Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Made for the Valley

“We have all experienced times of exaltation on the mountain, when we have seen things from God’s perspective and have wanted to stay there. But God will never allow us to stay there. The true test of our spiritual life is in exhibiting the power to descend from the mountain. If we only have the power to go up, something is wrong. It is a wonderful thing to be on the mountain with God, but a person only gets there so that he may later go down and lift up the demon-possessed people in the valley (see Mark 9:14-18). We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life— those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength. Yet our spiritual selfishness always wants repeated moments on the mountain. We feel that we could talk and live like perfect angels, if we could only stay on the mountaintop. Those times of exaltation are exceptional and they have their meaning in our life with God, but we must beware to prevent our spiritual selfishness from wanting to make them the only time.”

--Oswald Chambers

I see beautiful profile pictures on Facebook and beautiful families on Christmas cards and beautiful people smiling at me with beautiful white teeth. And there are beautiful captions underneath and friends who see them and think that they need to go and take a beautiful picture that can be their profile picture, too. I want to have a beautiful picture that will make everyone think of how happy I must be and how well my life is going and how good my job is and how well-behaved my kids are and how much my husband adores me . . . But life is usually not about beautiful pictures. And sure, there are times when you load your dozens of pictures onto your computer and an especially good one pops out and you think, “Wow; this is it.” But that’s usually not life. Life is usually the closed eyes when the camera snaps, the imperfect teeth, the hair out of place, the less-then-flattering pose.  

And maybe there are some people out there who can always take a beautiful picture, but I doubt that there are very many and I doubt that they are as happy, successful, satisfied and as smug as their beautiful picture makes them out to be.

Life isn’t about beautiful pictures. Life is about trenches and digging deep into the raw reality of pain and throbbing emotions and lost babies and sleepless nights and frustrations and the car breaking down and the day-to-day grinding of the wheels of routine . . . boring routine . . . necessary routine, so that the Savior of our souls can mold and shape us into who He would have us become in Him.

I don’t like routine. And yet I love it. And yet I get overwhelmed sometimes with the same bowl of oatmeal every morning and the same clothes and the same books and the same dishes and the same laundry and the same making dinner and the same old rooms and the same old bed and the same chores and the same walks and on and on and on . . .

Yet I love routine, because without it, something is lost, something of chaos sets in, something of disorder and something of laziness in my heart and resigning to how I “feel.” I love routine because I learn through it that if I don’t spend time with the Lord in the morning, the day for me is lost . . . if I don’t basically keep to a schedule with my little daughter, she starts acting “crazy” and it’s harder to sit down quietly with her and read books the next time.

One of my favorite quotes is from William Carey, the Baptist Missionary to India, so-called “father of modern missions.” He says, (in response to people praising him for his work) ““If he gives me credit for being a plodder he will describe me justly. Anything beyond that will be too much. I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”

“I can plod . . .” and this is what the Christian’s life is mainly about. This is what Pilgrim did as he made his way toward the Celestial City with only the clothes on his back and with faith in his heart, the faith that God alone gives.

I can plod . . . when I don’t feel like it. I can clean, by the strength and grace of God when I am tired; I can read another book with my daughter, I can pray with someone on the phone when I feel shy and uncomfortable but I know in my heart that this is the beginning of the answer to their problem.

I can plod . . . when I’ve only gotten three hours of sleep, when my child is cranky and irritable, when I know in my heart that I need to get off of the phone, the computer, whatever takes my attention at the moment away from what it should be on, and engage my child for the glory of God.

It isn’t easy . . . I don’t like it . . . It’s uncomfortable . . . and yet plodding works righteousness by the Holy Spirit of God.

Of course there are special times and special seasons of refreshing when we break away from routine and enjoy something different. When we go on vacation, when we have ice-cream for dinner, when we head to the seashore on a steamy summer night. And these things refresh us and prepare us again for life in the trenches. As Oswald Chambers says, our Christian life is not a “mountaintop” experience. The mountaintop experiences are given so that we may travel down into the “demon-possessed” valley and remember that the Lord is with us, recalling to mind those days of revelation and beautiful views and the wonder. There are times for vacations and retreats and respites . . . but they are not life. Because life is plodding; the Christian life is plodding, planting seeds, waiting patiently for them to grow and praying for the sunshine and the rain.

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.  Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful." (James 5:7-11).

The perseverance of Job, the compassion and mercy of the Lord . . . an example for us. A call to live with grace in the valleys of life, with peace and joy in the Savior who walked there before us, plodding ever towards glory.

Photo credit: Zach Dischner / Foter.com / CC BY

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