Advent began yesterday. For weeks now, I’ve been hearing its quiet, persistent call and feeling its pulse beneath the earth’s hustle and bustle in preparations for the holidays. Its call is beneath the lights, deeper than the roots of the Christmas trees, quieter than the stillness of my house once all the children are in bed, yet louder through the pages of my Bible than my culture’s cries of consumerism all around me…Prepare the Way…Humble Your Heart…Don’t Miss the Child…Immanuel is coming.
God has been gracious to help me hear Advent’s call early this year and to begin to think and prepare because in years past, Advent was easy to miss. With four children in the house, I have missed Immanuel more than I have held Him. I have followed Christmas’ crazy trail of seasonal to-do’s rather than quieting my heart, examining my heart, and humbling my heart in preparation for Immanuel.
I have spent many more hours on planning, purchasing, and wrapping gifts than I have unwrapping the gift of Immanuel, God with us, that has been given. I have spent much more time preparing for Christmas Day in the grocery stores, my car, the kitchen, and in crowds at parties and shows than I have in letting God, through meditation on Scripture and prayer, prepare my heart.
And it’s really tough, this tug of war that happens each and every year between the call of Immanuel and what is really Christmas and the call of the lights, gifts, and busyness and what my culture has made Christmas that happens all around me. I don’t want to be bah-humbug, but I also don’t want to miss the sign post God has given to reorient my heart towards the One who came and the One who is coming.
The prophet Isaiah wrote centuries before the birth of Christ:
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed,
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed.
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This is the same call each of the Gospel writers attributes to John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ when He walked this earth 2000 years ago. Before Christ came and began His public ministry, God first sent John to “make ready the way of the Lord,” to straighten every path, to humble every exalted place and exalt every humble place. And John did not come crying, “Prepare the way” armed with lights, a Christmas tree, ornaments, and gifts. He came armed with repentance. “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
If the church is going to be the church, we have got to rethink the way we prepare the way for Christmas. We have got to get serious about using this season of Advent, this pause and breath of four weeks before remembering the day of Christ’s birth, to prepare the way in our hearts, not just around our tree.
Because here’s the thing: for weeks now, I’ve been looking at the words of Isaiah 2. And this is what verses 5-11 say:
“House of Jacob, come, let us walk in Yahweh’s light.
For You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob,
Because they are filled with influences from the east,
And go fortune telling like the Philistines.
And with the children of foreigners they shake hands,
And their land has become full of silver and gold,
And there is no end to their treasures,
And their land has become full of horses,
And there is no end to their chariots,
And their land has become full of no-gods,
To the work of their hands they bow in worship,
To what their fingers have made!
And humankind is humiliated,
And each individual is demeaned –
Impossible that You should forgive them!
Go into the rock,
and hide yourself in the dust,
because of apprehension of Yahweh,
and from the splendor of His eminence.
Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned
And the cockiness of individuals brought down,
And Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.
(Translation by Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day)
Look at verse 11 once again: “Humankind’s haughty looks will be demeaned and the cockiness of individuals brought down, and Yahweh alone will be exalted in that day.”
Which means this: you and I can do the hard work of humbling ourselves before the Lord and getting rid of all “the influences of the east,” all of the bargains and treaties we have struck with the systems of this world to give us security, strength, and influence, all of the idols or “no-gods” we have fashioned with our own hands so that we can worship the god we want when we want on our own terms, or we can wait for the sure and certain coming Day of the Lord when He will humble our hearts for us and we will be left in the dust, trembling from the terror of the Lord (v. 10).
Again, I am not trying to be a naysayer here, but church, we must wake up. We must do the serious business of letting the God who came and the God who is coming work in our hearts to bear our sin so that we are not borne away by our sin on the Day when He comes again.
I have a Christmas tree in my house. My stockings are hung and, Lord willing, they will be filled on Christmas morning. Our roof line is strung with lights and two brightly lit angels stand trumpeting on the lawn. My daughter is dancing in the Nutcracker, and I’ve already responded to several Christmas party invitations. But again, here’s what Isaiah 2:11 says, “The proud look of man will be humbled.” The real question is not where your steps are walking this Advent season but where are your eyes looking. What are the aims and interests you have for your family, your children, yourself? Is it to accumulate certain gifts for yourself and your kids? Is it to make sure they don’t miss out on anything and attend every event? Is it to fill their schedules and their palates? Or is it to redirect their eyes? To help them see Immanuel and prepare the way for His entrance in to their hearts?
