Courage, Faith

It’s All Downhill From Here


I don’t think I’m much more than ordinary but there might be a few things about me you don’t know (everyone here has a story). Maybe you don’t know that I am first generation Finn. My parents, both Finnish, moved to the USA in the early 60s. Then I was born!  My first English word, I’m told, was “underdog.” What significance does that hold? I don’t know. It’s just fun.

So I spent much of my early childhood in New York and New Jersey where it’s slightly cooler than in Africa where I’ve spent most of my life.

I loved being outside during all seasons (still like being outside) but especially during winter. When we lived in New Jersey, we lived in an area where there were plenty of ski resorts and lakes. During the summer, there was an abundance of outdoor fun to be had; from building treehouses to fishing and swimming. It was a great place to grow up.

During the WINTER, to me, it was a wonderland! When it snowed in our part of the country, it snowed. I relished in making snow forts, having snowball fights, sledding, ice-skating, and cross-country skiing.

Yes, you heard right. Cross country skiing. Being of Finnish descent, I had no real interest in downhill skiing. In the “old country” (Finland) everyone knew how to cross country ski. My parents told me tales of how they skied to school, church, and family gatherings during the cold, long winters in Finland.

Cross-country skiing requires incredible physical stamina: no ski lifts, no pre-marked hills, it’s all strength and understanding – just you and nature. It is, undoubtedly, the superior one of the skiing sports.

So when we lived in New Jersey and I grew old enough to try, I asked to use my mother’s cross-country skis since she, due to a knee injury, no longer skied. My parents had no objection and so I began my illustrious career as a cross-country skier.

There were hills behind our house, just perfect for my mission to cross country ski. I had visions of myself stealthily whipping around trees and hills in the woods– but that first year of skiing was not at all spent as I envisioned. Instead, I spent a lot of time with my face planted in the snow. My father tried to instruct me on how to strap the ski boots into the skis, proper form, how to hold the ski poles, how to stand on the skis, how to care for the skis, even how to wax the bottom of the skis. In my enthusiasm, I didn’t give his advice much thought, and began tumbling down the hills face first. I had a lot of nosebleeds and bruised knees. I wasn’t interested at first in learning – I figured I could do it alone without the hassle of being instructed.

Dad stood at the tops and bottoms of the hills, yelling instructions, and gritting his teeth as I fell. I shut a lot of what he said out as I tumbled and stumbled my way around. Those first months of learning how to ski were pretty tough; I spent more time on my knees in the snow than I did standing on the skis. Instead of anticipating going down the hills, I was afraid, afraid of the spills but too embarrassed to admit I was wrong, at least for a while.

Around the middle of that first winter, I grew tired of the bruises and nosebleeds and found myself thinking, “What was it that dad said?” Then, I tentatively began recalling his words, implementing what he said, and spending less time on my face in the snow. I have a vivid memory of one of the first big hills I climbed up and successfully skied down without falling – I was so proud of myself! And dad was at the bottom of the hill that day, waiting for me, congratulating me. There’s nothing like getting to the top of the hill and coasting down after all that effort – I’d say to myself, “It’s all downhill from here!” No wonder I began begging for my own skis for the following Christmas.

The next winter, at Christmastime, it was gift opening time. I was so happy and there were gifts under the tree. But by the end of the evening (we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve), I had not gotten many presents while my sister and brother had plenty of spoil. All of the sudden, coming up the steps wearing a Santa Claus mask comes Dad with a big pair of orange cross-country skis – he was supplying me with my very own skis! I did nothing to get them – he saw I learned and gave me better skis than what I had been using. That’s a father for you.

Our heavenly Father is like that: He sets a landscape before us (life) and gives us skis (faith) to navigate with. He stands, instructing us how to use those skis and sometimes we see what’s before us and think we know the way to go and how to use those skis. Nevertheless, He continues coaching us and waits for us at the bottom of the hill.

There was a man many of us know from the Bible named Abraham who had a goal, or a landscape set before him by God the Father. That goal was for him to have a son and through his son have many descendants. It was quite a long journey on his faith skis to get there – the only way he could get to the destination was by faith for faith is the way of the Kingdom:

Habakkuk 2:4 NASB “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.”

Hebrews 11:6 NIV “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

So we have to live by faith or we won’t make it, nor will we even please our Father without it. Here’s a heads up: we won’t understand it. Living by faith is like skiing for the first time: you have to listen or you will fall. The terrain is rough – sometimes isolated and cold – but you have your skis, remember the instructions on how to use them: trust Him and His faithfulness. That means you have to turn off your thinking from time to time. If we can just trust Him, we’ll get down the hill with fewer bruises.

Now Abraham is known to us as the “father of faith” (see Romans 4). A great reputation to hold and one we need to aspire to. We feel a bit overwhelmed when we hear about Abraham and think we can’t even think we could get to that level of faith.

Why do we do that? Think God has made others greater than He made us?

Abraham was just like you and I, full of imperfections. In fact, there are some things that I hope you DON’T emulate from the life of Abraham (keep reading, you’ll see).

Psalm 139:14 NKJ “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”

So the Father made us all on equal footing – He loves us all and made us all “wonderfully.” Why then do we put ourselves down? The only one among us better than us all is Jesus Himself – and Philippians 2 tells us He became like us because we couldn’t possibly be like Him.

