Mountains simply take my breath away.
Having spent my formative years in the Pacific Northwest, mountains are the construct in which my perspective of beauty, grandeur, power and peace finds its shape. To this day, my yearly vacations still demand a visit to mountains.
Every morning as a teenage I would leave my porch in Idaho to walk into a 360 degree panorama of mountainscape. I fished in pristine mountain lakes, hiked rugged mountain trails, waded in crystal mountain streams and camped in majestic mountain vistas.
But there was a problem with all this…I was deathly afraid of heights.
While I could not resist a trip into the mountains, there were certain quintessential mountain experiences I missed due to stark terror that would nauseatingly rise when I got to near a cliff’s edge.
I remember one such experience vividly.
With a group of young school friends during a forest hike on a steeply pitched mountain trail, we came to a gorge with sheer craggy walls. It looked like a massive knife gash in the mountain. Across the deep ravine stretched a swinging rope bridge.
The decision was simple: cross the bridge and the hike up the mountain would continue until the summit was reached. Refuse to cross it and the adventure would end.
I still feel the agony as I stood at the edge of the ravine, my friends excitedly urging me to follow them onto the bridge. I couldn’t do it. I simply chose to sit and wait for my friends to return.
I really regret that choice. After overcoming my acrophobia as an adult, I have often wished I had faced the fear, crossed the chasm and enjoyed a sense of conquest while absorbing the magnificent views. Only one thing stood in my way.
I experience those same feelings many days as I try to walk out the Kingdom. Too often as I face the choice between temporal living and eternal life, I stand in naked fear of the risk in pursuing a divine destiny I was designed and built to live.
Paul wrote to his friends in Philippi, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying that when confronting life as it is and envisioning life as it should be, there is a bridge that connects the two. Scary. Risky. Uncomfortable. But it is the only way to span the chasm that separates reality from ideal.
It is the bridge.
- Life as it is. “Forgetting the things behind.” This does not describe detachment from or disinterest in the mess and pain of life. It is not denial of tragedy, abnegation of responsibility or repudiation of engagement with the harsh realities of a broken world. But it is a refusal to allow things as they are to define the trajectory, purpose or ideals of the way I live my life. I am immersed in the world as it is but not confined by its limitations.
- Life as it should be. “Straining toward what is ahead.” The intention of God for the world began in a Garden and will end at a Wedding. This “shalom” is the atmosphere and relationship that exists within the Trinity. God designed and ordained this world to be modeled after that dream in His heart. The destination toward which time is moving informs the destiny for which each person has been created.
- Life as it can be. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” When we superimpose as much of life as it should be into the rub and reality of life as it is we construct life as it can be–“on earth as it is in heaven”. It takes courage to leave the safe and proven normalcy of life as we know it to move toward life as God dreamed it. But the prize is real: the pleasure God experiences at a life well lived.
We accept that we will never actually arrive at “should be” until “then”. But living the bigger vision in the face of how things are, we transform life into the best “can be” now. We will never see it all. But if we do not take halting steps onto “the bridge”, we will miss “the mark” of that higher calling which infuses a broken world with redemptive love.
We will be called idealists, fools, radicals and rebels. But at least we will not miss the summit.
There is uncertainty in this walk–risk, disappointment, confusion, frustration. But if we bring as much of what should be into the world as it is, what can be is the Kingdom.
That is precisely what Jesus did and ultimately what He died to enable us to do.