The Hill Difficulty

"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." --Isaiah 49:10

There's a glacial lake that lies high in a fold of Jug Handle Peak in the mountains north of our home in Idaho. It's only a small dot on the map, but a place of rare beauty and tranquility. (And, I must add, sports some very large native cutthroat trout!)

The route to the lake, however, lies up a steep, exposed ridge through boulders and loose scree. There's no respite from relentless effort. In the summer, the sun beats down mercilessly and there's no shade to be found. It's a strenuous scramble-hard on my old heart and legs.

There's a brook, however, at the bottom of the climb--a spring that seeps out of soft, mossy earth, and flows through a lush meadow crammed with flowers that bloom in wild profusion. It's a quiet place to hydrate myself and prepare for the hard climb that lies ahead.

Old John Bunyon saw Christian and his fellow-pilgrims at the foot of another steep ascent, "the Hill Difficulty, at the bottom of which there was a spring Christian now went to the spring and drank thereof to refresh himself, and then began to go up the hill"

Perhaps you, like Christian and his companions, stand at the foot of Hill Difficulty, an impossibly high mountain to be climbed from the bottom, a challenge that cannot be met through mere strength or wisdom. Perhaps your mountain is a confrontation with a difficult business associate, a rebellious child, an abusive spouse, or a terrifying surgical procedure. The summit seems insurmountable.

Before you do anything else, visit the spring that is God himself. Come to him with all your weakness, weariness, helplessness, failure, doubt, and fear. "The Lord of that place entertains us freely. Neither objects he against our weakly looks, nor against our feeble minds; but gives us such things as are necessary for our journey, and bids us hope to the end" (Bunyon).

Drink deeply of his power, and wisdom; fill yourself full of his everlasting love. (Dehydration is the greatest enemy of the soul.) Ask for vigorous faith and hardy endurance to surmount the difficulty. (To ask is to receive.) Whatever you have to do he must perfect. God knows all our circumstances and "supplies us ahead of time with a store of comfort, of spiritual strengthening and consolation, that we may have ready at hand, that we can resort to and lay up in our heart as an antidote against despair." [1]   

Then, rested and refreshed, having set the Lord before us, we can lift up our eyes to the difficulty that looms ahead. The hill may remain as difficult and demanding as ever, but forearmed with prevenient grace-God's goodness and mercy that precedes all human effort-we can ascend with steady faith, hope and love. "One foot up and one foot down"

This is the spring to which our Lord himself turned when he stood at the foot of Hill Calvary. He drank from "the brook beside the way," a stream that "lifted up his head."[2]


[1] Sir Thomas More. Written just before he ascended Hill Difficulty-his martyrdom in 1535.

[2] Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm as our Lord himself explained (Matt 22:41-46), thus the "brook" is a reference to the spiritual resource to which Jesus resorted that strengthened him to suffer the cross and enter into his royal priesthood.

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