My friends who love to hike in the wilderness (and I would be right there with them if I could) tell me that the best trails are ones that “open up” now and then, giving them a wide-angle perspective on where they have been and where they are in relation to their goal.
In other words, it’s great to stop at vistas. If you can find a vantage point in life where the horizon fills your vision and you can gain a bit of perspective, you’re in a very good place.
A flat rock at a high overlook, warmed by the sun, is a first-rate place for a slightly smunched peanut butter and jam sandwich out of the backpack – or maybe just a swig of cool water.
Some trails wind endlessly through the forest, never emerging from the sheltering canopy of tree boughs. They’re nice, too, of course. I can remember walking such wooded trails in Maryland in my early days – especially savoring the autumn afternoons, with the wine-sweet smell of fallen leaves and the crunch of that red and golden carpet under my feet. (The memories are faint, but still there!)
But after a few hours of walking, you begin to want to see some sky. You crave a viewpoint – maybe on a little hill or high rock – where you can cast your eyes back on the winding path behind you, taking a little well-earned satisfaction in your progress.
I think the author of Psalm 119 had found one of those places in his life where he could pause, catch his breath, and take that long view behind him before squaring his shoulders, tightening the straps on his pack, and setting out on the trail once again.
His words remind me again – on a day when I need reminding – that even though pain and suffering may be our experience during our brief earthly passage, our Lord knows how to turn even such disappointments and hardships toward our favor and help. I’d like to capture (one) of those benefits . . . and give thanks for (it).
Suffering Can Heighten Our Thirst for Christ
I can remember a strenuous backpacking trip through the Rawah Wilderness of northern Colorado. Even though that trip was long ago, before the accident that ended my hiking career, I recall that adventure as if it were yesterday . . . Ah, that burning, aching feeling in my legs as we hiked up steep mountains, the feel of the hot, high-mountain sun on my face. Most of all, I remember dipping my canteen into the Cache la Poudre River after a long, tiring morning on the trail.
It’s not that I needed to fill my canteen just then. In fact, it was already mostly full. But after hours in the hot sun, the water was warm, metallic, and tasted a little bit stale. Why drink that when there was a rushing mountain river of fresh, crystal-clear, ice-cold water right at my feet? No way was I going to sip tepid tap water from my canteen! When you’ve got the real deal, why waste your thirst on second best?
I thought of that morning by the Cache la Poudre when I recently read a special verse in the book of Jeremiah. God tells the prophet, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
Now that little canteen of mine, metallic and warm as it may have been, could definitely hold water, but I think you get the point. So many of us settle for second-best things that really cannot and do not satisfy.
And here’s the jarring thing: God calls that sin.
It is an offense to Him when we Christians know full well that Jesus is the clear, fresh, and satisfying Living Water . . . and yet we turn to the attractions of this world, telling ourselves that such substitute pleasures truly can and do refresh and satisfy.
Where are our heads? When we choose earthly things over godly things, it’s like, well, licking the inside of a hot, empty, leaky canteen, and saying, “Oh yes, more, more! This tastes so great. This is so refreshing!” Really, we’re not even convincing ourselves. Yet we try to do so time and again.
Jesus is the spring of Living Water, and when we drink of Him, out of us flow rivers of living water. And the offense against God comes when we know that Jesus is the only one who satisfies, yet still dig around in the dust and sand, groping for cisterns that can’t hold half a teacup of tepid tap water.
That’s where the offense against God comes, when we in effect tell Him that Jesus doesn’t satisfy. That He’s not enough. That He doesn’t refresh. That we need something else – something more. Something better.
This is the point, I believe, at which God sometimes allows His discipline to enter our lives. Sometimes we become so enamored with our tinny, brackish canteen water that we can’t even see the rushing crystal stream at our very feet. We forget all about it. But then when trials or suffering overwhelm our lives, it dawns on us that all of our God-substitutes fall pitifully short of helping us.
Thirsty, dry and weary beyond telling, we finally push aside our leaky canteens and fall on our knees beside the Never-Failing Stream. We come back to the fountain. And when we do, we sometimes realize that if God hadn’t allowed the hurt or suffering in our lives, we might have wandered for years, subsisting on stale, rationed canteen water rather than plunging our faces into the very essence of refreshment and life.
If we allow it, suffering will lead us to the bank of the stream, where we can always find a long, cold drink of the refreshing grace of the Lord Jesus.
© Joni Eareckson Tada. Used by permission from David C. Cook.