It will take saying “no” to a few things over the next few weeks. It will take redirecting your steps to make sure the Word is dwelling richly within you with its interests and aims instead of the mall, stores, and culture around you.
But please…please…heed the call to hear the call and prepare the way. As C.S. Lewis writes in his book Until We Have Faces, “Die before you die; there is no chance after.” In other words, do the hard work now of bending the heart and scraping the knee, suffering internally, even, in the here and now, so that your hearts are ready for eternity.
To help us in the process of preparing the way, I’ve come up with seven meditative questions and responses based on Isaiah 2 so that a way can be cleared in the wilderness of our hearts for the coming of Christ. You can use these questions in the mornings or evening to facilitate a prayerful response to Christ throughout the next four weeks. This is not a traditional Advent devotional but something to use to supplement any devotions you might read. These are questions to push us towards repentance, prayer, and preparing our hearts in the way of humbling our hearts before Immanuel for Christmas Day.
I’ve attached the document here: Advent Prayers – Prepare the Way. Please consider printing it out and putting it in a spot you will see it often over the next four weeks.
Whatever route you decide to take for Advent this year, please join with me in preparing our hearts. I look forward to taking this journey together.
For more encouragement on Preparing Our Hearts during the Advent season, connect with me on Facebook this week.
If I have learned one thing through our journey of ascension over the past three weeks, it is that we are sojourners now, pilgrims on the way, but not forever. Our steps up the mountain are taking us Somewhere to Someone. And each step upward is one step closer to our heavenly home where we will be pilgrims no longer but citizens with a secure home, a secure citizenship, and a secure identity.
About a year ago, I was sitting across a table with a friend, lamenting about turning 40 and not having accomplished everything I had wanted to or hoped to by this particular point in my life. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t you stop seeing 40 as a destination and start seeing it as an embarkation?” And that one question changed everything. I turn 40 next week, and the past year, instead of worrying about all that hasn’t happened on the path I have walked the last 40 years years, I have been thanking the the Lord for where He has me and asking Him to prepare me for the journey ahead.
Because as long as we live on planet earth, our steps here are not destination, they are embarkation. Our way here is not the end but the beginning of living with the Lord not just for 40 years, or 80 years, but for all of eternity, in His House, in His Presence.
So take a moment to read the following poem, our last poem in a series of six, and then take a quiet moment to answer the questions that follow.
The Journey, it is arduous
The path is steep
The nights, they darken
But the Warrior-King, He beckons on.
Never will the One who found you
Leave you alone.
Never will the One you follow
Leave you for a “better” one.
For you are His
Your worship precious
The paths He gives you
He will defend.
And when you stumble
He will aid you
Set your feet back on to Him.
And the views He gives are mighty
Stunning and so glorious
So take the Hand of your Companion
Ascend the path of Obedience.
- I want to ask you the same questions my friend asked me last year. Many of us are stuck on the path or the season God has us in because we have stopped seeing it as a pilgrim’s path, a sojourner’s way, and have started seeing it as a final destination. Listen to me: this is not the end. The path you are on is not your home nor the final destination. You are on the way. You are here today and gone tomorrow. Whatever season you are in right now is a blink of the eye, a momentary mist and shadow. So don’t stop on the path. Keep walking. Keep stepping upwards and onwards. If you are in a joyful season, soak it up with grace and thanks knowing that while we are on this earth, troubles will come. Hard seasons will arise. So thank the Lord for the grace and peace that surrounds you now. And if you are in a difficult season, remind yourself day after day, step after step, this will not last. Your light and momentary troubles are achieving for you a weight of glory that will far outweigh them all (II Corinthians 4:17). Take a moment to remind yourself of the ways you know the path you are on is temporary, not eternal. Then set your heart on hope and on home. Thank the Lord that the final destination is coming and ask Him for the grace and strength to keep walking until you see Him face to face.
- As stated above, many of us see the path we are on as destination, not embarkation. Take some time – take a day, or a week, or a year, like me – and ponder this question: How can you begin to see the path you are on as embarkation rather than destination? What desires in your heart are you asking God to fulfill? Are you open to God fulfilling them in ways you have not expected or anticipated? Can you shoulder the pack He is asking you to carry, and begin walking the way He has opened up in front of you, asking Him for fresh eyes to see a fresh path, even if it is not the way you were wanting to walk while here on this earth but trusting Him it is a way that leads to His good purposes for you in His good time?
