The sign, with its concise, red-lettered message, brought an ironic smile to my face. It stood out starkly against the muted winter landscape. For more than an hour we’d been breaking a trail through nearly two feet of new snow, few of us dressed for it. But our goal was still somewhere up ahead, and I had no intentions of stopping now.
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:8-16)
It was early March, and to celebrate my middle sister’s birthday, we had planned an expedition to the Ape Cave, a lava tube on the slopes of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington. My oldest sister had been there with her students the summer before. For this trip our group consisted of my dad, my three sisters, three boy cousins, my wife, and myself. Ages from 12 to 48. The day before, Dad had called the information center to find out the weather conditions. He’d been told that we’d have to park and hike about a half-mile to the lower entrance of the cave. The road hadn’t been plowed, and there was about six inches of snow. However, when we arrived at what we assumed was the correct place to turn off, there didn’t seem to be a place to park. We continued on for nearly a mile until we found a parking turn-out and a forest ranger to talk to. Yes, he said, this was where we’d have to park, as the snowplow hadn’t cleared the road up toward the cave. Dad said he’d drop us off at the road, so we wouldn’t all have to walk down there. It was noon, so we ate lunch, and got ready for the hike.
“And as he [Elijah] lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.” (1 Kings 19:5-8)
Have you eaten of the manna from heaven? Are you ready for what lies ahead? Do you have the strength to fight today’s battles? “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1) God has promised not to let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, but we can only rest in this promise if we have been keeping in step with Him. On the night of agony in the garden, Jesus warned His disciples to “rise and pray,” (Luke 22:46) but they allowed their natural desire for sleep to control them. It is no wonder that, when Jesus was arrested, they again gave way to their natural reactions. Let us pay close heed to our Savior. Let us be vigilant. “Let us watch and be ready.”*
After lunch we drove back to the unplowed turnoff. There was about a foot of snow. The others got out and began tramping a path while Dad and I drove back to where we could park. It was a downhill road we walked to catch up with the others, and we covered the mile or so quite quickly. We discovered the tramped path that had been made, and followed it for several hundred yards until we at last caught up with the others. They had made it to the parking circle that we had expected to park at, according to the original directions Dad had gotten from the information center.
Facing us now was the barricaded half-mile road which led to the main cave entrance. This was the road that was supposed to have only six inches of snow. By now it was over a foot deeper. Thankfully, but little snow was still falling. My 13-year-old cousin—dressed for the woods, but not the snow—pressed on into the new drifts, leading the line. Dad and I followed, and the rest came behind. I was wearing six-inch work shoes and jeans. Soon the snow was squeezing its way down my shoe-tops, and I tried unsuccessfully to keep it out. My socks gradually became soaked, but I ignored the chill by pressing on.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11) “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.” (Colossians 3:12) “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27)
Christ will equip you with what you need, to do what He asks you to do. Wait until you are clothed “with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) Too many press on, clad with zealous ambitions for good, but lacking the power and protection they need. And so harm comes in some way or another. And woe to him who has been invited to go to heaven, but is not found wearing the garment of the redeemed (Matthew 22:11-13).
My cousin had been leading the way, but I swerved aside, thinking I saw a better route where the going was easier. The silent snow was deceptive, and it was really no thinner there. I even took a detour down into the deep ditch on one side. It was partly overhung by trees, and perhaps not as much snow had drifted in. I soon learned otherwise, and scrambled back out. I led the way now, sometimes crossing the road to one shoulder or the other, sometimes cutting down the middle. It was slow going. We stopped to rest under some large evergreens that had partly sheltered the road from snowfall.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” (2 Timothy 4:3) “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” (Jeremiah 23:21) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8) “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21)
The best natural abilities that we have are not enough when it comes to finding the way of the Lord. Samuel erroneously presumed Eliab was “Surely the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7) The psalmist testified that he “well nigh slipped.” (Psalm 73:2) And Solomon, even with “a wise and an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:12) went astray in the end.
“God’s way is best; if human wisdom
A fairer way may seem to show,
’Tis only that our earth-dimmed vision
The truth can never clearly know.”*
It is easy to think we have discerned the will of the Lord. It is even quite possible to get others to follow us. The Lord knows the best way, the right way, but if we don’t perceive His working, we will meander about on our own. To see the vision the Lord has for us, we must wait upon Him. “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” (Psalm 62:5) And “though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:3) God’s time is always the right time.
We plunged on again. Again I led, but with not as much energy as before. It was easier for me, being the tallest, but even so, the snow came up to my knees. I took longer steps to reduce the effort of breaking through so much snow. Now those behind me had to do more of the work of making a trail. I just couldn’t do it all myself. I let my 12-year-old sister go ahead, knowing she would soon wear out.
