As I shared in a previous column, two years ago I was privileged to enjoy a trip to Colorado to hunt western game. My father’s taxidermy shop implanted a lifelong dream within me to pursue elk and mule deer and experience the Rockies.

Having been warned by veteran hunters, I began preparing physically for the challenges of this trip. Western altitudes and steep mountainsides demand physical fitness that most Virginia hills do not require.

So I began to train. Starting in mid-summer, I walked each morning. After a few days, I began carrying my backpack and gradually added weight working up to a 50 pound payload.

By the time I left home in mid-October, I was in better shape than I’d been in in quite a while and felt good about being up to the challenge. We arrived in Pagosa Springs less than 30 hours later and set up camp in the National Forest anticipating the monsters we would harvest. Then came the first day of hunting.

Although I didn’t suffer from altitude sickness, there’s not much one can do to prepare for an extra 7,500 feet of elevation. In addition, the hillsides were steeper than I expected and my hunting partner was in better shape. When he took off up a hill, I started sucking wind. Thankfully, he had mercy and stopped often for me to recover.

The evening he harvested a nice bull elk, we were all excited but each of us was needed to transport the meat back to camp. They loaded me up for the short half mile hike during which time I thanked God with every step that it was mostly downhill and not any longer.

I thought I was well prepared for what I faced. I wasn’t. While I was glad I did what I had done, I regretted not doing more. After arriving, there was no way to suddenly get more fit.

This experience reminded me of the importance of spiritual fitness. Few even consider this concept until facing a life-challenge of losing a job, health, or a loved one. Confronted with difficult emotions along with troubling questions, we can easily collapse under the strain.

Ideally, we would exercise regularly to stay physically fit. Such a strategy eliminates the need for serious workouts prior to a challenge and helps to ensure we’re ready for whatever comes. If troops fail to train before battle, there is nothing they can do to suddenly get ready when attacked. Rigorous training prepares for rigorous tests.

The same is true spiritually. It’s not a question of “if” difficult situations will arise, but “when.” Unlike a planned trip, they often occur unexpectedly. If we fail to train for spiritual struggles, we shouldn’t wonder why they easily overwhelm us. Although such times are still tough, prior preparation can make them less stressful.

While physical preparation involves all types of exercises, so does spiritual fitness. Making time to pray daily as well as reading and meditating on God’s Word, worshiping often, and even periodic fasting will build our spiritual muscles and develop our capacity to not only endure our own problems, but to help others carry their burdens as well.

Fitness experts also advise having a training partner for accountability and inspiration. The same applies spiritually. Spouses, friends and fellow church members can help us as we grow stronger in the Lord together.

Although we may take such people for granted, we suddenly gain new appreciation for family and our Christian brothers and sisters when challenges arise. Pastors and friends can also assist us in navigating the new altitudes and difficult terrain.

At times, it seems our hills are too steep to climb. But as we help each other and as God assists us, we find ourselves making good progress.

As local hunters depart for their western excursions this fall, may their experiences remind us of our own need to become and stay spiritually fit.

Blessings, George

George Bowers is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored sixteen books including Blessings Volume 3 which is a collection of these articles. It is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.