It was all planned. I was going to meet God at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. When I reached the weather-beaten sign at the top I was going to lift my hands to the sky and joyfully declare:
"The heavens tell of the glory of God.
The skies display his marvellous craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
Night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
Their voice is silent in the skies,
Yet their message has gone out to all the earth,
And their words to all the world." (Psalm 18:1-4)
But I was going to use the New King James version because it says firmament instead of skies and I figured if you're going to recite a psalm at the top of the highest mountain in Africa, you want it to sound as majestic as possible.
However, it didn't quite go according to my design. The best laid plans of Mice and (Wo)Men and all that.
Ever been there? So sure that if you did this or went there, God would meet you? Ever found that God frustratingly doesn't work to our schedules?
Guilty as charged. Sometime last year I decided spending eight days on a gruelling hike up a giant mountain, while battling altitude sickness, home sickness and home-comforts sickness, would be the best use of my annual leave. A number of contributing factors lead to this decision, one of which was to raise money for a great charity working with refugee young adults in the UK, but fast forward to a few months before the climb and I was dwelling in a spiritual desert. I knew God was there but it felt like we were trying to communicate through one of those skype conversations that drop out every sentence, have too much feedback and the video freezes.
Don't panic, thought I, you'll soon be testing the very extremes of your physical and emotional limits and what better way to reconnect with God than when you're forced to depend on him for each and every next step? Surely, I assured myself, somewhere so thin on oxygen would naturally be one of those thin places where heaven kisses earth. Somewhere you're sure that if you just listened harder you could hear the angels sing as the presence of God becomes more palpable than you've ever known before. Quite often the driving force of a slow drift from God is laziness – maybe that's why Proverbs counsels so often on the perils of laziness
I wanted to be like Moses. I wanted to come back down from the mountain forever changed, face glowing from being in the presence of God. I hoped that if I was #blessed enough God would just spirit me to the summit a la Philip when he met the Ethiopian Eunuch, thus avoiding a nine-hour hike through the night and early morning from base camp to the summit.
It may sound irreverent, but I believe in a God of miracles. So this was within the realms of my possibilities.
The first few days, though difficult, were nothing like as bad as I'd been trying to preparing for. However, I didn't get a VIP Spirit chariot to the summit. Instead, I suffered through seven hours of extreme up-mountain hiking, two of which I spent dragging myself along hunched over my trekking poles and trying unsuccessfully to throw up and cry. As for the summit – I was just so relieved to have made it I hugged my fellow hikers, took some photos and started back down. Forget the psalm. Forget meeting God. I just wanted to go home.
Have you ever been there? So sure God would meet you at a certain point or at a certain place – a difficult situation / relationship / after you prayed enough / read your Bible enough / fasted enough?
So what do we do next? Where is there left to go? Pondering such thoughts a few days' post climb I concluded that if the mountaintop isn't the mountain top, we simply keep climbing.
God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. While it may seem like he is far away, he's closer than you think.
Pick up your Bible. Get some new daily reading notes, study a book you haven't read for a while.
Actually pray. Go for a prayer walk, write your prayers, light a candle, pray with a friend, try a different format of prayer.
Seek in unfamiliar places. Go for a walk, visit a different style of church, volunteer.
Serve. Volunteer somewhere – foodbank, night shelter, mentoring, church team.
As we've learned, God is not restricted to the limits of our planning – I'm pretty sure life would be a lot less colourful if it were the case. Above all, God wants us to draw us ever closer. Finding your way out of a spiritual desert shouldn't be a strive up a mountain but perseverance is key. Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking. God will reveal himself to you.
Here's to the climb!
Rachel Holmes works for a UK charity and spends her days writing about their community projects across the country. She writes about the collision of faith, justice and modern culture on her blog - http://www.rachelsarah.co.uk/