Persevering in Faith Through All Seasons
By JASMIN HOWELL
God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is.
– A.W. Tozer
It was early morning. I held a steaming cup of coffee and took in the sun’s warm morning glow reflecting in the second story windows of the house across the street. A thunderstorm rolled in over the neighborhood and the dark clouds posed a stark contrast to the glowing sun. Somehow, under the canopy of the thick hovering clouds above, the soft early light was trapped close to the earth, causing every bush, tree, flower, and stone to burst with exceedingly vibrant and bold color. I held my breath — it was so stunning.
But the clouds lifted just as quickly as they arrived, setting the glorious glow free and leaving the street looking so … normal. A sigh escaped my lips, as if I had just lost something precious. And yet, it was such a gift. For that moment, I was right there to witness a brilliant display of color; the shimmering emeralds of the grass, the stunning violet florals on the bush across the street, the warm tangerine glow of the sun, and the soft cornflower blue of the sky.
Many modern Christians are led to believe that pursuing God will be coupled with dazzling emotions every day of their lives. Early on in my Christian life, I certainly had some of these ideals in my walk with the Lord.
I recall a moment as a 17-year-old when the Holy Spirit so convicted me through a message in church that I could not stop weeping, and at an altar call that followed I went up and dedicated my life to the Lord with a renewed fervor, deliberately setting aside my dreams and plans and committing to follow the Lord at any cost. Two of my youth pastors surrounded me to pray and rejoice with me — it was a moment forever imprinted on my walk with Christ.
These kinds of moments — and the emotions that accompany them — are amazing gifts of grace!
I woke up the morning after that life-changing day and had to go to school, where I was faced with tasks and conversations that seemed to dampen the reality of that previous day. When strong emotions fade, and incredible moments become distant memories, we can find ourselves longing for that feeling to return! Christ did a real work in me that day. And although the emotion of the experience faded, the transformation continued.
As women, the temptation to base our reality on our emotions can be very strong, but we must build our spiritual foundation on solid ground, rather than our feelings. As I have matured in Christ, I have come to grasp the precious truth that God is always the same and remains unchanged, even when my moods fluctuate. He remains who He is even when I don’t feel sky-high emotions like the ones I did that day as a 17-year-old. Although He made us with emotions that can be deeply felt, and are even challenging to put aside at times, I’ve learned to trust that He can help me to govern my emotions according to His truth and in a way that honors Him.
On the Heights
If you have been living an emotionally-directed Christian walk, know that you aren’t the only one who has struggled with this. Even Peter, the disciple of Christ, had to learn that this is not God’s plan for His followers.
In the Gospels, there is a scene where Peter, James, and John are led by Jesus to the top of a mountain where He is transfigured before their eyes — His face shining like the sun, His clothes glowing white — the height of beauty and awe! Then Moses and Elijah appear as well, speaking with Jesus. Peter, so inspired by the moment, suggests to Jesus that they build three shelters on the top of the mountain, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, so that this incredible experience might continue indefinitely! Not seconds later they are all surrounded by a bright cloud from Heaven and the booming voice of God speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to Him” (Lk. 9:35 NIV). Then the cloud suddenly disappears and they stand alone with Jesus, no longer transfigured and glowing, and He leads them back down the mountain and instructs them not to tell anyone about their experience. (See Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:1-9; and Luke 9:27-36.)
After the height of this excitement and wonder — as Peter’s life returned to its normal rhythms — I can just imagine him thinking, Okay … what was the point of that?
But later in his life, it would seem Peter learned what Jesus wanted him to learn. He shares his experience on the mountaintop with other believers, and says, “[we] were eyewitnesses of His majesty … we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:16,19). It would seem Peter learned that it wasn’t that single incredible mountaintop experience with Jesus that he needed to capture for all of time. Instead Peter shows that the prophetic word is Jesus, and through the Living Word, we each have the gift of His presence with us always. We don’t need the mountaintop, the exhilaration, the wow-factor, even though it is sometimes given to us as a gift! What we need most is the presence of Jesus!
In the Depths
Just as Jesus was on the mountain with the disciples, He also came down the mountain with them. Leading them to the heights to witness His glory and power, Jesus also journeyed with them down into the depths of the normal, everyday moments of their lives. In fact, this is where Jesus spent the bulk of His earthly ministry — living daily life with His disciples — in order to give them a model for how they should live, and to give them strength for unimaginable hardships they would face in His name. For Peter, this everyday fellowship with Jesus strengthened his faith and altered the course of his life forever.
One mountaintop experience may have amazed Peter — as they sometimes amaze us — but it was the daily walking with Jesus that led Peter to give his life for the Gospel. One glowing, vibrant spiritual experience may have given Peter momentary inspiration — and we may also have a momentary glimpse of immense glory — but Peter’s enduring strength and courage was the result of walking daily with Christ, drawing near to Him, listening to and learning from Him. And it will be the same for us!
Freedom in His Unchanging Truth
Living by emotion is not a position of strength for any Christian. On the heights of our emotions, we may proclaim like Peter … “Let’s build You a shelter here Jesus; stay forever with me in this perfect moment!” But what about when our feelings falter? Instead of growing disheartened when our sense of His presence seems to lessen or when our own emotion for His Word seems dampened, we can set those thoughts aside and cling to the Word, overflowing with truths like this one: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 NIV).
We are not meant to stay on the mountain forever. On the heights we are inspired in our hearts, as Peter was, by seeing the glory and majesty of Christ! We are given a vision of His greatness and of His great love for us so that when we come off the mountain into the plains of every day life, we might be strengthened to walk more boldly and faithfully with Jesus, who meets all our needs! We can’t relive past experiences. We can’t conjure up past feelings. And we aren’t meant to. But we can always revisit the Living Word for truths unfailing and unchanging. As Tozer so eloquently put it, Jesus can “without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature.” Even the deepest feeling you’ve ever experienced? Or the most incredible experience you could ever have on this earth? Yes, Jesus is still more “vastly wonderful,” more “completely delightful.”
So let’s draw near to the Person of Jesus. The gift of His very real presence will set us free from chasing after fleeting emotions. He is the firm Foundation that we can build our lives on! He is the Morning Star illuminating our hearts with His brilliant truth! And the best part? He is always with us — no matter what our feelings say! And that’s a promise we can cling to time and time again, whether on the heights, in the depths, or somewhere in between.