What does 2017 have in store for you?
The turning of the calendar is often the catalyst for people to make decisions – some minor, some major; some suddenly thrust upon us, some avoided for too long.
What about you? What decisions are you weighing up right now as you consider the year ahead?
Before we talk about “how,” here are two foundational truths for making good decisions:
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “Plans for good, not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Romans 12:2 Then you will know the good, acceptable and perfect will of God
In other words…God has a great future planned for you, and He doesn’t intend it to be kept a secret from you. He wants you to know what it is and live it out.
My kitchen has a filtered water system installed. It uses a simple cartridge filter system, with seven layers designed to progressively filter out as much of the unnecessary, unhealthy, unhelpful elements as possible, eventually leaving us with clear, pure, healthy water to drink.
Similarly, I’ve developed a simple choice filter system, with seven layers designed to progressively filter out as much of the unnecessary, unhealthy, unhelpful options as possible, eventually leaving us with clear, pure, healthy choices to make.
So, to help you sift through the (possibly confusing) options/choices/decisions in front of you, here is A Filtering Process for Making the Right Choice. As you work through each layer of the filter in order, consider honestly if your option is blocked. If not it can continue on to the next layer, until it is either blocked or comes out as a healthy option for you.
- WORD OF GOD
What does God’s Word (The Bible) say, and what has God said specifically to you? If you’re not sure, you might want to ask someone who knows the Bible well, to point you in the right direction.
It is no accident that this layer is at the very top. If one of your “options” contravenes the Word of God then it’s not even an option worth considering. Throw it out, right now!
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path.
Proverbs 3:5,6 Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.
What do the trusted voices of wisdom in your life say about your possible decision? Often these are the people closest to you, who know you the best. They should also include people in positions of spiritual authority (eg your pastors and leaders) who you are connected with.
Some of these people may be a trusted voice of wisdom in one area of life (eg financial decisions), but not in another (eg parenting).
Proverbs 15:22 Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.
The challenge is that you can find someone who’ll say Yes to anything if you look hard enough and ask enough people. Make sure you’re getting the right advice from the right people – wisdom is tried and proven over time.
An outside, objective view can bring clarity to your decision making, even if sometimes it may not be what we wanted to hear!
James 1:5 If anyone lacks wisdom they should ask God, who gives it generously.
What does your “knower” say? Learn to listen to that “inner voice” that often confirms whether you’re making good choice or not. Romans 8:16 His Spirit Bears witness with our spirit…
This inner confirmation can often be described as a sense of peace and confidence in the decision you’re making.
Every one of us is wired differently to fulfil the different plans and purposes God has for us. If you’ve still got an option (or options) at this layer that you’re unsure about, ask yourself “What does my wiring say?” ie, what fires your passion and what fizzes your passion?
The gifts, talents, and abilities God has given you, are a pretty good indicator of the kind of life He wants you to choose.
- WAY YOU’RE WALKING
What does your purpose say? Does this choice/decision/option move you closer to your purpose or further away from it?
Life seems to have a way of throwing detours and distractions at us which will distance us and delay us from making the choices we really need to make. A bit of relentless resolve about the direction your life is heading will go a long way to avoiding some of the unhelpful (albeit often well-meaning) options you’ll inevitably be presented with. An option may be excellent for one person whose life is heading towards “X” but disastrous for another person whose life is meant to head towards “Y.”
I believe a vital decision in setting the course of your life is to connect yourself into the vision and purpose of a great local church – where there is clear commitment to helping people follow Jesus, an eternal kingdom perspective, and a passion for making a difference and living for a cause greater than ourselves.
What do you want? What do your heart desires say?
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.
So, what do you want?
If (note: IF!) your option doesn’t get filtered out by the first five layers, then probably the choice is yours. This can sound stange or even selfish to someone who is desperately wanting to choose God’s good, perfect and acceptable will for their life, but remember He puts desires in you for a reason – it’s all part of directing you towards God’s plan and purpose for your life.
