The Unexpected Drop
One of the worst amusement rides I have been on was called the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.” A bunch of brave people load onto an elevator in a makeshift hotel (it was really an amusement ride made to look like a hotel) and after being buckled in were sent to the 13th floor of the hotel. After a series of “supernatural” special effects, the bottom drops out of the elevator, and all of us brave people immediately felt like the proverbial cartoon character who stepped off the edge of a cliff and didn’t know it. We all felt an instant sensation of panic as our stomachs left their rightful place. We had all experienced the “Unexpected Drop.”
Unfortunately, this happens too often in life. A short ride to the top with amazing view, and then bam!—the bottom drops out and you are racing the deepest valley that you have ever seen. Go to a Shepherd’s Conference to get motivated by great preaching, and you learn how to compose sermons in a new and refreshing way then you return home to chaos, ministry trials, and even worse…your next sermon is worse than any you have produced to date. Your company wins the award for the highest production in the company’s history, and then after the 1st Quarter of the next year, you are retrenched for poor performance. The deepest valleys are “deepest” because they originate from the highest mountain top.
Peter, James, and John, the “inner three” of the circle of 12 disciples of Jesus saw this in a big way. In Matt. 17, they all followed Jesus up a high mountain and then were given a special privilege of seeing Jesus in His glorious transfigured state. It was a sight to see! The Gospel of Mark tells us that His clothes were so “radiant and exceedingly white,” that no launderer on earth could have produced such a spectacle. They actually heard the audible voice of God. They saw Moses and Elijah. This was a rare and special privilege indeed! After this event, they would be prepared for anything—except failure.
When they came down the mountain with Jesus, they joined their brothers who had been waiting for them. They then asked Jesus some pertinent questions about John the Baptist. After all, they had just been greatly blessed with this miracle of being included with Moses and Elijah. But then, something strange happens. Matt. 17:14-23 states that the 12 disciples encountered a “lunatic” (this is the actual word used by Matthew) who was clearly demon possessed. In v 16, the crazy man’s father goes right to the top and speaks to Jesus. “I brought him [my son] to your disciples and they could not cure him.”
This had to be a shock on the systems of the “big three” who had been with Jesus. They tried everything (well, maybe not everything—I am sure they didn’t say abra-ca-dabra) to no success. And then, on top of that, Jesus included them in his general rebuke “You unbelieving and perverted generation!” How can this be? How can people who were so blessed now experience humiliation, defeat, and utter failure when they had been with Jesus on the mountaintop?
The answer is that Jesus is the one who took them to the mountain, and Jesus is the one who works with them in the valley. The answer the Jesus gives to their question, “Why could we not drive it out?” is straightforward and I am sure felt like when the dentist says “Whoops! Sorry about that!” when he is drilling on your teeth. Jesus said, “Because of the littleness of your faith.”
What! We had just been on the mountain! There is no doubt Jesus picked us three because of the greatness of our faith. This can’t be right!
The lesson that Jesus gave to His disciples is that it is Jesus who drives out the demons. Jesus is what makes being on the mountain worthwhile. And it is Jesus who can bring life and miracles in the valley. It is being with Jesus and trusting in Jesus that is everything. Mountain tops and valleys are of no consequence. Yes, they might [wrongly] elevate our future expectations or drive to anxiety and despair, but they are irrelevant to a living God who holds the universe in His hands.
Mountain tops and valleys are just paths. In Psalm 23 David calls them “paths of righteousness.” We walk, we trust, and we have joy in being with our Lord regardless of our view in life. Jesus cares for His own. He cares for His church. He cares for every single person that He has personally redeemed with His own blood. The landscape of life is irrelevant, and in fact always serves His purpose. Because of this, we must take our eyes off of our circumstances, and fix our eyes on Jesus, who is with us in every circumstance because He has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
When I was on that “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” I was determined to conquer my fears of falling—no matter how I felt and no matter how I hated that feeling of your stomach leaving your body. After the first time, I was determined to beat this and went again. The second time, however, I tried something different. Anticipating the fall, I immediately let go of the safety bar so that I would float like a leaf. What happened next was amazing. It worked! The safety belt naturally pulled my body down with the rest of the people, but my stomach came with me. I literally floated in suspension (not for very long, but at least for a second). From that point on, the drop (and any drop for that matter) ceased to scare me.
The point is this. We all will have life circumstance and spiritual circumstances that are up and down, and often in the same sequence. What happens to us is irrelevant because Jesus Christ is the very author of those circumstances. Yet what we do in them is everything. Valleys are the optimum place to exercise “great faith” rather than “little faith.” They are a golden opportunity to exalt Christ and keep your eyes focused on Him. He is with you in the valleys, and that is especially when you need to labor in prayer and meditation so that you can be prepared to follow where He is leading. Mountain tops are usually the place where we look who is below us and we hand out advice like ice cream. Valleys are where we are given a front row seat to see the Lord in action. When you catch that view, it suddenly looks much better than the mountain top. And that is worth experiencing.