The Christian life is not for the fainthearted. When we first surrender our lives to the Lord, we experience unspeakable joy, second chances, and the freedom of forgiveness. I like to call this “the honeymoon phase”: Everything is new and exciting. Indeed, it is a beautiful time of discovery.
Soon afterward, though, harder realities set in, and those rose-colored glasses come right off. We realize that all of those things we faced before — trials, temptations, oppositions — all of those remain. But we are not facing them alone any longer. Now we have a friend in Jesus, and we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us. James tells us in his epistle to consider it joy whenever we face these trials, because this tests our faith and produces perseverance and maturity in us (see James 1:2–4). Let’s be honest, few of us are joyful when our faith is being tested, but it is not without purpose. We are told to “walk” — that is, live — by faith and not by sight. There is a catch, however: In any and every season of our lives, whether on the mountaintop or in the valley, where we choose to set our eyes does make all the difference. We walk by faith when our eyes are fixed on Jesus.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2 BSB).
God of the Mountains and of the Valleys
Many people in the Bible accomplished incredible feats for the Lord. We see them also in moments of personal weakness. Take the prophet Elijah as an example. He had a mountaintop showdown on Carmel with 450 prophets of Baal. The Lord even answered Elijah’s calls by sending down fire from heaven (see 1 Kings 18:25–45). And yet, we later see Elijah running for his life at the threats of evil Queen Jezebel. He took his eyes off the Lord who was with Him on the mountain, and instead began praying for his own death in the wilderness. When we focus only on our circumstances, we can isolate ourselves and give in to self-pity, as Elijah did. Notice, though, that the same God who was with Elijah on the mountaintop is also with him when he is alone in the wilderness. Why do we fear, when He is the God both of the mountains and of the valleys?
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:11–13 NIV).
Notice that God had already answered by fire on a mountaintop. Now He calls Elijah out of the wilderness and tells him to stand on a mountain once again. This time the Lord doesn’t answer by fire, nor does He answer by wind or earthquake. He answers with a gentle whisper. The prophet may have expected the Lord to answer through the sorts of manifestations he had seen from God before, but God doesn’t do things as we expect. This is our gentle reminder that He is God, and we are not.
King David, the shepherd-boy-turned-giant-slayer, inspired popular songs about his having slain “tens of thousands.” He was victorious on the battlefield because the Lord was with him. King David was the “sweet Psalmist of Israel” and a renowned man of war, but when his son Absalom usurped the throne, David fled into the wilderness. He went from sitting upon a throne to hiding out in caves. David, too, had his wilderness seasons. One psalm even says:
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:11 NIV).
When David took his eyes off the Lord, it led him to feelings of depression. This does not refer to the sort of depression that stems from chemical imbalances or deficiencies; this is circumstantial depression. This happens when we make our problems bigger than our God. When we focus on our trials, it can lead us to feelings of despair. David had to remind himself to hope in God again. We know that the king was not a perfect man, but he was usually quick to repent when he was wrong. The Lord, in His mercy, did restore the kingdom to David. He was with David in the palace, and He was with him while he was in the pits, literally.
Do the circumstances have you experiencing heaviness of heart? If so, then do what the Psalmist did: Put your hope in God once again.
Sink or Swim — the Choice Is Yours
The only disciple who is recorded as ever having walked on water is Peter. He was the only one with enough faith to get out of the boat. He walks upon the surface of the stormy lake and over to Jesus, but soon begins sinking once he sees the fearfully turbulent winds and waves. Jesus reaches out and saves him.
Shortly before dawn, Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:25–31 NIV).
The storms of life will certainly come to all of us. If we set our eyes on what is going on around us rather than on who is with us, our hearts will sink. But the Lord is with us, just as He was with Peter. In another instance in the boat, a storm was raging, and the disciples panicked while Jesus was asleep (see Matthew 8:23–27). After they awaken Him and He rises to calm the storm, He rebukes them by questioning why they had no faith. Sometimes we give our surroundings too much attention, forgetting that Jesus is in the boat too. Sometimes He calms the storm around us, and sometimes he calms the storm within us, but in any case the story’s moral is the same: He is with us.