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ…. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:2,10) “And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:3)
As servants of Christ, we are not here to do as we please, to pursue our individual goals. We are here to help those around us, especially our fellow-pilgrims. As part of the body of Christ, we are to receive from the Head that which will knit us together, and cause us to increase “with the increase of God.” (Colossians 2:19) We must be strengthened by God (Philippians 4:13), but He has given us an interdependency among His family. Just as we helped each other break through the snow, according to the strength and ability we had, so there are varying positions in the body, according to the ability God has given. “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:31)
As we rested again, some were desperate enough to try to make snowshoes. None of us had ever worn any before, but we had some idea of how they were supposed to be made. I cut some saplings with a cousin’s knife, and my older sister attempted to create something with them. I knew snowshoes would have been very nice, but had little confidence in being able to produce any out here. Soon the project was abandoned.
I floundered on. The weight of the snow was very cumbersome. I lost my balance a couple of times, and sunk sideways in the snow. The softness made it very difficult to get back up. When I tried to pull myself up, my hands sank through, giving no grasp. I had to roll onto my stomach, and push on the half-packed snow where I lay. Then I even tried crawling along, but having to now drag my whole body through the snow was much more work. I got up and tromped on.
“Prepare the way, take up the stumblingblock out of the way of my people.” (Isaiah 57:14) “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:1) “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power.” (2 Timothy 1:7) “As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him. For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” (Psalm 18:30-33)
Life is full of weights—troubles and temptations, trials and burdens. Many act as though the grace of God was given so that we could slog through them. That when we fall, He holds out His hand to lift us back up—and then flounder on again.
Oh, yes, God wants to lift you up—much higher than you imagine. He has spiritual snowshoes to rise up and tread above our troubles; to work our trials instead of our trials working us. God’s Spirit is given to free us from every weight—including our own selves—and to travel victoriously to heaven. Not trouble-free, but triumphing.
The road went on, wending its way through the woods. Thankfully it was mostly level, leading only slightly upward. We kept looking ahead, wondering when we’d see some sign telling us how much farther it would be. My older sister had come through here last summer, but had driven this road in little more than a minute, and so didn’t remember any details.
Time was passing, and some of us were wondering if we should head back before we became too exhausted. I dreaded that possibility. I’d come this far, and wanted to at least see the cave we’d come for. We turned right at another sign, promising the cave not far ahead. But this road also curved out of sight, giving no definite answers. How much farther? And then I saw the sign that seemed strangely out of place: “No Parking Any Time.”
“Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30) “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:1-3) “So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 19:24)
“Look away to heaven—what glory awaits!
Watch, lest this world drag you down;
Dropping all distractions, then press for those gates—
There is your mansion and crown!”*
The devil is seeking your soul. He has his own plans for your life. If he cannot turn you aside by a bold attack, he will plot with cunning and subtility. He will distract your attention and blur your focus. Little by little will he weaken your stand. “Oh, yes, I’m headed for heaven!” you will say. But does your life speak in harmony? Can the world see in you that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)? Are your eyes open to the things of God—His way, His work, His reward—or are you being choked with cares or riches or pleasures “of this life” (Luke 8:14)? You cannot have both, and just to the extent that you pursue the one, the other will be diminished.
Your path may seem long and wearisome. Jesus is still there. Rest your all in Him, for His yoke is light. Don’t long for the freedom to follow the world, for their chains, no matter how long and seemingly light, are bound to awful weights. When you travel the narrow way, the Lord has what it takes to make it through, though you may cry, “How long?” Will it seem long and hard after it is over? Not in the least. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) But how can that help us now? We must look past the visible, and behold the invisible, eternal realities.
Fellow pilgrim, this journey is no walk in the park—it’s a matter of life or death, with eternity in the balance. Don’t let anything hinder you. Follow the One who forsook earthly gain to gain a heavenly crown. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your hopes on heaven. “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
We pressed on. And soon a shout went up. We’d seen some buildings through the trees! Hope gave us renewed energy. We rounded the bend, one foot at a time. A great white expanse lay before us: the parking lot wrapped in winter clothes. Not a scratch marred its beauty. No dip made it any easier. I led the way around the edge toward the restrooms. I entertained some notion of walking upon the top of the split-rail fence, but soon learned it was not advisable. I pushed through the snow harder than ever, and felt my strength wearing away. Then I made it to the restrooms and waited for the others to catch up. Then on again to the padlocked “Ape’s Headquarters.” We had made it.
