Wednesday, March 23, 2005

God's Total Body Workout -- Hands & Knees

Mount Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Seeing it might make you reconsider the old saying that all mountains in the East are just foothills in comparison to those in the West. Mount Katahdin is the most difficult non-technical climb in the East, and many of the trails have a tendency to go straight up. The most spectacular route involves taking the mile-long Knife Edge, which combines 2,000 foot drops on either side of the trail. It's definitely not a trail to get caught on in bad weather.

Our boy scout group chose a beautiful day to backpack to the summit of Katahdin. At the foot of the mountain flowers were beginning to bloom and a warm gentle breeze filled us with confidence as we went to tackle the Knife Edge. The trail that meandered through the pine forest eventually gave way to gravelly climbs on steeper slopes. However, once we got past the tree line, it seemed as if the mountain’s fury was not going to let us pass. We put on our raincoats and continued the climb. At one point, climbers need to use iron hand and foot grips to navigate the trail that goes straight up the rock face. As we climbed, the storm worsened. Stinging rain, driven by wind sheers began to shred the raincoats from our bodies. We were on our hands and knees, clinging to the side of the mountain and trembling with the anticipation of the unexpected. We slowly made our way back down the trail on our hands and knees, never making it to the Knife Edge, but learning to respect the Mountain. Of course, at the base of the mountain, life was beautiful and verdant.

As I think back to that time, I remember the story of another mountain climber named Christian. Scanning the narrow trail before him, he saw that it went straight up the hill. He knew that a steep and exhausting climb awaited him. He stepped over to a spring and refreshed himself with its cool water. As he cupped the water in his hands and raised them to his lips, he contemplated what lay before him. There was no denying that this would be a backbreaking climb, but he had no choice but to follow it. Friends who were with him asked, “Why exhaust yourself with such a difficult climb when it would be so much easier to simply go around it?” Saying that, they a different path around the mountain and were never heard from again. As they walked away, Christian stood before the steep hard path. Then Christian began to climb the Hill of Difficulty.

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, describes the scene this way:

"I looked then after Christian, to see him go up the hill, where I perceived he fell from running to going, and from going to clambering upon his hands and knees, because of the steepness of the place."
As followers of Christ, we all have our own “Katahdins” –- our own “Hills of Difficulty” -- over which to pass. Maybe you are, at this very moment, crawling on your hands and knees through the difficulties of life. Once you could run through life with triumphant faith, at other times you could walk even through the valley of the shadow of death with quiet confidence, but now you have come to a place of extraordinary difficulty where you no longer have the strength or speed to make it. Maybe you are crying out,
"Lord, let my knees find a resting place, let my hand hold on to some projecting crag of promise so I won’t totter and fall.”
We’ve all been there. We climb into a spot where we only make a little progress, and we think it’s enough just to hold our ground against the desperate difficulties of the path before us. When we are in this place, hands and knees are essential.

This is out last set of exercises in The Bible’s Total Body Workout: strengthening our hands and knees. How do we tone them up, how do they get us through difficulty, and how can we use them to honor God?

In Scripture, hands and knees are connected to each other. Where we put our hands and knees shows how we are responding to the presence of God. In times of trouble, knees shake and hands tremble. They physically express the weakness of the heart. We describe a person in overwhelming danger as wringing his hands in despair, and as feeling her knees knocking together in her moment of terror. The hands and knees become week and unable to move. As In this case, the hands and knees show that the person has surrendered to fear. Faith has seemed to disappear. That’s why the prophet Isaiah encourages the spiritually frozen people of Israel with these words:

“. . . strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have week knees. Say to those who are afraid, ‘Be strong and do not fear for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you’” (Is. 35:2-4).
How do we begin to strengthen tired hands and steady shaky knees? One way we do it is in worship. The Bible talks about hands and knees bowed before God in reverent awe. The posture of our hands and knees is an outward expression of the heart. In the Bible, raising hands demonstrates our gratitude for who God is and for all He has done. Raised hands are a sign of our surrender to God's reign in our lives. In the psalms, the Hebrew word translated “praise” means to extend the hands. Therefore, the act of lifting our hands is a Biblical expression of worship. The same goes for the knees. To kneel before God is a sign of humility, meekness and submission to the King of kings. When anybody would come before a king, he would kneel in respect and submission. When we kneel before the King of the universe, we are showing God our respect for His royal authority and submission to His reign and rule. In fact, the Greek word for worship is proskuneo, which means to prostrate oneself, to kiss the feet of a conqueror–literally, to bend the knee.

The Bible is filled with examples of people raising hands and kneeling before the Lord. The Psalmist pleads, "Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Psalm 95:6). When King Solomon, the powerful heir of King David, submits to God in prayer, the Bible says he "knelt down on his knees before all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven" (2 Chronicles 6:12). The fact is that kneeling before the Lord is not optional, for "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). In other words, all people, whether they are believers or unbelievers, will one day kneel before God, confessing that Jesus is Lord.

In The Bible’s Total Body Workout, strong hands and knees carry us through difficulty. It seems counterintuitive, but the way to get over our hills of difficulty is by bending the knees and raising the arms. When life gets hard, we fall on our knees, not in fear or fatigue but in prayer. With hands lifted up and yielded to God we say, “God we cannot do this alone, but you can strengthen our week hands and feeble knees.” With knees bending our bodies in humble submission we say, “God, my way is not working. The path I’m on is too hard. I am tired. I am afraid and alone. I can’t crawl another step on this hill of difficulty. I bend my knees, lift my hands, and I give myself to you. I surrender to you. I worship you and rely on your promises.” There, on your knees, you become mighty.

Why do we think that we will make it on our journey when we neglect prayer and worship? We would be better to expect a plant to grow without air and water than to expect a heart to grow without prayer and faith. If we want to grow in grace, if want to comprehend the heights and depths of God’s word, and know the love of Christ which passes all understanding, then we take care of our knees and ask God to make them strong –we ask God to fortify our hands thy so that they won’t hang down.

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