…He climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While He was in prayer, the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with Him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over His exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in His glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.
While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”
– Luke 9:28b-35 (MSG)
Today my pastor preached on the Transfiguration.
I listened from my bed, the ache in my side threatening to ruin all efforts at concentration.
The lesson lived out in real time, for the passage goes on:
When they came down off the mountain the next day, a big crowd was there to meet them. A man called from out of the crowd, “Please, please, Teacher, take a look at my son. He’s my only child. Often a spirit seizes him. Suddenly he’s screaming, thrown into convulsions, his mouth foaming. And then it beats him black-and-blue before it leaves. I asked Your disciples to deliver him but they couldn’t.”
Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here.”
While he was coming, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into convulsions. Jesus stepped in, ordered the vile spirit gone, healed the boy, and handed him back to his father.
– Luke 9:37-42 (MSG)
The mountain top is not where we live.
Our homes are made in the valley.
We have trouble accepting this. We think that giving our lives over to God somehow means that we’ll hang out on the heights. All will be rainbows and unicorns. Even if we consciously and strongly reject the “health-and-wealth” non-gospel, in the back of our minds we cling to its precepts. We cannot reconcile how obedience and suffering, faith and frailty, go together.
Yet they do.
In the High Priestly Prayer of John 17, Jesus specifically says that He doesn’t desire for His people to be taken out of the world. He works instead for our protection. This doesn’t mean life on easy street, for just a chapter previously He guaranteed that we would have trouble (John 16:33). So what on earth does He protect us from, if not from trouble?
He protects us from losing heart.
From losing faith.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is both the “author and finisher” of faith. It’s not something we cook up ourselves. The ability to go on in this midst of trouble, to trust that He is going to complete the plan set in motion before the world began, is a gift straight from God. He pours it out on His people, even when we don’t have sense enough to ask.
Overall, it’snot about protection from storms, though there are times when He does keep us from them. It’s more about protection through storms.
You are going to have trouble. You are. No matter how blissful your life might be at this moment, problems are going to arise. Someone will make you angry. You’ll say something stupid. Loved ones will die. The bank account could dry up, the house could burn down, the diagnosis could rock your world. Someone might hold a gun to your head or beat you senseless. Your car, purse, wallet might get stolen. You may not be able to have children, your boss could be a real jerk, you might have to move to a new city and grapple with loneliness.
Because you live in the valley.
The mountain top hours, the moments of wonder, give us little tastes of the world to come. They remind us that God is indeed real and more wonderful than we could ever imagine. They’re little bubbles of pure, unadulterated happiness.
But they are only moments. Passing quickly.
Back to the valley we go. Plodding and crawling.
God is good and present even then. Do you realize that when you’re laying in bed and the pain just won’t stop that He’s right there, stroking your brow and soothing your soul? When your spouse does the unthinkable and you’re curled up in a sobbing ball, He lifts you onto His lap? When there’s no more money and the bill comes in, He provides? God, the Fantastic Lord of All, gets down in the mud and muck with you and me and urges us on.
God is present in suffering. Present. All too often we choose to ignore that. We spit in His face in the grandest of temper tantrums, angry that He isn’t giving us what we think we deserve.
It’s a wonder we’re not all struck by lightning.
We have to get over this. We have to ask Him to root out all assumptions of ease and materialism. Following Jesus isn’t about any of that. Yes, there are blessings. Yes, there is joy. Yes, there is wonder. But not one of those things is dependent upon a nice house or a wad of cash or a functioning body. The blessings and the joy and the wonder are found in God Himself, not in anything He can give.
Suffering is our reality. We are post-Genesis 3 people, groaning along with the rest of creation (Romans 8:18-25). We have been saved from the eternal consequences of the Curse, but we still live in the dailyness of it. We are already-and-not-yet people, longing for the release we know is ours but striving to accept His will, His timing.
We have to stop demanding things.
We have to stop being spiritual toddlers who fuss and fume.
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests 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.
– James 1:2-4 (MSG)
These words, we must return to them over and over again. For where is God most glorified in our lives? Where does the light shine the brightest?
In the darkness. When we stake everything on Him, knowing, with steel in our souls, that He is good and true – no matter what.