Those who have been Christians for any length of time have probably heard the term “mountaintop experience.” Scripturally, we usually think back to the experience of Peter, James, and John during the Transfiguration. We talk about our modern-day comparisons: intense spiritual encounters that tend to come through wonderful conference experiences, peaceful private retreats, or even some form of miraculous intervention that turns our weeping and pleading into joy and laughter.
Whatever it may be, when we compare it to the Transfiguration story, we seem to assume that the mountain adventure will be automatically followed by the valley. After all, we have to descend at some point. We have to return to normal life. We know it’s not automatically the argument and frustration Jesus and His disciples encounter when they come back down. And we know still have weekly church attendance, local Bible studies, and even daily evidences of God’s presence to sustain us. But compared to the mountaintop, it can seem mundane.
Sadly, this mental picture of mountain and valley experiences often produces more negative consequences than positive. A tension arises as those providing the conferences and retreats share all of the ways a big event will offer a spiritual-growth springboard while local pastors try to remind their members that true spiritual growth is a daily, weekly, commitment-based endeavor. Some Christians hop from event to event, experience to experience, hoping to keep their faith fueled so they can coast through the valley to the next mountain. Others avoid the mountains altogether, determined to be steady and faithful in the day-to-day rather than requiring something big to keep them going.
But what if, for all of its amazing beauty, the story of Transfiguration is not intended to be our example of the partnership between the mountaintop and the mundane? What if there is another point of Scripture that better relates the intertwining relationship of the two?
Lately, my daily reading has been in Exodus. I often have to chuckle a bit as I read about Moses and his many trips up and down the mountain of God. For those of us who grew up with a Charlton Heston Moses, it’s easy to mentally condense a large chunk of Exodus into the two mountain trips Hollywood so neatly packaged for us – one to receive the ten commandments carved on stone tablets, and a second to replace the tablets after the golden calf orgy. Real-life Moses, however, didn’t get off that easily. I almost get the feeling that Moses is protesting his many trips just a bit at the end of Exodus 19 when God tells him to go back down and warn the people one more time. Moses tries to give God an “I already told them. Can’t I just stay up here?” argument, but God insists. So, back down he goes. The Lord gives the ten commandments and a series of other instructions while Moses is with the people. Then, he and the elders enjoy a fellowship meal in the presence of God before Moses goes the rest of the way back up the mountain for his first forty-day stay.
What really strikes me about the whole series of events in Exodus, though, is not so much the mountain trips as something that happens after Moses comes back down to find the people worshiping the golden calf. In Exodus 33:7-11, we see the first use of the “tent of meeting.” This phrase is initially introduced at the end of chapter twenty-seven when God gives Moses instructions for the building of the tabernacle. The permanent concept seems to be that the tent of meeting will be the area just outside the veil where the ark of the covenant is to be kept. But, as of chapter thirty-three, construction of the tabernacle has not yet begun. So, Moses sets up a tent outside the camp where he can go to meet with God on a regular basis, even when the Israelites leave the mountain. Whenever Moses goes out to the tent, the cloud of God’s presence descends upon it. (That thought, in and of itself, is one to chew on – Almighty God responding to the initiative of man. But, that’s another thought for another day.)
Here in this tent is where Moses pleads with God to not abandon His people, despite their idolatry. He begs the Lord to go up to the promised land with them. Next, Moses makes some personal pleas. I see such a passion in the first part of Exodus 33:13: “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight.” (NASB) The plea becomes even more powerful in verse eighteen when Moses cries, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” This whole discussion happens in the tent of meeting. The Lord responds with some instructions, walking Moses through what He will do in response to His servant’s pleas and instructing Moses as to how to prepare for another mountaintop visit.
The next day, Moses once again ascends Mount Sinai, meeting with God there for another forty days and nights before descending to the people once again. After this visit, however, his face shines – a reflection of his time immersed in the glory of God.
Here’s where all of this comes together for me. For Moses, there was none of the either/or tension that we seem to place between the mountaintop experiences and daily life. Instead, it was a both/and mentality. I love Exodus 34:34-35: “But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil until he came out; and whenever he came out and spoke to the sons of Israel what he had been commanded, the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone. So Moses would replace the veil over his face until he went in to speak with Him.” The beauty of this is that the second mountaintop experience – the incredibly powerful one where Moses was allowed a glimpse of God’s glory – was precipitated by a tent of meeting interaction. Moses passionately and consistently chose to initiate interaction with his Lord. God would meet him right there, speaking to Moses as “a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11) When Moses asked for more, God granted the incredible mountaintop experience. But, that did not lead Moses to continually seek more and more of that high-intensity “fix.” Instead, he came down and went right back to his regular and intentional “tent meetings” with the Lord.
The mountaintop and the tent of meeting went hand in hand. Passion and growth happened in both places. The impact of one bled over into the effectiveness of the other.
I’m captivated by Moses’ passionate yearning for a personal connection to God. I see a man who knows he cannot continue with a personal contact with God Almighty. He cannot fathom missing the day-in and day-out relationship that comes from God going with him and the Israelites in their journeys. And he will seek it wherever he can, whether on the mountain or in the tent of meeting.
Do I have that passion? Do I have a hunger to reach for it? To ask for it? To plead with God until He grants it? Am I willing to receive no matter how He sends it? Will I soak it up in the simple, quiet, mundane daily communion? Will I let down my guard and let it wash over me in the charged mountaintop moments?
Like Moses, I don’t have to live an either/or life. I can embrace a both/and mentality, choosing to allow God to impact my life as He chooses while never ceasing to plead for His presence. Whether on the mountain or in the mundane, I will choose to intentionally pursue Him.