Living in the Kingdom: On the Narrow Way
It’s been a year since Jeff and I returned from Switzerland. It was our second inn-to-inn hiking adventure. We are captivated by the beauty of the Alps. You might remember reading about how we got out of our comfort zone by staying at the Hotel Obersteinberg. The inn sits on the side of a mountain in a less-traveled area of the Lauterbrurren valley. Author J.R.R. Tolkien found inspiration for Middle Earth when he visited the beautiful valley, arguably one of the most stunning places in the Swiss Alps.
We loved our candle-lit stay at the Obersteinberg, but it was our hike the next day that remains vivid in my memories. It was a stunning day, the kind that etches into the memory because it was so extraordinary.
Before blowing out the light, we consulted our instructions for the next day's hike. There were options. The detailed guide gave a clear warning concerning the trek from the mountain inn to Murren, our next stop. If there was a threat of rain in the forecast or if fog obscured the peaks above the inn, it was advised to take the trail down to the valley. A further warning cautioned that anyone with issues with vertigo should choose the downhill trail, the shorter and safer path through the woods. The trail above the inn was narrow and exposed. The high route snaked along a slope that dropped off steeply as it skirted along the mountain. For those who had favorable weather and who were steady on their feet, the views higher up would not disappoint, but we were to be advised.
The tinkling of cowbells rang in the morning, a gentle alarm to the coming of a new day. I listened while snuggled under a puffy comforter. The light breaking in the east revealed the silhouettes of mountain peaks resting against a baby blue sky. It would take a while for the sun to climb high enough to spread its love into the valley. Jeff roused and swung the window open. The mountain air held the scent of snow from the mighty Jungfrau across the valley and cow manure from the pastures nearby. The day offered us the high trail. We would start early, take it slow, and see what all the fuss was about.
After a simple breakfast, we pulled on our packs and headed out. I peeked into the barn as we passed. The cheese I had eaten earlier had gotten its start in the barn. I stopped to thank the old girls who had provided sustenance for the journey before us.
Through a gate beside the barn, a serpentine path traversed the pasture toward craggy peaks before turning us onto a single-file trail rimming the mountain’s edge. After thirty minutes of steady walking, we stopped to see our hotel below. Already it looked small in the vast panorama of mountains and sky. These would be our companions for the rest of the day.
Wildflowers scattered along the way were begging for attention. I tried to ignore them. There are not many things I like more than a field of wildflowers, but the instruction guide had not exaggerated. The mountain slope fell off steeply from the narrow path. There was an unobstructed view to the valley 3000 feet below. The river we had walked beside the day before shimmered in the valley like a silver shoestring. Perspective changes everything.
I sat down leaning against the mountain to adjust my trekking pole. It’s not necessary to sit to loosen the clips and slide the rod up or down, but it seemed the wise thing to do. The right pole needed to be considerably longer than the left. Being able to place the tip into the earth as the mountain fell away gave me a push against gravity—the natural law that suddenly had my full respect as we made our way along the narrow trail.
As we walked, I couldn’t help but think about how this experience might relate to THE narrow way that the Bible talks about. What was the Spirit of God wanting to emphasize that I could learn as walked that day on the path of life?
A mountain trail is a great place to reflect. The Spirit reminded me that life in the Kingdom is earthly as long as I remain on the earth. Our faith is an embodied faith. Spirituality doesn’t happen apart from our living, breathing, and walking around in flesh and bones life. Our spiritual lives are lived in creation. Our greatest faith challenges do not come from doing “great things for God” or being uber spiritual. Instead, our greatest faith challenges come daily in the ordinary activities of living from day to day.
Kingdom life isn't confined to Sunday morning worship or the activities of a short-term mission trip. It is not serving on a para-church board or giving to the needy. Those types experiences may give us a spiritual booster shot, but our faithfulness to God and his ways is lived out as we do our jobs; use and care for our possessions; as we love our spouse and kids; and as we interact with the people bagging our groceries or filling our prescriptions. We take the Kingdom with us wherever we go because Jesus is with us wherever we go.
"Keeping company with Jesus we become insiders to the creation. It is not something “out there” that we can adopt or ignore as we will. We can’t walk away from creation in order to attend to the spiritual life. We are embedded in the creation, we are integral to the creation." (Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places)
Jesus brought the kingdom here to earth when he shined the light of the gospel into the world as a flesh and blood person. In mystery, those who are in Christ---those who have placed their trust in Him--- are citizens of the Kingdom on the earth. The Kingdom is not a destination. It is our reality right where we are. Whether on the highest mountain or in the deep valley, Jesus and His Kingdom is present with his people.
Kingdom-walking is slow, but the rewards are great in terms of beauty and reliance upon the Savior.
The Swiss who are acclimated to the high altitude take on the heights without much effort, but this particular mountain path demands a slow and steady pace for native or visitor. The narrow path requires a measured attentiveness. Slow is not a high cultural value so when we let go of busy, haste, and hustle we are taking on a pace contrary to the way of the world. It feels weird at first, but as we become more practiced, we notice the beauty around us. The appropriate response is gratitude to the One who created and sustains all things. God’s abundance is everywhere.
Those who are hustling to get to the next thing choose the low path. They walk in the shadows and miss the beauty of the heights. They trade fear for perceived safety or control. On the "safe path," they miss the growth opportunities and blessings that come with taking the path requiring attentiveness to the Holy Spirit and to the principles of God’s word---the narrow way.
Our faithfulness to follow God on the narrow way will always take us to places where God reveals His glory and grace. This is the reward of faithfulness, the place where we receive the abundance of the life we long for.
There will be days when we wake up to the clouds---when the downhill path is the only choice. The day offers suffering. The gravity of suffering carries us down to the valley as if we are being pulled by a rope. The descent requires as much trust, maybe more than walking the high trail. On the downhill path, we lengthen our poles. On our descent into the valley the poles reduce the impact, take some of the pressure off our feeble knees.
It is possible to descend into the valley without poles, without the ungirding of God's word and His promises, but it will take a toll on our faith. Our walks on the heights fortify the soul like mountain cheese fortifies the muscles. Because we have walked the narrow way on the mountain top, we trust the One who bears the load of suffering’s gravity. Jesus has walked the path before us. He knows what we need.
Today I woke up and the sun was shining, but there are days ahead when the clouds will come. When the day offers me the valley path, my intent is to let God's promises steady me as I take one step and then another. I'm trusting the days of walking in the heights have prepared me for days when the sun doesn't shine.
"I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken...The law of (my) God is in (my) heart; (my) steps do not slip." (Ps. 37:25a and 31)
To the words of King David, I say, "Amen. Let it be so."
Are you on the high trail or the low trail? If I can be an encouragement to you as you walk the path of life, please let me know. I would love to pray for you.