When Sir Edmund Hilary decided to attempt climbing Mt. Everest, he knew he couldn’t do it alone. He knew a lot about mountaineering, but understood having a good guide would make all the difference when it came to success or failure, even life or death. He paired up with Tenzing Norgay, who had been on more Everest expeditions than anyone. They reached the summit on May 29th, 1953, the first to conquer the intimidating mountain.
Our lives can be like climbing mountains. We go through valleys, scale the peaks and encounter storms and obstacles. Just as mountaineers can’t anticipate the difficulties, neither can we. But each of us has been paired with the ultimate guide, whom we can trust absolutely to get us through any and every situation. The Holy Spirit is the only one we can rely on to lead us through not only the vicissitudes but the joyful moments as well. He’s with us from start to finish because Jesus went before us and is even more intimately familiar with our path than any mountain guide could ever be.
Some say the Bible is God’s instruction book for humanity, and it does function as that, but we need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to understand it, show us how to apply it, remind us it’s all about Jesus and convict our hearts of the profound truth of who he is.
Just as Sir Hilary would have taken a big risk by climbing one of the most challenging mountains in the world by himself, we also place our lives at risk by going through life without relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We can be confident of his expertise, care for our every step and ability to take us all the way to the summit – eternal life.
Walking the trails adjacent to our property has been a big blessing to me. On my morning walks, I’ve seen deer, birds, a rabbit and lots of banana slugs! Ours aren’t yellow, but brown, and they are often six to eight inches in length. When I first saw them, I wondered if aliens had invaded our planet. So far, I’ve managed not to step on any of them. I have, however, tangled with the blackberry brambles on several occasions. The native variety creeps along the ground and also seems to be an alien species. It vines across the trails, almost tripping me when my foot has been caught in the spiky tendrils.
One thing I’ve learned about the trails is that they have to be maintained. If the brambles and fallen branches aren’t cleared regularly, the trails become unusable. In the same way, our minds can also become overgrown with brambles or weeds, and clogged with debris. I notice this when I’m praying or trying to concentrate on just one thing. My thoughts flit from one thing to another and it’s hard to rein them in and get back on track. It’s difficult to establish and maintain good habits in our thought life.
I wish it were as easy to keep our minds focused, clear and on track as it is to maintain a walking trail. Employing a chainsaw, a weed-whacker and some good pruning shears are effective against encroaching forest growth, but for a disciplined thought life, we need other tools. A good starting place is to eliminate distractions (not easy, I know) and then practice silence and solitude. But perhaps the most important thing is to be aware of when it happens and to consciously choose to bring our minds back – even if it has to happen over and over – and over.
Keeping the mind, which is our most valuable asset, free of clutter, unnecessary and even harmful thoughts is an important but mostly ignored endeavor. It is only possible as we work together with the Holy Spirit, who has given us the spirit of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT).
A lot of homeowners in my area have “No Trespassing” signs on their property. I put one up as well (long story). The same kind of signs are around the perimeter of the walking trails, with the addition that violators will be prosecuted. The 120 acres of trails belong to the homeowner’s association. I’ve been making good use of them, exploring and enjoying the quiet and beauty of the woods.
As I came across one of these signs, I had the happy thought that I was neither trespassing nor violating – I belonged there. I continued on my walk, thinking that having a sense of belonging is such a wonderful thing. We all want to be included, to feel wanted, accepted and loved. Many don’t experience this and as a result, look for belonging and acceptance in harmful ways.
For Christians, belonging is found in Jesus. We are his and he is ours. In John 17, we are told we have been given to him by the Father and all who belong to Jesus also belong to him. Sometimes we can feel a bit left out, lonely or isolated, but reading the conversation between Jesus and his Abba reminds us we are his forever, kept safe and protected by the great love shared by Father, Son and Spirit. He never tells us to keep out. If he did hang up a sign, it would say “All are welcome; come to the place I have prepared for you, beloved of my Father.”
During the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and Buttercup (in the movie The Princess Bride), the prince became impatient and told the clergyman to skip to the end. He was a very busy man – in fact, he was swamped. We are often like Humperdinck, wanting to skip to the end so we can get on with other things. We want to skip things like illness, grief, hard times and anything even a little bit unpleasant. It’s a natural human desire – we don’t want to suffer.
One of the reasons Jesus came to earth as a human was just for that purpose – to suffer. He not only came to suffer and die, but he also entered into our suffering. He took on our pain, sorrow, misery and even hopelessness to redeem all the sin and evil that come with being human. Paul understood this to the point of wanting to suffer with Christ, as he said in Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead” (NLT).
We know we can’t avoid pain and suffering and we also know death awaits us all. We’d like to skip over all of that and get to the joyous, wonderful time when we will share eternity with God, but as Paul said, sharing Jesus’ suffering and death gives us a way to really know him and to experience the incredible power that raised him from the dead – the power that will allow us to share in his resurrection.
We certainly will have life after death, but we can also count on having a rocky road along the way. Let’s embrace it the way Paul did, asking God not when we can get out of the suffering, but what we can get out of it. Jesus didn’t skip to the end and neither can we, but oh how glorious new life with him will be!
Very few people have been or can be described as powerful. Some have great physical strength; some have been given the power to command countries or armies; some have intellects that allow them to solve big problems, write great novels or masterful pieces of music. I am not such a person and I can’t even recall a time when I felt even a little bit powerful in any way. Most of the time, I’ve felt weak, powerless or not able to control large parts of my life. I think that’s why I like superhero movies, especially when the heroes are the good guys. They have power we can only dream of.
Paul wrote about power greater than any ordinary human being (or superhero) has ever experienced – the power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). He said he had the same power: “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me” (Colossians 1:29, NLT). We also have this power, as Paul said in Romans 8:11 (NLT): “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”
How do we make use of this power? We can’t use the Force like Luke Skywalker. We can’t rely on a spider bite like Peter Parker or undergo some chemical or cyber transformation. But we also can’t access it by flipping a switch or even by praying for God to turn it on inside us. As I contemplated this, the Holy Spirit spoke a word to me: “death.” It seems so much of being in Christ always comes back to death. We die with him in baptism; we die to self by dying to our desires and the pull of worldly power, wealth and fame. We put to death what belongs to our earthly nature (Colossians 3:5).
In laying ourselves down in death to self, the incredible power of Jesus in us comes alive, giving us both the will and the strength to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). His power is our power, as we die to self, grow in grace and learn the attitude and mindset Jesus had in Philippians 2:5-8. We don’t have to feel powerful, but we can, in our weakness, let his power and grace shine forth to give him praise and glory.