All-Terrain Faith

June 26th, 2011

Remember the last time you felt like you were physically standing in God’s presence? Maybe you felt like God was literally holding your hand, telling you everything was going to be OK? Or, maybe you had wandered away from God but felt that God had come to get you? Or, maybe you felt the Spirit of God sweep over a crowd as you worshiped? These mountaintop experiences are like anchors for us when we are weighed down by the stuff of life and when we stumble into the valleys that sometimes take us by surprise.

But we can’t stay on top of the mountain. We have to come down and return to the routine of daily life. We get busy. We face family problems and illnesses and obligations. Even if nothing bad happens, the excitement we experienced atop the mountain has a way of wearing off. That’s when we need our faith to guide us.

Decisions Versus Discipleship

Summertime provides a variety of mountaintop opportunities, and many ministries plan their summer program with mountaintop experiences in mind. Church camps, mission trips, denominational events, and music festivals are all ripe with the possibility of a transcendent encounter with God. Something about summer—the late nights, the freedom from school-year stress, and the warm sunshine of the day—gives way to an openness to God and the ways that God is working in our lives.

Since we can’t live on the mountain, we need a faith that will thrive even in life’s valleys. Scripture, on more than one occasion, uses the metaphor of running a race to describe our faith journey. Hebrews talks about running with perseverance (see 12:1-3). The apostle Paul writes about exercising self-control and punishing his body with an eye on winning the race. This race is more a marathon than a sprint. There will be times when we grow weary—when the distance seems too great. To prepare for those times, we have to train, adjust our habits, find a deep well of strength that we didn’t know we had, and make a commitment every day to focusing on our goal.

An All-Terrain Faith

Fair-weather sports fans are described as those who only support a team when the team is winning. They want to be part of the good thing happening in the moment. Hard-core fans, on the other hand, are the people who will sit in the bleachers on cold, blustery days, or hot, steamy days to watch their team lose miserably—all the while believing that a win is still possible. They have a vibrant hope that keeps them coming back even when their team is struggling.

We can be “fair-weather” about our faith as well. When things are great and we feel close to God, our faith comes naturally. But as we get some distance from a mountaintop experience, we lose some of that zeal and excitement, and our commitment to our faith wavers. Developing an “all-terrain” faith, one that can thrive in all circumstances, requires us to be intentional about spiritual practices. Habits of prayer and devotion and acts of mercy can sustain us even in life’s valleys.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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