Hiking Smoky Mountain Trails and Walking God's Path

During my family’s Spring Break vacation early last month, we spent a couple of days at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. We got our first taste of the Great Smoky Mountains the first afternoon we were there when we parked our car along one of the park roads and decided to hike one of the most popular trails in the park – the Laurel Falls trail. It was ranked as an easy trail and was two miles long total – one mile to the Laurel Falls and another mile back. As Sheri, Matt, and I walked the trail, it turned out to be a mile uphill. Matt with his youthful energy walked far ahead of us while Sheri and I went at a slower pace as middle-aged adults who were not as in shape! Matt stopped more than once to wait for us and I took a picture of him perched on a rock waiting for us slowpokes.

I remember meeting hikers who were coming back down the trail including a woman who assured us that the hike to the falls was “worth it.” Sure enough, we finally got to the end of the trail and enjoyed the beautiful scene of the Laurel Falls pouring down the mountainside with a cheerful thunder. We enjoyed the sights and sounds of the falls and appreciated the downhill journey back down the mountain and the jaw-dropping beauty of the mountain scenery bathed in the light and shadow of the setting sun.

The next day we spent the full day in the park and drove the eleven-mile loop around Cades Cove, another popular destination in the park that includes both stunning mountain scenery and historical cabins, churches, and other buildings used by inhabitants of the mountains nearly two hundred years before. During our journey, we stopped at another trailhead. This time it was the Abrams Falls trail. This trail was a five-mile round trip that was ranked as “moderate” in difficulty. The rocks, boulders, tree roots, and uneven terrain made this trail more difficult. Again, Matt demonstrated his teen energy by hiking ahead of us. I was grateful to have my hiking boots on to help with the rougher trail. We rested along the way when we needed to and were grateful for the log bridges that spanned various creeks and gorges along the way.

As we hiked, we met many hikers coming and going. We struck up a conversation with a couple boys from Louisiana who spoke with a Southern twang and had only seen snow a couple times in their young lives. Like on the other trail, after many twists and turns, ups and downs, we finally arrived at our destination, the larger Abrams Falls which tumbled down the cliff with a deeper roar. Matt and I walked near the falls while Sheri rested with several other hikers.

We then rejoined Sheri and made our way back down the 2 ½ mile trail. The way was now familiar yet tiring. I remember telling Sheri that I was getting tired of the hike and couldn’t wait to get finished. We eventually returned to the trailhead, to our car, and to our waiting son. Later that day, we enjoyed the sights at the top of Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokies, on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Looking back, the hikes on those trails were worth it despite the challenges along the way. I hope to explore more of the beauty of Great Smoky Mountains National Park sometime in the future.

As we hiked those trails in the Great Smoky Mountains, I was reminded of some realities about walking God’s path:

· While on the Laurel Falls trail, a Bible verse came to mind that is important to remember while walking God’s path, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2). I shared this Scripture with my family. The Lord who helped us to walk the Smoky Mountain trails also helps us to walk on his path.

· Just as the Laurel and Abrams Falls trails were a predetermined length, our walk on the path that God has laid before us is also a predetermined path – planned out not by human trail designers, but by God himself before the creation of the world. As David confesses in Psalm 139:16, “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

· Like the trails, traveling on God’s path can be rough and tiring, but also where we see the beauty of God at work in our lives.

· Like Sheri and I and Matt walked the trails at different paces with different levels of energy, we too walk God’s path through life at different paces and energy levels. “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength…” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

· Like on the Abrams Falls trail, there are times in our life when we get tired and discouraged and long for our final destination.

· Like we met fellow hikers on the trail including the boys from Louisiana, we walk God’s path together as brothers and sisters in Christ “who walk on [the Way of Holiness]” (Isaiah 35:8).

· Like the woman who encouraged us saying that walking the trail was “worth it,” walking God’s path is also worth the difficult journey it is.

· Like the Laurel Falls and the Abrams Falls trails ended in beautiful cascades of water, the end of God’s path leads to “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1).

This month and in the months to follow, we will be walking together on God’s path seeking his leading on the future of our ministry together as a church family. We can be confident that Jesus Christ will walk with us along the way and lead us to the glorious destination that lies ahead.

Pastor Mark

Mark Bennink