Coming back down the mountain
I just returned home from a wonderful conference and worship celebration this past weekend in St. Charles, Missouri. Gathering together with the National Association of the Church of God's women's and men's groups was an encouragement and a blessing. Perhaps it was more significant to me because I was two days fresh from a piece of news that stirred up a massive storm in my life. Perhaps it was so important because my teaching assignment was about locating our faith in the midst of the storms of life. Perhaps it was because I'd pushed my storm aside to more clearly hear from and experience the presence of God. Regardless, I was reliving moments on a mountaintop and reveling in the best of a tremendous event.
Do you, like me, find that following opportunities or events where you are uplifted and challenged, you return home to challenges of a different kind? That's my story. Enter storm, stage right.
Yet I shouldn't be surprised. Just because I'd left the environment of where the storm started didn't mean it wouldn't be here when I returned. In fact, I carried the story of my storm with me, and was ministered to in the midst of it. I think it's because of life's storms that moments like this weekend are both treasured and sometimes even heralded too highly. Why can't things just stay good? Why do I have to return to the storm?
I can't help but think of Peter's reaction to his own mountaintop experience. In Matthew's gospel (chapter 17), we read the story of Peter, James and John accompanying Jesus to a "high mountain" where, before their eyes, Jesus was transfigured, and Moses and Elijah showed up to share in the conversation. In response to what he saw, Peter says, "Let's just pitch a tent up here and move in, Lord!" He wanted to stay on the mountain and live in that moment. But this story ends with all of them journeying back down the mountain, and returning to the stuff of life.
Don't miss this though -- preceding this account, Peter went through a very difficult storm. I'm not even referring to the literal storm of Matthew 8 when Peter and the other disciples weathered (not so smoothly) a storm on Galilee's sea and wound up waking up Jesus from a sound sleep to smooth the waters. (Ironically, this was a parallel passage to my teaching this weekend from Luke 8!) I'm talking about the moment Jesus utters words likely permanently ingrained in Peter's brain: "Get behind me, Satan!" In a split second, Peter moved from a powerful declaration of Jesus as Messiah to a pitiful disgrace of human frailty.
Keep in mind, Peter was watching as Jesus taught massive crowds, performed miracles never before seen, cast out demons with a word, and preached an upside-down message to His listeners. In fact, just prior to Peter's admonishment from Jesus, Peter saw Jesus take on His own critics who demanded a sign as proof of who He was. Storms were brewing everywhere. Even in the middle of the Messiah's message.
So it's hard to imagine Peter didn't carry all these things in his heart up the mountain with Jesus and his friends. In fact, I'm sure that he did. And removed from the environment of testing, the mountaintop was a good place to rest and recover from a storm. Yes, Peter thought, let's just stay here. But the mountain isn't a place to stay and hide from storms.
Because Jesus commissioned His disciples for ministry and service (Matthew 10:1). And with those things come some storms. Some because of ministry, and some outside of it, but storms nonetheless. The mountaintop moment Peter witnessed wasn't intended to be a parking lot for storm-weary sailors who wanted out of the boat; it was a roadside rest and a glimpse of grace that compels us to get back in.
Peter had to go back down the mountain. He had a Kingdom assignment. And even if it means wading back into waters that are soon to toss and throw the boat around, he needed to go. To get back to the task of serving and following Jesus even in uncertain waters.
I. Get. Peter.
I wanted to stay on the mountain, to soak up His presence, to set up house and bask in the glory of the radiance of His beauty. But I had to come back down, because there's more to do. Jesus is sending me back down. Waves are high, weather is nasty. But I've seen and tasted enough on the mountaintop to know what I'm laboring for in the valley is TOTALLY worth weathering this storm. Any storm. Besides, this storm need not cause me such great concern. Jesus is in my boat (Luke 8:22-25).
Know how I know He is? Easy.
Jesus came back down that mountain too.
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.