Press On

  • Nathan Schneider
Boy looking at a mountain scape after a hike

In the mountains north of Bishop, CA there’s an old abandoned sillimanite and andalucite mine dating back to the early 1900s. These ore products were mined by the Champion company to make a superior grade of spark plug. Even though the mine has long since been abandoned, it exists now as a well-preserved ghost town frequented by locals and curious guests. It’s known as Spark Plug Mine. But the way to the mine is not easy. At over 7,000 feet, and with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain, the trail is arduous, following a mule trail up the steep canyon. It’s usually always hot, with little shade and no water sources available. At times, the trail narrows to a mere 10 inch width, hugging the sides of cliff faces while dropping off hundreds of feet below. But the destination itself makes the pain and the heat and the utter risk of life and limb all worth it.

I remember making that hike up to Spark Plug Mine with my dad as a kid. I was young…young enough to not remember how young I was. So naturally there’s some fuzziness to my memories, but I certainly remember the perilous sections, the heat, the intense elevation gain. I’m sure there was a fair amount of complaining…I can neither confirm nor deny. But more than anything, I remember the destination. My hike up to Spark Plug Mine with my dad is one of those memories I will never forget or regret. There’s not much more a dad can do for his son than take him into the wilderness, hike with him, talk with him, and push him forward through pain and fatigue to the reward at the end of the journey. There’s discipline in that and I’m forever grateful to my dad for that day.

In that same spirit, I took my own two boys out hiking yesterday. In fact, they’re probably about the age I was when I went off trekking with my dad up Jeffrey Mine Canyon. With a virtually cloudless sky and a good bit of afternoon left, we drove up to the Glenn Alps parking lot, hiked down to the Power Line Trail and then cut across the valley. Our goal was a draw on the ridge above nestled between O’Malley and Little O’Malley Peaks where there’s a small patch of snow still remaining from the winter snowpack. From the parking lot, the snowy patch is barely visible, impossibly far away. The boys can see it, but there’s detachment in their eyes. Will we really reach it?

The hike took us three hours in total, with two of those accounting for our uphill climb. But what was interesting was the shift in demeanor I saw in the boys as we neared the summit. Our trek down into the valley and across the bridge over Campbell Creek was routine enough. As we moved into the initial section of the uphill work, the boys remained bright and confident. But as the terrain turned increasingly rough, and the slope became more and more steep, our pace slowed to a virtual halt.

It was at this point that I became fully aware of what I probably put my own dad through on our hike. Upward progress was painfully slow. Is it possible to gain elevation and still feel like you’ve regressed? I think we took a break about once every five or six steps. About an hour and a half in and I was certain I would hear one or both of the boys ask to turn around and head back. The ridge was just too far, the snow too high up…we’d never make it [insert *sigh* here].

Nevertheless, I pushed them as best I could. I tried to be patient and encouraging. I talked with them, pointed out the geography of the land, taught them about navigation, about wildlife, about anything that took their mind off the pain and on to something they could learn from through the process…the kinds of things my own dad would do.

But then something happened…something I didn’t quite expect. As the trail opened up and we moved above timberline, we could see the snowpack looming above us. What was once a white speck in the distance now seemed like it might actually be attainable. This little shift in perspective lit a fire under my boys. Their strength regained, their drive and determination amplified, and off they went. For over an hour I had been in the lead, waiting for them…and waiting…and waiting. Now I was falling behind. Even though we had reached the steepest and most difficult section of the climb, they were suddenly alive with energy, motivated by the destination that was now tantalizingly close.

We reached the top after nearly two hours of hiking and the boys were rewarded with a snowball fight in July. I was rewarded with the view and the contented knowledge that my boys had pushed past a threshold. They had disciplined themselves because they were able to keep the reward of the climb in perspective. As I sat at the top of the ridge watching my boys throw snowballs at each other and eventually at me, two thoughts came to my mind: (1) there’s a spiritual lesson here, and (2) I have my blog post topic for tomorrow!

Here’s the spiritual lesson. It’s not profound or deep or something that can only be unlocked through a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the Greek language. It’s a text of Scripture that practically jumped into my mind as I watched my boys change before my eyes on the slopes of that ridge…

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)

This passage is about sanctification. It’s about the long trek to Christ-likeness. That’s the goal to which Paul is referring. He knows that he is still making this climb. He has not reached the top. There’s more elevation to gain…more pain and more fatigue to endure. He’s absolutely aware of his imperfections.

But he’s more aware of his goal. He knows why he’s making this climb. It’s not a blind trek with no end in sight. He’s motivated by what he knows is lying at the end. So for that reason he says, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul pursued his sanctification with enthusiasm and persistence because he remained acutely aware of the goal…his ultimate salvation, his heavenly home, where he would meet with Christ and attain the goal for which Christ had saved him in the first place.

Why do we lose motivation to run the Christian race? Why are we tempted at times to stop climbing and give up? Could it be that sometimes we become so myopic that we lose sight of the goal? We forget where we’re hiking and what our destination is? We’re too busy looking down at our feet, trying desperately to find some traction in the dirt that we fail to look up and keep the end in sight.

Without fail, we will experience the pains of this fallen world. We will also experience to pains of our fallen flesh. These things can feel like setbacks…they can feel like we’re making no progress. And unlike a hike to the top of a mountain, our final destination is a little harder to observe. We don’t know when we’ll get there or how far away it is. Will we reach the end tomorrow or will we be on this trail another thirty years?

It’s at these moments when Paul’s words become even more important: “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal…” That’s the clearest summation of forward progress in Christian sanctification: “I press on.” Whether the end is near or far, “I press on.” Whether I feel like I’m progressing or not, “I press on.”

Why? Why press on? Because the goal is Christ. Because the end is worth it. Because the view from the top overshadows any of the pain of what it took to get there.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

It’s only when my boys saw how close they were that they shifted into high gear. Suddenly pain and burning legs and sucking wind was all worth it. We have to think that way as Christians. It’s worth it…even when we can’t see the end, it’s worth it. Would you live differently if you could see the end in sight?

But here’s the other thing we have to remember: we don’t make this trek on our own strength. To try to make it on our own is legalism, which Paul himself had once tried to do but came to see as absolutely futile. But neither do we get a free ride to the top either. This is the great mystery of sanctification, that as we press on in holiness, it is Christ himself who is sanctifying us (Phil 2:12-13).