Mountain climbing has historically been associated with a spiritual quest. The psalmist wrote: “I Will lift up my eyes unto the hills, where my help comes from. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Ps 121:1-2
A mountain can be a place of revelation. It was on a mountain that Moses received the Law of God: “And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up” Ex. 19:20. God revealed things to the Apostle John on a mountain: “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city.” Rev. 21:10
Mountains can be a place of solitude where we can connect with God. Jesus withdrew to the mountains to pray and be alone with His Father (Mt. 5:1, Mt. 14:23, John 6:15). Jesus called his disciples on a mountain (Mark 3:13-15). He met them on a mountain after His resurrection (Mt. 28:16). Jesus was transfigured on a mountain top (Mt 17).
Mountains display the power of God, the awesome power of His creation. Mountain climbing, like few other endeavors, can reveal how helpless we are at the power of creation; how quickly our security can vanish. An ascent of a high peak can remind us of the importance of realizing that we are at the mercy of God and the need to trust in Him.
Mt. San Antonio, commonly called “Baldy” is a 10,500’ peak in the San Gabriel Mtn. chain in southern California. To professional mountaineers, it’s a walk up. But, for novices like me, it’s still a struggle. I climbed to the top of Baldy with my daughter and son-in-law in June of 2001. During our climb, the Lord was speaking to me almost continually. He was showing me all sorts of analogies comparing climbing the mountain to our walk as believers in Jesus. It truly became a spiritual journey for me.
As is common in southern California in June, the LA basin was covered with clouds for a good part of the month, including the day we climbed. It is possible to drive to within 10 miles of the summit, to an altitude of 6,000’. As we drove up the canyon, somewhere around the 3,000’ level, we emerged from the overcast to a bright sunshine. As we came out of the clouds, it reminded me of being born again. I was reminded of how dreary life was before coming to Christ.
Life under the dominion of Satan is very much like life below the clouds. Life goes on from day to day in the man-made world, but you can’t see the beauty of creation that is so close to you, because your eyes are blinded by the fog. The Bible says that the spiritual eyes of unbelievers are blinded by the god of this world, Satan (2Cor 4:4). Before being called by God and being given the gift of faith, we are spiritually dead, unable to see God, just as the people below the clouds can’t see the mountains. The distractions of a busy life and the cares of this world blind us to the beauty of God that surrounds us.
I suffer from allergies and impacted sinuses. Humidity makes the condition worse. I noticed that as we ascended to higher altitude (less pressure) and emerged from the clouds, my sinuses began to drain and I could breathe again! The Lord reminded me, that He is the one who heals all of our diseases and restores us; It is by His stripes that we are healed (Isaiah 53). When I first was born again and gave my life to Christ, He healed me of my alcohol and pornography addiction. I was reminded that it is in drawing close to God, that we are healed and that eventually we will be completely restored.
After driving as far as one can and parking the car at the Mt Baldy ski area, we took a chair lift from the 6000’ level to the lodge at Baldy Notch (8000’). Riding the chair up reminded me of how the Lord carries us when we are new believers. The ride seemed easy. We began to see more as we ascended up the steep grade, but we were still boxed in by canyon walls which seemed huge from this vantage. Later on, as we climbed higher, the ridges surrounding the canyon appeared small compared to what we had climbed and what lie ahead. Some of the challenges that we face as new disciples seem huge to us at the time. When we look back upon them after the Lord has taken us through them, they don’t seem so big.
As we rode up, below us we saw remnants of civilization discarded below us; things people had dropped and lost; baggage discarded along the route. It reminded me of the things of our carnal nature and the world system that we discard as we progress in our walk with Christ. Soon we arrived at the notch and the lodge. It is a place of refreshment and rest which seemed unnecessary on the way up, but on the way down it was sorely needed. God affords us times of rest in our walk between times of trial and challenge. In the early days of our walk, when we are zealous, we don’t appreciate the times of rest as much as we do when we are older, having been through many trials.
