September 9th 2018 by Pastor Galen Zook
My Mountain Flop Experience
If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, you know that it is a physically demanding experience. But climbing a mountain can teach you a lot of life lessons as well.
When I was a junior in college, our college campus Christian fellowship went away for a week-long retreat at the end of the school year. We spent the week planning for the following year, electing new leaders, having fun and relaxing at the end of a busy school year.
Well, somehow I got it in my mind that it would be a fun bonding experience for our leadership team to hike up a mountain together and watch the sun rise over the valley below. I knew there was a beautiful view of the valley below from one of the lookouts, and although I had never climbed the mountain in the morning, I just knew it must be gorgeous to watch the sun rise over the valley.
So I went around and convinced all of the other leaders to wake up several hours before dawn the next morning so we could hike up the mountain in the dark and get to the top of the mountain in time for sunrise.
Now this wasn’t Mount Everest or anything like that, but it was a rather strenuous hike for those who weren’t accustomed to hiking – especially in the dark. But with a lot of coaxing and cajoling, we all finally made it to the top, just as the sky was starting to brighten.
As we came upon the lookout and saw the valley spreading out below, I realized to my great chagrin that the lookout faced squarely to the west – the exact opposite direction of where the sun was rising! It slowly dawned on me (pun intended!) that I had just forced my friends to get up several hours early and climb a mountain in the dark just so we could see the very same sight that we could have seen from down below – the sun rising over the tops of the trees behind us!
Now, I had just been elected president of that the fellowship, and needless to say, that experience did not win me a lot of points with the people under my leadership. But convincing my friends to climb that mountain in the dark, I learned a lot of valuable life lessons. I learned a lot about myself, about leadership, and how much I needed to grow.
I learned that good leadership is not just about encouraging and inspiring people to ascend to greater heights. Good leadership also requires doing exhaustive research, and meticulous planning. I learned that I had the ability to gather and encourage people to do just about anything, but that I needed to get better at taking into consideration what exactly I was leading people to.
I learned a lot from that mountain experience. (Rather than a mountain top experience I would call it a “mountain flop” experience!) But I definitely received some enlightenment through that experience.
Nature Teaches us about Ourselves and about God
This is the second week of our series on the topic of Creation. Last week we looked at the importance of protecting and caring for God’s creation, and how creation reveals to us the beauty and creativity of God. This week we’re looking at what creation can tell us about ourselves and about God’s care and protection for us.
Those Who Trust in God Are Like Mount Zion
In Psalm 125, the psalmist tells us that “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever” (Psalm 125:1).
Those who trust in the Lord are like a mountain. I don’t know about you, but I rarely think of myself as a mountain, although some people have pointed out that I tend to walk around with my head in the clouds! And I suppose, most mornings in the flurry of activity trying to get the kids ready for school I do experience several volcanic eruptions of anger as I yell at the kids to get dressed and not to forget their backpacks.
So I guess in some ways I am kind of like a mountain, but not necessarily in the way the psalmist suggests!
Now, I’d love to be solid, immovable, unshaken in my resolve. But in reality I’m afraid I much more often resemble a reed shaken by the wind, or the shifting sand of the seashore.
And yet, the psalmist tells us that those who trust in the Lord are like a mountain that cannot be moved, but will endure forever. The key words here are in the Lord. In and of ourselves we are easily shaken. It’s only when we put our trust in the Lord that we can remain firm and stand strong like a mountain.
There really is not much that can shake or move a mountain. Hurricanes, landslides, forest fires, earthquakes – all of these drastically change the face of a mountain, but they don’t do much to move the foundation, the bedrock of the mountain. Like a Timex wrist watch, mountains can “take a licking and keep on ticking.”
And this is how it is for us when we put our faith and trust in God. The psalmist is not suggesting that life will be a cakewalk, that the road will always rise up to meet us, or that the stars are always going to align. The psalmist is simply telling us that we can make it through whatever life brings our way if we put our trust in God. The storms of life can and will beat against us, but with God on our side we can withstand.
Trusting in the Lord
Like my mountain flop experience, we often learn through making mistakes. And the trials that we experience, the storms we weather can deepen not only our knowledge of ourselves and God, but they can actually serve to deepen our faith and trust and dependence on God.
Although the NIV says that those who trust in the Lord will never be “shaken,” I think a better word is “moved” or “removed.” I’ve found that as we grow in our faith and trust in God, there are many times when our faith is shaken. Bad things happen, and they absolutely affect us. We’re rattled, we’re thrown off balance, and our faith sometimes gets knocked around in the process.
Growing in our trust in God does not mean that we stop experiencing doubts or insecurities. In fact, growing in spiritual maturity often means that we begin to hold things more loosely. Rather than becoming more rigid in our convictions, growing in our faith and trust in God often means that we realize how much we don’t know, and how much we need to grow.
Some of the wisest people I know, who have the deepest faith and trust in God, would be the first to admit that they don’t know all that there is to know about God. They are continually learning new things, and continually growing. Rather than being immovable, they are flexible, adaptable, always willing to take in new information and learn new life lessons. Just like the face of a mountain changes and adapts over time, so we must be willing to incorporate in the new things that we’re learning about ourselves and about God.
Like a Mountain, The Lord Surrounds His People
Verse 2 goes on to say that God is like a mountain. Just like “the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people” (Psalm 125:2).
In the days prior to our advanced modern military technology, mountains played a pivotal role in warfare by providing a necessary defensive barrier against invading armies. Not only would a mountain slow an invading army down, but they generally took away the possibility of a surprise attack, giving the defending army plenty of time to prepare for the assault.
In the same way, the Lord surrounds and protects us. Indeed, we can put our faith and trust in God because God is like a mountain, surrounding us with God’s care and protection. Again, this doesn’t meant that bad things will never happen to us, that we’ll never be attacked by the enemy, but simply that God is there with us, that God holds us in his hand, and that God will help us get through whatever life brings our way.
In the words of the song, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,”
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.