Most of us know what it’s like to have a mountaintop experience. For many of us, this is how we became Christians in the first place. We had an amazing experience in which we felt God’s presence in a real, tangible, all-consuming way. We sensed His love, His grace, His power, His Spirit. In that moment we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives on this earth, as well as the rest of eternity, serving Him, pursuing Him, and making Him known.
That is certainly my story. The night that I was saved I actually saw Jesus ‘in the flesh’ and He physically hugged me and poured His love into me. I saw Him. I touched Him. I heard His voice speak to me (see 1 John 1:1-4). I experienced His forgiveness and an inner washing resulting in a supernatural clean feeling inside. And the spiritual transformation began!
It didn’t matter where I was; I believed that God was with me. I shared my faith with anyone and everyone I met or ran into while out shopping or just taking a walk. I especially spoke to other pastors and priests assuming that, like me, they had bought into religion and did not have a personal relationship with the living Jesus Christ. It seemed like God answered every prayer. Every Bible verse I read seemed to be written just for me. And everywhere I went it seemed like God gave me the words to say and showed me a difference that I could make.
Initially, being a Christian felt like this amazing experience. You have these powerful times of praying and studying the Bible. Each day the words of the Bible seem to jump off the page, ministering to you in just the perfect way. Sermons seem to be especially for you, directly addressing something important that you’re going through or thoroughly explaining a Scripture you just read. Then you see the same verse on somebody’s social media feed, and you know that God is speaking to you. When you get in your car, your favourite song comes on the radio, and it feels like God played it just for you. You feel an urgency to help your non-Christian friends, and God constantly gives you the right words to say. You know He’s with you. When you’re in a rush at the mall, a parking spot opens up right in the front row.
That’s when you know you are on the top of the mountain.
Then, at some point, life starts to creep back in. And God’s presence seems to fade. Without even realizing it, you have come down from the mountain, back to the real world, and your faith doesn’t seem quite so amazing anymore. You still believe in God, still go to church, still try to read the Bible and pray when you have time. But the sermons aren’t always just for you. Your favourite song isn’t on the radio anymore. And the best parking spots are all taken.
Suddenly life isn’t going as you planned and hoped. Your prayers feel flat and stale. Like God has stopped listening. Someone betrays you. God doesn’t feel as close as He once did. You feel disoriented, uncertain where you stand with God, or whether you’re still standing at all. You were up on the mountaintop, and now you’re down in the valley.
If you’ve never been there, I hope you never are. But I suspect you might know something about what I’m saying. You woke up one day only to realize you were burned out. Discouraged. That little orange light comes on, telling you that your faith tank is dangerously low. It’s at this time that we hit the valley. You have come off the mountaintop and are now walking through the dark valley
In his book Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby describes this valley as a “crisis of belief,” a season of struggles and doubting God and His goodness in our lives. Usually, this crisis is ignited by a specific trigger, such as a serious physical challenge, a financial setback, or a relational disappointment.
Often the trigger is something unexpected or even unthinkable. Sometimes several smaller but challenging events overlap, and the combined burden becomes a crushing weight that causes a person’s faith to collapse. Didn’t Christ say that His burden is light and His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30)? Suddenly, getting out of bed in the morning feels intimidating. You can’t imagine how you’re going to get through the rest of the morning, let alone an entire day. Where’s God now?
In those moments, faith seems irrelevant. When the Titanic is sinking, it’s hard to enjoy a game of shuffleboard on deck or to appreciate the string quartet playing music on the bandstand. When you don’t know whether the radiation and chemo will work or where the money’s going to come from or when you’ll see your child again, it’s hard to believe that praying, trusting and hoping will make a difference. It’s hard to keep the faith when you have so little control over everything else in your life. Yup, you are in the valley.
More next time…