Several years ago a friend of mine and I decided to battle the bulge by joining a walking/running group (we walked, of course). This group met every Saturday morning in the Candler Park area in Atlanta, GA. Anyone who lives in Atlanta will tell you that this historic part of the city is beautiful. Newly renovated homes line the naturally, seemingly artistic landscaped streets. A spring day in that part of the city could easily leave one breathless. One reason is because the beauty of the neighborhood is extremely inviting, but another reason is because of the hills. Glorious, rolling, steep, steep hills that are not all that far apart. What probably starts out as a meager stroll for many, no doubt ends up being a full blown cardio workout. Anyway, so here I am one Saturday, a newbie to the walking group, but not new to walking as a form of exercise. Well, I thought I’d been exercising before. Yet, the hills in the Candler Park area convinced me otherwise. While I was puffing up one of those illustrious hills, my arms were pumping, but not nearly as much as my heart. My calves were burning so, I was sure the muscles were literally blazing on the inside. Then a veteran walker in the group (who was also considerably older than me) came prancing along in full stride and full conversation. I could barely get a complete sentence out but managed a red-cheeked smile (my cheeks just had to be ablaze too) and a polite nod. Apparently, my struggle with this hilly route was not hidden. The lady slightly slowed her pace and in a cheerleader, spirit filled voice she said, “Keep pumping those arms! We love hills! Hills make us strong!”
My good Southern upbringing wouldn’t allow me to roll my eyes at the kind encourager. So once again my reply was a red-cheeked smile and polite nod. She flashed a friendly, but much bigger smile, regained her pace, and resumed her conversation with her walking buddy. Soon the pre-planned route had us all cruising downhill. As I recovered on the downward slope and oxygen was getting to my brain once again, I began to consider the veteran’s words of wisdom. “Hills make us strong.” Not only did that mean walking these hills would get easier, but I would become better in the process.
“Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it,” (Ezra 10:4). The Book of Ezra is a very interesting read. It tells the story of the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem. Evil Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar had passed away, and so had the Jew’s 70 years of captivity. God’s promise, as always, held true and the Israelites were headed home to their land. Many of the Jews, almost 60,000, decided to make the journey home. However, others decided to remain in Babylon. During that 70 years in Babylon several Jews has risen to a rather comfortable lifestyle, and going back to Jerusalem meant starting over. There were a lot who were not willing or maybe even afraid to make that sacrifice. This brings me to the first point of this literary conversation. There are often times in our lives when we decide not to climb the hill, even if the downward slope promises a blessing. Oh, so I’m the only one that’s ever done that? Well, how about that time you gave up on your new healthier lifestyle because you hit a weight loss plateau? You had lost a dress size or two, but then this and that happened so you figured where you were was good enough, despite the fact that you hadn’t reached your goal. A goal which, by the way, not only promised a new wardrobe, but lower blood pressure levels, lower cholesterol, which lowered the risk for heart disease and diabetes. But life got comfortable on the plateau so that’s where you threw up your hands and parked. Whether you want to verbalize it or not, you decided the plateau was easier than the promise.
Ouch! The Holy Spirit just stepped on my toes with that. So I’m going to wrap it up for now and continue to mediate on why I chose a ratty old plateau over God’s glorious promise. It is my prayer that you will do the same. It is also my petition that you will return in just a little while for Part 2 of “Hills Make Us Strong”. In the meantime, keep pumping those arms!