On a recent trip to West Texas, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park – one of the most remote places in the State. The are the highest in Texas. And they also comprise one of the most desolate and lonely places in the country, making them an ideal place for reflection and prayer. Even the landscape can be illustrative of spiritual lessons.
Take for instance this lesson: that in our relentless pursuit of the life’s summits we need to occasionally look back down to appreciate the ground we’ve covered.
Reaching the summits of these peaks is an all-day endeavor. But after a few hours on the upward trail, I grow impatient and yearn to see some evidence that I’m getting closer to the top. I am always looking ahead, always peering above.
Finally I see what appears to be the top. I press on. The trail zigzags upward in endless switchbacks. I hike on, certain that the summit is near. But as I get to “the top” I realize it’s not the top. It’s only a lesser peak that’s obscured the true summit – which I now see is still a long way off. This disappointment repeats itself again and again on the journey. It makes me wonder, “Will I ever reach the summit?”
And then I turn, look down at the winding path below, and realize, “I’ve come a long way.” It’s surprising and inspiring. Sure, I haven’t reached the summit yet. But I’ve still come a long, long way.
And isn’t that what we all must do from time to time in our spiritual journey? When we pursue spiritual growth and seek to be more and more like Christ? We gain insight and win some personal victories. We gain new heights and are certain the summit is in view. And we wonder to ourselves, “Have I reached a level of maturity? Have I attained a level of growth in which I am immune to Satan’s fiery darts, and no longer tossed about by every wind of doctrine, nor duped by peoples’ flattery?” In other words, “Have I reached the summit?”
But any notion of invulnerability or perfection quickly evaporates when I stumble from the slightest temptation and realize I’m still light years away from my personal summit. This can be very discouraging.
It’s at times like these we need to pause, look back down, and see how far the Lord has brought us. Maybe we’re not the superhero we thought we were. But we’re not the spiritual shipwreck we used to be. Growth and progress have occurred though it may be indiscernible to us.
The Apostle Paul often reminded the churches of how far they’d come since Christ first found them. In Romans 5:9-11, the Apostle reminds believers that they were once “enemies of God.” In Ephesians 2:1-2, Paul tells them they were once “children of wrath, even as the rest” of sinful humanity. Then the Apostle assures them that, if God poured out his love upon them when they were at their very worst, then nothing will stop Him from perfecting them. Paul also encourages them that now their ultimate salvation is nearer than when they first believed – i.e. they’ve come a long way (Romans 13:11).
So never despair. God’s brought you a long way and together You and He will finish the journey.
Dear Lord, Sometimes it’s good to look back down, we’ve come so far we’ve gained such ground. But joy is not in where we’ve been, joy is Who’s waiting at the end. Therefore, help me, Father, to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Amen.
Photo in Article: "El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas" by Ken Lund, licensed under CC by 2.0