"Climbing to the summit is optional but coming down the mountain is mandatory" said Ed Viesturs the first American to summit Mt. Everest without oxygen tanks.
Ed is a seasoned speaker who regales the stories of his mountaineering conquests and the lessons learned to audiences across the world. But something in what he said brought together thoughts and questions that I had gathered over the years into a moment of clarity – as Christian leaders and followers we spend our time trying to figure how to get close to God but we don't necessarily know how to back away from Him.
For many years I have studied the Bible and brought its inspiration to my congregation on Sunday. On most occasions I have been moved by His Word and given whatever revelation I had found that week and it was wonderful, at least for me. But the one thing that was consistent for those years was the lull after preaching and ministering. Dare I say it was like a depression even though I'm not given to depression normally. Monday morning would come and I'd feel kind of gutted. I understood the price that it took to minister – I am of course a pastor's kid. I had no known delusions of grandeur when I became a minister. Neither was I oblivious to the concept of power leaving me in the same way that Christ noticed his power being depleted when someone's faith touched him in the middle of a crowd (Luke 8:46). So I was always expecting there to be some 'coming down' from the high of ministry to some degree.
Ed continued to say that most people have a plan for getting up the mountain but they don't have a plan for getting off the mountain. And it's the lack of this plan for getting off a mountain that takes many a mountaineer's life. The push for completing the job, getting to the top, reaching for glory can lead a person to either die on the mountain or barely make it down alive.
The fact is, it's wonderful to feel the joy and thrill of God's Presence that comes through ministry. But we don't live in a church service or Christian environment 24-7. And neither could we. We're not even ready to live constantly in God's Presence yet until he readies us to (1 Peter 5:10). No one can be fully sustained at the top of a mountain. Getting to the summit and nearing God can feed your soul, your spirit and your mind but the body needs food, water and rest which are located in the human world at the bottom of mountains.
I think the problem with coming back down the mountain is that it feels so inglorious, it doesn't thrill the spirit like it did the day before when you preached. When you come down you see your own humanity and others' humanity.
Worse, you see and feel the frailties, the failures, the sins. It's so depressing after you've experienced the wonderful joy-filling Presence of God. Yes, we should carry that Presence with us back down the mountain but I think we can often experience Moses' dilemma when the glory on his face didn't allow him to properly integrate with the human world easily (Exodus 34:30) and eventually it diminished. Of course, we were never originally designed to be without God's Presence but let’s be honest, I think we can accept that we know the distance more than we know the closeness of God.
There are very sobering accounts of some people in the Bible who really struggled to handle what to do after experiencing the mighty power and Presence of God. After the flood Noah became a drunk (Genesis 9:20,21). After calling fire down from heaven Elijah went into a depression (2 Kings 3-5). How could they experience some of the most amazing manifestations of God's glory and succumb to such depression?
With more recent examples there have been a lot of very public pastoral failures in my town of late. Drugs, divorce, suicide, church splits, firings, alcoholism and the perennial sin – adultery. Well known and little known pastors' lives, marriages, families and ministries dying on top of mountains of glory.
It makes you wonder if anyone can truly survive going up and down that mountain so often. Or maybe it's that they never really dealt with their sin and that their position, or fame, just made their death that much more spectacular.
I remember talking to an older pastor once about another pastor whose preaching skills were stellar. That preacher could take a snippet of a verse and lead you down a rabbit hole to a wonderland of understanding like I'd rarely heard before. Yet, he was so overweight he could never have imagined to physically fit through any kind of hole much less that rabbit hole. I asked my older pastor friend how such a man, who had no eating discipline, teach on discipleship itself. His answer was a rebuke even if he had not intended it so. He said, He wears his sin on his sleeve. The real question is: where do you hide yours?
I suppose we will always feel the calling and responsibility to climb that mountain and lead others into the Presence of God but we must somehow get past how much that will show up our weaknesses and even the sins we don't seem to be able to completely flee yet. And we must not be overcome by the despair of leaving the intensity of that wonderful Presence.
In answer to my question on how you back away from God: I don't know that I am offering a perfect plan of how to ascend the hill of the Lord and then how to descend it. I now do have my routines to come down and I don't seem to suffer as much on Mondays. But I suppose what Ed said about having a plan for coming down the mountain had challenged me that I still need to know how to be connected to earth just as much as I work at being connected to heaven. I need a plan. I must practice His Presence. I must live in this world. I must flee the sin that so easily besets me. How can I do this and not die half way up there and thus devastate my family?
Thanks be to Christ who has conquered both of these worlds and my sin by becoming both God and man. I must keep my eyes to where he walks because he will lead me to where I need to be, even down the mountain back to earth. My plan is to learn how to follow him down as much as up.
Do you have a plan on how to come down the mountain? If not, get one.