Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
Well, the One who’s gone before me
He will help me carry on
After all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God
Lyrics by Third Day from “Mountain of God”
Have you ever gone hiking and stood on a vista of a mountain and looked across the way to see the other mountain? It is majestic isn’t it? You can look down and see the valley below and you can see the other mountain rise up into the clouds. The splendor of God’s creation! Life is good at the top of the mountain on which you are standing, right? But you want to hike to the other mountain’s peak. The promise of the views from the other mountain’s peak is even more glorious than the one you are standing on. So you hike down into the valley. And here is where things get tough…
This scenario is much like the Christian walk with Christ. First, we are on our own mountain, living for ourselves and enjoying the view. But then, we become aware of God’s glory and want to get off our mountain and be on God’s mountain. So we begin our journey hiking down our mountain and it is easy. We are happy that we are heading towards God’s mountain and travelling downhill doesn’t take much effort. And so is our initial walk with Christ, when we are first saved. We are emotional, filled with the Holy Spirit and on fire for the Lord! It is like running downhill. Fast and easy. But then, we reach the valley and it is a struggle to climb our way up God’s mountain. Now it takes work.
Most everyone is familiar with verse 4 of Psalms 23, which states, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Ever wonder why God describes the valley as being in “the shadow of death”, where there is evil? The valley represents the struggles and trials we face in this evil world and the shadow represents things that cause fear that appear real in the darkness, but disappear once God’s holy light shines upon it.
But it is in these dark places in the valley that many Christians stumble and fall. They turn and backslide to their old ways. It is far easier to serve and feed our flesh with all the sinful things that provide immediate gratification, than it is to deny ourselves the sinful pleasures of right now.
Jesus once said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ in Luke 14:26-30.
It is easy to run towards the Kingdom when the wind is at your back, and you are filled with emotion and adrenaline. But then, the enemy comes; the one, who comes as “the thief to kill and steal and destroy” in John 10:10. The enemy doesn’t want you to be a soldier for the Kingdom of God! He wants you back in the darkness. So he tempts you with the sins of the world. The old sins you repented of when you gave your life to Christ, like an addict, whose flesh craves its favorite drug.
But for those who love Him, He is faithful and just. The Lord, our God, tells us in Romans 8:28 that “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Does this mean that everything that happens to us will be good? No. Evil surrounds us in this world. And our sinful choices of the past have consequences. However, the Scripture tells us that for those of us who are saved and seek His will, God will use those challenges, obstacles and roadblocks to grow us, mature us, and train us.
To become a United States Marine, you must complete basic training. And to graduate as a US Marine, every recruit must complete what is called the “Crucible”. It is a rite of passage. It is the defining moment of the recruits’ training. It is called the Crucible, because it’s been said that it is like your mind, body and spirit are being cooked and tested under extreme heat. The recruits are being heated to see if they will crack under pressure. It is a grueling, 54 hour long training event that spans over 45 miles of marching, where teams of recruits are food and sleep deprived, while working to solve problems, overcome obstacles, manage combat assault courses and work as a team. And after their training, the recruits are now able to draw from their training and the experiences in the Crucible to face any challenge presented to them on and off the battlefield.
In other words, the US Marine Corps uses the Crucible to test its recruits to see who is ready for battle. As Christians, we too are run through the Crucible, but of life. We are put to the tests of this world to prepare us for battle. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”, says the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:12. So we must train and battle against the flesh. We must deny the flesh and not feed our sinful nature. Then God can use us as a workable vessel.
Being a Christian is not easy. That’s why Jesus says that “we must count the cost.” We all want God’s blessings, but we shrink at the first sight of resistance. We must expect that the world will come against us and that we will be faced with pain, suffering and hardships. Jesus told us to expect these things. Even the Apostle Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians that he dealt with some form of physical pain, and yet he still had to travel great distances and continue his ministry. He said, he had asked God to take the pain from him three times, which he refers to as “a thorn in his flesh”, but God did not heal him. Paul reasons that the thorn in his flesh was to keep him becoming proud and boastful. He tells us God’s response in Ephesians 12:9, which was, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” In the remainder of verse 9 and verse 10, Paul explains his reaction to what God said to him. He states, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
So my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, count the cost of being a follower of Christ. As soldiers of Christ’s army, we must face the challenges head-on by the grace of God. By His strength, we are made strong. And by obeying and following His will, we will grow in grace as we forge up God’s mountain. We must not shrink in the presence of resistance and temptation, or backslide down into the valley. We must rise up in the victory of Christ Jesus to be the light of the world. For the Book of James tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” in Chapter 1, verses 2-4.
Paul said it best in Romans 8:31-37:
If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Amen, and AMEN!
By His Loving Grace,