We seem to have found a new thing we love to do.

We went hiking.

I’m not the most “outdoorsy” guy. I like being outside, but I’ve never been one to spend a great deal of time beyond the paved road. But I learned something important. There are just some incredible sights you cannot see from the paved road.

Here’s an example. The picture here was taken from the gravel parking area where the hiking trail began.

It’s pretty and green, but there’s nothing spectacular… just the promise of finding something amazing along the trail.

We chose to follow the trail. It led to a long, vigorous climb full of mud-holes, slippery rocks, narrow paths, steep stretches, many switchbacks, a few tricky crawls… and so much wonder.

One trail led us about 3 miles up and down and around and along to this amazing waterfall.

Another led us up through a spruce/fir forest onto a couple of grassy balds with views like this.

Still another led us up and up and up for almost 4 miles to step out on a rocky outcropping to this.

And through it all, I heard this whisper in my spirit, “You can’t see this from the paved road.”

But something strange happened in the climb. The weight of the challenges of this life seemed to fade. The weariness in our hearts seemed to fade as the weariness in our legs grew. The heaviness of spirit that comes from the good work of walking alongside so many dear friends through their battles of various kinds seemed to melt away with the sweat and the strain of the climb.

And we saw in the wondrous beauty of Creation a glimmer of an abiding spiritual truth: There are wonders to be seen through the weary, agonizing, struggle of life that simply cannot be experienced when life is easy.

I believe it’s at the heart of what Paul wrote to the Philippians in expressing his greatest longing and desire in his life, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3.10-11)

Suffering is a part of this human existence. It is a universal reality in this beautiful, broken world. But Paul’s desire was to experience the transforming power of Jesus’ resurrection that brings life from death, joy amid suffering, and ultimately everlasting life on the other side of the grave.

In those experiences in knowing Jesus – knowing Him more intimately through our struggles and sorrows and sufferings as well as through the triumphs – we see dimensions of His great love and faithfulness that simply cannot be seen in the days of ease.

In this He gives us more of that which we most need – Himself. In this is grace indeed.

Father, I know that days of anguish and struggle will come. Let me see the wonders of who You are in those inevitable moments and I will know that the pain has not been wasted.

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“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

Smarter men than I have wrangled long with this idea, but the words strike a chord of soundness despite their strange source.

A long obedience in the same direction…

When we consider these words through the lens of a follower of Jesus, it seems like the underscore of Jesus’ call to “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9.23) He doesn’t just call us to embrace the hope of the gospel and in earnest obedience plunge into the waters of baptism only to come up and go on about life with a great cosmic advisor on speed dial when the sticky spots come along.

No, that thing to which we are called is a long obedience in the same direction—His direction. It is to follow Him every step of the way, to take the next step in obedience and the next and the next and the next and the next.

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