- WAIT & “WELAX”
What if you get all the way through the filter layers, and still you can’t make a clear choice? Keep doing the best you can with what you’ve got in your hand right now. You might hear people talking about “waiting on the Lord.” This phrase in the Bible isn’t intended as a passive, sit-back-and-do-nothing attitude. Rather it has a sense of active attentiveness and anticipation, like a waiter “waiting” on tables.
If you’re heading in the right direction while driving a car using your GPS, the built-in navigator won’t say anything unless you need to change direction, make a turn etc. If God hasn’t given you new instructions, just keep doing the last thing He told you!
What if I make a wrong decision?
The truth is there are only 2 or 3 BIG decisions in life which affect your whole life – eg the decision to follow Jesus, the decision about who you marry. Virtually every decision we make in life can be redirected if needed, although there may often be some pain involved.
Ultimately I believe that if your motivation is to seek first the kingdom of God and His ways, pressing toward the upward calling He has for your life, then as you make the best decisions you can with the information you have based on something like the layers of this filter, you just have to believe the steps of good people are ordered by the Lord (Psalm 37:23).
I look forward to hearing how this Decision Making Filter helps you!
When we bought our current house in Queensland we discovered the previous owners had beautifully renovated the house just a few years ago…except for the main bathroom, toilet and laundry, which were still in all of their 30-year-old “glory”! We couldn’t understand how they could put so much work into extending and renovating fantastic living spaces, before “downing tools” and putting up with those ugly rooms for the next 8 years, when they were only 12 square metres short of finishing the whole house. So we moved in with a plan to immediately get to work completing the renovation that our predecessors had clearly lost their vision for. We had to wait while we got quotes from contractors, chose tiles, cabinets, toilets etc. Then the work got put on hold a bit longer…and a bit longer…and a bit longer…until we stopped seeing how terrible those rooms really looked. We even started saying crazy things like, “It’s cool because it makes it look like a bayside holiday shack.”
I wonder if there’s any area in your life where your vision has been lost, or maybe clouded and dimmed?
Isaiah 22:1-3, 8-11a “The Message oncerning the Valley of Vision: What’s going on here anyway? All this partying and noisemaking, Shouting and cheering in the streets, the city noisy with celebrations! You have no brave soldiers to honor, no combat heroes to be proud of. Your leaders were all cowards, captured without even lifting a sword, a country of cowards captured escaping the battle…God has left Judah exposed and defenseless. You assessed your defenses that Day, inspected your arsenal of weapons in the Forest Armory. You found the weak places in the city walls that needed repair. You secured the water supply at the Lower Pool. You took an inventory of the houses in Jerusalem and tore down some to get bricks to fortify the city wall. You built a large cistern to ensure plenty of water. You looked and looked and looked, but you never looked to him who gave you this city, never once consulted the One who has long had plans for this city.”
I am convinced that when it comes to having a great vision most people see the challenge, accept their fears, and bypass a defining moment. Visionary people, however, see a defining moment, accept the challenge, and bypass their fears. What makes visionary people different is not just what they see but also what they don’t see!
So, what are you looking at?
Here’s some focal points we need to choose between in the Valley of Vision:
#1. BLOOPERS & BATTERINGS or BLESSINGS & BETTER THINGS
Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Amos 9:13 Things are going to happen so fast your head will swim, one thing fast on the heels of the other. You won’t be able to keep up. Everything will be happening at once—and everywhere you look, blessings!
Do you tend to focus more on what’s going wrong OR what’s going right? Some people sing and dance in the rain; others just get wet and miserable!
#2. DRUDGERY or DREAMS
I haven’t been to a city in the world yet where people have told me, “This is an easy place to help people find Jesus and to build a great church.” On the contrary, everywhere I’ve ever been I’ve met someone who has said, “This is a hard place.” It’s too hard because people are too busy/too relaxed; it’s too big/too small; too secular/too churched; too wealthy/too poor; too restricted/too many options; too connected/too isolated etc etc etc!
Do you tend to see hard ground OR harvest fields? In John 4:35, Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”
What do you see as too hard in your life?
A farmer doesn’t give up because his work is hard – he has the future harvest in mind!