- Spend some time asking the Lord as my friend asked me, “Who are your traveling companions?” Who would He have you walk with in this season of your life? Are you open to thanking Him for the companions He has given you in the past and receiving who He has for you to walk with in the present and the future?
- Finally, close with spending time thanking the Lord that no matter what path He has you on right now, for all those who love King Jesus, the path He has you walking down now, in this particular season, is the path home. You are not an eternal desert wanderer. You are not a perpetual pilgrim. You are headed to your permanent country, your eternal city, where your citizenship awaits you. Ask Him for eyes to see Home, for ears to hear its call, and for feet to walk its path, staying close to your Traveling Companion no matter where He takes you. You can be confident the way before you is the way up. We go up to fall down…at the feet of our Good Father in our Forever Home.
Several years ago, my family was in the Lake District of England for several weeks. The list of activities for each day consisted of hiking, hiking, or more hiking. While my girls were not big fans of the long walks this particular part of England is so famous for, I was in heaven. One day, we took the long drive from our village of Elterwater up to see the small but beautiful Lake Buttermere tucked up in the northern part of the Lake District. As we walked around the path encircling the lake with the girls, a trail of smooth stones ascending up the side of the surrounding hills caught my eyes. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt a strong pull to follow the path and go…up. To wherever it led. Jason took one look at my face, knew the look in my eyes after 13 years of marriage, and said, “Go for it. The girls and I will play down by the lake.”
So up I went. I followed the grey stone path up under a canopy of trees, hidden in the shade of the forest, until it came out of the forest upon a stream rushing down the side of the mountain. By now, I was racing against the clock, knowing the time I had with the girls down by the lake was limited. I walked at as quick as a pace as I could, following the path and the stream upwards wherever it led. After about an hour or so, the stream leveled out, and I came to the end of the path, to see a shining blue lake ringed by even higher peaks. I scrambled up the side of one of the surrounding peaks to get a panoramic a view of the lake below and surrounding countryside. I sat for as long as I could, soaking up sounds of bleating sheep and the feeling of being the only one for as far as the eye could see, led up a path by the tugging of a good God who knew how beauty and walking speaks to my soul.
I will never forget that day. And I’m hoping to go back one day and ascend those ancient grey stone steps again. For that path reminds and represents God’s call to me to go up. To pause long enough in the every day paths I walk to follow the Lord’s lead when I feel the tugging of His Spirit on my heart to ascend a particular way, a particular truth, a particular path of obedience.
To humble myself and forgive a certain friend. To humble myself and ask for forgiveness for a specific incident where I was at fault. To risk loneliness for the sake of an untrodden path while knowing the companionship of the Lord awaits. To risk companionship when my tendency is to shrink back and stay back instead of entering the circle of friendship around me. To give when I want to keep. To keep and be still when I’m restless and discontent and just want to give.
I’m learning to follow the path. What about you? Are you too immersed in the predictable everyday to lift up your head and see the ancient way that calls to each and every believer if we just have ears to hear and eyes to see the One who calls to us?
Take a quiet moment to read the following poem, our fifth in a series of six, and then with a journal and pen in hand or in the quietness of your own heart, answer the questions that follow.
You are the Warrior of my Worship
Defender of all Ancient Ways
You keep the paths of wisdom open
For all who lose their life to save
O my God! Fight for my worship!
Keep my heat set upon You!
These feet of mine, they stray so quickly
Off the path, off of all good.
And when I stumble, bleeding badly,
I feel such shame upon my soul
Come and lift my head up higher
To follow You, Lord of all Love.
Arms they beckon, hands they strengthen
Every step along the Way
And as light banishes all darkness
I wake to find Thee in my stead –
Never have I been alone.
Never was I cast aside.
There behind me,
There beside me,
There in front,
You’ve hemmed me in.
I cannot fall
Where You can’t catch me
I cannot stumble
Beyond Your reach
For when our hearts are set on worship
Anointed One, our paths You keep.
