Surviving Mountaintop Experiences

Many years ago, I was asking God about my future, and He showed me a series of mountain tops. My destiny was to go from where I was up to the peak before me, and from there to greater and greater peaks. (In my youth, I was excited about it; it was some time later before I figured out that this is His plan for pretty much every human being on the planet.)

After He showed me the mountains, and after a dramatic pause, the scene shifted; it rotated sideways by about 90 degrees, and I realized that the path was not simply from one mountain top to the next, but that there were valleys between the mountaintops. Having spent decades hiking through valleys and climbing peaks and ridges, I realized how much work that represented. I found myself somewhat discouraged: if every “high point” experience is followed by a fall to approximately my starting point (or worse), then I’d be completely worn out before I ever reached the higher peaks of my destiny.

I’ve seen people who lived like that. They pursue mountaintop experiences, and because they pursue them, they also find them (there’s a lesson here somewhere: if you want something, it’s probably good to pursue it). But after nearly every peak experience, they’d go into something of a tailspin, and end up discouraged, maybe falling into sin.

Elijah was a man like that. We all know him for the battle atop Mt Carmel where he called fire down from heaven and killed 450 prophets of Baal, but one chapter later, he’s hiding in a cave, whining for God to take his life. Elijah had one of the highest mountaintop experiences in the Book, but he also fell as hard as anyone ever has, so hard in fact, that God fired him.

John the Baptist seemed subject to the same discouragement. Admittedly, he was in jail on death row when he got discouraged, but he experienced the same kind of hopelessness.

Fortunately, Jesus shows us a better model. He had a mountainside experience – actually, He had several – but He never seemed to hit the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” afterwards.

I wonder if we can learn something from Him?

Here’s how I see it.

Elijah had this amazing experience on Mt Carmel calling fire from heaven, killing pretty much the whole of the priesthood of the false gods. Right afterwards, he prays in the tiny little cloud that becomes the rainstorm that ends the drought (that he started himself years earlier).

And then Jezebel threatened him. It was a vague threat, no teeth in it really, but he ran for his life and prayed to die. God fed him along the way, and met him in the cave he hid in, but when he wouldn’t abandon his self-pity, He fired him. (“… and anoint Elisha prophet in your place…”)

John the Baptist did such a good job of prophesying the word of the Lord that he ended up in jail for his straight shooting declaration of God’s opinions of the king’s adultery.

And when he got there, he despaired of his life work. “Are you even the Messiah?” he sent his disciples to ask Jesus.

I find it interesting that both are prophets. In our day and age, the prophetic gifts are growing so very free. But perhaps it’s not without a cost, and a severe one, should we be less than careful.

Elijah comes down off the mountain top, and immediately immerses himself in more ministry (ending the drought).

John spends some time (admittedly, as a guest of Herod’s jailers) reflecting on his ministry, good & bad.

By contrast, Jesus does something completely different. After His big dog experience with feeding the 5000, and what does He do? He sends the boys off rowing home as a storm rolls in, and He spends the night up in the hills praying.

I think that’s significant.

After the big ministry event:

  • Elijah goes on to the next big ministry event.
  • John reflects on the last ministry event.
  • But Jesus gets in God’s presence, and presumably unloads His soul to Him. (Afterwards, of course, He strolls across the storm-tossed lake to check on the boys.)

So when we have a big day with God, it seems that it would be good to spend some time unloading with Him. Debriefing.

I had a big day with him recently. Kind of an impromptu treasure hunt among believers for 10 hours. Afterwards, I needed to celebrate, yes. Worship is a good thing. But after that, I needed to spend some time reminding both Him and me that it was His work, and I was along for the ride.

A friend went through an intensive spiritual training school recently. When he came back, he spent some weeks just processing with God. Not doing. Not planning to do. Just sitting with God.

I think he was really wise.

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Watch Out! Your Mouth is Loaded!

