What’s Your Kilimanjaro?
By Milly Smart
One summer I was training to climb a mountain. A physical mountain, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, a huge 5,895 metres of mountain. I had signed up for the challenge during my freshers week at university, when the following September felt like forever away, but suddenly Mount Kilimanjaro loomed at the end of my summer striking fear into the deepest part of me. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to do it and that I would fail to reach the top.
So I was training hard. I was on holiday with my family in Turkey and my dad and I would get up before the sun rose (which is pretty early for a holiday!), put on our hiking boots and set out into the hills. We walked for several hours, across vineyards and olive tree groves, along deserted tracks and through sleepy villages. My feet blistered and my legs ached, but we carried on, my fear of failure pushing me forward.
I remember the clear blue skies as we came to the top of a hill one morning, when we were following the path alongside a property with a large metal fence. Suddenly three large Alsatian dogs were barking and growling, fighting to get past each other and straining at the fence to get to us. We jumped, hearts pounding, and then laughed, agreeing that we were extremely grateful for the barrier that separated us from these ferocious beasts. Once we reached the railing and were out of sight, the barking stopped. Thirty seconds later, we heard it again, and looked behind us, seeing, to our horror, the three dogs racing towards us, snapping and snarling.
Fear, a most basic instinct, rose instantly and sickeningly. Adrenalin shot through me and we turned and ran. My tired legs gained a burst of energy and we started to sprint across the field. Logic told me they would catch us, I couldn’t possibly outrun them, but panic had seized me and fear had me tightly in its grip. Thankfully, my dad was with me. He suddenly shouted ‘No! Stop running! Pick up rocks! Throw them!’ Then he stopped, turned, placed himself in front of me, lifted his arms wide and high and he roared. I scrabbled behind him for stones, and had them ready to throw, but the battle had already been won. At the sight of my dad, roaring with all his might, the three savage animals cowered and stopped advancing, growling still. Once I started throwing stones in their direction they turned and bounded back to their home.
I tell you this story because I can remember the physical effect of fear. Fear freezes us. Our muscles tense, our heart beats faster, our mouths go dry, we sweat and feel dizzy. This happens in times of immediate fear; when we are chased by dogs, when we see a spider, when we are trapped in a small space, or looking down from a great height or plunged into darkness. It can also happen when we are faced with metaphorical mountains; redundancy, a marriage breakdown, debt, exams, illness, failure, rejection, or perhaps even missing God’s call on our lives.
“Fear freezes us. Our muscles tense, our heart beats faster, our mouths go dry, we sweat and feel dizzy.“
In the Bible we read how God’s people respond to fear, sometimes by fleeing, and sometimes by freezing. Remember when the Israelite army stopped for forty days because ‘they were so frightened of Goliath that they couldn’t do a thing’ (1 Samuel 17:11)? Or when 22,000 men left the battle because God told them they could go if they were too fearful to fight (Judges 3:3)? When fear rules in our hearts, we miss out on seeing the greatness of God’s plan over our lives. Who won the victory in these situations? God! Yes, it’s the Sunday school answer.
The Bible tells us that the devil ‘prowls around like a roaring lion’ (1 Peter 5:8). The enemy longs for you to flee from your potential, or to hide in your room. But remember my story. You see, my dad was bigger than those dogs. And I can promise that whatever fear you are facing today, the One who is with you is bigger and more powerful.
Someone once advised me: ‘instead of telling God how big your mountains are, tell the mountains how big your God is’. It has always stuck with me. How often do I come to God with my impossible fears; the things I’ll never accomplish, the relationships I could never heal, the adventures I’ll never go on, or the illness, poverty, hate and pain I see in this broken world? These mountains that I fear can dominate my prayer life. But what does the Bible tell us can move mountains? Faith.
“Instead of telling God how big your mountains are, tell the mountains how big your God is.“
I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro. My God moved that mountain, as I put my faith in him, step by step. All God asks is that, rather than focus on our fears, we fix our eyes on him. Let faith be your motivation, not fear. When you are most afraid, choose to step out in faith. Know that, although the enemy is like a lion, our God is the roaring Lion of Judah. In the words of Psalm 27 ‘The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?’