Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mountaintops . . . and Valleys

We much prefer "soaring like eagles" to descending into the valley.

Have you ever had a “mountaintop experience,” that moment when you felt so inspired, so energized, so exhilarated you felt you could tackle the world? One that sent you riding waves of emotion and renewed hope?

Such moments present themselves in many ways: At a milestone event, like a wedding or the birth of a child. An encounter with a very special person. During a retreat, conference, or worship service.

I remember returning from Washington, D.C. years ago after interviewing several wonderful individuals for magazine articles. It seemed like I was flying higher than my airplane. I’ve taken part in Christian conferences and conventions with the “best of the best” speakers. After feasting on their biblical wisdom and insight, I thought to myself, “Okay, Lord, I’m ready for anything!”

I even had a “mountaintop experience” years ago viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time, which essentially is a humongous hole in the ground. Witnessing its vastness and grandeur profoundly broadened my appreciation for God’s unlimited creation.

The problem with mountaintops is we can’t remain there. Even climbers that conquer the great peaks of the world eventually must come down. And that’s where the problem lies.

Recently in My Utmost for His Highest, my friend Oswald Chambers – I call him “friend” because he and his timeless devotional have been part of my life for many years – wrote about how we like to revel in “times of exaltation on the mountain.”

Then he noted, “The true test of our spiritual life is in exhibiting the power to descend from the mountain…. We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions of life – those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.”

Frankly, sometimes following a visit to the mountaintop I experienced a severe letdown, even mild depression. “Why can’t I just stay up there?” I’ve wondered.

The ninth chapter of Mark in the New Testament tells about Jesus and his “inner circle of three” – Peter, James and John – having a similar experience. Atop “the mount of transfiguration,” the disciples saw Jesus’ clothes turn dazzling white and they had a brief encounter with biblical patriarchs Elijah and Moses.

What did they do? They wanted to pitch tents right there and soak in the experience. But soon they were alone with Jesus, preparing to descend to the valley below. Talk about a literal “downer”! But there, in the company of the crowds, Jesus’ followers had to begin applying truths and principles they learned from Him.

The same holds true today. We can find ourselves enraptured by a glorious hymn, a rousing choral presentation, or stirring solo. A powerful spiritual message touches our heart, prompting us to declare undying devotion to God. But then comes Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon, and we’re stuck in mundane stuff of every day – handling irate customers, changing diapers, paying bills – desperately wondering what had us so excited.

We all want to “soar on wings like eagles” as described in Isaiah 40:31, but more often than not, we need to wander around in “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), trying to make sense of darkness and gloom all around us. It’s at those times, if we listen, that we hear the Lord’s comforting words: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

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