#3. HOPELESS MISMATCH or HOPE FOR A MIRACLE
When confronted by overwhelming odds, Jonathan told his armour-bearer in 1 Samuel 14:6 Nothing can stop the Lord from saving by many or by few.
Gideon went to battle against a huge army with just 300 men…and won.
David, the teenage shepherd boy confronted the giant warrior Goliath…and won.
Daniel was thrown in a den full of hungry lions as punishment for his faith…and lived.
His friends Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were thrown in a fiery furnace as punishment for their commitment to their faith…and came out without even the smell of smoke on them.
What seems like a hopeless mismatch for you right now? These accounts are in the Bible to inspire us to always have hope for a miracle!
#4. OPPOSITION & OBSTACLES or OPEN DOORS & OPPORTUNITIES
Opposition is usually a sign that you’re heading in the right direction, as anything which is moving forward faces resistance. Resistance training in the gym makes you stronger; resistance force is what takes an aircraft to a higher altitude.
1 Corinthians 16:9 A great and effective door of opportunity has opened for me, and there are many adversaries, or as The Message paraphrase puts it: There is also mushrooming opposition.
All opposing forces on any object are in balance, that object becomes motionless. This is not God’s purpose for you – keep moving forward into the open doors and opportunities He has for you.
#5. THE PAST or THE PRIZE
As the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, they remembered longingly the leeks and garlic they ate as slaves in Egypt, when the prize before them was the milk and honey of the Promised Land.
Do you tend to focus more on the “good old days” OR the “goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”?
Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.
Psalm 27:13 I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
#6. TROUBLES or TRIALS
James 1:2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when trials and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
The glaring difference between troubles and trials is perhaps illustrated best in the sporting world: Troubles (financial, governance, disharmony, cheating etc) can disqualify a team or player. BUT trials are the proving process for qualification – no aspiring player says, “These trials are too much trouble!”
#7. WHY NOT!!! or WHY NOT???
Numbers 13:27-30 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” 30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
These verses contain 11 words of promise compared to 50 words of problems! That’s a ratio of 11:50 (or 1:4.54545454545454 recurring!). I think most of us could work on reducing that gap in the ratio of how we speak about challenges we face.
Do you tend to see the Problems OR Promises? There are always people who will tell us why something can’t happen. Let’s commit to being the kind of people who ask, “Why not??? We can certainly do it!”
So, whether you’re on the mountain-top or in the valley-low, what are you looking at?
PS: Our bathroom/toilet/laundry renovations have now recommended after nearly two years of lost vision!
Everyone faces Valleys of Disappointment/Displacement/Disagreement more than once in life. For the sake of our future success it is vital to learn how to successfully traverse these Valley of Dis…!
Genesis 26 (MSG) There was a famine in the land, as bad as the famine during the time of Abraham. And Isaac went down to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar.
2-5 God appeared to him and said, “Don’t go down to Egypt; stay where I tell you. Stay here in this land and I’ll be with you and bless you. I’m giving you and your children all these lands, fulfilling the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I’ll make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky and give them all these lands. All the nations of the Earth will get a blessing for themselves through your descendants. And why? Because Abraham obeyed my summons and kept my charge—my commands, my guidelines, my teachings.”
6 So Isaac stayed put in Gerar.
7 The men of the place questioned him about his wife. He said, “She’s my sister.” He was afraid to say “She’s my wife.” He was thinking, “These men might kill me to get Rebekah, she’s so beautiful.”
8-9 One day, after they had been there quite a long time, Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out his window and saw Isaac fondling his wife Rebekah. Abimelech sent for Isaac and said, “So, she’s your wife. Why did you tell us ‘She’s my sister’?”
Isaac said, “Because I thought I might get killed by someone who wanted her.”
10 Abimelech said, “But think of what you might have done to us! Given a little more time, one of the men might have slept with your wife; you would have been responsible for bringing guilt down on us.”
