When you think about climbing a mountain, what comes to mind? Do you envision breathtaking vistas from the mountaintop or breathless wheezing along the way? As different as they are, both perspectives capture aspects of the same journey. Reaching the summit requires grit and determination. Spiritual growth is no different. It demands perseverance, but the view from the top is out of this world.
No one has helped us think of the spiritual life as a journey more than a seventeenth-century English repairman named John Bunyan. Drawing only on the Bible and his own spiritual journey, Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while imprisoned for his non-conformist preaching in 1675. Published in 1678, this allegory of the Christian’s journey to heaven remains one of the most popular religious works among English readers.
In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian makes his way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The story represents a journal of his starts and stops, his ups and downs, his victories and defeats. If you have not read this classic of Christian literature, you must! Not only will you see the Christian life as a journey, but you will discover how to make it a holy and intimate one as well.
Beginning the Journey
Borrowing John Bunyan’s metaphor, let’s consider the Christian life as a walking journey—growing closer to God while journeying toward God. He is both the destination and the way at the same time (John 14:6). There are stepping stones we must use if we are going to have a closer walk with God, steps we must take to enjoy spiritual intimacy with Him. To picture those steps, consider one of America’s most beautiful settings—Grandfather Mountain near Linville, North Carolina. I’ve been privileged to speak at an annual Gospel festival held at the base of Grandfather Mountain, and it is almost as near to heaven-on-earth as one can get. The beauty is heavenly, as is the altitude—over 4,600 feet. While not as high as many mountains, Grandfather towers over the neighboring Blue Ridge peaks in that part of western North Carolina.
To get from the meadows to the top of Grandfather Mountain where the ferocious winds howl day and night through the swinging bridge, you can drive or hike a switchback trail. We’re going to hike the trail because it’s such a perfect metaphor for the steps we must take to achieve intimacy with God while journeying toward Bunyan’s Celestial City, our heavenly home.
Step One: Choose a Heavenly Destination
First, we need a DESTINATION. That’s simple—we’re at the bottom of Grandfather Mountain, and we want to reach the top. There’s no easy way to do it. It’s one step at a time over tree roots, fog-slick rocks, and time-worn footholds.
But what about the spiritual journey? John Bunyan had it right: Every person alive is born into the City of Destruction and will stay there unless he changes destinations (Romans 3:23). You can make that change by asking Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and give you the gift of eternal life, which He has promised to do (John 3:16). Intimacy with God, both now and for eternity, can be found in no other way.
Step Two: Follow God’s Map
Once we start up the mountain, we need a MAP to avoid wandering off the trail. Fortunately, on the Grandfather Mountain trail, there aren’t many ways to get lost. Your only concern is to continue climbing up. Just as there is only one way to the peak, there is only one way to heaven. And the Bible is the map that points the way.
The psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105), and Paul said God’s Word would thoroughly equip anyone who would study it diligently (2 Timothy 3:17). God has so many blessings for those who will seek Him, blessings discovered only in His Word. You would be more likely to succeed climbing Grandfather Mountain with blinders on than journeying toward God without studying the Bible.
Step Three: Seek Direction
Because the trail to the top of Grandfather Mountain doesn’t intersect with other trails, DIRECTIONS are rarely necessary. Even so, you’ll have questions: Is there water along the way? How much further is it to the top? Is it worth it? What will we see when we get there? Experienced hikers, and especially those on their way down from the top, can provide the assurance we need.
Unlike the Grandfather Mountain trail, there are many ways to wander off course in your spiritual journey. First, your enemy, the devil, is out to make things as confusing and difficult as possible. He switches the directional signs, tells you lies, and sends you down rabbit trails at every opportunity. In addition, there are things that only your personal journey may entail—and you need guidance. Prayer is God’s ever-present means by which to seek direction and comfort when you find yourself ready to give up (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6-7). He knows when you need help and is ready to provide it as soon as you ask.
Step Four: Find Supportive People
On the Grandfather Mountain trail, ASSISTANCE is never far away. On an average day in tourist season, and usually in the off-season as well, the trail is filled with hikers. Should you sprain an ankle or scrape a shin, help will be at hand.
On your journey with God, you’ll find helping hands in the Church (Romans 12:3- 8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Where you are weak or lack knowledge, someone else is strong and able to help. When you find someone slumped in discouragement by the side of the trail, God will empower you to help them. But the assumption is … you’re active in the body! Are you? If you’re not on the trail, you can’t help or be helped.
Step Five: Contemplate Beauty
SCENIC VIEWS. Now that’s what Grandfather Mountain is all about. At regular intervals on the trail, you’ll catch a break in the trees and spot a glimpse of what awaits you at the top—a 360-degree panorama that takes your breath away. The beauty of God’s creation in the mountains never disappoints.
The same is true in the spiritual journey. God’s scenic views come into view when we stop and meditate on who God is and what He has done for us. The psalmist contemplated God throughout the night (Psalm 63:6) and considered often the works of His hands (Psalm 77:12). More than anything, he meditated on the words of God, never tiring of discovering new insights into the ways of God. When was the last time you pulled off the spiritual trail, found a quiet spot, and meditated on God’s Word?
Step Six: Bring Companions
At times, hiking alone has its benefits, but you need good friends and family with you on the Grandfather Mountain trail. There are just too many things to share together: “Look at those vultures floating on the updrafts!” “Can you believe the beauty of those rhododendrons?” “Hurry! Grab the camera and capture that sunset before it’s gone!” COMPANIONSHIP is often a key ingredient in a successful trip.
Are you journeying toward heaven with a special group of friends? I hope your family is journeying with you—your spouse and children. Those are the first people you’ll want to spend eternity with, are they not? But are there others? Is there someone you could invite on the journey? The companionship found in a small group of Christian friends is the most effective way to stay on the road should you ever get bogged down (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Step Seven: Record Your Progress in a Journal
Finally, hiking the Grandfather Mountain trail will result in a million memories and mental snapshots. You need a JOURNAL to make them last—a place to put your thoughts, paste your pictures, and press those wildflowers and leaves you collected. No trip is finished until it has been recorded.
Are you keeping track of what God is revealing to you on your way to heaven? A journal will capture the mountain peaks you cross, the raging rivers you ford, and the dark valleys you tremble through. Your children and grandchildren will thank you someday if you’ll record every step of your travels with God.
I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for visiting one of my favorite parts of the country. But more than that, I hope I’ve encouraged you in your progress toward heaven. Intimacy with God, while journeying toward God, is the trip of a lifetime. Using these stepping stones will set you on the path toward making every moment as fulfilling as God intends it to be (John 10:10).
Application—Preparing for the Journey
Have you secured your destination through faith in Christ? If not, ask Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and to give you the gift of eternal life, which He has promised to do (John 3:16).
What blessings does God promise to those who will seek Him? What blessings have you discovered in His Word?
In what areas of your life do you need to seek direction and comfort? Take time now to ask God for His provision and guidance.
In what areas are you weak or lacking knowledge? Who in the body of Christ could offer assistance? How are you using your spiritual gifts to help others?
What new insights about God have you discovered? What will you praise Him for today?
When was the last time you meditated on God’s Word? How will you incorporate that stepping stone into your walk with God?
What special friends are journeying toward heaven with you? Who could you invite on the journey?
How are you keeping track of what God is revealing to you on your way to heaven? Take a moment now to record any new observations God is bringing to light.