"...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
There we were, in the midst of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) and over one million acres of untouched wilderness in northern Minnesota. Jared, Josiah, Luke and I were geared up for the adventure of a lifetime.
Our first three days included paddling across nine lakes and three rivers. Paddling canoes was the easy part. The trek had also included lifting our canoes and equipment across nine portages totaling over five miles. They were challenging portages with extreme elevation changes, mud up to our knees, rocky terrain and fallen trees. This is the nature of portages. But the amazing campsites, pristine beauty, starry nights, waterfalls and rapids, northern lights and amazing power of God’s creation make the effort worth it. We ended the third day at Big Rice Lake a little later than planned, but we had the entire lake to ourselves. What an amazing experience of the beauty of God’s creation!
The next morning, we paddled across the lake to look for our next 1.6 mile portage. Oddly, we could not find the entrance. Did I mention that portages are usually easy to find? They are well-worn by the 100,000 paddling enthusiasts who enter the BWCA each year. Yet, even in late August, there was not a visible portage to be found. We had official maps which clearly told us we were looking in the right area, but no signs of the portage could be found. After spending much of the morning looking with no success, we realized we had only two options:
#1: Return the way we had come. The paddling would be fun. The carrying of our canoes and equipment over five painstaking miles, not as much.
#2: Pull out the compasses, get even more familiar with map topography, and set out through the unmarked wilderness towards our destination of Hook Lake. Thankfully, Luke and Jared were Eagle Scouts who were trained in orienteering.
We agreed unanimously on option #2. Jared and I each carried a 70 lb. aluminum canoe on our shoulders as we followed Luke and Josiah, who were each carrying packs of similar weight. The forest quickly became thick and soon Luke was in the lead with a machete in one hand and a compass in the other. Josiah followed with a second machete to further clear the path. Despite their efforts, Jared and I would still have to back up and take a run at some spots to ram the canoes through.
The situation grew even more challenging when we ran into swamps and had to back up, take a different bearing and make adjustments to keep on track towards our destination. I had a lot of confidence in Luke and Jared’s Eagle Scout training, but hours of this process had a negative impact on our spirits. I cannot remember if the “rescue” conversation was out loud or just in my head. “How long will it be before they realize we are missing and send help? Should we start a fire now as a smoke signal? How many people have been lost in the BWCA?”
I am sure our conversation about running out of drinking water was out loud. We considered all of the options, including that urine is considered sterile and safe to drink. We were clearly talking about survival. Thankfully we did not have to resort to drinking urine.
After hours cutting our way through the dense wilderness, the worst thing we could have done was follow our emotions, turn around, and run back to what might be more familiar. The best thing to do was to press on, regardless of our feelings and weariness, towards the planned destination. Because of Luke and Jared's great Eagle Scout training, we did follow the compass and the map correctly. About two-thirds of the way to Hook Lake, after six hours of following the compass and the map, we heard Luke’s joyous proclamation: “I’m on a trail!” We had found the portage! I cannot remember a time in my life when a path in the woods looked so beautiful! We followed the newfound path and made it to our destination! We paused to pray and give thanks at the end of that path. What a great memory! What a great lesson in pressing on toward the goal!
You might have similar life experiences of pressing on in difficult times. What are your challenges in Christian life today? Are you discouraged? Are you prone to despair? Do you want to turn back? I urge you to follow the words of the Apostle Paul who said, “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14 NASB
In the darkness of the overgrown forest, it is easy to get discouraged, leading one to sit down and give up. Maybe you are discouraged in your Christian life today. PRESS ON! Stand up and continue walking on the path God is calling you. The prize, abundant and eternal life in Christ, is already yours, made possible through Christ. Live each step with the goal of eternal life in mind. Live into the life Christ has died to give you!
Facing the swamp, it is easy to give into desperation and go off course. We must trust fully in the map and the compass, the Scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit, rather than our fickle feelings. A wise man once advised me to follow God’s Word, and when my feelings disagree, drag them kicking and screaming along behind. They cannot always be trusted. Yes, we need to process our emotions in an honest and healthy way but we should not allow ourselves to be ruled by them.
It is so easy to think about going back to the familiar. The scriptures do call us back to remember God’s faithfulness. But if returning to the familiar for you is turning away from God’s forgiveness, God’s calling, God’s direction and God’s grace, you are making a mistake. If returning to the familiar is returning to a trust in your own credentials for your value rather than trusting in Christ, you are making a big mistake. God has so much more for you! The journey backwards will not lead you to your goal: it will lead you astray. Instead, remember God’s faithfulness in the past and let God lead you into the future. You will win the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
May your journey with Christ be an adventure! Paddle on toward the true goal, my friends!
1. Our counselors put the key verse to music and added actions to help you memorize it. Join them in the video below:
2. Take the time to remember God's faithfulness in your life. Seek God's wisdom, asking him to use the memory of those times to inspire you to press on towards that which He has called you to.
3. How well do you deal with your emotions? Do you stuff them down and refuse to deal with them? Do you let them rule your daily life and decision making? Are they subject to the truth of Scripture in your life? Take some time to be sure you have a healthy and honest process of dealing with emotions in place in your life.
Rod Quanbeck currently serves as the Executive Director for IOLBC.