11 Then Abimelech gave orders to his people: “Anyone who so much as lays a hand on this man or his wife dies.”
12-15 Isaac planted crops in that land and took in a huge harvest (reaped in the same year a hundredfold). God blessed him. The man began to prosper, continued to prosper, and became very prosperous. He accumulated flocks and herds and many, many servants, so much so that the Philistines began to envy him. They got back at him by throwing dirt and debris into all the wells that his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham, clogging up all the wells.
16 Finally, Abimelech told Isaac: “Leave. You’ve become far too big for us.”
17-18 So Isaac left. He camped in the Valley of Gerar and settled down there. Isaac dug again the wells which were dug in the days of his father Abraham but had been clogged up by the Philistines after Abraham’s death. And he renamed them, using the original names his father had given them.
19-24 One day, as Isaac’s servants were digging in the valley, they came on a well of spring water. The shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s shepherds, claiming, “This water is ours.” So Isaac named the well Esek (Quarrel) because they quarreled over it. They dug another well and there was a difference over that one also, so he named it Sitnah (Accusation or Hostility). He went on from there and dug yet another well. But there was no fighting over this one so he named it Rehoboth (Wide-Open Spaces), saying, “Now God has given us plenty of space to spread out in the land.” From there he went up to Beersheba. That very night God appeared to him and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father; don’t fear a thing because I’m with you. I’ll bless you and make your children flourish because of Abraham my servant.”
25 Isaac built an altar there and prayed, calling on God by name. He pitched his tent and his servants started digging another well.
26-27 Then Abimelech came to him from Gerar with Ahuzzath his advisor and Phicol the head of his troops. Isaac asked them, “Why did you come to me? You hate me; you threw me out of your country.”
28-29 They said, “We’ve realized that God is on your side. We’d like to make a deal between us—a covenant that we maintain friendly relations. We haven’t bothered you in the past; we treated you kindly and let you leave us in peace. So—God’s blessing be with you!”
30-31 Isaac laid out a feast and they ate and drank together. Early in the morning they exchanged oaths not to interfere with each other. Then Isaac said good-bye and they left him in peace.
32-33 Later that same day, Isaac’s servants came to him with news about the well they had been digging, “We’ve struck water!” Isaac named the well Sheba (Oath), and that’s the name of the city, Beersheba (Oath-Well), to this day.
The name of the Valley of Gerar has an interesting meaning: “to sojourn (stay temporarily); be dragged off, to chew over, chew the cud, ruminate.”
Have you ever felt like a sojourner – wandering without a clear sense of purpose?
Have you ever felt like you’ve been dragged away from something you love; or had something dragged away from you?
Have you ever felt chewed over, chewed up, spat out?
Have you ever been disappointed? Displaced? Had an ongoing disagreement?
Have you ever had to start all over again?
Have you ever felt like every time things start to go really well, someone or something comes and dirties the water?
Secrets for climbing the Valley of Disappointment/Displacement/Disagreement:
#1. Learn from the mistakes of the past
In trying to protect his life, Isaac made exactly the same mistake his father Abraham had of pretending his wife was his sister. It didn’t go well for Abraham the first time, and it didn’t go any better for Isaac the second time!
Some valley experiences are simply of our own making.
Us: “God, what are you trying to teach me in this valley?”
God: “Stop making the same dumb mistakes!”
Let’s not be the kind of people who continually repeat the same mistakes over and over, so we can get on into the valleys and mountains that are actually worth climbing.
#2. God’s purpose might look different to your picture
God’s got a wide-lens, big picture, panorama view. We’ve just got a zoomed-in snapshot cropped to fit on a postcard with a message from God saying, “I wish you were here.”
God told Isaac, “Stay here and I will be with you and bless you.” He was, and He did, but then things changed! Did God lie to Isaac? NO! Was God taken by surprise? NO! Did Abimelech interfere with God’s plan or was he part of God’s plan to get Isaac to move to Beersheba? I DON’T KNOW! But what I DO KNOW is that the Bible says:
Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps…
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a man’s heart but God’s purpose prevails…
Psalm 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord…
Romans 8:28 All things are working together for good for those who love God…
#3. God can prosper you wherever you are
Isaac prospered even though he was surrounded by famine. My memory of this passage was that “began to prosper, continued to prosper, became very prosperous” (Gen 26:12-13) came after Isaac had gone through all of his disaapointments/displacements/disagreements. But on reading it again I realised, this was only the beginning and more trouble was still to come. However, Isaac prospered he was when sent away, prospered when he was moved on, and prospered when he settled.
