Summary: Applies a "mountaineering" metaphor to the Christian journey to illustrate the difference between a burden ("boulder") and a load ("backpack"). First person perspective, honest illustrations from my own experience. Engaging stories, easy applicability,
In 1953, John Hunt organized an assault-style expedition to Mt. Everest. He enlisted an army of Sherpas to serve as porters. The porters established the climbing route, built bridges across the glacier, and stockpiled supplies at strategic locations up the mountain. One of the Sherpas was named Tenzing Norgay. Tenzing had worked on three previous Everest expeditions; he had broken the world record for the highest altitude yet reached by a human being. On May 29th, two men reached the summit: Tenzing Norgay was one of them; John Hunt was not. The expedition was declared a success: John Hunt was knighted by the crown of England, Tenzing Norgay was not.
In 1978, Reinhold Messner organized an alpine-style expedition to Mt. Everest. It was a simple—and courageous—two man adventure. Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler completed the first alpine-style ascent of Mount Everest—they did not use porters or supplemental oxygen. Reinhold said that an alpine-style expedition was the only way to climb Mt. Everest “by fair means.”
On an assault-style expedition, the porters do most of the hard work, and the assault leader gets most of the credit for “conquering” the mountain (even if he doesn’t climb it!)
On alpine-style expeditions, each climber hauls their own load. The individual alpinists share the responsibilities and—if they succeed—they share the reward.
Which one of these roles is the best fit for your personality?
- An assault leader: “using” other people to manage my life.
- A porter: allowing others to “use” me to manage their lives.
- An alpinist climber: managing my own life—and enjoying it.
Christianity is supposed to be something like an alpine-style expedition. God wants us to live “by fair means” so that we can enjoy individual freedom and interpersonal fellowship within a community of like-minded people. That sounds great, and it’s possible—if we understand (and apply) three simple “alpine rules” in our relationships.
As we begin, I want to lay a phrase from Galatians 6:2 NASB (“Bear one another’s burdens”) next to a phrase from Galatians 6:5 NASB (“All must bear their own loads.”) How do we reconcile these two ideas? First of all, we must remember that God’s wisdom is often revelead within a paradox. Aware of that fact, we must look beneath the apparent contradiction and search for a way in which these verses compliment each other. When we investigate the key terms “burdens” and “loads;” we discover a way to move forward.
- The Greek word for burden means crushing weight.
- The Greek word for load means cargo freight.
To illustrate the difference between a burden and a load: think of the difference between a boulder and a backpack. On an alpine climbing team, all of the climbers are responsible for carrying their own backpacks. But if one of them gets crushed by a boulder, the whole team responds to the situation. Common sense, right?
Now, in theory, this “alpine ethic” makes “redneck” sense; in real life, however, many people appear to be unable to tell the difference between a backpack and a boulder.
Let’s begin by talking about burdens—or “boulders”—the crushing weights that God doesn’t expect us to bear on our own: “Reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens…” (Galatians 6:2 Message)
Burdens are like boulders. When one rolls into your life, you get crushed. It doesn’t matter how strong you are, you’re no match for a boulder. Proverbs 18:14 (The Message) says: “A healthy spirit conquers adversity, but what can you do when the spirit is crushed?” Burdens are spirit-crushing tragedies. They are often unexpected; they are always undeserved.
Now, when I see a person being crushed by tragic circumstances, I want to help. That’s good. Often, however, my ambition to help is much larger than my ability to help. That’s not good. How can I avoid turning someone’s tragedy into an absolute disaster? I must follow the Alpine Rule of Rescue Missions:
Alpine Rule of Rescue Missions: If I am unable to carry my backpack, then I am unqualified to rescue someone from a boulder.
My backpack represents my personal life; a boulder represents a spirit-crushing tragedy in somebody else’s life. If I can’t handle my personal life responsibly, then I am in no condition to try to help somebody manage a tragedy.
One late summer evening, about fifteen years ago—(back in my long-haired hippie freak days)—I was hitch-hiking on some barren stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. I don’t remember where I was, (and I probably didn’t know at the time). I think it was Kansas. I’d been walking for a few hours, and I was relieved when somebody finally stopped to pick me up. It turns out that the driver was so drunk he could barely talk. He explained that he needed me to drive. I was lost, and he couldn’t remember where he was going. He woke up in Texas.