by Pam Condie
Lately I’ve been thinking about some of my life’s mountain-top experiences. The challenges – the physical climb (sometimes scrambling up sheer rock faces), the determination to keep going, the need to watch where I put my feet whilst trying to ignore the sheer drop alongside the narrow path, staying focused on reaching the top safely – have all been part of my experiences.
The hills, and mountains, I’ve climbed in the course of my life have given me a lot of food for thought. I’ve known the satisfaction of reaching the top – more often than not. But there’ve also been times when I’ve had to deal with the frustration of not quite getting there because of hurdles such as asthma.
Some of you may be quite experienced mountain-climbers. You may have climbed mountains like Tibrogargan, Beerwah, Tinbeerwah, maybe Kosciuszko, or other mountains throughout Australia and around the world (has anyone conquered Everest?). Maybe it was a struggle. Then again, maybe you’re an Aussie Fell-runner who runs up and down mountains regularly. But, if you’ve ever struggled uphill, up a steep, rough path, whether you conquered the climb, or had to abandon the attempt, you’ll understand the challenge of climbing mountains.
And no matter how we struggle to reach that summit, isn’t the view from the top worth it? Despite all the breathlessness, the aching joints, sore feet, silent panic attacks when thoughts such as, “How on earth am I going to go back down!” start niggling, and…and…(feel free to add your own particular challenges here)… that view from the top, that ‘I’m on top of the world’ sensation make it all worthwhile.
So why am I so often focused on these mountain experiences? Because I remember the challenges, every time, of getting there. I remember the views from the top – the landscape below stretching to the horizon and beyond. I remember the joy of being there.
I’ve mentioned some of my long-distance walking experiences before, so won’t bore you with them again. BUT, I do want to mention the never-ending hills and mountains of our 15 day trek across England on the Coast to Coast route. There was a lot of climbing UP each day but we were rewarded with magnificent views – to all points of the compass. But we needed to climb up above the valley level to be rewarded with those magnificent views.
When we were in the valleys – all of which were stunningly beautiful, often with babbling streams running alongside the track – we could not see very far behind us. It was only as we struggled upwards that we could clearly look back and see how far we had come on our journey – and see what we had passed through.
I’m sure most of us have had times in our lives’ spiritual journeys that have been “mountain top experiences” – those amazing times that we never want to end. We feel so close to God, we are bathed in the blessings of the Holy Spirit, we bubble over with joy, praise songs are constantly on our lips. And we can be tempted to ask, “Why can’t I stay here? Why can’t this be my on-going, normal life as a Jesus-follower?” We wanted to stay in that environment forever.
(Photo right: The beautiful River Esk valley near Glaisdale.)
There’ve been many occasions throughout life when I’ve sat on the top of that spiritual mountain, breathing in a purity of air seemingly uncontaminated by life’s worries, wanting to stay there forever. There have also been many times when I’ve climbed up physical mountains, finally reached the top, and thrown myself down to simply gaze around at the beauty of God’s creation that stretches out around me. These are views that can’t be seen from ground level – only from the mountain top.
Mountains are significant throughout Scripture. Many biblical narratives involve mountain top experiences – personal, life-changing, encounters with God. Moses had several mountain top encounters with Yahweh – the great I AM. Exodus 3 talks about the first meeting when Yahweh spoke to Moses from the burning bush. This life-changing event was on a mountain – Mount Horeb (3:1).
Another deeply significant event was after the Exodus. Yahweh told Moses to climb Mt Sinai – and there God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex 34). When he came down, Moses’ face was shining so much with the reflection of Yahweh’s glory that the people could not even look at him!
Jesus, too, spent a lot of time on mountains. He’d climb a mountain to spend time in prayer. He took Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor (Matthew 17) where they witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and meeting with Moses and Elijah – a mountain top experience that definitely impacted those three disciples!
These experiences gave biblical characters a vision for the mission God had called them to, and the strength to continue their journey with God. Mountain tops enable us to see the bigger picture, see where we’ve come from, see the paths we’ve struggled along to reach where we are. They’re exhilarating. They draw us closer to our Saviour, encourage us, give us strength to keep going.
So why can’t we stay up on the mountain tops?
Because God wants us to be where people are – where people are living their everyday lives. In the valleys, on the plains, on the hillsides and the plateaus. Moses didn’t stay up on the mountains. He came down to continue his ministry and fulfill the vision God gave him – to lead God’s people to the Promised Land.
Jesus didn’t stay on his mountain tops, either. He came down, refreshed, ready to continue the mission he’d come to earth to fulfill – the redemption of God’s people, and the offer of salvation for the entire world.
Both Jesus and Moses came down to where people were living everyday lives. They met people and ministered to them right where they were. When I reflect on these, I ask, “What have I learnt from my mountain top experiences throughout life?”
First, and foremost, they have led to growth. Reaching the top of physical mountains showed me that I could do it; gave me confidence and perseverance.
I also learnt that coming down is not always easy – sometimes it can be more of a challenge than the climb up! Some of the descents we navigated on the Coast to Coast were definitely challenging. Sometimes they were very steep with loose gravelly stones that rolled underfoot.
(Photo left: Contemplating the way down from Kidsty Peak.)
I needed support – something to lean on and help me keep my balance, stop me from falling. I found my hiking stick to be absolutely invaluable. I could lean on it and it kept me steady. Sometimes I needed both the stick to take my weight, and David’s help to guide me over some very rough patches.
And isn’t that true of our journey through life as Christ followers? We can have a season of wonderfully close fellowship basking in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then the “descent” into our everyday living, can be a challenge. We need someone to lean on so we don’t stumble and fall. And God’s Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, is right there waiting for us to lean on him. He will keep us steady. And, right when we need it, he often brings someone into our lives: someone to walk alongside us – to help guide us through a rough patch.
Enjoy those mountain top experiences. Appreciate the struggles that sometimes come as we descend back into the valley of our everyday lives. Let go, and let God…
Thank you for letting me share with you again.
Pam’s been involved in Girls’ Brigade as company captain, State Training Co-ordinator, Girls’ Leadership Course Director, and State Commissioner. She was awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia in 1999 for service to youth leadership development in Queensland. She spent 14 years on the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) Australia Board including over 4 years as Board Chair and recently completed an 8 year term on the Board of Queensland Baptists. She currently serves as the President of the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force Association (Qld). Pam holds both a Bachelor Degree and a Graduate Diploma of Theology and has recently completed a Doctor of Ministries. She will commence working as denominational archivist on 1 July 2020.
Pam is married to David. They have three adult children, two of whom are married and have blessed Pam and David with grandchildren (now all young adults).
Pam also served on the State Award Committee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in Queensland for 10 years and worked for the Award as a Project Officer. In 2015 Pam and David went to PNG with MAF where David served as Interim Engineering Maintenance Manager for the PNG programme for nearly 18 months