#4. Learn how to dig a well
A well symbolises a source of life and refreshing for you AND others. Wells can be experiences, wisdom, insights, revelations, examples. If we want to be refreshed ourselves, as well as be a source of help and blessing for others, we need to uncover old wells that we have dug and wells that others have dug before us, by reminding ourselves of lessons learned, or things God has spoken about previously.
We also need to continually dig new wells – i.e. not relying only on the past, but also continually learning, growing, and progressing.
#5. Choose your watering hole
Why would we want to drink from a well called “Quarrel” or “Accusations” or “Hostility”? Yet so often that’s what people do! They keep drawing from bitter wells and wondering why it leaves a bad taste in their mouth.
Remember Gerar means “to chew over, chew the cud, ruminate.” Chewing the cud has to be one the most disgusting things a cow does! Chewing, regurgitating, chewing again, regurgitating again, over and over. What cud of quarrels, accusations, hostilities have you been chewing over, ruminating on, and regurgitating? You can’t change the past. You can only change the future by the decisions you make, and the actions you take, today.
Maybe it’s time to move on and dig a new well in some area of your life. God’s got a wide-open space of blessing for you even greater than before!
#6. You can always start again
Just remember that the way you end something, is the way you will begin the next thing. Make sure you finish things well. People who never finish anything always struggle to get beyond the Valley of Dis…
#7. Show grace to those who hurt you
You just never know when your paths may cross again!
#8. Say good-bye to your past and leave it in peace
In the famous words of Elsa…”Let it go!”
#9. Don’t find fault. Unlock the vault
There is a Vault in your Valley containing great treasures of wisdom, learning, favour and blessing – for you and others. We get to choose whether we will find fault in the valley, or unlock the vault.
Vault finds: Value (something of worth). Fault finds: Loss.
Vault finds: Validation (proving of purpose & character). Fault finds: Failure and doubt.
Vault finds: Valour (strength & resilience). Fault finds: Fear & discouragement.
Vault finds: Valentines (new loves and passions). Fault finds: Bitter resentment.
Vault finds: Valets (people to do the journey with). Fault finds: Isolation.
Vault finds: Valedictories (goodbye to the past & hello to the future). Fault finds: Prisoner to the past.
Whatever your Dis… has been – do yourself a favour and say goodbye to that Valley so you can move into the blessing of God in and through your life ASAP! In the words we love to sing to fans of a losing opposition team at the football…“Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, good-bye!”
Genesis 14:10-12 As it happened, the Valley of Siddim was filled with tar pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains. The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. They also captured Lot—Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned.
Sometimes going through a valley can feel like it’s the pits!
One of the most encouraging stories in the Bible is that of Joseph in Genesis chapters 37 to 50. If you ever feel like there’s a huge gap between your dreams and your reality, if you ever feel unfairly treated, overlooked or forgotten…take a moment to read Joseph’s story:
- Genesis 37a – Seventeen year-old Joseph is the favourite son of his father Jacob (remember the technicolour dream coat?), and has a dream one night where all of his brothers (who hate him!) and even his own parents were bowing down to him.
- Genesis 37b – His brothers were so mad they threw him into a pit and sold him to slave-traders enroute to Egypt. They told their father Jacob that Joseph had been mauled and killed by a wild animal.
- Genesis 39a – Joseph is bought as a slave by Potiphar, an Egyptian official and captain of Pharaoh’s guards. Joseph thrived in Potiphar’s house, eventually being put in charge of the whole household and “the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Gen 39:3). Unfortunately he also caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. She repeatedly tried to seduce him, and eventually accused him falsely of attempting to assault her when Joseph spurned her advances one last time.
