Mountains and Valleys


img_5253 I am a camp girl at heart.

Many many summers of my life I spent the majority of my time at a Christian girls camp at the top of Lookout Mountain in Mentone, AL, and I loved every minute of it. Camp meant many things to me. It meant long hours in the heat with little sleep. It meant few to no distractions from the outside world and my regular life. It meant that I found a passion in working with young people. It meant inside jokes and fun times and beautiful lifelong friendships.

Thinking about it all now still makes my heart happy.

But, one thing I learned relatively quickly is how camp life and real life are two very different things.

Camp was literally on top of a mountain, and figuratively, that’s where my head and heart lived during the summers. I was constantly on a high. I felt like I saw God work and was a part of that work, and nothing could stop that partnership. I reveled in that experience every summer to the extent that leaving was oh-so-very hard.

And true to my thoughts, I would drive down the mountain, into the valley of my real life, and I would always ponder “why can’t life always be like camp on the mountain in the summer?”

We use a lot of spiritual imagery to describe the Christian life: light and dark, the narrow and wide paths, the vine and the branches, to name a few. And the mountain into the valley image is one that if you’ve been around the church long enough tends to stand out.

I think we all can identify with these feelings. How many of us have been to a youth camp or mission trip or conference or just a sweet season of life that put us on a spiritual mountain high? And then low and behold the next thing we know, we find ourselves in a spiritual valley. Maybe we feel distant from God or feel attacked by the enemy, but we probably have all wondered -- will we ever get back to the mountaintop?

It’s incredibly encouraging to see this played out biblically -- specifically in the life of Jesus Himself.

In the Gospels this week, we got to study Jesus’ entrance into ministry, and it was identified by two big events. First was the mountaintop, His baptism. And in the midst of that experience, God chose to bless Him in an extraordinary way.

“...the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Luke 3:22

I can imagine that was quite the momentous experience to behold. The Holy Spirit descends in a form you can see, and your own personal heavenly Father publicly and vocally sets you apart. Jesus must have been full to His extremities with God’s glory and love. What a mountaintop!

But then almost immediately the story changes as Jesus descends into a personal valley.

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.” Luke 4:1-2

So, Jesus, having begun His public ministry with the baptism to end all baptisms now spends the next 40 days of his life being tempted by the devil while getting to eat nothing. Sounds like the lowest of valleys to me.

Before we look at how Jesus dealt with His valley, I want to point out a few things within these two verses. First thing is that valleys are an inevitability. If Jesus walked in them, we will too. There are many who believe that choosing the Christian life results in immediate detachment from the perils the world has to offer. But, this just isn’t biblical.

Second, Jesus faced forty days of temptation while He was in His valley. The devil had a plan for Jesus while He was in the wilderness, weak from eating nothing, and that was to tempt Him into sin. I’ve seen the same in my life. When I am in my valleys and weak from dealing with negative circumstances, the enemy takes the opportunity to tempt me into forsaking God and walking in my own selfish desires.

Third, Jesus walked into the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Holy Spirit throughout the whole forty days. Jesus carried the anointing He received from His baptism into His valley, so He was never alone or without guidance and help. I think for myself, this is an incredibly important point because as a believer, I’ve also received the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when I walk into my own valleys, I am also not alone or without guidance and help.

Now let’s look at how Jesus combatted the temptation that came His way during the forty days in the wilderness. First, it must be noted that Jesus chose to walk through these days fully as a man. From what is recorded, He does no miracles for Himself. He doesn’t conjure up some food or a bed. He doesn’t supernaturally tackle this valley.

I think that this sometimes overlooked detail is wonderfully significant. Jesus could’ve done battle with the devil as God. He could’ve dealt with the enemy’s schemes, questions, and pleas with the full glory of His Father. I can kind of imagine how it might have gone down - Jesus calls down some huge lightning bolt and the devil is blasted to kingdom come. But, instead, Jesus chooses to walk through His valley as a simple human to first, show it is possible, and second, to give us that game plan to be able to tackle temptation on our own.

So, what does Jesus do when He is tempted?

