If you never read anything else I ever write, read this

Looking south from the summit of Rocky Mountain, GA, just before my bear sighting

I was hiking in the North Georgia Mountains a few weeks ago. This summer I’ve done several day hikes on the Appalachian Trail. If you have a four wheel vehicle and don’t mind driving on some rough forest roads, you can access some seriously remote places.

This day was different. I didn’t have much time, so instead of driving to one of those more remote trailheads, I joined several other cars in the crowded parking lot for the Rocky Mountain loop, one of the more popular hiking spots along the Georgia section of the AT. As I started the hike I found that the trail was steep, but surprisingly not busy at all. I guess it was still kind of early.

After thirty minutes or so of huffing and puffing up the trail, I found myself admiring the beautiful view from the top of Rocky Mountain. Nice enough of a view that I took this picture. I put my phone back in my pocket and turned to continue my journey down the other side of the mountain and complete the loop back to my car.

Just then I heard a rustling sound in the bushes. I really didn’t think anything about it. Earlier I had seen a couple of stray dogs on the trail. Maybe it was them again? Also, the top of Rocky Mountain is a popular camping spot. Maybe it was a camper exploring the summit of the mountain?

It was neither. Instead I was greeted by a black bear, maybe 20–30 yards away. He hadn’t seen me yet, and was walking parallel to the trail.

My pulse quickened. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. All the usual, panicky (expletive filled) thoughts began to race through my brain. But in the middle of all that was one thought above all others. What are you supposed to do when if you see a bear?

Through years of skimming over the bear safety tips in the front of hiking guidebooks and on signs at trailheads, I remembered this one thing.

Do. Not. Run.

That actually wasn’t a problem. I stood there, kind of frozen. After a couple of seconds I guess the bear figured out I was there, because he stood up on his hind legs. He looked at me for a moment, like he was trying to figure me out. Then he slowly lowered himself to all fours, then ran off into the woods.

I’m not here to talk about bear safety, but suffice it to say that after that little incident, I’ve read quite a bit about what to do when you encounter a black bear. While there are several other things to be aware of, the one piece of advice I remembered was the most important one.

I’ve also pondered something else these last few weeks. Since I mostly write about matters of faith, what would be the one thing I would want people to take away from my writing? If somebody reads anything I’ve ever written, what would I want them to remember when they need it most?

Know God.

Just like I just sort of skimmed past the bear safety advice, everybody just kind of skims through life. We do what we have to do, to the best of our ability, but most if it is done out of habit. We don’t really think about the big questions much, except maybe in a crisis, or maybe when we’re trying to go to sleep.

But there they are. And I am convinced with everything that I am, that the answer to all of those big questions is found in knowing God. I could’ve said “love God” and would have been correct, or “trust God”. Or even “obey God”. Knowing God involves all these things and more. Knowing God involves time spent with God. It is a relationship. And surprisingly, a relationship with God takes care of all of the other things as well.

How do you go about this relationship with God? Simply look for Him. He has made it clear that if you look for him in earnest, you will find him. (Jeremiah 29:13). Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8). God is not some lofty, esoteric entity residing in some unreachable realm. He is a person, and he is knowable.

Yes, there are many, many things I could add, but this is it. The one thing. The utmost. Know God. Make knowing God the most important thing in your life. Your life will be nothing short of amazing, because every day He will find a new way to amaze you.

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