- Genesis 39b – Joseph was hauled off to prison, but even there “the Lord was with him and gave him success in whatever he did” (Gen 39:23).
- Genesis 40 – Joseph accurately interprets the dreams of two fellow prisoners who were servants of Pharaoh. One of them (Pharaoh’s cupbearer) is released back into service just as Joseph predicted, but promptly forgets to put a good word in for him. Joseph languishes in prison for another two years!
- Genesis 41 – Pharaoh has a troubling dream which none of his wise-men or sorcerors are able to interpret. Suddenly the cupbearer remembers Joseph the dream-teller. Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, rightly interprets the dream, suggests a plan of action, and is suddenly elevated to Prime Minister of the Egyptian kingdom.
- Genesis 42-50 is the unfolding fulfilment of Joseph’s original dream. A famine forces his brothers to come to Egypt. As far as they know, their long-lost brother is probably dead, so when the Prime Minister calls for them to be brought to him they get a whole lot more than they bargained for – including an incredible demonstration of grace and kindness on the part of Joseph.
- Joseph’s life was one big roller-coaster ride of emotions and experiences!
When Joseph first received his dream, all he saw was the mountaintops of greatness. He didn’t see the pits that would predicate the process of progress towards the promise.
Pit -> Potiphar -> Prison -> Palace -> Prime Minister
If you ever find yourself in the Valley of Pits, try thinking about it like this:
- P.I.T. = Purpose in Transit (the slave traders actually got Joseph to wear his future needed him to be)
- P.I.T. = Purpose in Training (serving Potiphar prepared him for serving in Pharaoh’s palace)
- P.I.T. = Personal Integrity Testing (Potiphar’s wife could’ve robbed him of his destiny)
- P.I.T = Personality In Testing (would prison make him or break him?)
- P.I.T. = Passion In Testing (would he keep serving with the same spirit of excellence wherever he was?)
- P.I.T. = Perseverance In Testing (how easy would it have been to lose hope when forgotten by the cupbearer for those extra two years? Yet God’s timing was painfully perfect!)
Sometimes we can find ourselves in a pit because of our own poor choices, a lack of wisdom or understanding, and even the actions of other people…BUT “He redeems my life from the pit” (Psalm 103:4).
God doesn’t plan bad things for us but He can redeem anything that happens. Nothing is wasted in God! Joseph famously told his brothers at the end of the story “That which was intended for evil, God meant for good” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph received his dream at 17, became Prime Minister at 30 (13 years later), was reunited with his family 9 years later, and his father died 17 years later. Joseph made this profound statement to his brothers at the age of 56…that’s 39 years after they threw him into a pit! Over all that time Joseph chose to become better, when he could so easily have become bitter.
Here’s four final thoughts for when you’re in a pit of some kind:
- Never quit in the pit!
- Never ask “Why?”…Ask “What?” Trying to figure out why can do your head in! Asking what you can learn, what you can change, sets you up to climb out of the Valley of Pits and up the next mountain-top ahead of you
- Never think you’ve gone too low for God. Psalm 139:7-8 “Where can I go to escape your presence? If I go up to Heaven, you are there. If I go down to the depths, you are there.” Psalm 3:4 “I cried out to the Lord and He answered me.”
- Remember pits can predicate the process of progress towards the promise! In other words, the pit can actually be part of getting you to where you need to be.
Have you ever had a “mountain-top” experience?
Have you ever been through an experience better described as a “valley low”?
In 2014, a 17 year-old Queensland girl, Alyssa Azar, was preparing an attempt to reach the peak of Mount Everest. While she was still at base camp the climb was aborted after 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche. In 2015 she returned to the mountain but was again thwarted when a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, and 3,218 people lost their lives.
In May 2016, the now 19 year-old became the youngest Australian to summit Mount Everest, in a feat of astounding tenacity and courage.
