When I used to bike competitively, my coach would spend many hours with me training for the hills. His philosophy was that the hilly part of the course is where you can make great strides. This is when everyone slows down, lose steam, or momentum. For one who is accustomed to hills or one who trains for hills, this is the time to leapfrog and overtake many of your competitors. While everyone slows down, you accelerate. Through hours of hills training, you develop the muscles to navigate the hills to your advantage. As it is in sports, so it is in our spiritual life. What we often see as misfortune, difficulties, and problems are usually great opportunities to make great strides in our spirituality. It is when we go through the most trying times that we grow. It is through temptations that virtue comes out. It is the rough patches in our lives that polish us. It is our failures that prepare us for success.
I read somewhere that you can advance further in grace in one hour of affliction than in years of consolation. And I found this to be true. In the spiritual life, the equivalent of hills are the crosses that we bear. Do we trudge slowly along with our crosses? Do we sit and refuse to carry our crosses? Or do we simply lay down and “die.” We should carry our crosses not only with resignation, but with love as Jesus did. It is only in learning to carry our crosses well that we become more similar to Jesus. And if we share in his cross, we will share in his glory. The Bible is very clear that suffering precedes glory. The saints understood this. Here are just some athletic analogies in the bible and advancement in the spiritual life:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
“But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31)
“Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:11-13)
When you see a hill coming-up, don’t blink. Focus and know that where there are hills to climb, there are also flat, smooth roads ahead. May the hills of your life prove to be productive, fruitful, and profitable.