- Are you in a place in life where it is easy to worship, easy to lift up your eyes and see the beauty and beckoning of the path God is calling you to? Or are you struggling to find joy and worship in the journey and ascension of relationship with the Lord? Go back and re-read the first six lines of the poem again: “You are the Warrior of my Worship / Defender of all Ancient Ways / You keep the paths of wisdom open / For all who lose their life to save / O my God! Fight for my worship!” Do you know God fights for your worship? Fights on your behalf to keep the ways of intimacy open with Him? Lift up your eyes today, wherever you are, and ask Him for the eyes to see the path He is calling to you to. It will never be contrary to His Word, and will always require you to go deeper in His Word, trusting in His character and His ways, but the way up will be beautiful. Far more beautiful than you or I could ever imagine.
- Since this is Thanksgiving Week, take pen and paper in hand, and divide your life into sections by age. The first section would be 0-7 years old, the second would be 8-14 years, the third 15-21 years, and so on. No matter your age, go all the way up to 91 or 98 years of age (and if you live beyond that, God bless you!), and for each section of your life, write out at least three ways you have seen and are thankful for the faithfulness of God at each step you have taken. Once you reach the age you are currently, switch to writing out at least three ways you know you will see the faithfulness of God continue to work in your life, and three things you would like Him to help you walk out on the path He has for you.
- Lastly, close by thanking Him and praying the last two lines of the poem: “For when our hearts are set on worship / Anointed One, our paths You keep.” Ask Him to keep your heart set on worship, no matter what circumstances in life may occur, and thank Him that He will keep your path set upon Him, no matter what happens, for “It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:11-13).
Don’t forget to check back on Wednesday for the last poem in this series of six, and remember to connect with me on Facebook if you need further encouragement this week on the way up. I am praying for your heart and mine this week of Thanksgiving. May we thankfully set our hearts on ascending the path and the way of a good God who called us, loves us, and beckons us…upward.
Last week, I was on an early morning run in my neighborhood. The streets were quiet and the sun had just risen over the tops of the trees. I was enjoying the cool air, soaking in the silence before a day of homeschool began the moment I stepped foot in my front door.
As I ran, I glanced down and noticed a random puzzle piece in the middle of the street. Just one.
I felt a pull toward the piece, and retraced my steps to run back to pick it up. As I held the piece in my hand, I wondered what the full picture of the completed puzzle pieces looked like. also wondered who had dropped it and how disappointed he or she would be when they discovered it was missing.
And then I thought about how often I feel like that lone puzzle piece in my climb with the Lord.
The reason why climbing is often such hard work because we cannot see the top and we do not know how long it will take us to get there. All we know is that we are going up. All we know we is that what is required of us is the next step when we can’t see the way.
Most of the time when I hike, I climb without being able to see the top of the peak I am trying to summit. I walk without any sort of end view in sight and constantly wonder if I am on the right path. Jason figured out years ago in our marriage, that when we hike, I have to hike with a map in my hand. Have to. I am in constant need of knowing where we are on the path. I don’t know if this strangeness stems from the fact I once became lost on a mountain in Switzerland. I had just graduated from college and was smart enough to know I wanted to spend my last summer of freedom in Europe but dumb enough to put myself in some pretty precarious positions. I set out alone one clear morning in Zermatt, Switzerland, in jeans, tennis shoes, and a light weight fleece (not waterproof) to climb a trail to obtain a beautiful, back view of the Matterhorn. I ignored weather postings about incoming fog and rain, and set off thinking about how blue, sunny skies trumped any gloom and doom weather forecast. Wrong.
About an hour in to my hike, clouds quickly began to roll in and darken the view of the sun. Fog and mist wrapped around my ankles and quick as a wink, I couldn’t see further than the next step in front of me on the path, nor could I see the drop off on the open side of the mountain next to me. I turned around and cautiously began to make my way back down, and what took me one hour to ascend took me over two hours to get back down. By the time I got back to my room, my fingers were frozen stiff, my jeans wet and heavy from the damp weather, and my fleece soaked through. I had to allow at least forty-five minutes go by for my fingers to unthaw enough to untie my shoe laces. I vowed I would never again set out on a hike without being adequately prepared with clothing and equipment and without paying attention to the weather forecast.
I think more time than not, that’s how most of us climb. Ill-prepared. Ignoring weather signs. Alone without needed travel companions. Unprepared with necessary climbing clothing and equipment. We climb tentatively, unable to see anything but the next step in front of us, holding life’s lone puzzle piece in our hands.
Or maybe we are prepared. We climb with the latest gear on our backs, a full pack of water, state of the art shoes, and an up-to-date map in our hands.
