|Mountaintops & Valleys: Where is God when I'm not at Newday?
I remember the feeling well. Soul Survivor 2002, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, Delirious?, One Hundred Hours, 12,000 other teenage Christians (I didn't even know there were 12,000 other teenage Christians), camping, late night chats over hot chocolate, hot girls I was ALLOWED to go out with (if only one of them would agree!!!), my best friends around me, and overall an incredible feeling of closeness with God. The intensity of passion mixed with the feeling of not being ashamed to be a Christian was such a liberating and fresh experience I left that camp on a massive, Holy Spirit infused high with God. I was free. I was His son. I belonged. I was not ashamed and most of all, I was going to convert my whole school year into Christians and become 'Super-Christian': 'Youth' Bible - Check. WWJD band - Check. Provocative T-shirt - Check. 'Christian' CDs - Double Check: I'm all set.
Fast forward three weeks and I'm in my form room being verbally assaulted by four less-than-loving chappies hurling expletives at me with considerable zeal and for no apparent reason. The hype, the high, was most definitely gone, and all my Christian paraphernalia was jammed speedily back into my rucksack. Where had it all gone? Why did it go so fast? How had I moved from being the closest to God that I had ever felt to being nowhere is just over 20 days?
Even at my Youth Group the fever had gone. We'd planned to inject our passion into the sometimes stale Church worship music, and were determined not to 'let it fade'. Alas, the word 'fade' couldn't even be mentioned with a straight face: the feeling had left the building.
It wasn't until Mike Pilavachi, the leader of Soul Survivor spoke on this very topic that I began to see things from a different point of view. He explained that these times with God are like Mountaintop experiences: The view is incredible, we're utterly inspired by God's creation, His beauty restores us, reminds us that life is awesome and that He is so much bigger than we are. We leave our work, our stress, our family and relationships and head to the Mountaintop to renew our perspective on our Father, to wipe the mist from the glasses of our faith to see him clear once more - and the feeling is just heaven.
However, it is an error to wish to remain on the Mountaintop. I envisioned a 'Soul Survivor School', perhaps even a village, where we could castle ourselves up in 'Soul Survivor Land' and never have to spend any time with the heathens of the world. This is a skewed perspective. Why? Because nothing grows on the Mountaintops. The only place where things grow, are down in the Valleys, and the Valleys represent our everyday lives, our school timetables, our family homes, our football teams, sleepovers, Saturday jobs and homework. This is the fertile ground of our lives where all good (and bad) things grow.
But you might say "What do you mean nothing grows on the Mountaintop? Don't you know what happened to me at Newday? I became a Christian! I committed my life to Jesus! I was healed! Someone prophesied over me! (though I didn't understand all of it and he did smell a bit) and I've got new vision as to what I want to do with my life! How can you say nothing grows on the Mountaintops?!!"
And I shout Yes! and Amen! to all those things. But those things are not growth. They are seeds. God met you on the Mountaintop and planted seeds in your Spirit and in your heart which he intended for growth. And the only place that growth will occur is in the Valleys. The Valleys where the trials are, where the temptations are, where the needs are, where the reliance on God is necessary not optional, where Community is irreplaceable and where God's consuming fire burns away all the fake in our faith and leaves only what is real. In this environment and only this, we grow. You might have received a revelation that God does not want you to have non-Christian boyfriends/girlfriends. That is a seed of wisdom which God wishes to grow into a disciplined lifestyle with a preserved sexual purity, resulting in a blessed marriage with a partner who walks with you in your faith. But the seed does nothing until it exists within the Valley of teenage life and is tested through that really cool person non-Christian asking if you want to go out sometime. That's when the seeds start to grow - or not grow! This is the joyful reality of life in the Valleys.
So what of the Mountaintop then? Forget about it? Out of sight out of mind? No! Of course not! I once heard (who I call) a 'nay-sayer' in Church complaining about the Youth group saying "Oh it happens every year - off they go to Soul Survivor, get all pumped up and then a week later they're exactly the same again - what a waste of time". I could have punched him (In brotherly love of course...). What a stupid thing to say. Has anyone ever climbed a Mountain and then regretted it exclaiming "I went all the way to the top then just came back down again - and I'm still the same as I ever was - what a waste of time". No. One of the first things I imagine anyone does who has climbed a mountain, is to reach into their pocket and after scoffing down several lumps of Kendall Mint Cake, pull out their camera and start taking pictures. Why? To remind them of what the Mountaintop is like! To keep a momento of this moment, the moment when everything else seemed insignificant and suddenly they had a sensation of awe and clarity. Three weeks later when they're back in the office fashioning paper clips into small animals during the depths of boredom, that picture on the wall is a meaningful reminder of what life is about and a spark to take on life with that same passion they felt standing on the peak. We all have momentos from our Spiritual Mountaintop experiences: photos, worship songs & CDs, T-shirts, Prophecies, bible verses that spoke to us, words from the very mouth of Our Father. Put 'em up! Get them on your walls, plaster your ceiling with momentos which will relight your vision as you go through the necessary growth seasons in the Valleys.
My final error was that I used to associate Soul Survivor time with being 'close to God' and Valley time to being 'far from God'. This is a twisted lie of the enemy. Don't believe it. For in the Old Testament, a man called Moses was called to ascend a Mountain in order to speak with a Holy God, to receive revelation; and when he returned his face was physically shining so brightly that others had to turn their eyes from him. But in the New Testament, God descended down from the Holy Mountain of Heaven into the grunt and sweat and weary lives we of the Valleys. Jesus met us right there in the toil, the dirt, the hurt, the need, the disease, the debasement and the hopelessness, and brought a message of Love, acceptance and life to the full. Be not fooled. What's more, He gave us all access to ascend His mountain as Moses had, to feel our faces glow.
God is everywhere in your journey. He is at the peak of the Mountain welcoming you up, and he's at the base of the Mountain welcoming you down, eagerly awaiting your return to join you as you return to the Valleys. He's in your quiet times and your non-quiet times. He's there when you're winning and He's there when you're sinning (a sobering thought!), He is before, behind, beside and beneath, and He always meets us with exuberant joy.
Finally: there's a strange account in Genesis, of a man called Enoch, who was racking up the years (as you did in those times), but who when he reached about a third of the way through his expected lifespan, was picked up by the fingers of God and popped into heaven, bypassing death and old age in one passionate move of the Almighty. God's motive? The Bible records that it was because He had incredible Love and affection for this man Enoch. The reason? Not much is recorded of what Enoch did to achieve this accolade in God's eyes, I'm sure he did many great things, but the single aspect of his life mentioned by the fathers of old is that he simply "walked with God". That's it. He walked with God. Others were busy checking in and out with God, taking advice and declining it as they saw fit. But Enoch walked, and walked, and walked with God, side by side, step by step, inseparable from his Father.
Faith is not just five days in Skegness or a weekend in Bogner. It's a long, glorious walk with the Father of lights, who delights in planting new seeds in our Spirits and then helping them grow.