Sanctification on a Ski Slope
Written by Kris Wilder, Ministry Assistant
“Bend your knees”
“Weight on your shins”
“To turn left, turn your right ski left”
“To turn right, turn your left ski right”
“And don’t forget to put all your weight on the ski you are turning”
“Fall to the left or right, not forward or backward”
“If you want to stop, make your skis a pizza!”
So by the end of the lesson, not only am I overwhelmed by the trainer’s instructions, but now I’m hungry. A group of teenagers and I had just spent 45 minutes learning 101 things to remember when sliding down a snowy mountain at breakneck speeds, and my brain was on overdrive. I could barely even walk in the skis and now I had to focus on distributing weight to my shins? Well, much to my pleasure, we had the opportunity to practice what we learned on a slope with less of a decline than the average doorstop. However, the lack of a downhill slope was completely made up for by the incline of the learning curve that was set before me.
“Bend knees.” “Weight on shins.” Surprisingly, I was finding myself at the bottom of the training slope regularly and with relative ease! My confidence was soaring as I rode the conveyor belt back to the top of the “hill.” But that didn’t last much longer as I made the mistake of following the rest of the group over to the ski lift.
Our trainer was concerned for our safety, and so he wanted to make sure we could properly mount and dismount the ski lift. Yet for whatever reason, he did not seem too concerned about the much more advanced slope to get down to the lift. I anxiously started down the hill, and as I picked up speed, it was as though the 101 things I learned in the training session all flooded my mind at once. In my desperate need to turn, I tried to focus on where each ski pointed, where weight specifically shifted, and where the hospital was located. Panic had set in. A few moments later, the only lift I was concerned about was the one I was asking for from those skiing past my snow-ridden body. After shaking off the snow and the embarrassment, I knew one thing… The feeling of lost control mixed with inevitable danger was one I did not want to experience ever again.
I rode the ski lift, attempted an elementary trail, and fell nearly every time the path took the slightest of turns. I was trying to remember the specific lessons I was taught, but couldn’t quite think clearly because the trainer, the group of teens, and a random dad were all just as focused on communicating to me my problem. I was frustrated, the trainer was frustrated, the teens went on without me, and I was about to throw in the towel. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and so I did the unthinkable… I returned to the training hill. Just me, the hill, and a few children possibly still in diapers (no kidding). I knew I had to get back to the basics, and I spent the next half hour working on just that. I didn’t focus on anything else I was taught until I could successfully come to a stop. When stopping became 2nd nature, I shifted my focus to learning how to turn left and right. It wasn’t perfect, but I was getting the hang of it! I would ski all the way to the right of the hill and then all the way back to the left of the hill continuing to the bottom until turning became 2nd nature. I found myself properly turning the skis, distributing weight, and following everything the trainer taught, really without even thinking about it!
By the end of the day, though not an expert, I was skiing slopes I never would have believed I would ski had you talked to me earlier in the day. Before, I was overly focused on the mechanics of each move I was making, but now I was able to enjoy the ride as I naturally and almost mindlessly applied those same mechanics. I may have learned a lesson or two about skiing that day, but I was reminded of a far greater lesson that I need on a daily basis.
Overwhelmed by the Mechanics
Trying to remember all the tips from my ski trainer was overwhelming. But if I’m honest, it doesn’t even compare to how overwhelmed I often feel in my walk with God. I echo the sentiments of Paul in Romans 7:15 where he confesses, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” A Christian lives in this constant struggle of desiring to live according to the Spirit yet simultaneously being hindered by the desires of the flesh. So often, my walk with Christ feels very similar to my experience with the ski trainer. Instead of reminding myself to “bend knees” or “put weight on shins,” it can be “bite tongue,” “suppress anger,” “bounce your eyes,” “stop being anxious,” or “be content.” Whether it’s hearing a message at church, working on a project for seminary, or preparing a lesson to teach, I’m often confronted with the many ways I’m failing to do the things I’ve always been taught to do. That same feeling of lost control and inevitable danger frequently leads me to respond in the same way that it did on the slopes.
Back to the Basics
Just as I confidently left the training hill to test my abilities on more advanced slopes, I am guilty of making the same mistake in my walk with Christ. It’s often failure that humbles and motivates me to return to the “training hill” to focus on the basics. It may sound fairly obvious, but a skier is not going to be successful if he is unable to consistently stop or turn. Yet it should be just as obvious that a Christian has no chance of success if he is not consistently interacting with God through His Word and through prayer. The personal reading of Scripture is so basic to a believer’s walk with God, yet it can be so often neglected. I am reminded of the priority that Christ gives Scripture in John 17 where He prays that God would “Sanctify (us) through (His) truth: (His) word is truth.” It may feel like just another tip from our trainer to remember, but until we’ve learned to consistently apply this discipline, all other training becomes ineffective. In the same way that learning to stop on a ski slope empowered me to succeed as a skier, learning the basic disciplines of Bible reading and prayer empowers a believer to naturally perform all other disciplines.
After those first few hours at the ski resort, I was ready to permanently and eternally be done with skiing. There was too much to remember, too much embarrassment to withstand, and not enough hope that things would change. But once I focused my energy on learning the basics, I was given an entirely new perspective of the skiing experience. I believe many believers are tempted to abandon Christianity for the same reasons I wanted to quit skiing. There’s too much to work on, too much failure, and not enough hope. In Galatians 5, Paul wants to give you an entirely new perspective. He says, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”
So “bite tongue,” “suppress anger,” “be content.” Just as I found myself naturally performing all the things my ski trainer had taught me, in the same way, I have found that faithfulness to the basics of Bible reading and prayer have given me the power to naturally perform these things that God requires of me. This is the Christian experience Paul describes in Galatians. Our connection to the Spirit’s power is directly related to our connection to God’s Word, and when I’m connected to that power, I find myself performing the commands that once overwhelmed me. And the beauty is that it’s not actually me performing them at all, but rather it’s the One who has performed and is performing all of the law’s commands because I couldn’t and I can’t.
When I went to the ski resort that day, I wasn’t expecting to learn more than how to ski down a snowy hill. But thankfully, God uses gentle, and not so gentle, experiences of life to grow us in our walk with Him. You may know all too well that feeling of lost control and inevitable danger, and lack the slightest idea of which direction to turn. Take it from someone who knows failure on and off a ski slope… Get back to the basics and enjoy the ride in a way you never thought was possible!