Faith, a Hymn & a Hike

Faith, a Hymn & a Hike

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” (Deuteronomy 30:11)

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”  (Deuteronomy 30:11)

The words of Moses above, calling for obedience and spoken to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, also apply to those of us who seek to follow Christ.  In the hymnbook of the Lesotho Evangelical Church, Lifela tsa Sione (Hymns of Zion), there is a hymn which describes the journey to heaven as a difficult steep climb, overlooking precipices that dizzy the eyes, asks that the Good Shepherd lead us onward, and promises that the path, however difficult it may be, ends in heaven in peace, joy and rest.

I try at least once a month to hike up to the top of the Makhoarane Plateau, which forms the backdrop of Morija.  On this trek up the mountain I often find myself comparing hiking with life and faith.  At the base of the plateau there is a clear view of the task confronting me and there is also a small cemetery, which, along with the words of the hymn, makes the reality of death hard to ignore and reminds me that this earthly life I am given is but a brief span of time in God’s eternal plan.

The trail leading upwards to the top varies in condition from stair-like sections to rock-strewn rubble which I pick my way around.  As in most things, some portions are easier than others.  As I move upwards, generally at a slow but steady pace, I appreciate the fact I can huff and puff and continue onwards.  The human body is amazing and feeling the sweat drip off my brow and the pumping beat of my heart certainly makes me marvel at how the body works and, while definitely tired, also makes me feel very much alive!

In some spots there are shortcuts people have made, saving a switchback or two, but ascending very steeply.  At first I tried a few, but have learned that the extra exertion expended rarely is worth it.  As in life itself, in the long run, shortcuts often bring pain rather than gain.  And as for faith, I’m not aware of any shortcuts.

There are familiar places on the trail that have become landmarks for me now and tell me how much further it is to the top.  One well-known spot has a large, sheer-faced boulder right along the trail and I’ve given it the name of Balaam’s Rock, after the incident in the Old Testament where the donkey Balaam was riding crushed his foot against a stone wall as the donkey tried to avoid the angel of the LORD (Numbers 22:25).  When I reach Balaam’s Rock, then I know I am close to the stream which runs across the trail and down the ravine about halfway up the climb.

As I climb along the switchbacks, I move in and out of the shadows.  Depending on the season and hour of the day, at times the shady spots offer a longed-for respite, while at other times the warmth of the sun is much to be preferred.  Similarly, at times in my faith journey I need some cool, quiet solitude to meet with God, while at other times I need the warmth of Christian fellowship to strengthen, guide and encourage me. 

As I get closer to the top, the trail steepens, not unlike when in life I hit a rough patch and things may seem the most difficult for me.  But with God’s help, I can break free of those problems and experience relief and release and then shout thanks and praise to Jesus! 

On the trail up the plateau, that point of rejoicing comes at a relatively flat rocky area just below the summit where I can once again walk on somewhat level ground, experience relief for tired legs and lungs, and feel my strength renewed for the last short climb to the top.  In this area you often encounter folks from the village on top of the plateau making their way down the trail.  Whether it is the hike itself, or life or faith, it is encouraging knowing you are not the first and others have gone before you.  

Most of the time as I walk up the trail, my head is down, seeking the best placement of feet amidst the rocks and stones.  There is no shortage of great views to be had if one pauses long enough to take in the beauty and think about anything and everything, as perhaps a herdboy has chosen to do from his rocky perch surveying the scene.  Again, I find a similarity.  Far too often I am so consumed with my own situations and difficulties that I miss the opportunities offered to me if I would just make myself more available to God and those around me.

As I hike and ponder the words of that hymn, there are plenty of questions.  Really, how difficult has my Christian life been?  Has my belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, ever placed me danger?  Have I ever suffered for my faith?  If not, why not?  Am I just exceptionally blessed or am I hiding my light more than I care to admit?  And what was it Jesus said about those two gates?  “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (Matthew 7:13-14)

Maybe it’s time to take another hike.

Yours in Christ,

Mark Behle

Mark Behle is a missionary with the Lesotho Evangelical Church. He is working to    identify development projects, assist the church in preparing project proposals and coordinating project implementation.