Why Do I Climb? – Look, See, Pray

It’s a photo of an old smuggler’s route in the Pyrenees. A steep climb up from the valley leading to a magnificent view. Stunning!

Much social energy and ambition is poured into “being a success” or attaining “celebrity status.” It is the equivalent of climbing a mountain to be seen, to be able to boast. As David McCullough Jr pointed out, it is better to “Climb mountains, not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world.”

(By the way, getting to the mountain top by using the chairlift doesn’t entitle a name change to “Edmund Hillary”…)

Standing over such a panorama as this changes our inner perspective. At least, it should do (in my opinion, anyway!) because the rugged vast beauty suggests that we are not the centre of the universe. Even if we’d like to be.

One of the deep lessons of spending thirty years as a pastor has come from standing on the highest available hills overlooking the communities I served- and simply seeing the whole area spread out. Being there and consciously praying for the people was both humbling and inspirational. Doing this “mountain climbing” at twilight was especially moving. Lighted windows and lit street lamps twinkled below whilst the stars above began to sparkle, signposts of the immensity of the Galaxy. The number of lights spoke of the number of people- and the importance of reaching every person with the Light of the World. Jesus said “Go into ALL the world…”

I don’t think the church or community knew I was up there- and I’m glad. I wasn’t there to be seen. I was there to recognise the scale of God’s everlasting loving-kindness to everyone I could see, know, or imagine- and pray. My one regret is that I might have done this more often.

In one of the temptations of Jesus, the devil took Jesus to the highest point and offered Him “all of this- if you will worship me.”

Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” (See Luke 4)

The highest places and attainments in this world are dangerous indeed- they can make us proud unless they keep us humble. It’s always worth asking ourselves how we’re responding to the “mountains” in our world. Jesus came to serve.

Climbing Slowly- Look, See, Pray

The Alps near Sheffau, Austria

My imagination was fired up the first time I read “Lord of the Rings” when Gandalf and Bilbo talked about “the Road that goes ever on” leading to adventures and tall Mountains. I was 13. The tallest “mountains” I’d ever seen up till then were the South Downs in Sussex- but the story lit a fire in my heart. I so wanted to see mountains, REAL mountains… and follow the Road to somewhere…

Fast forward twenty years or so. My mountains grew taller: Dartmoor, the Lake District, North Wales, Scotland. Then the Alps. I was in dreamland! Real mountains!

Part of my heart is attached to Austria. My boot-prints marked the tracks and high Alpine meadows, and my eyes became dizzily drunk on the heady wine of pure air above the treeline.

Wise walkers don’t rush up mountains. Pace after pace, keeping on keeping on, with the expectation of a hot meal to sharpen the flagging spirits. Mountains are unforgiving of the careless, and unrelenting in their challenges. But the rewards are (almost) out of this world. Spectacular views, forests and flowers, snow and storms- sun and wind to redden the cheeks and give a healthy glow.

The longer the route, the more deliberate the planning; and the demands of exertion to your limits mean that success is valued highly! “We did it!”

I was reading an article today which referred to Maximus the Confessor, who helped the Church in the sixth century to work out the implications of Christian faith. You may never have heard of Max… but he is remembered for his careful and determined efforts to help Christ-followers become as much like Jesus as possible. His writings and his personal experiences weren’t full of miracles and spectacular change: Maximus spoke of the gradual, incremental changes that culminate in “the slow transformation of our own human existence into the image of the divine.” It is a process, a constant practice, a determined “following” on the Way of Christ- until we arrive.

It’s a long, slow, often difficult Road of adventure over the mountains: glorious views and visions, obstacles overcome, storms survived, weary feet and a heart on fire with the desire to reach the glorious end; lived with a passionate and thankful sense of worship and a knowledge of being Loved and sustained on the long Road.

If I had a fiver for every shortcut I’ve tried, every blind alley explored… and a tenner for every time I fell and skinned my knees and cut my hands and got up again… I’d be a millionaire. But I still wouldn’t be as richly rewarded as I am in looking back at the incremental changes in my character and faith, slowly adding to my understanding of God, building a Road towards the Mountain-Maker.

John the Disciple was known for love. A long life of following Jesus, of being His friend, and of teaching others what he had gained. He wrote these lovely words about climbing slowly alongside Jesus, and gradually becoming LIKE Him. With all the miles and mysteries, the promise is clear: God WILL transform us utterly. The Road is long- but we WILL meet Jesus, and know Him as we are known. Read this- then keep climbing slowly and growing steadily in hope.

1 John 3:2-3 (New Living Translation)
Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

A Road that goes ever on.