When I train at my club on the Dodnor Estate, I invariably walk the 1.5 miles there – doing rather more ‘crawling’ than ‘walking’ on the return journey!
At one point en route, there is a short but quite steep path up an embankment by a bridge. I tend to run fast up this shortcut, taking (some) care to avoid stumbling and falling backwards into oncoming but unsuspecting traffic.
On one occasion after a heavy downpour of rain, I leapt up this steep path. Foolishly though, I had not stopped to consider how slippery the muddy, waterlogged path had become. As I bounded up and away from the traffic, I felt my legs and entire body begin to slip backwards with some momentum. I realised I was in danger of not only returning to where I had started (like a game of Snakes and Ladders) but further back into the road, where there was the possibility of me looking either silly or dead, or both.
I realised in an instant that the only way to keep balance and keep safe was not to stop but to run even faster, producing more momentum forward than back. Only by striving even harder and faster forward would I prevent myself sliding backwards.
I arrived at the top absolutely breathless and with little energy for the circuit training which joyously lay ahead, but I was vertical and breathing and quietly gave thanks for each.
The spiritual analogy is obvious but worthy of re-emphasis: if we are not straining with every muscle to go forward spiritually, we will go backwards. There is no other option.
Of course, it’s all right to pace things. Our faith is a marathon, not a sprint. Indeed, Hebrews 10 notwithstanding, faith is more often referred to as a walk rather than a race. But we must keep walking forwards. (No – not at any point does Scripture teach that Jesus carries us.)
In the olden days, we were often warned against ‘backsliding’. Perhaps what wasn’t appreciated so much then was that stopping rather than strenuously moving forward was itself a form of backsliding. Not so drastic a danger as the litany of other sins about which we were warned as teenagers, but perhaps more dangerous for this reason.
Are we using this pandemic as an opportunity to strenuously move forward spiritually or have we decided to stop; putting all that challenge on hold until congregational life returns?
A mountaineer lost his life ascending a mountain. His epitaph was: ‘Died climbing’. May that be our epitaph too. In the meantime, check that the path is dry.