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  • Neil Stokes

When things don’t turn out as planned

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison – 2 Corinthians 4:17



You know when you say yes to something without really thinking it through because it just sounds like it will be a fun and exhilarating time? Well, in 2014 I had agreed to raise some money for the youth group at the church I was youth pastor in by committing to the three peaks challenge, and all this in 24 hours. For those that don’t know the three peaks challenge – it is basically walking the tallest peaks in Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon). We chose to do it in that order, and the stats seemed…doable.


The total walking distance is 23 miles (37km) and the total ascent is 3064 metres (10,052ft), The total driving distance is 462 miles.


It was a challenge. I was up for it. Let’s get this done!


A bunch of guys set off late one evening to travel up to Fort William to take on the biggest, Ben Nevis. We aimed to be there at sun rise so that we could make a start on this 24-hour challenge.


There were four of us doing the walking, and a dedicated driver who would sleep while we walked. We had borrowed Sarah’s (my wife’s) car, a seven-seater to do the running around. We had the necessary food and drink needed, clothes and spare clothes, boots and shoes. All we had to do was get some sleep during the trip up to Scotland so that we would be rested, ready, and raring to go.


Question. Have you ever tried sleeping in a car with four other blokes, crammed in and surrounded by kit? Doesn’t work. Especially when one or two of them sound like a foghorn when they snore. I literally had 20 minutes sleep on that journey. Then, Ben Nevis comes into view, excitement starts to build, and I think to myself, “this won’t be that bad, 24 hours then I can go home and sleep…”.




Have you ever had a situation where things didn’t turn out as planned?


We climbed Ben Nevis, went from glorious sunshine and warmth to layers and layers as we hit snow, rain, sleet and anything else that was wet and cold as we reached the summit. Then, it was a climb back down. My body went into auto pilot and we all trudged wearily back to the car, longing for a kip as we went to the next mountain.


Have you ever had a situation where things didn’t turn out as planned?


Now, this is where the fun started. As we went from Ben Nevis and set out towards Scafell Pike, two things happened that made this trip a little more…adventurous. Number one, the dedicated driver who was dedicated to drive us and do nothing but be the driver, decided that he hadn’t slept well and was in no fit state to drive. Number two, the car went into ‘limp home mode’ with everyone and everything on board. That means it wouldn’t go above a certain speed and it wouldn’t rev very high.




Have you ever had a situation where things didn’t turn out as planned?


So, we limped to Scafell Pike, taking it in turns to drive, trying our best to keep each other awake, praying and hoping the car would get us to our next destination… which it did. And we walked Scafell Pike. Let’s just say it was a bit easier than Ben Nevis. It was glorious sunshine, it was shorts and T-shirt weather, and the camaraderie and banter kept us going (along with Lucozade and Kendell mint cake).


Two down, one to go. Extreme lack of sleep amongst all, a driver still refusing to drive, and a car not working. What else could go wrong? Have you ever seen those roads that just go up and down, endless small hills and humps for miles? That’s what we encountered. In a car that didn’t work. Imagine the scene for a moment. Three blokes pushing a seven-seater up hills while another bloke is nurturing the revs (with the driver in the passenger seat), getting to the crest of the hill and the car, not being able to stop with fear of cutting out, start coasting down the other side while three blokes (the driver still in the passenger seat) running to jump in this moving vehicle like some blockbuster action movie. Seriously, all we needed was dramatic music!

Several hills later, a stop at a garage to see if it could be fixed (it couldn’t), we decided to ‘limp’ home and change cars. The driver (who by now was rested enough) drove the rest of the way to our last destination which was Snowdon. We set off on the last leg of the journey, climbing Snowdon, admiring the views, bantering with one another and basically running on empty. The 24-hour challenge had long gone out of the window, but we had managed to get this far. As we descended and arrived back at our meeting point, it was decided that a celebratory beverage would be needed. So, there we were, four absolutely shattered blokes sat in silence, staring into space, daring not to move a muscle because of the pain we were in, reminiscing over what we had just done.

We laughed increasingly at the absurdity of our situation, what we had encountered but most of all, what we had achieved, what we had seen along the way and the sense that through it all, no matter what, it was okay.




When I look back at those moments, and other situations in life that maybe haven’t gone to plan, the one thing that I have learnt, and the one thing that I can rely on, and the one thing that always goes to plan is trusting in God. When life throws a curveball, He is a foundation like no other. He is unmoving, reliable, a sustainer and consistent amongst the inconsistent. Life isn’t always good. You just have to look around now to see the world in utter chaos. But something is happening. Something is stirring. And have a feeling that no matter what happens through this, things will be okay.

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

James 1:12 – the Message


Stay blessed


Pastor Neil

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