We began our climb up an adjacent ski slope. The slope was steep and in the open sun. The climate was warm and sunny with a light breeze. We saw a peak in the distance, which seemed near and we mistakenly assumed it to be the summit. We later found out that it was only an intermediate smaller peak about half way between us and the summit which was obstructing our view of the main peak. It is a fact that the Lord won’t give us more than we can handle. Often times He prevents us from knowing what lies ahead in order to keep us from becoming discouraged.
As we continued to climb, the journey began to become a labor. We started to sweat and we had tp stop every 10-15 yards for breath, as the air was getting thinner. We moved from shade spot to shade spot. Our journey with Christ would be impossible if we did not take time to rest in Him. Only He can provide shade from the torments. So, our walk is broken down into intermediate goals that seem attainable.
Eventually, we came to a place of choosing different routes. Both were acceptable. One was the bunny slope, which is easier, but longer. The other was the main slope, which is steeper, but shorter. The Lord permits different paths to maturity. The ones that mature us sooner come at a greater cost.
When we arrived at the top of the ski run, we met a guide who had done the journey before. We learned that the summit was far beyond and still out of sight. We discovered that the journey is more difficult than it first appears. To the unlearned and unschooled, the Christian walk may seem simple. As one who has walked with Christ for more than 20 years, let me assure you, it is not simple if you are truly dedicated and willing to take up your cross and follow Christ. It is not for the weak; the higher you go, the harder it gets. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the Christian walk gets easier as you grow. It becomes more difficult with each progressive step. But, the blessings are also much greater with each step. The higher you go the more you can see; revelation is cumulative and it comes at a cost.
We were feeling the stress of the climb and seeing the size of the peak, we felt it would be impossible, but we just kept going (Phil. 3:14). Along the way we stopped to rest by an old weathered bristlecone pine tree that resembled a cross and it seemed to grow out of a rock. It is God who sustains us through our walk with Him. It is He who gives us rest. he hides us in the Rock who carried the rugged cross on his back for our sins. it is our appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice and His forgiveness that encourages us to “run the race.” (Hebrews 12:1-8)
Along the route to the summit we had to traverse a long narrow path atop one of the ridges which descend from the peak. The path was only about 2’ wide and the slopes on either side descended for thousands of feet covered by loose rock. To stray off of the path would mean certain death. This was a reminder of the narrow path that Jesus spoke of. (Mt 7:14, Prov. 15:10, 24) The narrow ridge leading up to the peak from the east side is called the devil’s backbone. The wind on this ridge was blowing strong constantly and the temperature must have been close to freezing because there were patches of snow up there in June in southern California. I remembered that the attacks from the devil come like gusts to deter us from the goal, but, in Christ, we walk on his back, he is under our feet. (Luke 10:19, 1Pt. 5:8)
We could now see the top. Again we were out of breath and needed to rest on a rock. As we ascended the summit, people would appear small in the distance. The further we progress on the journey of knowing Him, people appear smaller compared to His creation, His purposes and His Kingdom.
The peak was so desolate, nothing but rock. Getting closer to God, we realize that HE is a giant rock, nothing competes for His glory. As we approached the summit we felt a light headed sense of euphoria. (2Tim 4:7) Now, there was nothing to obstruct our view. We could see 360 degrees around us, in all directions. However, we soon realized that we couldn’t stay at the top; It was cold and would get colder as the sun went down. Besides, we were hungry and there was nothing to eat up there. The Lord reminded me that He has called us to go down and live on the earth, not in the clouds; that this earth is our abode, both present and future. (John 17:15-16)
The trip down was much easier and quicker, but we had to be careful of slipping. It reminded me that in our Christian walk, we must not be overconfident. Once we have been to the top we are more susceptible to the danger of pride.
At the bottom, we met a couple just starting their climb. By now, it was late in the afternoon and they were a little on the chubby side. They asked us if they were on the right path and how far the top was. It was obvious to us that people don’t take the journey seriously; they start too late and they refuse to shed excess baggage. The journey is for the strong; it doesn’t get easier, it gets better