But things happen. Puzzles fall apart. Pieces fall out the car door when we aren’t looking. Or sometimes, even, when we are. And when that happens, a dark night of the soul descends. We climb with a sense of dread, wondering if the veil of night will ever lift.
A verse I have learned to pray often when seasons of darkness descend is Song of Songs 4:6: “Until the break of day, when the shadows flee away, I will walk to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.” In other words, when I am walking in the dark, my prayer is that I would continue to walk in the dark. To keep going even when I cannot see the way. Because deep down I know that it’s not that there isn’t anyone climbing with me; it’s just that I cannot see His face.
In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes letters from a senior devil to a junior devil, teaching the junior devil how best to tempt humans and make them fall. In one letter, the senior devil writes this to his junior cohort: “[God] cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble ideas is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, thought faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with, the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our case is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
It may not seem like or feel like it, but the times when we walk and cannot feel God’s presence or see God’s face yet continue to walk His path are the times He is wooing us to Himself, strengthening our wills to obey and our hearts to love Him and receive His love in even greater measure than ever before. The challenge is just to continue to walk, to take the next step, when all we are holding in our hands is the one puzzle piece that we can see, separated from the full picture that only God holds.
Take a moment to read the following poem, the fourth poem in our series of six, and answer the questions in the quietness of your own heart or with pen and paper in hand.
Now comes the darkness
Night of all deepest despair.
I cannot see where I am going
I am blind by all my fear.
I stumble, trip, bruised in the darkness
No one here to hold my hand
Loneliness, it presses closer
Paralyzes, from the heart down.
I call to You –
But all seems silent
Where are You, my Lord of Love?
You beckoned me upon this Journey,
Yet on the path, I feel alone.
All at once, I hear the summons,
“Take one more step, you’ll see the way.”
And so in faith-fraught, fearful courage
I step along the ancient way.
And once I step, when fog has lifted,
Now the next step beckons me.
So through the night
I step, and follow,
Faith-filled path of mystery.
- Have you ever experienced a dark night of the soul in the past or are you currently experiencing one now? If so, why do you think the darkness descended and how are you doing on the path?
- In Song of Songs 4:6, the verse I referenced earlier, myrrh in Scripture almost always represents sacrifice and frankincense represents prayer and intercession. Ascension always requires sacrifice. Just think back on the temple sacrifices. Their smoke ascended upwards and was a pleasing fragrance to the Lord. And think back to the sacrifice of Christ. The aroma of His death was pleasing to the Lord, for it ascended heavenward and fulfilled the requirement for our sin. Your sacrifice as you choose to ascend the mountain of the Lord, even in the midst of darkness, will be to strengthen your will and to determine to keep walking, even when you do not feel like it. It will be a commitment to keep in close contact with the Lord, through prayer, through intercession, through staying in His Word, even when you do not feel like doing so or experience the immediate benefits of doing so. But God doesn’t waste anything. Ever. He sees “your will to walk” and is pleased, “even with your stumbles.” If you have stopped walking and stopped communing with the Lord during your dark night of the soul, stop right where you are, repent, choose to look up and out to Him even when you cannot feel Him, and begin to walk His paths again through a commitment to obeying His Word and listening to His Voice, even when you don’t feel like it.
- Psalm 84:10-12 says, “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, how blessed is the one who trusts in You!” Humility is never a bad thing; it is always a good thing to be reminded how dependent we are on the Lord, even for our very next step and our next breath. And in our humble places, we remember that the Lord gives grace and glory. He never wastes anything, nor does He withhold anything from those who love and trust Him. Keep walking; keep taking the next step. The dark night will not last forever; the Son will rise with healing in his wings, and when He does, you will experience the blessing of someone who has chosen to trust in Him. Close today with a commitment to trust the Lord as a sun (one who gives light) and a shield (one who gives protection), even when you cannot see the way. And close committing to trust in Him for every good path, every good step, every good way. No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Last week I posted the first two poems in a series of six, each poem in the series speaking to a different aspect of walking with God, heeding His call, and choosing to journey on, even when the way is hard. This Monday and Wednesday I will post the next two poems and provide a few questions for you to ponder through prayer with pen and paper in your hand or simply in your heart. My prayer is that each of us is encouraged and strengthened in the journey God has called us to walk, up His paths, in His ways, ascending His mountain, straight to His heart and eternal home, even on, and especially on, mundane Monday mornings.
