Lesson 7: Sometimes all you can do is focus on what lies immediately in front of you.
Four of the best years of our ministry were spent at a church where my husband’s age-group responsibilities included 7th graders through college students. One of the “responsibilities” in the job description was to take the college students on an annual ski trip over Christmas Break and the high schoolers on a skip trip over Spring Break. Tough job but somebody had to do it, right?
And so it was that one year while skiing with a bunch of college guys, we found ourselves lost on the mountain. We kept making wrong turns until we eventually found ourselves at a dead-end. Right at the top of a black trail.
For non-skiers, let me clarify:
Trails on the mountain are color coded. Green trails are the easiest and have names like Divinity and Angel’s Tread. Blue trails are a bit more difficult and have names like Peace and Paradise. Black trails are the most difficult slopes with names like Lower Hades and Deadspike. You get the idea. Black trails might as well have a skull and crossbones on them.
Many black trails are covered with moguls. Moguls are bumps carved into the snow by the sharp twists and turns of expert skiers as they speed down the mountain. So instead of a leisurely smooth trail such as this, which I much preferred
we found ourselves at the top of a trail that looked like this:
Expert skiers enjoy moguls. Moguls turn the mountain into an obstacle course. Moguls enable expert skiers to launch themselves into aerial maneuvers.
I am not an expert skier.
But there we were, staring down a black slope covered with moguls. Our only choice was to somehow ski down.
In sheer self-defense, I quickly devised a method to enable an amateur skier to make it down a black slope alive. It was a simple concept: keep your eyes focused on what lies immediately in front of you and whatever you do, don’t look down the mountain.
Instead of looking down the mountain, I looked across the mountain. I picked a spot where I wanted to go—a spot that would keep me horizontal to the mountain—and slowly, ever so slowly, I made my way to that spot. Sometimes the path was clear, all the way to the far side of the trail. But most often, there were numerous moguls in the path. When that happened, I’d fix my sights on the next mogul, and then the next, and so on and so on until I’d reached the other side of the trail. Once I arrived, I carefully crept my skis around and looked back across to the other side of the trail. After locating my next spot and looking for any downhill traffic, I began making my way back across. My path down the black trail looked something like this:
It seemed to take forever to get down the mountain. Progress was slow. Sometimes I came to a complete stop, allowing advanced skiers to sail by. Occasionally, I’d look down the mountain and become fearful or look at better skiers as they whizzed by and get discouraged because of how well they skied and how poorly I was doing. But then I’d readjust my focus, pick out the next spot across the trail, and start moving again.
Sometimes life leads you to the top of a black trail. You find yourself facing a mountain that absolutely terrifies you. Maybe your mountain is the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or a life-threatening diagnosis. Right now, you’re so overwhelmed by emotions that you find it hard to breathe. The path to the bottom of your mountain is covered with obstacles and the only thing you’re sure of is that you’re not prepared for the descent.
If you’re faced with skiing a black trail right now, 2 Chronicles 20 is for you. Verses 1-30 tell the story of King Jehoshaphat as he and the people of Judah faced an enemy army. Verse 3 says that when Jehoshaphat learned that the army was approaching, he “was terrified by this news” (NLT).
The second half of verse 3 is the most important part of the verse: “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance” (emphasis added). Verses 6-12 record Jehoshaphat’s prayer. Listen to the final part of his petition in verse 12:
“For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
This is one of the most powerful prayers ever prayed. Jehoshaphat lays all of his humanity at the altar and confesses that he is powerless. Completely powerless.
King Jehoshaphat is the perfect example of how to respond when you find yourself facing a mountain that terrifies you.
Seek God’s guidance – “Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance” (v. 3a NLT). Seeking help from our heavenly Father should be our first act, not the last resort.
Ask those in your circle to seek God’s guidance – “and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord…” (v. 3b-4 NIV). Your circle may be just one or two trusted friends or your immediate family members. The point is, when you’re facing a mountain, you need those closest to you to be seeking God’s guidance on your behalf.
Acknowledge that you’re powerless to change the mountain you face – When Jehoshaphat saw the army, he cried out to God, “we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us” (v. 12 b NIV). Let’s face it. There are many situations that you simply cannot change. There are mountains that you are powerless to move.
Acknowledge that you don’t have the answers – “We do not know what to do. . . (v. 12c NIV) You might “fake it ‘til you make it” when you’re in public, but when you’re before God, admit to Him that you don’t know what to do. And then wait for Him to act.
Keep your eyes on the Lord – “but our eyes are on you” (v. 12d NIV). Hebrews 12:1-2 says that we can run the race (or ski the black slope, as it were) that God has placed before us by “keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Nothing is more important than keeping our eyes on Jesus every moment of every day. And when we do that, one day we will discover that we’ve made it to the bottom of the black slope. Perhaps we’re a bit battered and bruised, but we’ve made it.