When I was a senior in college, considering where I should go after graduation, one of my options was the Pacific Northwest. I remember a conversation in the hallway of the Religious Studies department at Westmont, with Dr. Robert Gundry. He told me about the stunning view of Mount Rainier from the Seattle area. He described how this mountain rises to over 14,000′ elevation from Seattle’s barely-above-sea level, and towers over the region. He told me of seeing it ringed with clouds. He described how you would never know it’s there, for months on end, until one day the clouds clear away and the mountain is there, stunning in its brilliance. I took this photo of Mount Rainier in 2008 on a family camping trip. It is truly an amazingly beautiful – and dangerous – place.
For me, Mount Rainier has been my muse since the day I first drove into the Pacific Northwest. I call him my muse, because he has been a beacon – a constant reminder – of how God is always present and active, but not always visible. On those days I see Mount Rainier peeking out of the clouds, I am reminded once again that God has been there – right there – even in times when it feels like God is absent. Just like there are days (many!) that the Mountain seems absent – when the clouds conceal.
But that is not all that reminds me of God when I look to Mount Rainier. Rainier is absolutely stunning, but there is a lurking danger beneath. You cannot take the mountain lightly. In order to reach the summit, you must diligently prepare and take care in your approach and descent. To go to that altitude requires conditioning. The paths are steep and treacherous at times. The snow fields deceptive. The threat of avalanche is constant. And there is the constant knowledge that this is a living volcano, the blast from which could destroy hundreds of acres of homes, towns, and cities. You cannot take the mountain lightly.
And so with God. I don’t mean to suggest that God is as arbitrary as an avalanche or a volcanic eruption, but it definitely takes conditioning and preparation if you want to grow closer. Everyone can experience the beauty (or if you want a churchy term, “glory”) of God. But growing closer, getting to know God better, becoming more likened to the image of Christ, requires spiritual conditioning.
Hebrews 5 says,
“11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Notice how the author of Hebrews talks about training – trying to become Christlike without spiritual training is like trying to climb Mount Rainier without physical training. Hebrews again speaks of our spiritual life as a race (Hebrews 12:1b “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”), a theme that Paul also uses consistently in his writings (cf. 1 Cor 9:24, Gal 2:2, and Gal 5:7).
What are you doing to prepare yourself for the race? How are you conditioning yourself for the hike to the summit? If you don’t have a plan, start reading. And I mean read the Bible. You don’t need a seminary degree to hear God’s voice through the Word. Approach the text with expectation that God will meet you there.
If daily Bible study is already part of your life, add something new. The traditional spiritual disciplines are a set of well-used, proven methods for spiritual conditioning. Find one that fits you, and incorporate it into your life. Or find one that is a challenge, and try it a few times. If you want some ideas, feel free to email me (link on my “About Me” page), or comment on this post so we can start a dialog.
There are days – sometimes months on end – that it seems like God is distant and unconcerned. But I still prepare myself to draw closer to God, knowing that It’s not that God has gone somewhere, it’s that my life has clouded God over, obscuring my view. And so I condition myself. I practice spiritual disciplines.
Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not suggesting that salvation requires anything but acceptance of the gift given to us. Like I said – the beauty of God is for everyone. But God wants more than glancing admiration… God wants a relationship with you. And relationships take work. Like climbing a mountain.