In the first two poems, we started the journey of ascension, of learning how to walk when all of life is weary. So much of beginning the climb is getting over fears of perfection and performance and having the courage to just start walking, no matter how perfect or imperfect your circumstances seem. And no matter how significant or insignificant you feel in your role throughout the day, knowing that God has called you, YOU, to walk with Him, right where you are, as you are.
But this week is about the actual climb. And how hard it often is.
I love to hike. There isn’t a better feeling to me than the steady climb up a mountain, breathing in mountain air with mountain scenery all around. It’s always a time when I can soak in God’s majesty while sorting out my thoughts as I pace my steps. I learned a long time ago, too, that hiking with my husband isn’t a chance to “catch up” on what’s been going on in life. Hiking with him means putting your ear phones in, keeping your head down, and going as hard as you can as fast as you can the whole way up the mountain. With such a great pace setter in front of me, the crowds at the base or in the car park thin out, and the trail provides incredible time to reflect and let the Spirit of God speak to my heart through the Word of God in meditation, worship, and prayer.
But somewhere in the joy of the walk, there always comes a point on every climb when I think: “I cannot go another step. Cannot.” My legs burn right along with my lungs and every step takes major effort.
I took our oldest daughter Lillian on her first hike up Bald Mountain in Ketchum, Idaho this summer. It is one of Jason and my favorite climbs to do every summer we are there, and I have been looking forward to the day when our children would be able to hike it with us. The hike is 5.4 miles from base to peak, and it’s pretty much an uphill climb the whole way. Jason promised Lillian a new pair of chacos like her cousin’s and a Dr. Pepper if she made it to the top, so the Dr. Pepper sealed the deal and off we went. Two hours and fifty-five minutes later, we finished. The last mile and a half, I literally thought I was going to have to drag her up the rest of the way.
Maybe some of you can relate to Lillian’s end of the trail shuffle – IMG_4445
But she did it. She made it. And so much of it had to do with the fact that she knew she had a traveling companion who wasn’t going to leave her by the side of the trail. She made it because I knew where the good rest stops were, and when we came to one, we stopped, drank, and waited until she caught her breath. She made it because I made sure we started out with an ample water supply. She made it because I knew she would need snacks along the way to give her legs and body energy, and I knew how to tell her to keep her body nourished. She made it because I had been up that mountain many times before and knew the way and was there to point out the correct path, telling her which way to go when there was a fork in the road. She made it because to keep her mind occupied off of the ascent of the path, we played more rounds of “Ask-me-20-questions-to-guess-who-I-am-thinking-of” than I can count and guessed a wide range of people from Johnny Cash to her cousin Seth.
When we climb, and the trail is hard, and we cannot see the summit, and our legs want to give way, we don’t make it to the top by heading back down the mountain the first moment things are hard and the trail is steep. We don’t make it to the top by refusing to rest and drink water along the way. And we don’t make it to the top by thinking we can climb by ourselves. We make it to the top by listening to our traveling companion. The mountain we are climbing, after all, is His mountain (Isaiah 2:1-4). The path we are ascending is His way. He knows every fork in the road, every spot to make sure we rest and have enough water; He knows how to prepare for storms that roll in quickly and descend, and He knows how to make our footsteps firm.
I cannot promise you that the way up the mountain will be easy, and I cannot promise you that you will not want to turn around many time during the climb and head back down the trail. But I can promise you when you journey with the Lord, He will not slumber or sleep, He will not let your steps falter, and He will not leave you by the way.
So wherever you are on your climb today, stop to find rest underneath a shady spot, read this next poem, “Climbing,” and then ask yourself the three questions that follow.
The garments cling
The sweat, it drips
My legs burn with every step
Weary-worn and tired of speaking
I stop for a moment to pause…and rest…
The valley teems with life below
Those who have chosen to stay beneath
The mountain is lonely, the paths are ancient
Is what I am doing insanity?
But the view, oh, it is breath-taking
Peaks and valleys, snow-capped ridge
Silent is the sacred journey
My heart, it sings
The songs You give.
- Where are you in your climb today? Are you enjoying the walk and the challenge in front of you? Or are you weary with each and every step, in need of a rest? Be honest with the Lord about where you are today.
