“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” --Psalm 121:1-2
I have always loved the mountains. In Indiana, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, I didn’t see any. The first time my youngest step-son caught a glimpse of the terrain north of Indianapolis, he said in his little five year-old voice, “Mama, why is it so flat here?!” But I have been fortunate to live in some places around this beautiful country that offered majestic views of monumental mountain ranges. While in college in Virginia, I visited the Blue Ridge Mountains on various occasions. When I took seminary classes in Pasadena, California, I drove through the Rocky Mountains a few times to get there—the long way. (Sometimes, I would pop John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High” in the cassette player as the car climbed through the foothills.) While ministering in Visalia, California, resting in the Central Valley of the state, the Sierra-Nevada Mountain range sat right on my doorstep. And then, of course, I completed my graduate degrees at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville in the shadow of the Smokies.
Throughout time, mountains have attracted people like geographic magnets. I was describing some of the ancient Greek city-states to my students in history class the other day, making the point that the city centers were always built at the highest point around to provide the settings for both religious worship and military security. The hills offer long-range perspective and a sense of wonder that comes through the realization that there is something grander, bigger than me in this world. Most people can’t live up there. Historically, agricultural production and commercial trade happened in the valleys. Still, there is something about a mountain view that is captivating, creating the perfect conditions for reflection, imagination and meditation.
Likewise, in our spiritual journeys, we sometimes describe those “mountain top” experiences that fundamentally transform our relationships with the Lord and our vision of life. We can’t live there all the time; ministry for the Lord through service to others happens during the routine grind of our days in the valley. So what is the point of these “mountain top” episodes? They transmit the nuggets of precious divine revelation to sustain us on all of those ordinary, not so inspiring, days that constitute most of our lives. We ought to “look to the hills” in our relationship with God to learn the valuable lessons, the treasures He shares with us in those exalted moments when we breathe the pure, fresh air of the Holy Spirit. I want to do that with you for the next little while through this blog. I intend to write about significant “mountain top” moments in the Bible and what they have to teach us about walking with the Jesus.
There is no place better to begin than in Psalm 121. This is one of the “Songs of Ascent” that Jewish pilgrims may have sung as they climbed the road toward Jerusalem for the three annual festivals they were encouraged to attend—Passover, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Feast of Tabernacles. (Deuteronomy 16:16) The walk itself required an upward gaze and a good deal of exertion. If we are honest, so does our daily journey. What is the source of assistance to keep going? Those mountains up ahead. But not just any mountains! We are climbing, sometimes struggling, toward Mount Zion, Jerusalem, the holy city, the place to meet the Lord. (pictured above) If I can just be with Him, I have everything I need to make it, one day at a time, even one minute at a time.
As I wrote earlier, a mountain top offers long-range perspective. The problem for all of us is that looking into the future can be disorienting, a fuzzy vista robbing us of confidence and security. Notice how the psalmist described the Lord; He was the “Maker of heaven and earth.” My help arises from the recognition of what God has done for me in the past. Walking into the future mandates a backward glance. This is a point that Brad Gray of Walking the Text ministries makes so profoundly when he declares that Christians must back their way into the future. (I recommend that you check out his terrific website at walkingthetext.com.) I don’t want to live in the past. But I must look to the past, recalling the faithfulness of the Lord in specific instances, in order to trust Him as I head toward a time of uncertainty. If the Lord made heaven and earth out of nothing, the description we find in the first book of the Bible, then surely I can depend upon Him to sort out and shape up whatever might lay ahead in my path. He won’t let my foot slip (verse 3), He keeps me from what could really hurt me (verse 7), and He will watch over all of my comings and goings forever. (verse 8)
Heavenly Father, too much of the time, I hang my head through the difficulties of life, even the monotony of uneventful days. Help me instead to look up to You. Help me to keep my eyes on You! You are the source of everything that I need, not only to exist, but to live triumphantly. Don’t let anything drag my gaze downward. Thank You for the beauty of the majestic mountains You have created. They remind me of Your awesome power and grandeur. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.