I’m just returning from summer camp this year. Every year for the past ten years, I’ve gone to Texas in either June or July to participate in a camp for abused and neglected children. It’s always a mountain-top experience for me. I feel more focused, more attuned with God during the days and weeks leading up to camp and during the week of camp. My quiet times are great. I don’t struggle as much with sin. I hear God speaking to my heart clearly and unmistakably.
But after camp, I typically experience a letdown, a spiritual time of randomness. I may go for days or even weeks without spending quality time with the Lord. I fall into sinful patterns that I thought I had licked. I feel guilty and unfocused – spiritually lethargic. Why does this happen?
I think it has much to do with not having a specific goal on which to attach my spiritual disciplines. Before camp, everything is focused on getting my heart ready to minister to the kids. After camp, I lose my motivation. It’s not that I believe the spiritual disciplines are only worth doing in preparation for an event, but I just find it easier to do them when I’ve got my eyes on a goal. I have more energy to do them. I have more delight in doing them.
Another reason coming off the mountain is so difficult is because I put every ounce of energy into the mountaintop. When it’s over, I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained. I think my spirit is still full of energy, but it gets trumped by my lack of resources in other areas. After camp, I go into a bit of a walking coma until my resources are replenished.
I think this pattern is mirrored in Scripture:
- Moses spent a month and a half communing with God on Mount Sinai and getting the ten commandments on stone tablets, but when he descended the mountain to rejoin the Israelites, he found that his brother had opened an idol-worshiping night club.
Elijah showed up the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah in an old-fashioned show-down on top of Mount Carmel. Then, he accurately predicted the weather (the greatest miracle in all the Bible), but he didn’t get much time to celebrate. Jezebel took out a contract on his life, and Elijah became so discouraged that he prayed God would end his meteorologist career.
- Jesus peeled back His humanity to reveal a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James and John on a mountain. They had to be stoked coming back down. They had been arguing with the others about who was the greatest, and now it looked like Jesus had tipped His hat in their direction. But when they reached the bottom, everything was chaos. The disciples had been trying unsuccessfully to cast a demon out of a boy, and Jesus had to step in to clean up their mess. Goodbye spiritual high. Hello real world!
The time on the mountain is a blessing. God allows us to participate in His work, and He teaches us many things while we are with Him there. It’s easy to completely spend ourselves in the experience, but it’s unwise, because when we are done on the mountain, we have to return to the valley. God teaches us on top of the mountain and then tests us in the valley. He wants to know if we can use what we’ve learned.
In the valley, God’s tests move what He’s taught us from our heads to our hearts. When the lessons are only in our heads, the Enemy will come and try to snatch them away (like the bird in the Parable of the Sower). But through the testing, God can plant them deeply in our hearts, where they will grow and produce an abundant harvest. If we anticipate the Enemy’s attempt to steal our seeds and save some fight for this test, we will be much better prepared to leave the mountain-top.