Many years ago a friend introduced me and a few other friends to rock-climbing. Our guide was a former missionary, a mature Christian man, and he used his tutorial as a spiritual metaphor.
In his brief orientation, he explained that the biggest adjustment for people in rock-climbing is the vertical environment. In most other activities, when you feel tired you can stop and rest. Not so with rock-climbing. Since you are clinging to the side of a mountain, you are expending energy just staying where you are. In other words, when you stop, you’re not resting; you’re fading.
When you’re rock-climbing, you have to keep moving. If you’re not moving up, you’re moving sideways to find a better route. Even moving backward (when you must) must be strategic. If you pause to rest, you will quickly find your energy depleted, and you will move downward at an alarming pace; that is, you fall. (Not to worry, though. All but the most experienced climbers are always hooked into a harness so that you fall only a few feet before the harness catches you.)
Our friend explained that the spiritual life is a lot like rock-climbing. Spiritually, you are in a vertical environment, and you must constantly keep moving up, or you will fade and slide backward.
Why is it that spiritual growth is so demanding? I can think of at least three reasons. Any one of them would be enough to make the going rough, but all three together make it a constant struggle:
The world: We live in a culture full of people shaking their fists in God’s face. In the middle of that environment, we are trying to follow Jesus, constantly about the task of bringing every aspect of life into obedience to Christ. This is why we need one another; we need to be around others who are knee-deep in that same struggle, striving as we are to obey Jesus in the middle of a rebellious and defiant culture. Following Jesus in a broken culture (as all cultures are) is swimming upstream, fighting your way uphill.
The flesh: I won’t presume to speak of your heart, but I know that my heart is, as Jeremiah put it, “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (17:9). I am continually astonished at my ability to lie to myself and, worse, to believe my own lies. And just in case I forget how wicked and deceitful my heart is, life – all the setbacks, the conflicts, the disappointments – all the ebb and flow of life has a way of exposing the wickedness of my heart, showing me aspects of my nature and inclinations I would rather ignore. I have my hands full fighting the battle with my own heart.
The devil: As if the world and the flesh were not enough, we have a powerful, relentless, and cruel enemy whose sole aim is to destroy the work of God in our lives. He will never rest until either we are released in death or he is finally put away at the End. Until then, he will never give up.
My friend was right about rock-climbing. It is exhausting.
And he was right about my spiritual life: it too is a constant uphill battle.
Just when I feel overwhelmed, as if I can never hope for victory, I remember that this battle is the Lord’s. I remember – and treasure – the promise Peter records for us: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness…” (2 Peter 1:3).
So if you’re feeling as if your spiritual life is an uphill battle, you are right.
Don’t give up.