So, I have never wanted to climb Mount Everest. Not ever. I don’t begrudge anyone (perhaps some of you) who would, if given the opportunity, would jump at the chance or who have that on the bucket list. I’m just not one of them. I guess I’ve just watched too many documentaries on the magnitude of risk notwithstanding the adventure.
Those who do attempt to make the 39,000-foot-plus ascent are aided by guides, referred to as Sherpa. These are guides who actually take their name from nomadic and indigenous people of Nepal, many of whom have elite mountaineering skills and have served hundreds of aspiring climbers including helping at extreme altitudes, which is obviously necessary when trying to scale Everest (in fact, Sherpa as a term has become applied to trail guides in a broad sense, even if they are not members of the Sherpa clans). You see, there are quite a number of different hazards and conditions that must be managed when one is attempting to make the climb. The weather can be incredibly extreme both in temperature and in condition, and certainly volatile changing quite dramatically and quite rapidly. The climb to heights that humanity is not well-suited to live in because of the dwindling oxygen levels can cause manifold physical harm to the body. Not only that, but there are ways to make the climb that are logical, well-vetted, and successfully navigated in the past. The trail guides (Sherpa and otherwise) are indispensable, often life-saving, resources for trekking through the challenges and to the heights of Everest.
Trail guides are crucial in the everyday circumstances of life, too. We see this modeled to a degree in the relationship between the prophets Elijah and Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21 …
So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you! Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.
Thus commenced a trail guide-oriented relationship between Elijah (trail guide) and Elisha. We’re told that Elisha was to replace Elijah as prophet someday and the selection by God and anointing by Elijah of Elisha signaled the beginning of Elisha’s journey that his trail guide would lead over the coming seven or eight years. Of course, this is but one example of many in scripture where we see a trail guide leading, and admittedly in this instance Elijah was instructed to seek out Elisha rather than the other way around, but the model serves regardless and we see how Elisha recognizes the role Elijah served as trail guide in 2 Kings 2:6-9 …
Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.” But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together. Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground! When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”
God did not design us as men and women to “go it alone.” We were meant to live in community, and moreover we were meant to live in close, mutually-symbiotic, trail-guide-oriented relationship. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Iron sharpens iron by contact, connection, closeness. It isn’t always pretty or easy, and sometimes sparks fly. But sharpening happens, and that’s the only way it happens. A trail guide is someone who is knowledgeable and trusted. Trail guiding comes from contact, connection, and closeness … but it isn’t always pretty or easy, and sometimes in the midst of those challenges, sparks can fly. But sharpening happens, as does growth.
In my life, I have been blessed to have many trail guides. In college, one of my friends was pursuing the same major I was pursuing, was involved in several extracurricular activities and organizations that I was interested in, and had accomplished some noted recognition that I aspired to. Noting that it would be far more achievable to follow someone who had been down the road I wanted to go down, I asked for his mentorship, for him to serve as a trail guide. He agreed, and we developed a great relationship … by contact, connection, and closeness. And yes, it wasn’t always easy, but it worked. I accomplished heights I wouldn’t have without my friend as a trail guide.
Later in my career, after graduate school, I took a job as a controller of a company, knowing in advance that the company was also going to hire a Chief Financial Officer who would serve as my supervisor. When I was meeting that person for the first time, he asked what my goals were. I responded, “I want to learn your job. Your job is to teach me your job. My job is to make sure you don’t need to worry about my job.” Basically I was saying that I wanted to ascend to heights I hadn’t yet ascended, but that he had. I wanted him to be my trail guide. He served as a mentor and friend in addition to being my boss for a few years after that and I credit him to a great extent for helping me to achieve my professional goals and success ever since. It came from contact, connection, and closeness. And it was definitely not easy; there were challenges, and sometimes sparks flew.
We ALL need a trail guide. Not just in the workplace, but in life. Today, I have a number of men in my life who in many ways have achieved things I still aspire to … heights I would like to climb but haven’t yet. Mostly these days in a personal and spiritual sense. These are men who I look up to, and duly. They are great men … great trail guides. They make me a better person and with their trail guidance I have made ascents and have confidence I will make more. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 back this up, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”
Of course, our ULTIMATE trail guide is Jesus. In Hebrews 2:16-18 we are told …
We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters,so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
Better than anyone who has ever lived, Jesus knows the hazards and conditions that must be managed when one is attempting to make the climb of life. He knows figuratively and physically how life can be extreme both in temperature and in condition, and certainly volatile changing quite dramatically and quite rapidly. He knows the trails because He has traveled them. He is our ultimate resource because He descended to earth and ascended to the height of heights. While human trail guides are critically important, without our heavenly Trail Guide, we will never ascend to our fullest potential. But just like with my buddies who were trail guides in school and business life, we need to seek Him out and ask Him to be our Trail Guide. Then and only then can we have the contact, connection, and closeness to be able to build the type of relationship that will allow us to achieve all that we desire … and more. It won’t always be easy, don’t get me wrong, but with Jesus we can at least be assured that sparks won’t fly. He is an indispensable, life-saving resource for trekking through the challenges and to the heights of life.
Soli Deo gloria!