FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: The wilderness is still a great metaphor
Welcome, all, to the “front-porch.”
A lot of water had flowed down the river, as we say, since our last visit, both literally and figuratively.
We completed our long-awaited second trip into the wilderness of Yellowstone in five days, from July 10-14. With the Yellowstone dirt still under the nails, as before, we have since tried to draw from its inspiration, to give us all something to take with us.
I have been thinking about a passage over in the fifteenth chapter of John, where the Lord says: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” and I thought that the wilderness experience could help us glean something from that great concept.
I dug into passage soon after our return from our adventure, and I came away with a deeper understanding of “abiding” in Christ.
For a Christian, there is nothing like abiding in Christ. You can’t just think about it. You cannot just look at the church from afar and enjoy abiding in Him. No, it takes going far deeper into it. It takes selling out, in a way, and making Christ a part of you, and you a part of Him One thing for sure: the thought runs deep.
Deep in a wilderness, you are subject to all the elements – from the vast heat in the day to a shivering cold at night – and you are subject, to boot, to a lifetime worth of mosquitoes right in front of you all day long. Dealing with those severe elements remind you how deep this wilderness runs, and you have only a vague idea how far those borders extend and how rugged the elements may be while closed in within them. You are subject to it all, from the threat of wild animals that lurk nearby to the wear-and-tear of a long journey with a heavy, unyielding load on your back.
I have to pause and let the metaphor sink in, just for a moment: Consider just how much of Christ we are subject to when we are “entrenched” so deeply within His borders, when we are subject to all the elements we find in Him. Consider the change that takes over you, that occurs inside of you – just as it is with this wilderness.
The wilderness is not an experience marked only by the dangers and difficulties; but you have its glories, too, all of which will become a part of you. You have the crystal clear and cold powerfully flowing rivers in your path at almost every turn. And you have the lofty mountains hemming you in from any side (reminding me of the Psalmist’s reminder in the one-hundred and thirty-ninth psalm that the Lord “hems us in” day by day, keeping close watch over those who follow Him.)
Something else I noticed about this second trip into that wilderness, and the metaphor will take care of itself with little explanation: You become more and more familiar with the wilderness the longer you are there – in this case, our second time around. You learn the sights, you remember the scenes from before, you cross the same rivers again, never forgetting that the river is different now – as you are. I expect that thought never will get very far away from me.
Day two of this second journey was almost exactly the same route and the first tour’s day six, the final day.
I remember how I crossed that deep river on that last day last year and realized that it was one of the deepest rivers we had crossed. And it was the last of so many. It wasn’t until we crossed it again, this time on day two of our second journey, that I remembered it clearly, and I recognized all the rest of that day’s travel.
We were going in reverse – going clockwise instead of counter-clockwise – up the mountain and around Heart Lake.
But going in reverse did not lessen the impact of the different spots I remembered so well, particularly the very spot where I had met my grizzly late on a Thursday evening.
Some moments you never forget. You understand.
Being back in that wilderness, soaking up all the sights, sweating through the rough terrain again, and traveling the trail once more made me realize how much a part of me that remote country had become. We crossed the same rivers, we tiptoed around the same mountain with a dangerous eighty-foot drop, and we ended up in the same campsite that, in its own way, saved my friend Todd and me a year ago.
All of those things reminded me what it really meant to be in the wilderness, and how it changed us, and how it became a part of who we are, and how we carry a piece of it with us everywhere we go.
And thinking of those thoughts continually helps me understand what abiding in Christ really curtails.
It is not a sometimes thing but an all-the-time proposition. And the experience certainly doesn’t run slow and shallow.
It runs as swift, and it runs as deep as the rivers deep in that wilderness.