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.
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I think he was really wise.