Thursday, October 15, 2020

Not Made For the Mountaintop, But For the Valley?

A few weeks ago, my wife and I drove up to a restaurant on McCloud Mountain in Duff, Tenn. The food, we were told, is tasty but the main attraction would be the view. The food was pretty good, but the view? Not so much – because clouds had descended over the mountain that day, obscuring what would have been a spectacular scenic vista. At least the mountain lived up to its name.

It wasn’t unexpected because the entire day had been slightly overcast, even in the lowlands below. Still, we were sorry to miss this mountaintop experience. Instead of beautiful, rolling hillsides, everything was shrouded in fog.


This was in sharp contrast to what many of us have encountered spiritually. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had one or more “mountaintop experiences,” whether while attending a conference or other special event, or just having moments of inspiration atop some lofty peak. They leave us energized, even super-charged, feeling like we can conquer the world. Even if we’re not mountain climbers.


We often wish life in the 
valley could be as clear
as views from the mountain.
That is, until we descend to the valley below – or emerge from the comforts of our spiritual cocoon and run smack into a heavy dose of harsh everyday reality. Talk about having a balloon deflated!

The late Oswald Chambers, whom I regard as a friend since I’ve read his classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest,and other writings for decades, writes about this in several of his meditations. For instance: 

“We have all experienced times of exaltation on the mountain, when we have seen things from God’s perspective and have wanted to stay up there. But will never allow us to stay up there…. It is a wonderful thing to be on the mountain with God, but a person only gets there so that he may later go down and lift up the demon-possessed people in the valley…. The mountaintop is not meant to teach us anything, it is meant to make us something" (from October 1).


In the next day’s meditation, Chambers writes, “The height of the mountaintop is measured by the dismal drudgery of the valley, but it is in the valley that we have to live for the glory of God…. It is in the place of humiliation that we find out our true worth to God – that is where our faithfulness is revealed.”


Over the years I’ve a number of mountaintop experiences, in the most literal sense – atop Lookout Mountain in Georgia, the Smokie Mountains near Asheville, N.C., and Dayton Mountain in Tennessee. Time spent there launched me into a spiritual high, but then, returning to the valleys below, I spiraled into a spiritual funk. “What was it that had me so excited?” I’d wonder as nasty now-and-now moments crowded out the “the sweet by and by” reveries I’d felt less than a week before.


Can you relate? Those exhilarating moments when we want to shout, “Hey, Lord, it’s You and me, all the way!” followed by a period of near depression once we’ve descended again into daily ruts and routines?


If so, we need not feel badly. Because that’s how Jesus’ disciples felt as well – and they hung out with Him in the flesh, nearly 24/7 for about three years. The classic example is called the Transfiguration, when the Lord’s inner three – Peter, James and John – joined Him atop a lofty mountain and witnessed Him being transfigured in appearance. Then Elijah and Moses, themselves no strangers to mountaintop experiences, supernaturally appeared to them all.


Peter, ever Mr. Impetuous, was so taken by the experience that he declared, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:2-6). He and the other disciples hadn’t yet figured out who Jesus really was. Up until then they just considered Him an enthralling, charismatic religious leader.


Coming down from the mountain, it says, “Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant” (Mark 9:9-10).


Can you imagine what these eager followers must have thought and felt? Perhaps in the days leading up to Jesus’ betrayal, trial and crucifixion they might have even wondered, “What was that? Did that really happen? Or were we just dreaming?”


I’m grateful for my mountaintop moments, because the residual effects helped to shape me into who God wanted me to become – and provided a lasting vision for what He intended for me to do. But at times, however, it’s still been tough trying to plod through the drudgeries and discouragements of everyday life, when inspiration seems in short supply.


That’s when I need to remind myself of what Chambers said more than 100 years ago, that “it is in the valley that we have to live for the glory of God.” And that, “the mountaintop is not meant to teach us anything, it is meant to make us something." Here in the valley, we must discover what that “something” is and pursue it with all our heart.

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