- Have you been relying on yourself to get yourself up the mountain, or are you trusting in and relying upon your traveling companion? Are you tightly clutching the map in one hand, lost and anxiously trying to figure out directions? Is your mouth bone dry and has your water supply run out, leaving you in deep need of a drink? Or are you lonely, in need of someone to walk alongside you and take your mind off of the ascent? Again, be honest before the Lord about your specific needs for a traveling companion who knows the way, holds all direction, water, and nourishment in His Hands, and is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Then receive the answer He provides in the Person and Spirit of Jesus, the Shepherd, Guardian, Savior, and Traveling Companion of your soul.
- Slowly read through the words of Psalm 23:1-6 today, and pray them back to the Lord as you trust Him as Shepherd of your soul, no matter phase of the journey you are in: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
For encouragement in your climb, don’t forget to check back in on Wednesday for the fourth poem in this series of six. You can connect with me on Facebook, as well, throughout the week.
The next few weeks we are on a journey of ascension – learning to go up when all of life pulls us down. Monday I posted the first poem in a series of six about the call to go up and walk with God when, and especially when, our legs are tired from walking. Today marks the journey of the second poem. Take a moment to read it in a quiet place and give yourself time to respond to the questions that follow with a prayerful heart.
The Sun it rises o’er the valley
Giving Light to all I see
Fingers tracing, Fingers probing
Paths of well-worn antiquity.
Sends it fleeing
To furthest corners of space and time
The paths are open
The hills, they beckon
“Come and see!”
“Daughter, Come and climb!”
He’s set my heart to come and worship
He’s clothed my heart to truly live
The One who beckons, I have tasted
He is glory, deep within –
All my ways are known before You
I have told You everything
Yet You take me,
Own me, know me
Want me, with my everything.
So clothe me with Your lovely glory
Teach me Your Paths, O Gracious One.
Remove the false,
Get rid of darkness
For I have tasted lips of the Son.
(Proverbs 2:1-15; Psalm 119:26, 29; Psalm 2:12)
After putting on the new garments described in the first poem, “Clothed,” and receiving covering from the God who loves, forgives, and accepts us though Christ, we next begin to hear God’s call on our lives to ascend and go up the mountain, walking in His paths and His ways.
For years, I’ve wrestled with this issue of ascension and calling: who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? And after years of struggle in trying to measure my life by what I’ve become and the things I have accomplished while coming up short every single time, I have come to realize that God’s call has nothing to do with vocation, accomplishment, or perfection. Instead, it has everything to do with obedience. His call doesn’t come when we do a certain thing or perform a certain way or head down the perfect path. His call comes to us, to those who love the Lord Jesus, no matter what we are doing or how imperfect our circumstances have become.
I’ve learned that as we choose to heed His call to walk in His ways through His Word, through prayer, through living out the life of love, forgiveness, humility, submission, and obedience He calls us to walk, we become the people He has for us to become along the way, as we walk.
So whatever season of life you are in today, if you are stuck at the bottom of the mountain asking yourself if you will ever make it to the top of the mountain, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you stuck at the base of the trail, trying to find the perfect route up through the perfect profession or city or job or relationship or circumstance before you try to take the first step up the mountain? If so, tell the Lord as honestly as you are able what keeps you feeling “stuck” at the bottom instead of ascending towards the top.
- Consider the prophets’ words in Micah 6:8 and Isaiah 66:2: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”…”But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). The person God is with, with whom He chooses to dwell, is the one who trembles at His Word, or, in other words, the one who reads His Word, absorbs it, meditates on it, and chooses to believe and obey the One who is speaking. And the call on every Christian’s life is to take God’s Word and begin to live it out, walking humbly, loving kindly, and doing justly. It’s that hard and it’s that simple. That’s your calling and that’s my calling, no matter who you are or what you do. So this means we can put our maps down, we can stop trying to figure out the perfect path, the perfect circumstances, the perfect “calling,” and we can just begin to walk. As a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. As a doctor, lawyer, teacher, or janitor. As someone who has lived in the same place her whole life or moved every single year of life. So here’s your question…finally. How do you need to begin the journey up the mountain today, right where you are? When was the last time you were in God’s Word, reading it, thinking on it, meditating over it, struggling to comprehend and obey it? And what was the last specific thing God told you to do? Did you do justice? Did you love kindness and forgive and take a step towards your enemy? Did you walk humbly with God, yielding to His leading or did you demand your own way? Did you obey Him or did you just think He made a good suggestion? As George MacDonald says, “Obedience is the soul of knowledge.” So go back and do the thing God told you to do, and you will be amazed at how the way opens up before you. Take a moment to write out the next step or steps up the mountain God is asking you to take, and begin taking those steps…today.
