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It was Aug. 1, 1997, and I had just begun a juice fast to seek guidance from God about whether it was time to move to a new church, and what kind of church God may want me to serve. What began as a three-day fast turned into the most spiritually intense 17 days of my life. God spoke to me in ways I had never experienced before, and through this He gave me a new vision for doing ministry, a leading to serve a new church development in La Grange and a beautiful daughter we adopted from China. Those are just the high points of those 17 days.
In Biblical language we call that a “Mountain Top Experience.” Have you ever had a time that you sensed the presence of God in a special way? That is what Jesus’ closest disciples Peter, James, and John were experiencing when Jesus took them onto the mountain, and God transformed Jesus as white as light. Moses and Elijah were there talking to Jesus, and then “a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5). We can learn a lot about mountain top experiences from what happened to them. First, they didn’t want it to end. Peter volunteered to build a place for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay, just to make it last longer. Though I was glad to start eating solid food again, I certainly didn’t want the spiritual intensity of my relationship with God to end. But we cannot stay on the mountain top. God gives us these special experiences to give us strength so we will be better prepared for the challenges God intends mountain top experiences to prepare us for. Second, once you’ve had a mountain top experience get ready for the challenges of a lifetime. When Peter, James, and John left the mountain with Jesus do you remember what road they started walking down? It was the road that led to Jerusalem, and Jesus’ eventual arrest, crucifixion and resurrection. Now that was a challenging road to walk. After my 17-day spiritual journey I thought my life would to be blessed more richly than ever. It was blessed, but not the blessing I expected. I thought my house would sell quickly in Ohio, we would buy a home of equal beauty in Kentucky, the church would explode with new members, and my daughter from China would realize what great parents she had been given and quickly adjust to being the model child. I was wrong on all counts. Through the years there have been times when I have held on for dear life to those 17 days to remind myself that God is still God, and always will be, and I can trust him for all things, even when the world tells me there is no reason for hope. God knew he was going to send me on the hardest journey of my life, and so he gave me the sweetest experience of His presence so I could complete the journey. Finally, we need to go find the mountain top to let God recharge us. Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days to prepare for his ministry. He prayed all night to know who would be his disciples. He went to the mountain top in order to pray. He prayed until he sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before his death. I have built regular times away from the very loud world we live in so God can have me to bless and strengthen me for the journey. I think if Jesus needed prayer retreats His disciples do to. If you can’t remember a time when you sensed the presence of God in a special way, maybe it is time to give yourself a retreat. Ask your pastor about retreat opportunities in our community. Get a hotel room in a beautiful park and take only your Bible and some spiritual material to read. Plan on praying a lot, being still and listening for the gentle whisper of God in your soul. (see I Kings 19:1-14). If you ask God to bless you with His special presence, I believe you can expect God to honor your request. Al Earley is the pastor of La Grange Presbyterian Church. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.