If you’ve been a Christian for any significant period of time, especially in a country like the United States, you may have heard the term “spiritual high” to describe the overwhelming exuberance for following Christ that follows an event such as a retreat, Christian conference, or concert. This past week, Facebook reminded me of one of the biggest “spiritual highs” I’ve had in recent memory. About two years ago, I rededicated my life to Christ at a retreat, felt that God was calling me to leave the church I grew up in, had a sweet taste of freedom from anxiety, and felt completely renewed despite my physical tiredness. Shortly after that weekend, however, God led me through some darker times, especially mentally and emotionally.
Spiritual highs feel great when we’re in the midst of them. We feel a renewed connection to our Heavenly Father and feel like nothing can tear us down. We are quick to say that no matter what comes, we will follow Christ. That feeling inevitably fades, however, when we get back to the daily grind of school, work, etc. When that feeling fades, we are often left feeling lonely, depressed, and maybe even abandoned. We were metaphorically on top of a mountain and somehow we ended up in a low valley yet again. This is in no way a new phenomenon. In fact, I think the disciples can identify with this feeling even though they probably never used a phrase like “spiritual high.”
In Matthew 14, we read about Jesus feeding the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water. Imagine the awe the disciples experienced watching Jesus satisfying the hunger of 5,000 plus people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. There is no humanly way possible to accomplish this feat. After all, there were about 5,000 men alone, never mind the women and children. Feeding all these people was only possible through God’s provision. I don’t know about you, but if I had witnessed this first hand, I would certainly be awestruck and want to trust this Jesus more. If Jesus can provide these earthly means, surely I can trust him. I’m sure at least some of the disciples felt like this, at least for a moment.
Immediately following this miraculous provision, Jesus sent his disciples to cross over to the other side of the water while he went up on the mountain to pray by himself. As the night progressed, the waves started to beat against the boat while the wind blew in opposition to the boat. Jesus knew that the waters would get rough but he sent his disciples out on the water alone anyway. Remember, the disciples had just witnessed an amazing testament to God’s provision and massive crowds listening to Jesus teach. Now they were sent out on the water, alone, and without their leader. Jesus had led them to the mountain of excitement and awe, but he also led them to a rough ride on the waters in solitude. Talk about a major emotional crash!
In the fourth watch of the night, Jesus walked across the roaring waves towards the boat. The disciples reacted with terror, thinking that he was a ghost, rather than their beloved teacher and friend. After Jesus reassured the disciples that it was him, Peter said “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Jesus of course responded by telling Peter to come. Peter leapt out of the boat and started to walk on the water towards Jesus but quickly became afraid. He began to sink beneath the waves. He then cried out to Jesus to save him and of course, Jesus did.
For all the flack that Peter gets about doubting Jesus in this moment, he demonstrated his faith in the beginning. None of the other disciples even thought about walking on the water towards Jesus. Humanly, this is not possible. Peter, however, knew that like God provided a way to feed the massive crowd, God could provide a way to walk across the water. I think many of us Christians experience a similar thought process as Peter, though we obviously face different circumstances. We come back from some event that gave us a spiritual high and we tell God that we are ready to go where He leads. We know He can provide everything we need to get where He wills. We say we trust Him. Like Peter, we jump off the boat of our comfort and into the water where He leads. We also, however, begin to sink when trouble comes our way. Like Peter, we also quickly take our eyes off of Jesus and look at all the problems, distractions, dangers, etc. that surround us. Fear begins to take over our minds and we start to fall into pits of loneliness, doubt, depression, and anxiety. We were on top of the waves, but we slowly begin to sink. We were at the top of the mountain, but we find ourselves in a low valley yet again.
In these valleys of desperation, however, God cultivates our faith and helps it to grow. While Peter would later deny Jesus three times on the night of Jesus’ arrest, each moment of Peter’s walk with Christ helped lead him to courageously preach the Gospel to many after the resurrection. Peter’s strong faith did not form over night but rather was cultivated over time through various means including doubt and failure.
Our faith does not grow exponentially overnight. It takes time. The people we read about in the Bible, such as Abraham, David, and Peter, all had their moments of doubt. They experienced spiritual highs and lows. Yet throughout their journeys, God never left them. Our spiritual journeys will also be filled with ups and downs. God will lead us to the mountains but He will also lead us to the desserts in the lowest valleys. Despite these ups and downs of life, however, God never leaves. Just like a seed planted in the ground needs time to grow, so does our faith. Through this time and through these trials, God works wonders that we cannot fully comprehend. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We may have our highs and lows, but God works all of it for ultimate good. If you are His child, He will finish the good work He began in you (see Philippians 1:6). We are works in progress and nothing good comes without some struggle. Through our ups and downs, He remains faithful. Through our spiritual highs and lows, He can recreate us and strengthen our faith. May we always rejoice in these amazing truths, wherever we find ourselves today.