- Finally, be confident in your calling to walk up the mountain with the Lord beginning today, this moment. In the immortal words of G.K. Chesterton, “Don’t be afraid to start badly.” Just start. Just take the next step, and then the next one, trusting that God doesn’t call you to then abandon or forsake you at the first fork in the path. Nor does He call you without having a clear picture in His mind of the end result and who He wants you to become. His job is to make sure you cross the finish line; your job is to just take the next step. Consider the words of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Close today by being honest about your fears going up the mountain with the Lord, but also about your choice to trust Him. He will not abandon you, and He will not allow you to become less than He has intended for you to be. Ask for the faith to surrender to His voice and lean upon Him along the way for the next breath, the next decision, the next step up the mountain. You can trust Him to be faithful every step of the way.
Last week, I wrote about walking. Walking up the mountain of God in the paths of God and the ways of God even when, and especially when, walking is hard. Sometimes walking is hard because of grief. We are grieving because we’ve lost someone we loved, or a certain season of life is over, or a certain relationship has ended. Sometimes walking is hard because we’re weary, drained from the circumstances of life, feeling like we can’t go another step. Sometimes walking is hard because fog has settled in our souls and we can’t see the way or where to take the next step. And sometimes walking is hard because we feel forgotten on the mountain. We started off our journey with traveling companions and now they are nowhere to be found. It’s just you, on the mountain, in the fog, wondering if anyone knows where you are and which way to go from here.
I would venture to guess for most of us, life isn’t this glorious ascension up. Instead, it’s a simple decision to walk one mundane Monday morning after the next. It’s the decision to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And it’s the continual rousing of the will to walk instead of laying down on the path to sleep, or numb, or just quit walking altogether.
So here’s the thing: in the mundane of your Monday, in your list of errands and food items from the grocery store, in the dull aches you carry in the recesses of your heart, know this – you are not alone. Many people around you are having to choose to ascend into the glorious when everything around them looks or feels a little grey.
To encourage us in our walks, including yours truly, I pulled out some poems I wrote years ago, and then stuck in a folder and forgot about their existence…until last week’s post when I vaguely remembered writing something else about walking and the ascension up.
I wrote these poems after spending several weeks in the Idaho mountains over six years ago when I was knee deep in mundane ascension through pregnancy, nursing, toddlers, tears, and diapers. I wrote them for myself as a needed reminder of what my walk upwards actually looked like instead of what I felt it looked like, and I wrote them for a friend of mine who loves on and ministers to college-aged girls around the country and sees and speaks into all kinds of broken, hurting hearts. I thought they might be appropriate now, in this season of my life, in learning how to walk through a season of grief, our whatever season of strength and strain each of us finds ourselves in.
There are six poems in all, and each one speaks to a different aspect of walking with God, heeding His call, and choosing to journey on, even when the way is hard and our hearts are broken. So each Monday and Wednesday for the next three weeks, I will post one of the poems and provide a few questions for you to ponder through prayer with pen and paper in your hand or simply in your heart. My prayer is that each of us is encouraged and strengthened in the journey God has called us to walk, up His paths, in His ways, ascending His mountain, straight to His heart and eternal home, even on, and especially on, mundane Monday mornings.
Here is the first poem in a series of six entitled “Clothed.”
I was far off
Tossed in a corner
Battered, bruised, forsaken, scorned
I was lied to, told I was nothing
Only an object
To be tried on, worn –
But Your Arms
Gave me garments
Ones that fit my nakedness
Ones that transformed
Into Something all my nothing
So your Light it
Calls me, beckons
To a life well-worn with Love
When I’m fit
Clothed for the Journey
Upwards to my Glorious Home.
- Are there any ways in which you feel forgotten, battered, bruised, or forsaken in this season of your life? Be as honest as you can with the Lord.
- Instead of using inadequate coverings of shame, guilt, fear, or control to cover your wounds, put on the garments of love, forgiveness, and acceptance that only Christ can give. Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12-14: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Pause before each item in the list above and ask God where it is needed in your life and how He wants you to put it on.
- Lastly, read Colossians 3:15-16: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Ask the Lord for the peace of Christ to rule over your heart and your head and for His Word to dwell richly within you, strengthening you for the journey ahead.