Or had we? The sign indicated a trail to the mouth of the cave. Rather, there would have been a trail if it was summer. My sister assured us it wasn’t that far ahead. We made our way along the opening through the woods, looking… looking…. A hundred feet. Another hundred. “There’s something!” We glimpsed a small shelter through the trees. We were almost there! But those last dozen yards were the hardest of all. We must have missed the trail, for some of us floundered through drifts up to four feet high. We staggered into the shelter, which stood beside a large, fenced-off ring. For there was a huge hole in the ground. And so with weary feet and thankful hearts we filed down the steps and entered the cave we had gone to such effort to find.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
God rewards the seekers and satisfies the hungry. “Blessed are they.” (Matthew 5:6) But to obtain these blessings, you will need to set yourself to continue the search until you find. You must go below the surface. You must overcome any obstacles. You must seek as the Syrophenician woman sought, past all setbacks, disappointments, and discouragements. Then, when you are seeking according to His will, the Lord can say to you, “Great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” (Matthew 15:28) When we ask aright, we can have confidence, yea, we must have confidence. “Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.” (James 1:6)
“Unanswered yet? But you are not unheeded;
The promises of God forever stand;
To Him our days and yearsalike are equal;
‘Have faith in God’; it is your Lord’s command.
Hold on to Jacob’s angel and your prayer
Shall bring a blessing downsometime, somewhere.”*
Down in the cave we had to decide what to do. Two hours had already passed, and many were shivering with cold. The group pictures we got in the cave show all of us wet past the knees. So most of the group turned back and headed for the van. I wanted to stay to see what I had worked so hard to find, and so three others remained with me: my wife, my oldest sister, and my 13-year-old cousin.
It was dark down there. Our flashlights seemed hardly adequate to give us light. The ground was rough and dripping water puddled on the floor. It was damp and we were wet. It was not comfortable. After ten minutes of exploration we decided that we’d seen as much as we cared to. We trudged back up the slight incline and reached the entrance. The light shining down was welcoming, despite the cold.
We stopped to rest at the bottom of the sinkhole, under a ledge of overhanging rock, where no snow had drifted. My sister’s feet were very cold, so she and my cousin managed to build a small fire. They found small twigs and ferns dry enough to burn. They had the foresight to bring matches and also a partial roll of toilet paper from the restrooms. So while the cheery flame flickered in its cradle of rocks, my wife and sister warmed their wet feet. My cousin gathered what wood he could find, and then, one by one, the sheets of toilet paper were consumed. As the embers died down, the women put their shoes back on, and we climbed back up the steps into the winter wilderness. The little fire had warmed our bodies and lightened our spirits.
“David… escaped to the cave Adullam.” (1 Samuel 22:1) “It was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water.” (1 Kings 18:4) “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:37-38)
A cave is not a comfortable dwelling, but “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.” (Proverbs 15:16) It is better to endure discomfort and deprivations in this life than to risk damnation in the life to come; the trouble we have here will seem minor then (Romans 8:18). The beggar Lazarus was really better off than the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). Friends may forsake the truth when hardships come. Their love may grow cold, and they may return to the world. But God will not forsake you. And though there may be few nearby to support you, He has a people whose hearts are stayed on Him (1 Kings 19:18).
The Lord will sustain you. He sustained David in the cave where Saul slept, and by his actions, Saul humbled himself. The Lord sustained Obadiah in feeding a hundred men through three years of drought and famine, in the face of Jezebel’s opposition. And the Lord sustained the faithful, unnamed and unknown, who endured extreme hardships, but forsook Him not. Can He not help you?
Now began the march back to the van. Thankfully, the slight upward climb on the way in meant a gradual descent as we left. And there was the path, well-broken now. But it was still narrow, hardly more than a foot-width, for no one had the energy to make it wider. Even I had little strength left, just enough to shuffle one foot past the other as I brought up the rear. Left, right, left, right. It still took a bit of effort to keep our balance. On and on we went, passing places we now recognized much quicker than we’d come.
But my wife was nearly worn out. We stopped and asked the Lord to give strength to make it back to the van; it would be a long ordeal if I had to carry her now. We trudged on, past one bend after another, and the Lord gave the needed strength. My sister and cousin had outdistanced us, but the occasional sight of them up ahead cheered me on. We were nearing the end. We passed the gate, and came to the shallower snow. Just a little farther, a couple more curves, and… there was the van, with all the others waiting to welcome us!
A few more steps, and we reached the road. The snow was history. I sank down onto the seat with a great sigh of relief. Then I lifted my weary, aching feet aboard, and we headed home to rest.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8) “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Revelation 3:11-12)
Courage, brother, sister. Hold out for heaven. Let not there be any wavering. There is strength available to press forward with your last laboring steps. There will be no regrets for having gone to such pains. Multitudes have gone on before, and Jesus Himself is waiting your arrival. An when you meet your Master, may He say with a warm welcome, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord!” (Matthew 25:21,23)
“When the last, feeble step has been taken,
And the gates of that city appear,
And the beautiful songs of the angels
Float out on my listening ear;
When all that now seems so mysterious
Will be bright and as clear as the day,
Then the toils of the road will seem nothing,
When I get to the end of the way.”*