As most of you probably know, I spent this past semester studying abroad in Israel and travelling across Europe. From start to finish, this trip has been one of the greatest experiences of my life and I’m completely humbled and utterly grateful for the opportunity God gave me to do all of this. But as with all good things, the trip has to come to an end. As I process the reality of coming home in just over a day and think through the memories I’ve made, my mind goes back to a lesson I learned early in the trip in Israel when we visited Mt. Carmel.
While standing atop Mt. Carmel, overlooking the Jezreel Valley and Kishon River below, the country of Jordan to the East, and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, we opened our Bibles and our professor read from 1 Kings 18.
1 Kings 18 tells the story of Elijah and his encounter with the false prophets of Baal. (For a refresher on the story, read it here). In the chapter, the author recounts Elijah’s courageous act of faith that proved the existence of the God of Israel by disproving the power of the false god Baal. Elijah’s story is a common sermon topic or Sunday school lesson, but the story generally ends with a simple challenge like, “Be courageous like Elijah and God will do mighty things through you.”
Except Elijah’s story doesn’t end here.
If we flip the page in our Bible to the next chapter of 1 Kings, we see that Elijah’s life goes downhill quite rapidly following the incident atop the mountain.
In chapter 19, Elijah finds out that Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, wasn’t too big a fan of his actions on the mountain. Knowing the prophets of Baal were killed, she vowed to do the same to Elijah by the end of the next day (19:1-2)!
What would you expect from Elijah here? If Elijah was any “normal” person, I would expect him to respond in fear. But not for Elijah! He just defeated 850 false prophets, Elijah wouldn’t fear when one wicked queen turned against him.
“Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life” (19:3).
Elijah ran in fear. Not only this, but in the next verse he asks God to take his life.
If his downfall wasn’t bad enough already, Elijah keeps fleeing. He goes to the mountains near Sinai—the very same mountains where Moses received the law from the Lord in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Maybe he was hoping to re-encounter God by ascending a mountain once again, or maybe he was hoping to receive a special message from God like Moses. Elijah did receive a message, but not quite the message of encouragement he was hoping for: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint…Elisha…to be prophet in your place” (19:15-16).
Instead of being promoted leader of Israel or receiving a special message of encouragement from God, Elijah is “de-commissioned” as prophet for his lack of faith and for fleeing in fear from Jezebel.
I feel much like Elijah atop Mt. Carmel right now.
I’ve just experienced one of the greatest seasons of my life filled with so many lessons learned and memories made. I saw God work through others and me in amazing ways and grew in knowledge and experience. But now I’m about to come down the mountain and return to reality, as I know it, in America.
Thinking on Elijah’s story has made me ask this question: How do we make our mountaintop experiences last when we come down from the mountain?
Like Elijah, our lives have magnificent mountaintop experiences. But also like Elijah, our mountaintop experiences end, too; no mountaintop experience lasts forever.
I’m continually learning that life is not lived on the mountaintop. Life is most often lived in the mundane plateaus and valleys with occasional mountaintops. When we have a life-changing trip, event, or experience, the first step to carrying the experience to the foot of the mountain is to accept that there will be hardships when we come down.
Entering back into “normal life” isn’t easy when you’ve experienced God in an amazing out-of-the-ordinary way. When you return home and life continues as before, it’s easy to get caught up in the blur of your mountaintop experience and chalk it off as just that: an experience.
The last thing you want to do is remember a life changing time as only an experience.
To do that would be to repeat the mistake of Elijah. He experienced the mighty hand of God working through him on the mountain but he didn’t learn to translate that experience into life change once he came down from the mount.
We can learn three simple, but vital truths from Elijah’s mountaintop experience that can help us with our own.
- After a mountaintop experience, the only direction to go is down.
You can’t keep climbing up when you’ve reached the top. You eventually have to come down. This pans out differently based on the type of mountain we are descending, but whether it’s a trip, a momentous learning experience, or a time when we saw God use us in a mighty way, we can expect hardships at the foot of the mountain. Satan will try to throw rocks to trip us on our descent. We must be prepared to face hardships.
- God’s power is just as mighty at the foot of the mountain as it is at the top.
It’s easy to think when God feels distant or His voice is silent that His power has left. Elijah experienced this at the foot of the mountain when he underestimated the power of God and fled in fear. In reality, although we might not always feel His power working through us like we did on the mountain, God it is still with us and He is still working. God’s power is constant; let us never underestimate His ability and willingness to work in any situation. God is the same at the top of the mountain and at the bottom.
- We are not the one’s to receive glory for our mountain top experiences; God is.
At the end of the day, any fruit of our work, our ministry, our life is actually God’s. We must not overestimate our own importance. Elijah did not have a right grasp on this truth and he suffered greatly for it by losing his role as Israel’s prophet.
As my last days on this adventure are ending and I plan to board a plane and return to America in just over 30 hours, I’m clinging to these truths myself. I know that coming down from the mountain is not easy, but it is inevitable. Hardships will arise at the foot of the mountain, but God’s power is the same at the foot of the mountain as it is at the top. Recognizing that hardships will come, remembering my own frailty, and recalling God’s goodness on the mountaintop, I pray that I, and you, can learn from Elijah’s story to let our mountaintop experiences change our lives as we return to reality.