He combats temptation with Truth. Let’s take a look.

Round 1 (Matthew 4:3-4)

Devil - “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus - “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

Round 2 (Matthew 4:5-7)

Devil - “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself off this temple and let the angels catch you.”

Jesus - “It is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Round 3 (Matthew 4:8-10)

Devil - “If you worship me, I will give you the world.”

Jesus - “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

In each of these three circumstances, we see the enemy attack Jesus in a very specific way, and there is much wisdom for us because we experience the same types of temptation. The devil hasn’t gotten any new tricks up his sleeve, but what he does know has worked within the context of humanity since Adam and Eve listened to him that very first time. And his attack always finds us when we are in our valleys, when we are weak. So here’s what I learned from looking at how Jesus responded with Truth to the attacks of Satan.

Round 1 - Attack of the Flesh

The devil wanted Jesus to meet His own physical need (hunger) supernaturally here. The temptation to satiate the hunger of our flesh is something we deal with every day. It might be the need to meet our own sinful desires, to control others, to manipulate circumstances, or to give in to whatever we know will harm us instead of help. But what we see Jesus do is remind the devil, Himself, and us that satiating an immediate desire or hunger is only temporary, and that true fulfillment only comes from following the words of the Lord.

So whenever I am tempted to meet an immediate sinful desire, I must remember that the satisfaction will be temporary and fleeting. Instead, I must choose to seek after what lasts - God and His Word.

Round 2 - Attack of Faith

Now, the devil tempts Jesus to perform a death-defying act, so that God would have to show up and rescue Him. The temptation to doubt God’s ability and faithfulness is always something that comes up while we walk through the valleys of life. So we test God. We live our lives expecting God to fulfill some sort of bargain. We challenge Him to show up and rescue us when we are in negative circumstances. But what we see Jesus do is rebuke the devil by putting God in His proper place. He reminds the enemy, Himself, and us that God’s faithfulness is steadfast regardless of the circumstance, and needs no test for proof.

So whenever I am tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness as I walk through a valley, I must remember that is a ploy of the enemy that will only weaken me further in my weakened state. The Lord has promised to never leave me nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), and my faith in Him can’t and shouldn’t be rocked by what surrounds me for the time being.

Round 3 - Attack of the Goal

Finally, the devil offers what Jesus came to win anyway, the kingdoms of the world, without having to go to the cross. If Jesus just worships Satan, He will get the world without all the death and suffering but at the cost of not doing it God’s way. The temptation to get distracted from the goal of the Christian life by taking an easier more self-fulling path is constant here on earth but especially when we walk through the hard valleys of life.

The goal is always Christ and living our lives for Him. But it may seem easier to seek that goal only on Sundays or only with the parts of our lives that are visible to others or only until it costs us an important relationship or only when it benefits ourselves. However what we see Jesus do is remind the devil, Himself, and us of the Goal. To worship God and to serve Him - that is the only thing that matters.

So whenever I am tempted to take the easy way out or to get distracted from the goal, I must remember that my life is not mine. That although I may be walking through a valley, it doesn’t compromise who I am and Who made me. The goal of my life is to serve the Father and to worship Him only. It really isn’t about me at all.

Mountains. Valleys. My life, your life, is full of both. It’s such an encouragement and a privilege to know that my own Savior experienced the same. Jesus walked from a mountain into a valley, and He spoke Truth into it all. He chose the better path. He was full of the Holy Spirit, and He let the Spirit lead Him into all Truth.

And it worked.

“Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.” Matthew 4:11

I want to be known for the same. I want to be able to accept whatever elevation of life I find myself with grace, and I want others to see me hold on to and live out Truth….just like Jesus.

IMG_7959Amy Bufkin has loved Jesus for as long as she can remember. Even though she basically lived at her local church growing up, her faith and relationship with The Lord was incredibly shallow until her early twenties. It was then Amy learned how to study her Bible, began to truly commune with God, and her shallow faith began to deepen as she got to know her Lord and Savior. Now her passion is to communicate the same truths that changed her life to young women in as many ways as possible. You can find her on Instagram | Facebook