Saturday, October 14, 2023

Press On Toward the Goal

[Originally published in the Monroe News on October 13, 2023]

The name Mt. St. Helens rings a bell with most of us.  Some are old enough to remember the day this volcano erupted in 1980.  It was a modern example of catastrophe. We were reminded of the power of the forces of nature and just how much the face of the earth can be changed in a short amount of time.  We’ve all been struck with awe at the pictures and stories of its aftermath.  Days turned to night.  Clouds of ash moving across our continent.

Mt. St. Helens is also an amazing story of recovery and wonder.  In the 40+ years since its eruption its site has now become a place of rejuvenation and new life.  You can visit its surrounding areas and see how “life finds a way” as a new landscape has come to life.  You can still see the mountain itself with its side blown open by the blast.  It makes for a powerful contrast to the other volcanoes in the area like the world famous Mount Rainier.

Just a couple weeks ago my brother and I were on an adventure trip in Washington and one of our objectives was to summit Mt. St. Helens.  We wanted to see what it was like on the crater rim and to get those views down into the heart of the volcano.  We wanted to see that once devastated and now reborn landscape from the heights of the mountain top.

The day we set out to hike to the top met us with a questionable weather forecast.  Some rain and snow had already fallen on the mountain.  We pressed forward.  On the lower flanks we had some views of the surrounding area but we could never quite see the mountain top as it was shrouded in clouds.  As we drew nearer the summit our prayers for the clouds and fog to open up were not answered.  When we finally made it to the crater rim we were enveloped in a white-out.  We were in the clouds themselves with 40 mph winds blasting us and temps that had dropped well below freezing. It was not a hospitable place to be.  Most distressing was that there were no beautiful views to be had.

We were confronted with the question: do we press onward?  The true summit of Mt. St. Helens was another half mile along the crater rim. It was apparent the views and the conditions wouldn’t change.  The summit was only 50 vertical feet higher than where we stood. To continue forward wouldn’t change anything other than knowing we found the true top.  Was it worth it?  Was it crazy to even consider it?

We made our choice.  We pressed onward.  There was just some unsatisfying about not reaching an objective that was so very close.  The crater rim narrowed to just a couple feet wide in spots and a fall into the volcanic crater itself would not have been pretty.  We had ice forming on our jackets and could even feel ice crystals in our eyelashes and beards.  But we made it to our objective.  Still no views.  Nothing but white-out.  The sense of accomplishment was real though.

I share this story with you as something you might relate to.  Maybe you’ll never have the desire to climb a mountain and that’s okay.  You might well have many other areas in life where you feel the need for perseverance and endurance. Life throws plenty of challenges and difficult moments at us. We have plenty of turning points where we ask ourselves, do we press on to the objective, or do we call it a day.  

I would suggest we all know this feeling when it comes to following our Lord Jesus.  He openly warns us that to follow Him is to take up our cross daily.  To follow Him is to draw the disgust of this sinful world. It isn’t easy.  But it is absolutely worth it.

St. Paul wrote of his own perseverance and the need to “strain forward” when he wrote to the Philippians.  He sat in a prison cell as he wrote this letter and he was undoubtedly struggling with his own needs to press onward.  He wrote “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13-14)”

Much like my time on Mt. St. Helens, we don’t always know what the end will look like.  Sometimes we don't even know what the next step will hold. Yet in the greatest matters of life and death, He calls us to press on toward the goal.  He calls us to persevere in this wilderness of life.  He calls us to follow Him faithfully and in the truth, not giving way or succumbing to the lies and deceit of the world. Will it be worth it?  Of this, there is no doubt.

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at

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