How to know if you’re hiking up the wrong mountain

How to know if you're hiking up the wrong mountain spiritually

I’m going to tell you something that most guys don’t like to admit… I’ve been lost on more than one occasion! Are you one of those guys who likes to act like you know where you are and where you’re headed – even when you don’t have the first clue? 

If so, I’m right there with you. It’s difficult for me to admit that I have been lost simply because of my personality. When you add to this the amount of military training I’ve had that has taught me extensive navigation skills, it’s even more embarrassing to admit this fact.

I learned how to navigate through the woods during my first few months in the US Army. After being assigned as a US Army Ranger, I was taught extensive land navigation and orientation skills. In fact, I had the privilege of attending the advanced orientation course a few years into my military career.

Because I was an infantryman and a chaplain to infantry units throughout my military career, I can honestly say that I have received some of the most extensive orienteering training in the world.

I have traveled through some of the densest jungles on planet earth as a special operator in the Ranger Regiment. I have walked through some of the most pristine woodlands in the world on training missions. I’ve led entire military units with pinpoint accuracy across most of the world’s deserts during training missions and in war. I also drove down some of the most obscure alleys and dangerous streets as a combat soldier.

In each of these circumstances, I had to use my military training to make sure I knew where I was and in what direction I was headed. Orienteering, land navigation, and driving through city streets require constant attention to what’s around you.  On almost every mission we conducted, I was the guy in the first vehicle, leading the ground forces through the city streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.

So, you can only imagine how embarrassing it is for it to be mentioned by Mark Bowden in the book Black Hawk Down that I took a wrong turn and arrived at the target building a few minutes late during this big battle. (Thanks for sharing that little piece of information with the world, Mark.)

Yeah. I’m the guy who knows how to get around most places on planet earth. I’m also the guy who’s been lost on more than a few occasions. Here are a couple of lessons I learned from staring with a map when I wasn’t sure of my exact location.

No one wants to waste this much energy

Climbing a mountain is a lot of really hard work. No one wants to go through that kind of energy unnecessarily. Therefore, you need to know exactly where you are at all times when hiking up the side of a mountain.

This is what makes being lost in an Afghanistan alley at the base of the Himalayan mountains with 85 pounds of equipment on my back so frustrating.  There is no margin for error at those elevations, carrying that kind of wait, while looking for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

Getting lost is one of those obstacles that can really affect your confidence. In spite of all of the military training that I had, I still had times when I wasn’t quite sure where I was, how I got there, or where to go next.

These self-made obstacles can make you want to throw in the towel. However, don’t give up just because you’ve taken a wrong turn. Here is a really short article on how to keep running hard despite the obstacle.

When you’re hiking uphill…just not sure what hill

Your body knows which direction you’re traveling in. It doesn’t take any formal training to figure out if you’re walking uphill or downhill. Even in the densest jungles of the world (the kind of jungles where you can’t see three feet in front of your face because of the thick vegetation), it’s easy to determine if you are headed uphill or downhill.  

Your heart and lungs will tell you if you’re walking uphill when you can’t see the ground below your feet. Any mountaineer knows how challenging hiking uphill is on the cardiovascular system. It’s a lot easier to breath when gravity is pulling you downhill.  However, it’s not always easy walking downhill.  Hiking downhill, carrying a heavy pack, is much harder on your knees. 

Here are two principles to tell you the direction you’re traveling: your heart and lungs will let you know you’re traveling uphill; your knees will tell that you’re traveling downhill. Unfortunately, knowing which direction you’re traveling does not always guarantee you know exactly where you are on a map.

Making the ground look like the map

I’ve learned to navigate in any terrain from some of the most talented people in the world.  I have taken what I’ve learned and taught this skill to thousands of soldiers in the Army. Countless times I have personally turned the map around looking at the ground and trying to make the ground fit where I thought I was on the map.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have trained soldiers on how to match where they are on the ground with where they are on a map. It’s fascinating to see how really smart, highly competent warriors can convince themselves they are in the wrong spot on a map. Almost every time I have seen this happen, someone has tried to rationalize why the ground they are standing on is really the place that they want to be on the map.

In other words, they are changing the unmovable earth to make it suit where they want to be on a map.  Here’s a secret: The earth doesn’t change to suit your wishes. I have personally made this navigation error multiple times, and it never turns out well. Not once!

Now, I want to “change directions” on you with the rest of this article. (Do you like what I just did there?) Let’s turn the discussion in a spiritual direction. Oftentimes people are confused spiritually. I liken this to being unsure where they are on a map. There is nothing wrong with being spiritually confused. The challenge becomes figuring out exactly where you are and where you’re headed.

This is why navigation is a great analogy to your spiritual journey. Do you know exactly where you are spiritually right now? Are you absolutely certain of the direction you’re heading in spiritually? Is there any doubt in your mind where the spiritual journey you’re on is taking you? If you’re not sure of the answer to those questions, let me offer you some brief navigation instructions.

How to stand on top of the right mountain

When people are spiritually confused, it is an opportunity to stop and take an assessment of where you are and where you’re headed.  Sometimes you’re on the right course; other times this is a cause for a change in direction.

Maybe you’re heading up the mountain, but you’re just not sure which mountain you’re heading up right now. Don’t be frustrated or disappointed if you’re not exactly sure which direction your life is headed in right now.  Use this moment as a chance to make sure you’re headed up the right mountain.

I believe there are a few markers that can help everyone know if they’re headed in the right direction. These markers help clear up spiritual confusion, and they also demonstrate that you’re on the right path.  Here are four self-tests to determine if your soul is secure in the hands of Jesus right now:

  • Do you have a love for Jesus?
  • Do you have an active faith?
  • Do you have a passion for God’s glory?
  • Do you have a heart for others?

Each one of these questions deserves a lot more explanation. This article would be 20 pages long if I explained each of these in enough detail. I just list these questions as a way for you to examine where you are on the spiritual map with King Jesus.  Do you have these things?

To hear in more detail about these four markers, watch my last message on overcoming doubt.  Looking at all four of these questions at the same time will give you an accurate picture of your spiritual condition right now.  It will show you if you’re in the woods, in the jungle, or in the desert.  

After watching this video, maybe you will decide that it’s time to turn in a new spiritual direction. If you’re still not sure about your faith, there’s no shame in it. We can all get a little confused about where we are spiritually sometimes.  If you still have questions about your faith, email me. I’d be happy to help you on your spiritual journey with Jesus: .

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