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We don’t know exactly what Jesus did when he took off by himself for a few days every now and then. Scripture just says that he went up to the mountain to pray, so I guess we should take that at face value. Except I won’t, because I think whatever Jesus did on the mountain when he, according to scripture, went off by himself to pray needs to be talked about. Because we also need to be making our little escape trips every now and then, and what we do up there on our mountain should reflect what Jesus did on his.
Ministry work is oftentimes like performing – exhilarating and draining at the same time. It also puts you constantly in fast-forward mode, so that you’re never really you and never really in the moment. You’re always anticipating, always considering the impact of this or that word, this or that gesture, always aware that the spotlight is on you, exposing you, and that even as some people hang onto your every word, others are lurking in the background waiting for you to mess up. It’s like a tightrope act that requires you to be assiduously careful even while appearing to be carefree and spontaneous. Only there’s no safety net under you in ministry work, and when you fall, you may take others down with you.
It’s no surprise that Jesus needed to get away from the performance pressure every now and then, to realign himself with himself and with God. I think the Jesus who taught in the synagogues was not the same Jesus who taught his disciples privately and also not the same Jesus who spent time with Mary and Martha and Lazarus. These were all different Jesuses. I think the real Jesus is not in scripture and only appeared on the mountain when he was alone with himself and with God.
That is the Jesus that I want to get to know and that I’m getting to know – the Jesus on the mountain. There are flashes of him in scripture, but the real Jesus – the one God knows inside and out – is elusive because he can’t be captured in words. Imagine that – the Word can’t be captured in words! You need to get to know Jesus one-on-one, and only when you’re on your mountain, and only when you’re you.
It’s tempting to want to stay on your mountain, to just go there and stay there. I’m sure there were times when Jesus wanted to stay on his mountain and not go back down for the next performance or the next work shift. Remember that ministry, if done properly, is work. It’s not play. If you approach ministry work as something that should always be enjoyable, you’ll eventually give it up, and likely sooner than later. Jesus was very clear that he was doing his father’s work, not his father’s hobby or his father’s playtime. He was doing God’s work, and work is by definition mostly hard, tedious, and frustrating, even when it’s for God. It’s also done mainly for the reward, not for the work in and of itself.
Very few ministers talk about this, about how tedious and frustrating ministry work can be at times, and how the only way you can get through those times is to focus on your reward. In Jesus’ case, his was a Heavenly reward, and so is ours. Our reward will not be given to us on Earth for doing God’s work. Certainly, God will provide for us, in the same way as companies provide their employees with food, shelter, medical care, and other necessities when they work long shifts in remote locations, but our reward for our labour is in Heaven. Our paycheck is in Heaven. That’s what we’re aiming for and what we’re working for. Whatever God is providing for us now is not our reward. It’s our room and board.
There were times on the mountain when Jesus met with others from Heaven besides God. This was also one of the reasons why he went up to the mountain. He took a few of his disciples with him once to show them what he sometimes did there. The so-called transfiguration wasn’t a one-off event. I believe it happened many times, but only once was it witnessed by the disciples. Moses shone when he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, just like Jesus shone during the transfiguration. The remoteness of the mountain is ideal for meet-ups with Heavenly emissaries.
The different things Jesus might have done during his time on the mountain (and why he went up there in the first place) is something we need to think about because we need to be doing whatever he did if we’re to succeed at our ministry work. We need to take time every now and then (and we’ll know when it’s time to take time) to get back to ourselves as God knows us, not as the world knows us. We need to take time away from the performance exhilaration and the work tedium so that we can again, for a time, be who we are. We must never lose touch of who we are, as it is the true measure of our soul. We need to know where our soul is in relation to where it needs to be if we’re to be fit for Heaven.
So the next time you feel called to go up to the mountain to pray, make sure you go by yourself and make sure you be yourself. It’s a very great privilege and honor to be called exclusively into God’s presence over a period of days, to recoup and regroup as only can be done with God’s help and guidance. And who knows – you might even meet with a surprise guest or two while you’re up there.
The Lord bless thee, and keep thee:
The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
The Lord lift up his countenance, and give thee peace.