Personally, I’ve had two haunting mountain-top experiences. Once when I was exploring a mountain-side waterfall in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. After climbing and clambering, I ended up on the side of a cliff on a small ledge with the valley spread out hundreds of metres below me. My legs were shaking and I had become separated from my friends. Somehow I was able to find a way back up – my palms are sweating right now as I remember it! The other was on a recent trip to visit good friends who lead a church in Las Vegas. They took me to see the Grand Canyon – and what a breathtaking experience that is! In an attempt to get the perfect selfie I stood out on the ice and snow covered edge of the canyon. As I took the photo an older tourist came walking towards me on the same outcrop, selfie-stick in hand, but he slipped and tripped on the ice and came sliding towards me! That night I woke up continually with nightmares of him and his selfie-stick sending me hurtling off the edge.
Stories of mountain climbers have inspired people for generations. One of my personal favourites comes from NZ adventurer Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, was famous for being the first to successfully scale Everest. After one failed attempt, Hillary was speaking at a banquet in London – behind the podium was a large photograph of Everest. It is said that Hillary turned, faced the photo and said, “Mount Everest, you have defeated me. But I will return. And I will defeat you. Because you can’t get any bigger, but I can.”
A “mountain-top experience” is a metaphor for something wonderfully exhilarating, even destiny-defining in someone’s life. Preachers talk about “mountain-top” encounters with God, and in fact throughout the Bible great things did happen on the mountain-tops
- Moses received God’s Law on Mt Sinai
- Elijah saw a display of God’s power on Mt Carmel
- Elijah heard God’s voice on Mt Horeb
- Jesus was revealed in his glory with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration
People long for the mountain-tops of life. Mountain-tops are the like the highlights package of our lives, usually the parts shown on social media for everyone else to admire and be envious of! But the reality of life is that people aren’t always out on #datenightwithbae at a Michelin-star restaurant; or on holidays #whereyoudratherbe; or ticking items off their #bucketlist and #livingthedream.
Much more of life is spent on the plateaus, or clinging for dear life to a cliff face, or trying to find a way through a valley. If the highlights packages are the mountain-tops, the “reality grams” and bloopers are the valleys. Here’s a fact: every great mountain-top is preceded by a valley. Often a series of valleys. This is true both topographically AND metaphorically!
Part of climbing up a mountain is first climbing down into a valley. A valley takes you down first so that it can take you up the mountain, if you keep going. The valley isn’t the destination, but something to come through – as the Psalmist said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow…”
When you conceive a great dream for your future, it can be like looking across a landscape and seeing amazing mountain-tops, but you don’t/can’t see all the valleys between the peaks. We set out, expecting a great adventure of “onwards and upwards” only to be thrown into turmoil when we come to a valley of trouble, or disappointment, or loss, or pressure, or dry bones, or…
Having learnt some lessons in the valleys that I’ve encountered, I like to think of valleys as “upside down mountains.” That’s all they are – inverted mountains! I am convinced there is just as much (if not more) we can learn by becoming great valley-climbers, blazing a trail of inspiration and encouragement for all those who will inevitably face many valleys of their own.
Over this next series of posts, we’ll explore some of the various valleys found in the Bible that relate to all different parts of our lives, and see what gems of wisdom we can find along the way.
“What were you thinking?”
“Did you even think about it?”
“Just stop and think for a minute!”
We have all said these words, and had them said to us, many times. We have all experienced the frustration of dealing with somebody who seems to consistently overlook the basic human capacity to think. Disconcertingly, we have also all found ourselves regretting the fact that we have acted, reacted, spoken without really thinking about the effect or result produced by it, until it’s too late.
For millennia, a wise Book has urged people to adjust and shape their thinking with statements such as:
“For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he”
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”
“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.”
Neural science researchers estimate that we have between 50-80,000 thoughts every day, with an astonishing 98% of those thoughts being exactly the same thoughts that we had yesterday. While some thoughts need to be repeated day after day in order to build strong convictions into our life, imagine if we could deliberately, intentionally, purposefully and proactively increase that tiny 2% piece of the pie representing new, innovative & creative thoughts.
Researchers also say that a staggering 80% of those tens of thousands of thoughts every day in most people’s minds are negative.
So, our mission is to grow the 2% and the 20%. The creative and the positive.
But how? What do you think?