I wrote this piece awhile back, while we were in NC for a publication. Plans changed a bit, so I thought I’d still share here!
Where does your faith come from? How do you feel close to the Lord?
These questions rocked my world, brought me to my knees and changed my life for the better not all that long ago. I’m willing to bet they could shape you as well. But first, let me explain.
I grew up in a Christian home. While my relationship with God has been hot and cold, I’ve never doubted him, his power or his might. I’ve always seen evidence of his existence everywhere.
You see, I’ve been to the mountaintops that are so commonly discussed in Christian circles. I was blessed to be a part of an amazing youth group. We had regular retreats and national conferences where I was afforded the chance to worship with thousands of other teens, to listen to amazing speakers and to feel a fire for God in my heart. I felt the same during mission trips to third world countries when I saw his power in action. There’s no denying that feeling, that life-breathing feeling.
It was the time between the mountaintops that became problematic for me. I’d come home and become complacent. I’d even doubt if my salvation was “real” or truly authentic. I failed to grow.
My whole life, I’d planned on attending a Christian college in New York. I was accepted during my junior year of high school and never wavered in that decision until one week before the acceptance deadline during my senior year. I panicked, didn’t want to miss out on college “fun,” and didn’t want to lose my boyfriend.
I applied to a state school and accepted their admissions offer without a single visit. Still, I felt I was okay. I went to Campus Crusade weekly, worshipped, felt God’s presence, then, went drinking with my friends. No big deal, right?
During college a lot changed. I could go into thousands of details, but here are the cliff notes. John put his trust in the Lord. We got engaged. We became youth leaders. We got married. We graduated and we started real life. From there, we continued to attend the church I’d grown up in.
I always thought I’d feel closer to God when the “real world” started and the party-happy environment of college ended. But then, I didn’t. I still believed, but there was no forward motion. I’d go to church weekly, have wonderful “mini-mountaintop” worship experiences surrounded by pillars of the Christian faith. But then, nothing would change. I’d get so frustrated with God! “Why do I still feel shaky in this relationship?” “Why don’t you pull me closer?”
My husband, John, and I had two kids with even more news came. His company wanted to move us from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, away from everything we knew, away from the life we were building.
I was terrified. You see, our relationship had been slipping away. Remember how I felt far from God? I felt the same toward my husband. A few months before our move, I distinctly remember sitting in our pastor’s office and explaining that I was indifferent about what happened to our marriage…right in front of John. I just didn’t care anymore.
With the move, I’d be moving away from the familiar life I lived with someone I wasn’t even sure I’d be spending my whole life with. It was terrifying. Still, we prayed. We talked. We felt it was best and that God’s hand was in it, so, we moved forward.
Lots of details were arranged and during one of our first visits, we went to a church plant that fit our denomination. The people were so welcoming and it somehow felt right.
But, it couldn’t be…there were around 20 members. No worship. Just a sermon, serious prayer and a focus on missional living. I remember wondering how I could be “happy” there. See the pattern…how it was all about me?
Then, God’s truth hit me square on the heart.
On what was my faith based? How did I feel close to God? Was it only during the mountaintop moments where the environment led to an emotional feeling of faith? Was my relationship grounded in him or in my surroundings?
Most of all…did he know?
Yes, he did, and Psalm 44:21 made it real, “Would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?”
He knew. I knew. Everything changed.
After that visit, we pressed forward with the move. At our lowest point of homesickness after our arrival in North Carolina, we learned we were expecting twins (I know God has a sense of humor, but that is a story of its own!). We were forced to rely on God and on one-another. We continued to attend our bare-bones church plant where we were challenged in our walks with Christ like never before.
During all of this, God stripped away our reliance on other things, on the music, on the surrounding worshippers, on the passionate sermons and the traditional atmosphere. Along with this complete breaking down of what I thought I “needed,” God revealed many scriptural truths that changed my life. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, if you wonder if your faith is “authentic,” or if you’re relying on mountaintops, they might change yours as well.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts,” (Psalm 139:23).
Let me tell you, I wrestled with God during this turmoil I felt inside. But, I submitted. I asked him to search my thoughts and examine my motivations.
It became clear that I was living from Sunday to Sunday, from mountaintop to mountaintop. My faith was shallow, based on others, not a fire burning in my heart. I was falling short…not God.
Let me step away for a second to make something clear: my home church is a fantastic place filled with lovers of Jesus. It’s where I plan to attend if we move back. It was my own shortcomings that were holding me back and the scriptures made this clear to me.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
If this doesn’t demonstrate the importance of scripture, I don’t know what does. Scripture teaches us. It molds us. It completes us.
I thought I was fine. I listened to scripture each week. I’d participated in Bible quizzing and can literally quote the book of James to you from start to finish. I thought that “knowing” it was enough.
Then, John and I were challenged to read the Bible daily for a year. We decided to jump in. Wow. At first, it was a chore. But then, it became real. I looked forward to it. I learned to grow from tangible expressions of God’s love and power. I grew to need it in my life. I started to feel complete in my relationship with God and grew nearer to him.
Spending time in the word is essential for closeness with the Lord. It removes insecurities, it molds us from the inside out. I saw it happen. I felt it happen.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” (Psalm 51:10).
Once I started to feel the closeness I’d been longing for, I needed to ask God, every single day, for a clean heart.
I needed to pray that he would remove bitterness and barriers that had grown between myself and him, myself and my husband, and myself and others.
I needed to ask every day. And you know what? He did it. I asked him to change me, not to change for me. At the same time, my husband was growing in his own faith and behind changed and renewed. We were closer than we’d ever been before. God was working wonders right before our eyes because we started to simply rely on him.
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this,” (Psalm 37:5)
“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them, he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him,” (Psalm 37:39-40).
Here it is. Truth straight from the Word.
Our faith, our reliance on God, doesn’t change because of him. He is steadfast. His biblical promises never waiver. He waits for us and works on our behalf whether we “feel” close to him or not. When we feel as though something is wrong, we need to search our own hearts, our actions and our motivations.
Then, we need to commit what we find, our shortcomings, our failures, our crises of faith, to the one who is waiting with arms wide open.
These truths opened my eyes. I was relying on external people, situations and feelings, rather than my heavenly father. I was relying on mountaintops that could not sustain me through valleys because they were inactive, they were passive; they weren’t alive, living in me.
Are you relying on mountaintops? Do you wonder why God feels far away? Are you frustrated?
God has changed my life. My reliance and my dependence are fully rooted in him. When this focus changes, life changes. My husband and I are now on the same track. We’re growing, we’re moving forward, we’re closer than we’ve ever been…ever. I see a passion in him that I’ve never seen before and he sees that same passion in me. Stripping away everything that we saw as essential made us rely solely on our father in heaven, and that is the greatest gift that we could have received.
He’s waiting for you too. Are you ready to step away from the mountain and into the everyday? I urge you to give it a try. A life that you cannot even fathom is right around the corner.