So, you can read from Genesis 15 all the way through to Genesis 22 about God’s promise to Abraham (who was “Abram” before being renamed “Abraham” by God). He and his wife didn’t have children of their own for years and despite God’s promise, Abraham had a few wobbly moments of trying to ski down the hills by himself and get to the goal his way.

Genesis 15:2 NCV “But Abram said, ‘Lord God, what can you give me? I have no son, so my slave Eliezer from Damascus will get everything I own after I die.’”

Abraham tried to give his inheritance to Eliezer his servant; God then promised him an heir, a son. Not many verses later after the God made his covenant with Abraham (a time of establishing God’s promise – it was a heavy moment with animals being offered and God committing Himself to Abraham and his descendants) where Abraham learned the fate of his descendants, again he wobbles on his skis:

Genesis 16:2 NKJ “So Sarai said to Abram, ‘See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.”

Sarah “helped” Abraham get to the goal since she wasn’t apparently able to have children on her own by telling him, “Please go in to my maid.” Abraham agreed and this is how Ishmael was born – and even though he was born out of Abraham’s moment of weakness in belief, God loved and provided for this son.

Those wobbly moments, those mistakes along the way, are not irretrievable! Some of the greatest growth you’ll experience along this journey won’t come by way of great Christian books but by your drawing nearer to the Father in the middle of the frozen wilderness, standing on your skis paralyzed not knowing what to do! Then you remember, you have your faith – you don’t know how to work it too well – so you trust, and that’s when faith works.

Things didn’t get any better for Abraham as he waited for the promise as he pawned Sarah his wife off to Abimilech, king of Gerar. All of the women of the household of Abimilech didn’t have children while Sarah was with them (seems it was a while even though the scripture doesn’t specify how long, it was long enough for them to realize no one was getting pregnant – interesting they were struck with barrenness and Sarah was barren).

There goes the father of our faith, wobbling along in his faith – afraid for his life even though God had promised him an heir and that heir hadn’t been born yet. Wobbling on the skis. Climbing up the hills without a ski lift to help him, barely making it.

But of this Abraham we see it written:

Hebrews 6:15 NIV “So after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.”

What? Abraham waited patiently? According to my judgment he waited IMpatiently – but God’s way of seeing things is different than mine. If there’s an element of faith in us, God sees it and rejoices! He doesn’t beat us up for lack of faith, He finds a reason to cheer.

Every day we find ourselves bumbling and stumbling along trying to reach goals, make our way along the journey towards those promises God has for us. You see, just like Abraham, God chose you (1 Pet. 2:9 chosen generation).

Nehemiah 9:7,8 NASB “You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram…And gave him the name Abraham. You found his heart faithful before You, 
And made a covenant with him
…And You have fulfilled Your promise,
For You are righteous.”

NLT vs. 8 “when he proved himself faithful…”

Not only are you chosen but like with Abraham, He changed your name from lost to found, from bound to free, from sad to happy, and from unwanted to wanted. And like Abraham, we are going through the process of us finding our hearts to be faithful to Him – and guess what? They are! Even through the stumbling and momentary slips, as long as there is that element of faith there God sees it and rejoices.

One thing is certain, our Father is faithful to fulfill His promises. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, they are not filled as we want or when we want. And to be honest, this is why we get angry because we think we know better – but we don’t even see a quarter of the picture:

Job 26:14 Rotherham “Lo! These, are the fringes of His way, and what a whisper of a word hath been heard of Him! But, the thunder of His might, who could understand?”

MSG “And this is only the beginning, a mere whisper of his rule.
Whatever would we do if he really raised his voice!”

It’s as if we are on skis and those skis and ski poles represent our faith. We didn’t fabricate the poles, we didn’t make the skis, the Father supplied them like my father gave me my skis. Yes, the Father gave us our faith (Rm. 12 “everyone given a measure of faith”), we didn’t do anything but receive it. But more than supply our faith (or our skis), He yearns to teach us how to use our faith just like my father yearned to teach me how to use my skis.

Our Father sees things we don’t and we couldn’t understand or bear it if we did.

As a child, I didn’t understand what went into the skis and why it was important for them to be just right, straight, waxed on the bottom, ski boots buckled in properly, all of the details that went into a successful journey – but when I followed instructions without really knowing why, I made it to the end with fewer bruises than having tried on my own, following what looked good to me.

What we forget it that our Father knows we are imperfect, He knows we have feet of clay. All He is looking for is for us to have faith in Him, trust His counsel on how to use the skis. We can’t conjure up anything on our own – faith isn’t a magic spell or positive thinking – faith is all about the Father and His faithfulness!

Once the subject of our faith ceases to be “me and my” (I want this, I need that, I think it ought to be this way) and turns into “Him and His” (what does He want, what does He need, and how does He think it ought to be) then things change. None of this relies on what we do – it all relies and rests on His shoulders whether we understand why or not. He wins in the end; of this we can be sure.

Zephaniah 3:17 NASB “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”

Faith will go through its ups and downs in life – and in the middle of the trials it is still faith, whether it feels like it or not. He is rejoicing over you and He is the winner. His love and joy over you doesn’t change because of circumstances. So, why then, do we change in our feelings for Him when our circumstances change? He never fails us – He sees the bigger picture.

You’ve not lost it just because you are struggling to remember what the Father has said. He is faithful to remind you and will be waiting at the bottom of the hill, cheering you on. But let me give you a hint: don’t do this on your own. Once we can do this, we’re at the top of that big hill and guess what? It is all downhill from here!