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years. I’ve had to go slow about it, because the conclusion that I’m coming to is pretty much exactly the opposite of the things I used to believe and teach. I hate it when that happens, but I’m delighted to have my understanding corrected and my weaponry updated.
Here’s the conclusion I’m coming to: my words are powerful. They change worlds. So do yours. Our words have the power to change this world. In fact, I may go so far as to say, as a wise man has been teaching me, “nothing gets done without there first being a declaration about it.” My declaration. Your declaration. And certainly God’s declaration.
And here are some of the processes that have gone on to change my mind. I need to explain that until these things happened, I had a nice, tidy Calvinist theology: God is going to do what He’s going to do, and maybe my prayers can move Him and maybe they can’t, but if He doesn’t do it, it won’t get done!
  1. My theology was corrected by a prophetic word. I had not had much exposure to the prophetic back in 1998 when a prophet declared to me, “But you see, when you don’t know that you have that anointing, you’re just praying, ‘Oh God, would you please….’ But when you begin to understand … you begin to say, ‘Move! In the Name of Jesus, you’re coming down!’” That came from a man I had never met before, instructing me to petition God less (OK, to whine at God less) and to declare the thing that that I would previously whined about. That messed me up, particularly as the prophet accurately nailed a couple of other things in my life: I couldn’t dismiss the word in good conscience.
  1. I had a couple of experiences that my previous theology did not support. I’ve written about one of them here; I won’t repeat the details in this article, but I’ll just say that God used my application of that prophetic word (using declarative prayer rather than petition prayer) to get me the truck of my dreams. In the other experience, some friends asked me as their home-group leader to make a declaration over them, and we were all surprised at the power than was released that night. It changed their lives, and its effectiveness changed my life.
  1. I’ve been meditating on what it means to be made in God’s image. One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that I get things done the way He got things done, beginning with “And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.” (In fact, I think this verse is describing the Big Bang, but that’s just conjecture.) When God needed to make something happen, he spoke it into being.
  1. The NT says that I’m seated with Christ, and that He’s seated at the right hand of Father. Father’s sitting in a throne, of course, which means that Jesus is sitting on the next throne over, or Jesus is in the main throne, and Father’s on the other side: either way, if I’m seated with Christ, I’m seated in a throne. He did say, after all, that I am to reign with Him, and that I’m both king and priest. So I’m in the role of king, seated with my big brother Jesus on a throne, doing the work of reigning or ruling my portion of the Kingdom. So how does a king get his will accomplished? He makes decrees. He issues authoritative statements saying, “This is how it’s to be done.” And everybody obeys. Or if they don’t, the army goes and helps them obey.
  1. As I’ve studied the prophetic gifts, I’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t just communicate information from God to man. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve told, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” with little-to-no effect. But that was one of the most powerful prophetic words I’ve ever spoken. “Uh, God says He loves you…” and this mountain of a man, well schooled in church teachings, broke down and wept like a baby, actually experiencing the affection of His heavenly Father for the first time in years. The true prophetic word carries information, yes, but it also carries the power of God to accomplish that word. When I was moved by God to make declaration about my dream truck, I got the dream truck (and I learned a big lesson!). If I had not spoken that declaration, I’d still be driving a wimpy Honda and whining my prayers.
The point is that in my shoddy Calvinist thinking that my prayers were at the best wishful thinking and at the worst, whining at God, I was horribly mistaken. I’m coming to the conclusion that
We know that our words have the power to seriously wound someone. A very foolish person once said, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” I’m coming to the opinion that if the Bible is really true, and if I’m going to live like it’s true (very big “ifs,” I agree), then it’s the other way around: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can really hurt me.” Our words have power in the realm of the soul: the mind, will, and emotions of ourselves and those around us.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” (I grew up Presbyterian. I still can’t get rid of the “thee’s” and “thou’s” in the Lord’s Prayer!) What shall we do to make that happen? Jesus taught us to forgive peoples’ sins (which we do by speaking). He did not teach us to pray for the sick, but to heal the sick, something far beyond the wishy-washy prayers I heard in Sunday school I think.
That’s enough background. Here’s where I’m going with all this: it’s time for us to wield the word of God as a tool, a weapon. It’s time for us to discern what his heart is on a matter, and to declare that (and yes, I realize that sometimes He’s asking, “Well, what do you think?”). It’s time for us to learn to not just petition God, but also to declare the will of God with authority from our position seated with the Son of God into the matter before us.
In my home group prayer times, we often put someone in the seat in the middle and pray and prophesy over them. I’m getting to the point where I’m insisting that we don’t stop with, “I hear God saying this about you.” Now my team is learning that if they don’t declare that promise over or into the person we’re praying for, that I’ll remind them.
So may I suggest that we pray a little less along the lines of “Oh Lord, would you please…” and a little more “In the name of Jesus, mountain, you get up and move!” Lets begin to rule in our roles as kings and priests.

