We all want the mountain top. The experience. The feeling. We search for it, chase it. Even, at times, try to force it (and dangerously I might add).
In search of the mountain top you may find yourself continually in the valley. A walk there that is lasting much too long.
Perplexed. Frustrated. Hurt. Lost. Feeling alone.
But, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. David wrote that. He must have experienced it.
In the valley, He is there. Even in the valley that may come to be named the Shadow of Death. Even that valley does not cancel God out. He is in the valley as much as He is on the mountain top.
Since God is there, fear no evil. Keep walking, even if you’re limping. And learn. Grow. Be shaped. Become. Learn patience. Be content with Him and Him alone. He wants you to walk with Him there- in that valley-, consciously, deliberately. Trust Him.
You will find yourself on the mountain top again at some point. He is there too. But even though you don’t search for the valleys- you don’t chase them, you certainly never try to force them-, the lessons of the valley are as important as the experience of the mountain top.
Live for a living. This line is part of the advertising for the History Channel’s Mountain Men, a show I unashamedly love (spending a couple weeks with Marty running his trap lines in the snow and cold in Alaska while occasionally shooting a moose would be incredible- my wife thinks I’m nuts). The show probably hits my desire for adventure. To do more than the everyday ho-hums. To get out, to explore, to enjoy life.
Live for a living. Don’t just live. Don’t just breath. Don’t just make it through the everyday routines. But actually live. Enjoy. Experience. Smile. Laugh. Be risky. Have a bucket list. But don’t be bored. Don’t be stressed. Don’t be depressed. Don’t be trapped. Don’t live in fear.
I’m not advocating cutting loose of all sensible responsibility and run free. What I’m advocating is this: God created us to enjoy life. He gave us life. He gave us this good earth. He made it all and said it was good, very good. In this, humanity is to be celebrated. Our talents and giftings, our diversity. The things we like to do. The earth that God made for us is to be enjoyed. To be out in it. To experience it. None of this to be worshipped in any manner, but to be delighted in.
What God has made, humanity and our world, is fallen. So while we work through life in a fallen world, a world of hurts and pains and tragedy (the great equalizer among all men), we have the ability to smile and laugh and live in joy. A joy that is found in God and in salvation and will fully be found in the resurrection. All of the caverns dug inside of us by the hurts and pains and tragedies we experience give us a greater place to be filled by the joy imparted by God and found in the things He gives us. The Kingdom of God, because of what it is and what it is about, is a celebration. It is a celebration because God is renewing what He has made. Humanity- the world.
This is where we need to start: God, who gave us life, defines what life is and what it means to enjoy life. We find true life in Him, a life that learns to turn away from the instant gratification of our sinful self to understand true life is found in the freedom from the traps of sin and the fallen ways of the world. In this we find abundant life (John 10:10)- Christ-likeness growing in the details of our lives. Becoming something. Along with this, God defines what the good life is as proclaimed by the prophet Micah (6:8). Justice (doing what is right to others), mercy (give it to others as you have been given), walking humbly with God. In other words, as Jesus said, loving God with everything you are coupled with loving your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39). The greatest commandment and the second one like it. These define and bring a life that is good and is enjoyable. Anyone, no matter their circumstance or situation, can live the good life as it is defined in this way. We learn to be content when we see life through this lens (Paul writes of contentment in Philippians 4:10-13). Enjoying life is not found in success and achievement, but found in God and in others. Don’t fall into the trap of the enjoyment of life as defined by the rat race of society and so have it defined by a way of a fallen world.
