I do not possess much natural athleticism. I can move heavy things, I can even carry them, but there are not many sports I am very good at. To be honest, my wife has more natural athletic ability on me. I may have more strength and stamina, but she has more coordination and balance.
I was reminded of all this last Saturday when we visited the Pacific shore. I made my way out onto a jetty to look at birds. It was made of large rocks with no improved walking surface so it took me some time to walk out onto it. I was surprised when my wife caught up to me. As we walked back together. I had a hard time keeping up with her. Her agility gave her an advantage stepping from rock to rock.
As we discussed this once back on the beach, I mused that my hesitancy was due to my mistrust of building up too much momentum. In stretches where the best move was a series of steps that had to flow into each other, I was uncomfortable. I want solid steps, where I can pause at any point. I don’t trust myself needing to continue hopping from rock to rock for fear that I will either gain too much momentum and crash, or not build enough and fall short. Coordination is not one of my strengths.
Finishing of Chronicles this morning also caused me to reflect on momentum. It’s clear that Israel’s default movement was away from God. Unfortunately, I don’t think that trait is unique to the ancient Israelites. It is the default for all of us since the fall. It is what theologians call original sin.
It is no mistake that the Scriptures, and Christian writers, use the image of a mountain top to represent holiness or closeness to God. Mountains are uphill and we cannot coast uphill, at least not for long. Sometimes with a running start we can coast a bit, but gravity works against us and soon we are stopped or rolling back down hill. Our momentum is never up.
Many spiritual writers have also used the image of a ladder to represent progress in godliness or various godly virtues. Benedict’s treatment of humility in the seventh chapter of his Rule is a well-known example. Just like mountains, we cannot coast up ladders. Gravity tugs us back toward earth.
What is the lesson from all of this? There is no coasting toward heaven. God calls us to work, to strive, to sweat in our pursuit of him. Despite what some may proclaim, nowhere in the Bible does Jesus ever say, “Just believe in me and I’ll do the rest.” Certainly, we are assisted by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit, but the life of obedience is hard. If our natural inclination was to do the right thing, we would not need commandments to guide our behavior.
The encouragement I find in all of this is to not be surprised or upset when the road ahead continues to climb upward. To not be shocked when I don’t feel like praying. Of course I don’t! I’m a sinner. But, thanks be to God, I can pray anyway. I must choose to resist the downward pull of sin and instead lift myself heavenward with each step.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:12-14 (ESV)