Friday, May 16, 2014

The Serpent's Trail

An old road, now converted to trail, winds up the Colorado National Monument.  For one and three quarter miles, it rises 770 feet with nearly 20 switchbacks, the most popular trail in the area.  It makes for a perfect workout in swift time.

Yesterday, I determined to make the trek up this hill, but by the time I got there it was high noon, the sun beating down without mercy.  However, I was determined to conquer, no excuses.

The true mark of the dessert lies exposed on this trail, bearing little shade.  It offers only burning rocks and sharp precipices.  And as I marched upward, I thought on Hebrews 3 and 4, where the Israelites, whom Moses led out of Egypt, never entered the rest God had promised.  The reason?  Unbelief.

Sometimes this life seems such a battle, an uphill climb in the heat of the day.  I long for rest.  Not in the sense of leisure or sleep, but rather in relief from the struggle, release from my sin nature.  Yet, God has promised that those who believe have entered His rest.  It is ours.  Why then, is it so hard to dwell in that realm?

The trail, appropriately named after the serpent, winds back and forth.  So in the heat of the battle we fight and wrestle not only the sin nature within, but also our enemy without, the devil.  On every turn he seeks to trip, discourage, and distract.

Jesus also climbed a grueling hill entwined with the serpent, setting the pace.  And if He learned obedience from what He suffered, shouldn't I?  And if He embraced the cross, counting it all joy, shouldn't I do the same?  

Until our final breath, we fight this fight.  The moment I think I've arrived or that I can coast, is the moment of danger.   Yet, in the midst of the struggle, I can know joy because of rest in God's presence, like these pockets of flowers along the way. 

He makes the desert bloom and this time of year it is truly beautiful.  However, I'm not sure those flowers would hold quite as much meaning if placed in a lush forest.  But here, they speak volumes as they cling tenacious to the rock, searching for a hint of soil, a picture of hope.

When I reached the top of the hill, I sat for a moment to enjoy the view.  Below me were ravens soaring on updrafts against the massive cliffs.  Some of them came so near I thought they might run into me.  Such grace and power in those wings!  I was reminded that I don't have to wait until I reach heaven to know God's rest.  I can soar now if I will walk in obedience. 

There is a time to pause and enjoy the view, but sometimes we forget what is required to get there:  the sweat, salt, and grime, the forcing of the muscles to move when they shout otherwise, and the plowing forward even in the worst of conditions.

And so it is a paradox.  I fight that I might enter His rest.  Like the raven that cannot get off the ground without exerting strength in its wings, so we do not soar without obedience. 

"Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.  For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith."  Heb. 4:1-2

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