Biking is one of my favorite ways to get exercise, although I don't make time to do it regularly. The other week, I blew the dust off my bike and went out on some of the back roads around the ranch. It was my first ride this year; needless to say, I am out of shape. And I inadvertently chose a road with plenty of steep hills! It proved to be a challenging experience that pushed me to expend a great deal of energy. Afterwards, I actually felt invigorated from the strenuous exercise; it was exactly what I needed! But you can be sure that I struggled with some of those uphill climbs. It got me thinking about the road of life.
Each one of us is on a journey through this life. It is a short journey....compared to the endless eternity of God, our life on earth is no more than a breath. "....you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." James 4:14
As fleeting as our life is, there are days when it seems to be unending, when we are in the midst of the pain and sorrow and struggle, and it feels as if we will never find rest. That's what it was like on those hills. Sometimes I was straining with all my might, only to move a few inches with each turn of the pedals. Often I had to stand on my pedals in order to pump harder. My muscles burned and screamed for relief. I wondered if it was worth the struggle to reach the top. I could have chosen to quit and turn around at any time. But when it comes to life, we can't just quit. This journey is certainly not smooth, flat terrain all the time. Some days we feel like we can't possibly go on. Our heart is ready to burst under the emotional, mental, or spiritual strain. Everything in us screams for relief. But no matter how much the hill of difficulty slows us down, God calls us to keep going. He has promised that to cover our weakness with His strength. "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness."
2 Corinthians 12:9 These are familiar words, and easy to say, but if you're like me, they are not so easy to believe. I don't claim to understand how this works; all I know is that God said it. You and I have to keep asking Him to teach us and increase our faith.
We may need to find creative methods of getting to the top, just as I had to stand on the pedals to put all my weight into the effort, or shift through different gears. A low gear can make the difference between a full stop and the ability to continue upward. Sometimes we have to switch gears in life. This could mean choosing to eliminate some things from the schedule, finding ways to lower the stress level, sharing your heart with someone you trust, taking more time out to be still before God and to call on Him for the strength you don't have.
On a particularly long incline, I had to get off my bike and walk the rest of the way. Don't we need to do that in life sometimes too? We can get so burned out that it takes something more drastic than switching gears to get us back on track. If your health is on the line, it may require a major change in diet and lifestyle. If it's severe mental or emotional stress, that could mean seeking counseling and medical help. In a spiritual crisis, you may need to drop everything for a season of desperately seeking God. We have examples of that in Scripture.
As long as we know where our help comes from, and we keep looking and reaching up, there's no shame in breaking from the routine and taking stronger measures to find renewal. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2
Now once I crested the top of the hill, the triumph and thrill of the other side outweighed the pain of climbing up! Flying down the slope with the wind rushing in my face was pure ectasy! We have days like that in life. Days when the joy and peace of God are palpable, and the triumph of seeing how His strength brought us through a tough situation makes all the pain worth it. And we also find that our faith has been strengthened because of the trials. In the same way, my muscles were strengthened by pedaling uphill, and my entire body was rejuvenated because my heart was pumping harder and sending fresh blood coursing through my veins. Muscles were never made through coasting. Jesus didn't promise that life would be easy. In fact, He told us we surely would have troubles. But because He overcame the world, all those who have found new life in Him also have the power to overcome! Suffering is often a close companion in life, and it is so hard for us to comprehend why God allows it. But take a second look: who knows suffering more than God? Romans 8:32 refers to God as "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all..." The Word speaks much of the suffering of Christ. He was a man of sorrows and familiar with grief. He bore our sins and carried our sorrows. Think of it. The weight of the whole world was truly on one man's shoulders. He took the world's pain into His own heart. This God who allows us to experience suffering is the God who chose to suffer for His fallen creation, the ones who rebelled against Him. And in Philippians 3, we are told that we come to know Christ intimately through sharing in His sufferings. God knows if we stay safe and comfortable, we'll always be like babies spiritually. He wants to bring us to full maturity of faith and to make us conquerors whose lives bear much fruit for His glory. He wants to give us rich rewards in eternity, at the end of life's race. In that day, the faithful ones will discover that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, [has worked] for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." from 2 Corinthians 4:17
One day there will be no more hills to climb. No more pain, no more tears. Until that glorious day, let us lift up our eyes, for our Redeemer lives, and our final redemption is drawing nearer with every step. (Luke 21:28)