A friend of mine recently told me the best place to get high quality, slightly used camping equipment: Along the first 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
The cool tents, camouflage ponchos, annodized aluminum trench diggers -- all look a little different after humping them up a mountain or two. They are gradually jettisoned by weary hikers in favor of the "basics" -- food, water, lightweight clothing.
Part of the problem is that we start our camping trip with our own ideas of what camping is all about. We envision breathtaking views from the summits without contemplating the trek to the top. We look forward to lazing by a babbling brook without considering getting firewood so we can boil that water and cook dinner.
Our walks with God may be much the same thing. We start off as new Christians with all sorts of shiny things: New Bibles with studious commentaries, a new church with the latest sound equipment for that really uplifting worship service. We look forward to cleaning up that ugly corner of our life that has been giving us fits. We look forward to God's blessings -- maybe a better job, better relationships -- but we have no idea what we are really asking for.
Like the trail into the wilderness, God gives no quarter. There are natural laws in place that are inviolate. We can no more point God at the ugly corner of our lives than we can limit our hiking to the downhill trails.
It's pretty easy to see in the first mile or so that the six-pack of beer was a mistake. And the gallon of milk on the bungee cord on our belt must go!
There! That's it, we're done. Thank you God for helping us get rid of those unnecessary impediments, now on with the trip!
There's just one problem: God wants all of us and, through Jesus, He intends to get have us.
The walk turns out much harder than expected. Who knew there were roots and rocks on the trail? And what's up with the air getting thinner the higher you go?
Every mile or so, if we look in our backpacks, things look a little different.
Didn't that grudge we harbored against our sister-in-law seem a lot more important when we started out? Weren't we willing to carry that forever? Now we nonchalantly drop it by the wayside.
That pride we've polished like silver for decades, when did it get so tarnished? And when did it get so HEAVY? Seems like that alone takes up half the backpack. It, too, falls by the wayside.
Gluttony, idolatry, malice, greed, ambition -- sheesh, who PACKED for this trip anyway?
Eventually, after considerable work and soul searching, our packs are nearly empty and our steps are light. We begin to notice we have room to pick up a few essentials.
Look, some flowers of compassion next to the brook! They fit nicely where the canned spam used to be. And over there! A whole tree full of humility, ripe for the picking.
As the trail unwinds, we find fields of patience, we grab an armload of faithfulness, we refill our canteen with love.
And when we finally top the rise of that mountain, the vista we see is something far greater than we had envisioned.
It is joy, pure joy.
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