America’s rugged mountain peaks are besieged each year by millions of would-be conquerors—modern day wilderness warriors armed with freeze-dried food, sleeping bags, canteens, sunglasses, maps and bug repellent. These hearty survivalists serve as their own pack mules, a virtual mini-mart on two legs.

Whereas the ultimate mission of each climber is to conquer the mountain, the real fun is doing it al natural; foraging as Euell Gibbons, strutting as Big Foot and boldly going where mountain goats fear to tread. Because wilderness trails come without toll booths, the entire conquest costs almost nothing…except for the fortune you’ll spend getting outfitted at REI.

It’s the ultimate king-of-the-mountain exercise and one of America’s most popular sports.

Then when it’s all over, the stories—true and otherwise—will begin to flow; the thrill of beating Mother Nature on her home field, the nourishment from living off the land, the Lewis-and-Clark-have-met-their-match tales of survival.

As the mountaineers tell their stories, they all have one familiar spin: They came, they climbed, they conquered.

Then there are the other climbers, the ones who got lost. Their stories are about life and death, the mountain’s version of “Where’s Waldo,” but without any fun.
It’s for these lost hikers the National Park System dispatches their highly trained Search and Rescue teams. Their hope is to retrieve the lost and bewildered backpackers before it’s too late. Sadly, 11 percent of their searches discover needless hiker fatalities. Of those deaths, three-quarters of the victims died within 48 hours of becoming lost.

It’s ironic that when small children—6 and under—get lost in the woods, they almost never meet disaster. The ones you’d think would be most vulnerable are the ones with the highest survival rate. That’s because children don’t make the frightening ordeal more difficult than it already is. Children, unlike adults, operate only in their field of vision. They also follow their instincts better: When they’re cold, they find shelter; when they’re thirsty, they drink. Adults, on the other hand, plow ahead, deeper and deeper into trouble.

The well-traveled road to getting lost is a common one. Those who venture down that disastrous, one-way trail do so one critical step at a time.

The downward spiral of a soon-to-be lost hiker looks something like this:
• First, they ignore what the landscape is telling them. Lost hikers says things such as, “There’s supposed to be a lake here…Oh well, maybe it dried up.” Those hikers have ignored the obvious. Rescuers call this bending the map. However, believing in erroneous conclusions doesn’t make them true.
• Secondly, they panic. Experts refer to this behavior as wood-shock. It’s the lethal combination of utter fear mixed with a total loss of spatial orientation. Wood-shocked hikers tend to make poor decisions that quickly produce fatigue, thirst and cold.
• The final step to disaster is psychological disintegration, such as vertigo or claustrophobia, causing irrational behavior from otherwise normal thinkers. Affected hikers have been known to abandon all supplies, completely disrobe or jump off cliffs in a fit of total disorientation.

Being lost in the mountains is no picnic. The same is true for the many who are lost spiritually. Somewhere along life’s trail, they, too, have made faulty conclusions based on poor map reading.

That’s why God has appointed every Christian to be a member of His Search and Rescue Team. God has strategically sent us to find those who’ve lost their way spiritually. It doesn’t take much to track them down. Here are the tell-tale signs of those who are lost:
• They ignore obvious signs. They bend God’s roadmap. God has done more than leave a trail of breadcrumbs for His wayward creation—He’s left a complete survival guide. “Since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen” (Romans 1:20).
• In their confusion, the lost tend to panic. “They become futile in their thoughts…they exchange the glory of the immortal God for an imitation image of a mortal man” (Romans 1:21-23).
• As a result, they disintegrate psychologically. They cling to a solution that can’t possibly resolve their need. “Professing to be wise they become fools…they exchange the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:22-23).

Unless these lost hikers are found, they will “die in [their] sins” (John 8:24). In part, that’s why Jesus said we must become “as little children…” Children want to be found.

As Christians, it’s our assignment, our calling, our mandate: To search and rescue these wandering souls. There’s nothing that’s more important, and there’s no better way to reach out to others.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring glad tidings of good things, who proclaim salvation…” (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15).

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