by: Joel Bates
Nightfall was only minutes away as the cadre of weary hikers faltered beneath the weight of their packs. Fifteen-year-old Daisy had been steadily leading them since before sunup, guiding them through unfamiliar territory with no real trail and relying solely on a laminated topo map and a small compass to find her way. As the shadows grew longer, her anxiety increased. She knew time was running out. With merely a few hundred yards left to the destination, she stopped. The group, staring at the feet in front of them as they trudged monotonously onward, collided into one another like a misshapen accordion at Daisy’s sudden halt. With marked curiosity, I noted Daisy walking to the back of the group, handing the map and compass to another group member. I couldn’t hear what she said to her coleader, but her body language made it clear that she was giving up. Tense lines on her brow and hunched shoulders confirmed her fatigue. Weary steps of retreat and a vacant stare attested to her defeat.
Perplexed, the new leader, ignorant of his surroundings and only vaguely perceptive of the destination, abruptly led the group in precisely the wrong direction. It was important that we get to the destination before dark because it was there that our 24-hour solo time would begin. Our itinerary demanded that I act fast.
I stopped the group and called Daisy over and questioned, “Why did you stop navigating now, so near the end of the journey?”
She lowered her gaze and replied, “I just don’t think I have anything left to give.”
“Laying this burden on another at such a critical moment is a mistake. You’ve been looking at the map. You selected the route. You simply must finish this task.”
She looked up, and I could see the tears flowing freely, but there was no anger in her expression, no frustration, simply concern that she didn’t have enough to see it through. I offered to pray for her, and she accepted. Then slowly, deliberately she made her way to the front of the group and gently regained possession of the map and compass and turned the group back toward the destination.
Long, tense minutes passed as Daisy struggled forward through the thick mass of tangled forest with the sun completely submerged now behind the western horizon. And then, to my delight and Daisy’s surprise, we emerged from the brush into a clearing that matched the description of the destination on the map. We had made it!
So often on challenge expeditions, I watch participants grapple with difficult circumstances and really hard decisions. Some emerge victorious, and others succumb to the fatigue brought on by adversity and discomfort. Though brief, these expeditions are a lot like the life of a believer. Have you ever wanted to quit? Lay down the map and compass and walk away? Cash in the chips for a comfortable retirement or wait out the storm until something better comes along?
Don’t get me wrong. Walking with Jesus in this faith journey is normally quite delightful, but letting Him be in charge, call the shots, call you out – that is not an easy life. In the book of Acts 20:22-24, the Apostle Paul, headed for catastrophic danger and certain doom in Jerusalem, comforts his concerned friends with these words:
“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
Paul had to remind his friends that he had a great purpose that demanded he finish the course. For him, laying down that calling was out of the question. Even near the end of his life as he languished in imprisonment, awaiting judgment from a tyrannical Roman emperor, being utterly powerless to travel Asia Minor to encourage the churches in person, Paul puts pen to paper one last time as he writes to his son in the faith, Timothy. You would expect Paul to vent frustration at his poor treatment by Rome. You might expect some pessimistic cynicism about the hope of Christianity’s future in the face of such great, wide-sweeping persecution. Surely, Paul would allow himself a little dismay at the reality of how God allows great adversity and suffering to even His greatest evangelists. However, these are not the attitude Paul communicates. Instead, he stays the course of his commitment to Christ as a mantra of ministry, passing this encouragement on to Timothy:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:6-7
I would be lying if I said I have mastered the ability to maintain a peace, a contentment, a relentless trust in Christ and a fervency to carry on and keep going when the going gets tough. Spending time in the wilderness watching students wrestle with weighty decisions, always convicts me and often compels me to make the difficult choices of faith too.
I could tell that Daisy was learning an attitude of finishing what she started as I watched her go to the young man upon whom she had foisted the map and sincerely apologize. He in turn apologized for leaving all the burden of leadership to her. Then Daisy bashfully crept up beside me, and I acknowledged her with a kind, unassuming glance.
“You were right,” she said.
“Oh? About what?”
“It was my task to do, and I would have walked away from it.”
She was silent for a moment, clearly wrestling in thought, then concluded, “It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make, but in the end, I’m glad I took up the map and compass. I’m glad I finished strong.”
Philippians 1:6 says, “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” In the difficult places of your journey with Jesus, keep going, stay faithful, finish strong.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.