I have been to the mountaintop. I’ve seen the view. I have breathed the air and felt the inspiration and the clarity and the joy. The mountaintop that I’m referring to is spiritual encounter—experience with God that defines a life or a season. There’s a lot changing in the way we understand God, the historical contextual meaning of the Bible and it’s corresponding significance for us today, the mission of God, the church, evangelicalism, etc. But no matter your theology or views, there is no substitute for individual, personal experience with God. Going after that is never an “if” but a “when” (and “how”). The pursuit ought to be fueled by desire—desire to see God’s face, to hear his voice, to feel his hand of power on you, to be endued with power to go out to preach, heal, deliver… Some of you feel like Isaiah, “God, here I am. Send me! I want to be the man or woman you choose to use.” And some just feel like Mary, Martha’s sister who sat enamored at Jesus’ feet. I want to be as close to this man as I can for the rest of my life. Or Peter’s words echo in your heart, “You have the words of eternal life—that make my heart burn. I have nowhere else to go.”
I lived up in the ridges and the heights of the spiritual mountaintops for years with small bands of friends. We packed light and had few constraints. We were wanderers. We were hunter-gatherers. We had a common hunger and drive, “More Holy Spirit.” It was all his fault anyway. Holy Spirit had created such a spectacle in our midst that our loosely connected tribes in our city began to band together. He was our common thirst and a shared well. Jesus’ words to the woman at the well became true for us, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He was talking about Holy Spirit. And like the water at the wedding in Cana, it had more of the taste (and effect) of wine.
But we could not remain on the mountaintop forever. More than just gravity was pushing us downward to the valley. And for a time, we fought the pull of the valley. Some of us felt shame, or loss, or disappointment. We thought back to our mountaintop years and wondered if we had somehow compromised or forsaken a life filled with moment-by-moment Holy Spirit miraculous activity. But as much as we fought it and wrestled it, in the end, the Valley came out on top.
The word “valley” gets a bad rap. In our spiritual journey language we often use the valley as a metaphor to represent something negative, dark, threatening, dangerous, dry or desolate. I’d like to reclaim the meaning of “valley” to its true meaning. A valley is a lush, beautiful, sun-filled, temperate place fit for dwelling, building, farming and families. The valley is where we are called to live…not just something to travel through on the way to the next mountaintop.
I am reminded of Hannah Hurnard’s classic, “Hind’s Feet in High Places.” She, too, wanted to stay up on the mountain with Jesus. She regretted having to go down into the valley. I think of Deuteronomy, Moses’ speech to the Israelites on the edge between daily dependence upon God to long-term marriage with faithfulness—the faithfulness of the land to produce harvest, the constancy of the elements to build homes and communities and cities and structures, the natural world that allows us to trust in its reliability and reproducibility (which gave birth to all natural sciences), and the sheer abundance of resources that seems to flow unending to us, our children and our grandchildren.
The point of mountains after all is to provide life to the valleys, by catching the weather and by streaming water and minerals for life to happen. They do not stand above us to mock or shame us for settling for lower elevations. God knows. In fact, God wants life to happen in the valley. The valley is a very, very good idea that God had. It was never meant to stand in opposition or contradiction to mountaintops. Mountaintops are great, too, but no one spends their whole lives on a mountaintop. They are actually very unconducive to life, to community, to commerce and to faithfulness. But they are good for perspective, for creative solutions, for spiritual openness, for divine encounter. We all still need mountaintops. But, by their very nature, they're meant to be irregular, infrequent, special visits. We don’t hike up snow mountains in the winter. And we only tackle the highest mountains during rare, good-weather windows in the summer. This is good and right, not merely a necessary evil.
The mountains still call out to us. There’s a wildness in those hills that beckons. Some unknown adventure awaits and we long to discover what it is. We may go out resourced by a valley community that sends us out to follow that calling, to climb that mountain. Maybe we summit. And maybe we don’t. Maybe we only get to basecamp and find our skills are needed in the triage tent or in the logistics team that organizes materials and human resources. Maybe we spend a season on the mountain and get a new dream, a new calling back in the valley. Maybe the new valley isn’t the valley we grew up in. Maybe they don’t speak our language or eat our food in that valley. Yet, it calls to us as well. Something new tugs at our hearts, something that longs for deep-rooted commitment, for inseparable intimacy, for marriage and children and all the industries of life that support community: neighborhoods, parks, recreation and education for the sakes of children and grandchildren…our own, perhaps, but also others’. This is the community-building, city-building valley work that calls to us also. It isn’t second fiddle to the mountaintop, yet it all flows down from there.
Holy Spirit loves the faithfulness and regularity of the valley. He made it that way in his wisdom. God’s Kingdom flows down from the mountaintops into the valleys for their flourishing, their joy, their destinies. Traveling this metaphor in my imagination has helped me a great deal. It’s one more level of death to the sacred/secular divorce. It’s evidence of my slow journey of salvation back to the world that God made and loves for us to be partners in. It frees me to see God in the dirt, not just in the clouds. And it releases unmeetable expectations I have had for myself or my tribe. Perhaps, there has been a niggling guilt or negative comparison that was exalting my own mountaintop history as superior, more spiritual, more valuable than my “normal life” responsibilities. The mountaintop, instead of feeding me, taunted me as something I needed to get back to. Praise the Lord that got exposed and dislodged!
Wherever you are in your tension between mountains and valleys, may you feel God’s grace to release any unrealistic expectations, pressure, shame or sense of loss. God loves you. He loves your mountaintops. And He loves your valleys!May you see God in the valley dirt as well as in the mountain rain! Both are filled with divine presence and magic and destiny. I charge you to love—deeply love—the valleys you are called to live in and build in. May you discover new expressions of how to love and live in the valley together. May your mountaintops continue to feed and inspire your imaginations. Let them keep beckoning you to more encounters. Let them keep reminding you of your wild, amazing history with God. As you love the mountains and the valleys, may each find honor for and serve the other. Here’s a raised glass to all the goodness and mercy the Lord will bring you in 2018!