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The End of Times

There’s a lot of talk in recent years about The End Times. That’s not all that uncommon, I suppose. There was a bestselling series of books on the subject a few years back, and recently, yet another wave of talk on the subject has started.

It seems that such talk is probably normal. I’m told that every generation since Jesus walked the planet has thought that they might be the last generation. Even the 12 disciples (well, the 11; Judas had left by then) got caught up in a Last Days focus:

4 And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; 5 for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” 6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1

So Jesus is saying, “Get ready for the Holy Spirit,” the boys’ first thought is “Is this the end times? How soon will the end be?” And like us, they’re asking with the assumption that their view of the end is right; they don’t ask, “Will the kingdom be restored to Israel?” but “Will you restore the kingdom to Israel now?” In their case, the assumption was about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel; in our days, it’s usually about “the rapture” that sucks us out of this planet to live in heaven with Jesus. (I can’t help but think that we might have missed it as badly as they did, but that’s another topic.)

What I really love is Jesus’ answer: “That’s not what this is about boys. This is about power; this is about you being my witnesses everywhere you go, both nearby and far away.”

In His answer, I hear something of a rebuke – or at least a correction – of their fascination with figuring out the end times.

Some time ago, I felt the Lord correct my own focus on eschatology through this verse. It’s like He was saying to me personally, “Don’t focus on understanding the end times. Focus instead on the Holy Spirit. I want you to have His power because you have a job to do. I want you to focus instead on being my witness in this world!”

In other words: leave off the emphasis on The End Times. I’m wasting my time focusing on that. The real emphasis needs to be on my work – our work – here on this planet, among these people in this region.

I recognize that this is clearly specific instruction for me; I wonder if there’s some wisdom for other saints in this correction as well. I’ve often felt that a focus on the end times, particularly a focus on “the rapture”, has led many of us to miss God’s heart.

It’s actually pretty difficult to pay a lot of attention on The End Times in our culture and not come away with a self-centered sense of “Jesus is going to rescue from all this!” (Mike Bickle and the iHop team seem to be doing a good job of avoiding that egotistical error.) Many of the brethren I know who focus on eschatology have turned some or all of their attention away from our work while we are in this world (the “be my witnesses” part) and have focused more on His presumed role of rescuing us from this world.

I keep remembering that Jesus said we need to pray this way: “…your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, pray that His kingdom would expand here on Earth, that there would be more of us homo sapiens who place ourselves under His kingship. That’s what our focus is supposed to be. (And of course, we’re not talking about a political kingdom, but the increase of His rule in individuals in our culture.)

That means that a fair bit of my prayers – and presumably my attention – is to be on seeing His kingdom expanding in my community. But if I’m focusing my attention on my belief that “Jesus is coming soon!” to swoop down and carry me away from my community, then how helpful can I actually be at expanding His kingdom here? I’m not saying the Rapture isn’t going to happen; I’m saying it shouldn’t be our focus.

Instead, I am proposing that we back off on looking for the end of this age, and that we put our efforts into fulfilling His purpose for us in this age; being empowered by the Holy Spirit and being His witnesses in this world, both near and far.