Yesterday I attempted a 16,000’ foot peak in Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador with about 20 youth leaders from all over Latin America. Twenty of us started out in the darkness at 3:45 a.m. By the time we reached 15,002’ there were about 12 of us left on the climb. Our turnaround time was 11 a.m. The weather worsened, thick clouds blanketed us and thick sheets of drizzling rain made the rocks almost too slippery to climb. We had to turn around. I was glad to be with the summit team because honestly, I was coming close to my own personal limits. I had been thinking about bailing for 30 minutes before we turned around. The altitude and lack of sleep the night before had caught up with me.
HOW GOOD IT IS TO BE PUSHED TO OUR LIMITS
Being pushed to our limits is a good thing. It humbles us. It shows us how dependent we are on God. No matter how hard we want to push, we will always reach a limit at some point. It is freeing for me to admit that I reached my limit yesterday. In my pride I wish I could say that I had the energy and strength to bag that peak, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. You could stick a fork in me. I was baked.
Reaching my personal limits made me feel exposed, vulnerable, and fragile. It is amazing how much effort we take to put on layers of protection to avoid ever feeling exposed or fragile. Yet mountains don’t play our game. They hand us a healthy reminder that we are limited, and there is nothing we can do to change that. The Apostle Paul speaks to this reality when having reached his personal limits, Christ gives him a word of encouragement:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
WE HAVE THIS TREASURE IN JARS OF CLAY
The Apostle Paul describes those who follow Jesus as “Jars of Clay.” The irony is that we carry within us the unsurpassable treasure of the Gospel of Jesus, yet the package we carry that treasure in is like fragile clay:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4: 7)
There is no shame in having to turn back from a summit attempt. What matters is that we attempted it. I don’t know many mountaineers who look down on climbing parties that have to turn back. Weather can change, conditions can slow us down, injuries or health can take us out at the knees. What matters is the attempt. In the same way, what God desires is that we step out in faith and attempt new summits of sharing the Gospel, even though, physically, we are like jars of clay.
MOUNTAINS WILL PASS AWAY BUT OUR MESSAGE OF CHRIST WON’T
Wilderness experiences are a gift because they remind us that even though our bodies are finite the treasure of the Gospel within us is infinite. Even the mountains will pass away one day, but the Word of God, which is Jesus, will never pass away.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Luke 21:33)
Wilderness experiences give us the freedom to be real. We are like clay. We can crack easily. It is in our brokenness and limitation that the Gospel shines. We have this treasure in jars of clay. Climbing mountains always reminds me that no matter how strong I might feel at the base of the peak, I can only climb so far… I am limited. In the same way, no matter how much I desire for people in my life to respond to Christ, I am limited. I can only do so much… ultimately I have to trust in Christ and lean on him to open the hearts of others. We are only a Jars of Clay, and that is a good thing. It keeps us humble.