The Prize

In the spring of every year, hundreds, if not thousands, of enthusiastic hikers take their first steps on a 2,185 mile journey on the Appalachian Trail. Months of preparation have led to this moment. They have read books, bought equipment, packed food and talked to others who have come before them. They have diligently studied every aspect of the journey to come, and now they stand under the stone portal as they prepare to ascend Springer Mountain, the true starting point of the trail.

Yet no amount of study can prepare them for what lies ahead. Nature is beautiful and alluring and very hard. There will be sore knees, turned ankles, persistent thirst, lonely nights and lingering doubt. They will become exhausted from the searing summer heat in Pennsylvania, sudden lightning strikes in Virginia, downpours in New Hampshire, snow in the Smokey Mountains, or mud in Maine, and from unexpected obstacles of all kinds everywhere.

But, as they walk the trail and become hardened by its challenges, hikers will experience a change of heart and mind. With time and miles, a veteran slowly emerges; the novice at Springer becomes the confident and knowledgeable Thru-Hiker who will keep on striving to achieve victory over every large and small adversity. The postcard landscape of the armchair hiker has given way to a more profound understanding. What began as toil and trouble has become something akin to joy.

The seasoned hiker overcomes through endurance and perseverance. In this respect, he is like the faithful pilgrim. Both are on a long journey; both must endure hardships; both are tested at every turn. And both keep pushing on to the goal, knowing that there is a prize to be won: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.