It’s been more than forty years, and I can still see the mountainside when I close my eyes. No water bottles, no candy bars, backpack or intelligence, apparently, just a hillside in the mountain range. West Virginia’s state song refers to those “hills, those beautiful hills.” The fact is, those hills are part of several huge mountain ranges, but are still referred to as “hills.” Now I was looking at a mountain higher than any I had ever seen when I had lived in my home state.
My tennis shoes grabbed hold of the dirt or stones, trying to find a small foothold; my hands didn’t dare let go of the tiny roots that grew within reach of each step upward. It didn’t seem so hard at first: energy and adrenaline flowed strongly enough to give some deftness to the climb. That lasted about ten minutes. I clung to a small tree base long enough to turn my head, and the bile rose in my throat. What had I been thinking? It looked straight down, although the incline had to have been at least 60 degrees. I knew if I let my hand slip, I would not stop until I hit bottom. After only ten or fifteen minutes, I couldn’t have been too high up but it looked like a mile. By half an hour the bottom was about as far away as the top. Only will-power kept me going. Sweat ran down my entire body, part from stress, part from workout. The fun had stopped long ago.
Eventually, with much internal conflict, the top came into view, and after another year of time, reached. As I sat looking at the gorgeous sight, I felt my spirits rise in cadence with the beauty my eyes were feasting on. Nature at its best can be seen from the top of a high mountain. But my joy was dimmed as I looked at the only way back down, deciding there was no way I was going to take my chances on leaving this secure seat for a death ride. I would rather sit at the top until an airplane spied me and made a recovery, or I died from starvation. As evening wore on it became obvious my only option was limited to going back down the mountain. I would rather have been shot, but there was no one in sight who had a gun.
“Don’t look down, don’t look down,” became my mantra as I descended the hillside. Looking down would do me in. You can’t throw up easily while hanging on to every root and stone available. My hands were bloody, but I wouldn’t look down. At long last the valley floor began to make itself felt. Now, these decades later, I have never been tempted to do anything so foolhardy again. Climbing Stone Mountain in Georgia is the closest I have ever come to duplicating that one day, but Stone Mountain didn’t leave me with nightmares.
In Christian circles we talk often about “mountaintop experiences.” Those who have them mean they have had some type of encounter that has left them breathless with wonder and blessing. Wonder at the goodness of God, and blessings that have been given to them at a time when they needed them. But did you ever wonder how they got to that mountaintop? Believe me, I know.
Mountaintops are reached by going across a valley. Some mountains are not so high as others, so it’s not as far down to the next valley, but most of the time you have a very long trek as you leave the floor and start to climb. It’s hard, stressful times that you go through to reach the top. A mountain by the very nature of its name indicates a tall, steep side. Spiritual or physical, mountaintops are reached by hard work. Coming down can be just as taxing. You can do as some do: sit on your bottom and take your chances of stones and thorns! Others, like me, come down slowly, never looking to see how far it is. But you’re going back to the valley.
Our Lord didn’t promise to keep us on a mountaintop. He didn’t–as His disciples Peter, James and John–suggest that we build a tent and stay there. He brings us to a mountaintop by bringing us through the valleys, and up the steep slope. The valleys are often dark, but He’s beside us. The slopes are slippery, difficult and sometimes we think we can’t make it, but He’s right beside us, comforting, encouraging, or giving strength when ours fails. In other words, He’s never left us, whether in the valley or the good times, and He isn’t going to start today.
That’s where people make mistakes. They think life should be all mountaintops if you serve Him, call Him Lord. That’s not the way it works. Mark tells us we will be tried by fire. That hurts, burns. And if our faith is shallow and made of hay, it will evaporate into ashes. If it is made by trusting Him whatever the circumstance, we will come forth “as gold.” If you think about it, every valley you come through should make you less fearful and more trusting. Every steep slope you climb to get to the top of a mountain gives you more stamina. Spiritually speaking, every day we should be able to look back at the path we’ve come and see that we have a faith stronger than we did yesterday, or a month ago, or maybe a year ago.
And as always, we have a choice. Stay in the valley, climb the mountain, or leave the whole situation and decide He’s not worth it. I’m so glad He did not look down from the Glory He had in Heaven and decide we were not worth the sacrifice He made on Calvary. I hope you’re glad as well–and willing to walk with Him wherever He goes.
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