The joy of your salvation. The peace that passes all understanding. The hope of what is to come. Live with these things. They allow you to enjoy life in the midst of a messed up, hyper-busy, stress producing world. Mourn when you need to. That is important. But joy comes in the morning. You are free to enjoy life and the Creator wants you to. You can enjoy the things of life as long as they do not become idols. As long as you do not become entrapped by them. As long as you do not become a pleasure seeker. As long as the things God has blessed you with stay subservient to you. And what of those who struggle in life? What of those who are not free in their religious expression and are persecuted for their faith? What of those battling a life threatening disease? In the midst of their struggle, in the midst of their beatings and imprisonment, in the midst of their fight, God is with them and will inwardly strengthen them and will bring a peace that passes all understanding. This is not cliche and at times is not easy. They can love God. They can love others. They can live abundantly as they continue to grow into the likeness of their Savior. When their journey is complete, they will be able to look back and see how through it all their journey was beautiful.
So, walk with God. Let Him lead you and surprise you and cause you to become His intention.
And enjoy a good book.
Enjoy a sunrise.
Enjoy a sunset.
Enjoy good music.
Enjoy your marriage.
Enjoy the moments of God’s presence.
Enjoy a good laugh.
Enjoy planting a garden.
Enjoy a ballgame.
Enjoy helping another.
Enjoy a bonfire and s’mores.
Enjoy a good movie.
Do the next thing on your bucket list.
Enjoy a swim in a pond.
Enjoy a good musical.
Enjoy a night at the symphony.
Enjoy your friendships.
Enjoy a long hike.
Enjoy a table game.
Enjoy traveling to a new place.
Enjoy the things your purpose leads you to do.
Enjoy a bike ride.
Enjoy an adventure.
Enjoy a quiet moment.
Even begin to enjoy the everyday routines that you must do.
As John Eldridge quotes Gil Bailie in Wild at Heart, “Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Live life for a living.
The journey with Jesus is The Beautiful Journey.
It is a journey walked out in this wondrous but fallen world.
It is a story of reconciliation, restoration, and new creation.
It is a journey of things being made new.
It is like a plant that grows in fits and starts.
It is a life of faith.
It is a life of belief and a certain way of living.
It is answering the call to “Follow me.”
It is picking up your cross and losing your life.
It is the perseverance in the midst of the uphill climb.
It is the pressing on in the midst of the dry desert.
It is the narrow road.
It is the race to run that has been marked out for us.
It is the continuing on after a fall, bloody knees and all.
It is walking in His blessings.
It is walking through trials and the testing of faith.
It is the working through of hurts and pains.
It is wrestling with God.
It is dancing with God as He takes the lead.
It is mourning due to the depravity of our world.
It is smiles and laughter and dancing due to restoration of our world.
It is glimpses of the new things to come.
It is the individual story entwined into community with the stories of all others on this journey.
And through it all being continually taken to green pastures and quiet waters in our souls.
When we look back on our journey with Jesus we will call it beautiful.
Without much commentary, below are a handful of scriptures that describe some of who God is. Interestingly, and maybe purposefully, they are all Old Testament scriptures, which are found in the midst of much narrative which can bring some confusion to the nature of God. But in the midst of the narrative, these scriptures, and many like them, stand out and give us the basis through which we can see the narrative around them.
It would be very beneficial to us that our curiosity and imagination would be captured by these attributes of God (In saying the attributes of God, we count them as attributes of the Godhead. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). That in reading these passages, we would believe in how God reveals himself, even if our mind cannot fully comprehend. That our confession would go beyond our understanding. That in the midst of a fallen world we believe in a God who desires to redeem his creation and reconcile a lost humanity back to him. Read these passages slowly. Re-read them. Again and again. Let them lead you to other places of scripture that build the framework for your understanding of God, to who you believe God is and what he is like. Then allow your imagination to be stretched. God is deep and wide, not shallow or thin…
Exodus 34:5-7 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…”
Psalm 36:5-6 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.
Lamentations 3:19-23 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Psalm 136:1-9 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.
to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
This God, the Creator, whose love endures forever, who is patient yet not tolerant, who is full of compassion and grace, is of justice- he will do what is right. As the psalmist of chapter 36 allowed his imagination to poetically describe certain characteristics of God as the heavens and sky, the might of the mountain, and the depth of the great deep: This God is with me. He is my God. And I look to him as is quoted in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.”