Hiking with kids is always an adventure. Once we get past the initial barrage of “Why do we have to do this?” and “How long is it going to take?” and “Why are you torturing us like this?” we settle into our “Desi-Let’s go!” groove and spend the next couple of hours trying to prevent our children from injuring themselves by engaging in risky activity.
On our “big hike” day in Yellowstone this summer, we set off from the Wapiti Lake Trailhead and made our way to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This scenic trail wound through wide open where-the-buffalo-roam fields, a fascinating geothermal area, and two peaceful lakes (where, as we found out, the buffalo hike 😲). At the end of the trail, we were rewarded with a fabulous panoramic view of the canyon.
After taking in the view, we continued on the canyon rim trail to two more overlooks – Artist’s Point and Point Sublime. This trail, though obviously well-traveled, was not for the faint of heart as the majority of it ran directly along the rim of the cliffs. Inches – not feet – separated us from sheer 1000-foot drop offs. And there were no fences along the trail at all. Talk about risky activity – and all we were doing was walking!
As I was hiking, I spent the whole time wondering: “Why are there no fences? How is this possibly safe?”
But when we got to Point Sublime, where there was a fence, my questions were answered. Because this happened:
Trail maintainers know this to be true: Fences, though creating a boundary, are only invitations to push the limit. We lean on them, climb on them, and hang over them because they give us an illusion of safety. With a fence in place, we don’t have to think too hard about the placement of our feet, because we feel separated from the danger.
But without a fence, a hiker is constantly aware of the danger that lurks just inches from their feet. Without fences, hikers have to focus on every step and aren’t as likely to push the limits when near the edge. If you’re a hiker like me, you keep your feet as close to side of safety as possible!
I like rules. They make me feel safe. They help me know what is expected of me and I (usually) don’t have much trouble following them once I’m aware of them. I like my rules to be obvious and specific, so there’s no guesswork involved on my part.
As a rule-follower, there are so many times where I wish God had given us a better “rule book”! I wish He would have fast-forwarded time and given me more specific guidelines on how to be a follower of Jesus in my circumstances in the 21st century.
As a professional trail-maintainer, though, Jesus said, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) Instead of leaving me with a whole bunch of fences, He gave me something better: His Spirit.
Yes, fences showing me exactly how to handle certain situations, how to relate to every person, or how far is too far might keep me feeling safely separated from the danger of sin, but mostly they would only be invitations to push the limit.
Instead, Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Notice that he didn’t give a double command, “walk by the Spirit [and do not] gratify the desires of the flesh”, but rather a cause and effect, “[If you] walk by the Spirit, [then] you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Because the “desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (v. 17), walking by the Spirit is the most effective way to avoid the pitfalls of sin.
When I am walking by the Spirit, actively engaging my heart and mind in Bible reading, prayer, and worship, the “works of the flesh are evident” (v. 19). I don’t need someone to tell me where the line is, because the Spirit was already leading me in the other direction long before I got close to the edge. With the Spirit nudging me toward the “do’s” of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (v. 22-23), the lists of “do not’s” become unnecessary.
When a fence is in place, it’s our human nature to lean on it and put ourselves at risk by depending on it. But God has given us His Spirit, so we can walk in confident dependence on Him instead!