The summit always seemed completely out of reach as the small group of climbers continued their slow and arduous ascent. Marcus, the self-appointed leader of the group, felt that, if they were to reach one of the many plateaus on this side of the mountain range before sunset, they would all have to pick up their pace by doing double-time. Yet they became weaker and slower instead as they approached yet another wall of rock that the area seemed to be plagued with. Everyone knew the routine, and the sound of picks, ropes stretching and the clinking or ringing of other gear, along with numerous sighs and grumblings, were soon heard among them.
A lush green landing suddenly appeared over the next barren knoll and the team became excited. As they began to run on ahead, a surge of energy welled up within them. “Watch your step,” Marcus shouted, “we don’t want any sprains or broken bones to carry along with our gear during tomorrow’s departure!” Giddy laughter sprung forth, not because of Marcus’ remark, but due to the sudden relief and freedom they now felt following the difficult journey scaling the steep cliffs and precipices earlier. Everyone slept peacefully that night as a mild breeze swept over them, and hardly a sound could be heard across the whole area.
Morning seemed to break earlier than expected as they wearily arose from their bedding, complete with aches and soreness accumulated over the past several days. Clavia, one of the team members, called out in a longing yet whining voice, “Do we have to leave out of here so soon? It’s so nice and pleasant, with those constant breezes and the plush landscape. I mean, we could live here for weeks if we had all of the right supplies!” But Marcus ignored her request and urged everyone to pack up and head out once again, while he said, “We still have much more climbing to do and difficult paths to trek before we can really rest.”
After much more exhaustive efforts, the intrepid climbers soon came close to the next clearing. They had just passed the halfway point of their journey. After a little more struggle, they reached what was known as the “Plateau of Rest and Return,” so named because of a chasm and river that lay just out of view. Many earlier climbers had chosen to stay there or to return to the valley rather than to cross over them, due to the possibility of losing their life. What a sight to behold this mesa was, with its cool springs of water, soft beds of grasses, along with fertile ground, pleasant breezes, all topped off by a breathtaking view of the whole region.
After exploring a portion of the area, Clavia and Hartley, another team member, came racing back to camp. “Marcus! Marcus! Some people are living out here, and they have sheep and goats and dogs and…and…” Clavia’s voice trailed off breathlessly. Marcus’ curiosity was stirred and the three of them marched back to see the mystery residence.
Upon their arrival, a man appearing to be in his late fifties was just stepping out of his cottage. Looking up at the trio just arriving at the massive stone entryway on edge of his front yard, he bellowed out, “Well, hello my hearty travelers to the higher land! What brings you to my humble place of rest? Curiosity? Weariness? Bewilderment? Envy? Or just the need to ease a bit of loneliness?”
“Uh, we were just surprised to find someone living out here in the middle of nowhere,” Hartley responded hesitantly.
“Ah! A common response among the many souls who trek though the “Plateau of Rest and Return.” And why not? Actually, I’m surprised that there are not more who choose to do the same. The land is peaceful and safe with an abundance of most necessities and, of course, the view. Who would want to pass on without partaking of an opportunity to see such a vast expanse? The others who reside here have felt the same way.”
“There are more here?” Clavia gasped, dumfounded. “Wait! He’s right. I just noticed dozens of houses over that small hill, just like this place.”
While he did not expect to actually see anyone, Marcus had heard about many individuals who had made the hard journey up the mountain, and had then chosen to stop and live on one of these landings along the way instead. It really disturbed him inside, as they had lost sight of the even better land to come.
“Sir, why did you quit here when so much more has been promised?” Marcus asked the man. “It reminds me of the Old Testament in the Bible, where it mentions that some of the children of Israel decided to make a claim for an area on the opposite side of the river separating the land God had specifically prepared for them. They felt that this was good enough for them and that they did not need to go further on.”
The man’s warm expression rapidly changed to one of impatience and irritability. Marcus continued anyway, saying, “It appears to me that you and the others never really wanted to make the effort to go beyond here. It seems like you felt, without actually saying it, that you knew better than God. You’re doing something that God does not want any of us to do, and that is to doubt Him.”
Suddenly Clavia piped up: “And if it’s so safe here, why do you have large fences and dogs and…?”
“Out!” the man shouted angrily, cutting off Clavia’s exclamation. “Get away from here and don’t come back!”
As the three hikers hurried back, Hartley began questioning Marcus, “But what’s so bad about being here? It seems like a nice place. Couldn’t God bless them for this much?”
“Oh, don’t you start too! You see, God already has the ideal place for each of us. It’s ready and waiting. He just wants us to trust Him to get us there. That’s why we are continuing on with this hike. He wants us to keep pushing forward. We can’t accept something that’s second, third or even tenth best. Paul said, I believe it was in Philippians three verse fourteen: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Upon arriving at the camp, one of the youngest hikers named Lexi pointed in the direction they had just come from and said, “Marcus, why are they living out here? Don’t they know that this is just a stopover?”
“That’s what I just told Hartley and Clavia. God has provided many places for His people to be refreshed and to recuperate. He wants us to keep up our strength for the trials and testing ahead, but in no way does He desire for us to stay in these areas permanently. While the journey may prove to be rough and strenuous, the final destination is highly rewarding.”
After another day on the plateau, Markus told the team to pack up and head out in order to cross over the chasm and river toward the true place of rest ahead. But, in spite of all that they had passed through, and the promise of the wonderful things they were going to experience, one of them decided to turn away from his group and to live there with the man and all of the others past his house who had chosen not to go on, wanting the stopover more than the destination.
In our journey with God, He often provides us with a place of temporary refreshment, a place where we can recharge and prepare for the remainder of our journey. Yet, like the man in the middle of nowhere, and the others living beyond him who enjoyed it there so much, many of us have also decided to stop where we are and not continue on to the place God has chosen for us. This leaves us in a dangerous situation, because we will be out of the area of His care and protection. Although everything may seem wonderful in the beginning, it will gradually lose what first made it desirable. Then we will be tempted to subtly withdraw from wanting God and begin to seek the temporal things of this world instead. But whenever we are outside of where God wants us to be, we will not find any place that is truly safe and secure and that will supply all of our needs.
Our time of recuperation on our journey has now ended. The time to reach our glorious destination is short. God has so much in store for us ahead that is greater and better than anything we are experiencing now. Why don’t we just put our trust in Him, move forward, and not be satisfied in making our rest stop the final destination?
[Image credits: Featured image (when available) Rüştü Bozkus/pixabay; Riccardo Bresciani/pexels; Rüştü Bozkus/pixabay; Mary Bettini Blank/pixabay; Mikel Ibarluzea/unsplash; Rüştü Bozkus/pixabay]