Denali National Park is six million acres of mostly untouched wilderness. I say mostly untouched because there is one long road, 91 miles in length, that reaches into the park. It is the only road. With the exception of the first 15 miles, the only vehicles allowed are tour buses and service vehicles. When the road is closed in the winter the park is patrolled by dog sled. While not a part of the National Park program there are companies that offer flightseeing of the park and mountain. On most days it is the only way to really see Mt. McKinley. (The mountain has now been officially renamed to Denali.) Whether flying over or driving through the one thing that comes strikingly home is that Denali National Park is wilderness. Untouched, unspoiled, unmarred, and wild.
Betty and I experienced Denali National Park by both bus and plane. Our plane ride flew us around Mt. McKinley peak and landed on one of the many glaciers that continue to shape and carve the landscape. Denali comes from the local Native American language and means the mighty one. Later that day we took a bus tour which drove us sixty-some miles into the park for a closer look at what we saw from the air. That closer look on the bus allowed us to see the details of the land. What looked like sparkling diamonds from the air turned out to be hundreds of small ponds. A smear of color became a giant area of multi-colored boulders. For whatever reason, and much to our disappointment, we didn’t spot any wildlife on our bus trip until after 40 long miles. We eventually did see some caribou and a grizzly bear. But somewhere before then, when it seemed like we wouldn’t spot anything, the thought came to me that if this were Disneyland the animals would be scripted to appear at certain spots.
That one thought got me thinking about the difference between the two destinations. Disneyland is controlled and scripted. Every guest’s experience is, in large measure, very similar. The right mechanical animals pop out at the right time. Everything is cleaned, maintained, and designed to look a certain way. I recently saw a video a friend captured while going through “It’s a Small World” earlier this year. I haven’t been on that ride in close to 30 years, but it looked and sounded remarkably similar to my memories. Compare that with the wildness of Denali. Nothing is controlled, nothing is scripted, and while the experience of each visitor may have some similarities they are by no means the same.
As I listen to and observe folks there seems to be a desire for our Christian walk to be like a Disneyland experience. (Without the lines!) That our walk with Jesus should be predictable and scripted. That if we do or say certain things then certain things happen. That if we go on a particular ride, make a particular commitment, that we will have a predictable outcome. That if we pray a certain way our expectations will be met. And if none of these are the case, if our expectations are not met, then we walk away and, in a sense, want our money back.
Walking with Christ is not like Disneyland but like Denali National Park. It is an unscripted and unique experience for each person that chooses to walk that one road. The wilderness is the world surrounds us. But wilder and seemingly more unpredictable are the winds of the Holy Spirit and the ways of God. One person may come to Christ and experience an immediate and miraculous release from a habit while another may struggle with it for a while or even much longer. One person may pray for healing and receive it while another suffers along for a time. One may have a wonderful and insightful time of growth while someone else experiences a time of dormancy. To try and make our walk with Christ-like Disneyland will end in failure. But to walk with Jesus through whatever wildness and wilderness He leads us through will eventually bring us to Zion. Or to be a bit poetic, to Denali – The Mighty One. “But He led forth His own people like sheep And guided them in the wilderness like a flock;” (Psalm 78:52, NASB95) And, “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, Every one of them appears before God in Zion.” (Psalm 84:5–7, NASB95)