God has designed the world with variations. There is normal weather, and also times of drought and flood, and extreme cold and heat and wind. The pleasantness of spring and summer are followed by fall and the austerity of winter. The Earth has many level places, like the great plains of the United States, but also mountains and valleys.
When Ari and Aliza were still kids, one summer day, our family went to Death Valley. Death Valley is one of the lowest places on Earth. The day we were there, when we went down to the bottom of the valley, it was 130 or 131 degrees – just a few degrees away from the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth. Believe me when I tell you it was a memorable experience.
What’s true of the Earth’s geography and weather and seasons is true of our souls. Our souls experience variations. We experience times when it’s like we’re walking on level ground. Everything is normal. Our relationship with God is good. And we may have mountain-top experiences when it seems like God is very close, so near, so precious. We hear Him speaking to us in His still, small voice. He’s answering our prayers. We’re getting pleasure from being close to Him. It seems like He’s all we need.
And there may be times when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It’s dark and dangerous. God seems far away. He’s not answering our prayers. It feels like He’s forsaken us. We’re unsatisfied and unhappy.
Yeshua, who is the perfect man, experienced these seasons of the soul. He always walked with God and was close to God. And yet, He had an experience when He was exceptionally close to God. He had a literal mountain-top experience with God. Matthew 17: Yeshua took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Yeshua. Peter said to Yeshua, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
On the mountain, Yeshua was exceptionally close to God. A bright cloud covered Yeshua and God spoke audibly from the cloud – which is very rare. The Father affirmed to Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John that Yeshua was His special Son and therefore greater than Moses and Elijah; that He loved Yeshua; that He was well-pleased with Yeshua; and that everyone must listen to Yeshua. And Yeshua was transformed. His face radiated light like the sun. His clothes because like white light. This was a glorious, mountain-top experience that Yeshua had with God.
Yeshua also experienced a very low place, when it seemed like God had forsaken Him. Matthew 27: While He was being crucified, from noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Yeshua cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). During this time of extreme suffering, Yeshua felt that God was distant; that God had abandoned Him.
Yeshua experienced seasons of the soul. And we probably will too. I have. Most of my spiritual life has been normal, like I was walking on level ground. I read the Bible. I pray. I go about my regular activities. I know God is there. I feel good about my relationship with God.
And I’ve also experienced some mountain-top experiences, when God seemed exceptionally near. I’ll tell you about one. It was 1985. I had been serving the Lord with Jew for Jesus for nine years. Martha and were living in New York. I was thinking about resigning from Jews for Jesus. I called Moishe Rosen, the director of Jews for Jesus, and told him I was thinking about leaving.
He gave me some wise and rather interesting advice: “Loren, people will tell you different things. Some will tell you to stay. Some will tell you to go. You need to hear from God. Go to a Catholic monastery where they take vows of silence, and don’t talk to anyone. Stay for a month and seek God until you hear from Him.”
Sounds good, I thought. So I started calling monasteries and found that it was difficult to get accommodations. Jim, a friend of Jews for Jesus, heard that I was looking for a place for silence and solitude. Jim was the director of a Christian camp in Maine, and offered to let me stay at the camp, which had finished for the season.
So, I took a bus to a small town in Maine. Jim met me and took me to the camp. I stayed in one of the cabins. I was completely alone. For the next three and a half weeks, I read the Bible – a lot. I read some great Christian books. I prayed – a lot. I fasted. And I felt very close to God. And I started hearing God speaking to me in His still, small voice, giving me thoughts and ideas and direction.
By the end of three and a half weeks I was sure that I had heard from God. He had made His will clear to me. I was to resign from Jews for Jesus. I was to move to Detroit and start a Messianic congregation. Before those three and a half weeks, I had no intention of moving to Detroit. Detroit was not on my radar screen. But, being close to God enabled me to hear from Him so that I could have my life redirected. During those weeks in Maine I enjoyed a mountain-top experience with God. Seasons of the soul.