Some Israelites were sent to scout out the promised land, and when they saw there the sons of Anak, who were giants, they refused to believe they could take the land — even referring to themselves as “grasshoppers.” They were overcome by fear, even after all that the Lord had done for them in Egypt and had provided for them so far in the wilderness. God even promised to go before them and drive out their enemies. This wasn’t enough when they locked their eyes on the giants (see Numbers 13:25–33). When we have our eyes set on our “giants” instead of on the Lord, it leads us to fear. Often, we are like the Israelites trembling at the sight of their enemies, when all the while we should know that Satan has already been defeated. We are called to have faith — “an excellent spirit,” like Caleb, who was willing to go out and slay some giants because He was confident in the one whom he served and trusted.
Many of those just cited did experience the glory of God when on the mountaintops but lost sight of Him when in the valleys. We can be like that too. We rejoice in the answered prayers and the victorious seasons, but once we enter into the wilderness, we may tend to lose sight of everything else. We see only the tears, the unanswered prayers, and the waiting, and we forget the faithfulness of God. We don’t see Him working while we wait. Moreover, we often try to pray away every hardship, when all the while the Lord is trying to use them to refine and strengthen us. We fail to see Him building up our faith, or the glory that is produced in our suffering.
The Bible sets forth instructions, warnings, and encouragement. Everything we need is in the word of God, which explains to us that believers will be tested and persecuted, and that we must suffer for the name of Jesus (see 1 Peter 4:12–16; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Timothy 3:12). These Bible verses don’t get nearly as many cheers as the encouraging ones do. The storms will come, but the thing about storms is that they don’t last forever. Take heart, because whatever we go through, Jesus is with us. We have the very same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwelling within us. We are not alone. He never promised us a life without trials, but He did promise never to leave or abandon us (see Hebrews 13:5–6). He never promised us a life free of temptation, but He did say He would provide a way of escape (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). He never promised that we wouldn’t shed tears, but He has promised that one day He will wipe away every tear (see Revelation 21:4). He is faithful, and He never breaks His promises.
If you have become weary of what is happening to you personally or to those you love or in this nation, I hope you will fix your eyes upon Jesus again. There are many reasons why we might give in to discouragement. We can easily fall into hopelessness if we focus only on what we see. But because I see God working through His people and answering prayers, I am choosing to fix my eyes upon Jesus.
Here are some Bible promises to consider. These passages may speak of difficult times, but there is also a promise attached to each.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our inner strength in the Lord is growing every day. These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 TLB).
The troubles won’t last forever, so keep your eyes on Jesus and on the joy of eternity with Him.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
No matter what you face, Jesus already has the victory. He wins, and therefore we win.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).
Suffering produces glory in us that not even we ourselves can comprehend.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).
In the darkest moments of your life, God is with you to discipline you (the rod) and to comfort you (the staff).
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 NIV).
You may be cast down by the trials and the weight of the world, but you will not be conquered by it.
You may be distracted or feel weighed down by what is happening around you, but we can pray together right now:
Father, thank You for Your faithfulness, goodness, and tender mercies toward us. Forgive us when we make the mistake of fixing our eyes on everything but Jesus. Forgive us when we forget that You are the God of the mountains and of the valleys. We will seek You and Your Presence continually. Remind us when we forget that You make all things work together for our good — for all who are in Christ. This means You will make even the wrong things work out right. Remind us that as long as You are our helper, we don’t need to fear anyone. You are the author and perfecter of our faith and will finish the work You have begun. Give us eyes of faith to see the unseen. We know that You are working even when we are unaware. We still trust You. We choose to praise You in the storms, and we dare to hope again. You are always good. You are long-suffering and merciful. You have been too good for us to believe otherwise. Thank You for everything You use to conform us to the image of Jesus. Thank You for the promises in Your word that are yes and amen. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
What are you seeing that has encouraged you? Share your thoughts and comments below.
IFA contributing writer Gloria Robles is a passionate intercessor with a prophetic voice for today. For more from Gloria, go to Spotify or Anchor and listen to her podcast, Something To Share. Photo by Guillaume Briard on Unsplash.