never been to Katahdin, it's the tallest mountain in the state of Maine, and a wonderful place to hike. The views from the top are downright amazing.
We would hike up Pamola Peak (the second-tallest peak on Katahdin) and then cross Knife Edge to get to Baxter Peak (which is the tallest peak). Knife Edge is a trail, approximately a mile long, which runs along a ridge between Pamola and Baxter. You can probably guess what the trail looks like, just from the name of it: Knife Edge. At times you really do feel like you're walking along the edge of a knife; you stand on the ridge and you can look down to your left and see the bottom of the mountain -- then you turn and look down to your right and you also see the bottom of the mountain! It can be a bit intimidating for people who are afraid of heights.
One time when we took this hike, we had a teenager with us who was a seventh grader, and this was her first "serious" hiking experience. When we got to Pamola Peak we gave the teens the option of pressing forward, or turning back the way we came. This girl was determined to go forward.
But once she got out on the ridge, she discovered that, with the wind blowing, and her being tired as she was, she felt like she was going to get blown right off the mountain. So she hiked the entire Knife Edge on her hands and knees.
It was a long hike that day, stopping every couple minutes for her to rest, and get up her courage to press on. The rest of the group pushed on ahead while a couple of the leaders stayed with her. We would stop, sit down on the rocks to look at the views around us (which were, by the way, absolutely stunning and amazing!), and then we would point at a turn in the trail, or an outcropping of rock, and say, "Do you think you can get that far?" And the girl would get a look of grim determination, nod her head, and off we would go again.
As we hiked, I thought to myself, This is what life is like. The trail is rough, narrow, tiresome, and occasionally nerve-wracking. But we don't have to travel the entire trail all at once. Crawling along the trails of life on our hands and knees, we only need worry about what lies directly ahead of us. When the trail gets hard, we only need the grim determination to make it through one day at a time, and when the day is done, God says to us: "Take a rest, and tomorrow we'll tackle the next part of the trail!"
For those who think they have to face the entire trail all at once, take the time to read from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:25-34. And especially verse 34:
Have the faith to travel as far as God gives you to travel in a single day, and let tomorrow -- and God -- worry about tomorrow!