God may lead us up the mountain and give us a mountain-top experience with Him. However, He may also lead us into a very low place. I’ve gone through times – weeks, months, when I’ve been troubled; when God felt far away; when it was difficult to pray; difficult to read the Bible; when I’ve had little satisfaction from my relationship with God. David experienced this too. In Psalm 40, he felt like he was in a slimy pit, stuck in mud and mire.
Why would God allow us to get stuck in a slimy pit? To experience difficulties in a low place?
To improve us. Like gold and silver with impurities, we need to be refined to achieve our maximum potential. And, while it may seem counter-intuitive, we are refined more in the slimy pit than on the top of the mountain. We are refined more by suffering than by times of blessing.
Why does the Lord allow us enter into and suffer in a low place? To enable us to be more sympathetic to others who are troubled, discouraged, struggling, depressed; and so that we are more capable of helping them, since we have experienced the same troubles.
Why does the Lord allow us to remain in the slimy pit? To teach us to wait patiently on Him. I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
We need to learn how to wait on God. Waiting on God means praying about a situation, and then having faith and patience until the Lord answers our prayer. And the answer may be yes, or no, or later. When we wait on God, we grow in patience. We grow in faith; we grow in spiritual strength.
And if God does lift us out of the slimy pit, we experience new joy. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
And if God does lift us out of the slimy pit, our experience is a kind of evangelism. It helps others fear the Lord and grow in faith. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.
The Lord may lead us into a low place and allow us to remain there for a while, and there is nothing we can do to get out of it. The only thing we can do is wait on God until He changes things.
However, we may cause ourselves to get stuck in a low place; and there are things we can do to get out of it. If we sin and don’t confess our sin; if we let the situation fester, we can get stuck in a low place. David did that. Psalm 32: When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
The solution: confession and repentance: Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Have your sins brought you into a low place? Tell Your gracious Creator that you have sinned; that you are sorry; that you are serious about turning away from your sin; that you want to be renewed; filled with His Spirit; that you want your joy restored. He will answer your prayer, and forgive and renew you.
A slow, gradual drifting away from God can bring us into a low place. After a while, we realize that God seems distant and our joy is gone. The solution: seek God’s face. Psalm 27: Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.
The Most High will call to us in our low place, “seek My face.” We need to respond to His invitation and re-engage with God. We renew our efforts to pray, to read the Bible, to be involved in our faith community. If we are having a hard time re-engaging with God, we ask our brothers and sisters to help, to pray with us and hold up our hands like Aaron and Hur did for Moses.
Problems caused by enemies, or problems in general, can bring us into a low place. King David experienced that. Psalm 6: Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
The solution: Praying and waiting on God until He answers our prayer: The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish; they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
Weariness can bring us into a low place. Mental, emotional or physical exhaustion can affect our spirits and prevent us from feeling close to God. Solution: Make some changes. Take a break. Get the sleep you need. Take a nap. Try to get the help you need. And once you’ve done that, wait on God. Here is the Lord’s promise: Isaiah 40: Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
What not to do to try and extract yourself from a low place: turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, entertainment, parties, social media; start a relationship with a new man or woman. These things only deal with the symptoms of our unhappiness. They don’t deal with the cause.
Lord, there are seasons of the soul. Help us understand that.
Those among us who are in a low place, and suffering; if any of us are stuck in mud and mire, we pray that You would lift them out of that low place.
We pray that You would teach us how to wait on You until You answer our prayer and lift us out of the slimy pit, and set our feet on a rock and gave us a firm place to stand.
And Lord, if any of us are a low place because of things we have done, I pray that You would give us the grace to turn things around so we can get out of that low place.
Thank You for enabling us to walk on level ground; and for bringing us up mountain; and also for the slimy pit. Help us be more sympathetic with those who are suffering, and with those who are experiencing lots of joy; to be able to mourn with those who mourn; and rejoice with those who rejoice.