I had just finished a hike in a natural area – one that started with the chained fence above – when I met an elderly couple in the parking lot. As we chatted, I asked them for a suggestion of another spot I might walk before heading toward a meeting.
They recommended a little-known park that they both loved. “But,” they said, “you have to drive past the Naval Academy, beyond a golf course, and ignore the construction. You’re going to think you made a wrong turn. Just keep going.”
I thanked them and followed their directions.
I have found the park. They were right about drive here – I never would have found it without their encouragement. But the first sound I hear when I open my door is a barrage of distant gunfire. It’s likely from the Naval Academy but isn’t a good prelude for a peaceful walk.
The path itself is also odd. It’s paved macadam, overgrown with weeds, goldenrod and yellow crownbeard. It feels like a miniature abandoned road.
The crackle of riflery continues. I discover a small wooden structure inset with slots. This must be where British colonial hikers of old returned musket fire. (Or watched for ducks.)
Instead of ducks, I have only a dock. And a huge, ugly one at that. I wonder if I am simply wasting my time following these strangers’ advice.
I’ve been thinking about encouragement lately. A friend recently pointed out that its goal is hidden in the word itself: courage. When we encourage someone, we give them new strength and commitment to undertake a challenge – something that exceeds their reach, a task from which retreat would be far easier (and perhaps safer).
Encouragement is a thread that runs through Scripture. Take Joshua’s famous talk to the people of Israel at the edge of the Promised Land:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
On a new loop of the trail, I change my goal. This path is so minimal, so hard to follow, I give up trying to understand the appeal this place and simply determine to press on until I find something the Lord has for me.
That’s when I break out of the clinging undergrowth onto the rocky shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The interplay of morning sun on the water is entrancing – pinpoint flares of light dance upon the gentle waves, like a celebration of tiny paparazzi flashbulbs.
But who have they come to celebrate?
In the distance, an osprey post in the shape of a Tau cross stands dark against the dancing waves. For me, it is a reminder of the promise made through Joshua: the Lord will be with me wherever I go. This walk was meant to bring me to worship at the feet of my loving Savior. I sit on a flat rock and praise him for the beauty. And for his faithfulness in meeting me.
But then, isn’t that how encouragement works for a believer? Ultimately, aided by the boosts of others, we find the reward of courage to be the presence of Jesus.
And the struggle is just a necessary part of the journey.
Lord, give each of us people to encourage. And people to encourage us. So that we may press on to find those places of beauty and worship, where you are waiting for us.
Reader: When has a recent walk or hike ended up with an awareness of Jesus? Feel free to email me about it.