Think for a moment about the last significant spiritual experience you had, that last moment when it seemed the claustrophobic haze of everyday life burned off briefly, and you sensed God.
When was that? What was happening? Was it worship service where the music transported you? Or maybe you were on a hike. The trail broke through the trees revealing a stunning view and you couldn’t help yourself but think about God. What was it for you?
Hold that experience in your mind for a moment. Now, think about your to-do list. What’s on your agenda today? Think about your obligations, your commitments, the things you hope to accomplish?
Now, compare the two. The first situation felt spiritual. You connected with something so much bigger than yourself. It felt deep and profoundly real. But what about the items on your to-do list? Do those things seem spiritual to you?
If you’re like me those obligations—the check-boxes on your to-do list—don’t seem very spiritual. At times I feel like I just want to get past all these bothersome things, all these chores, so I can get on to something that matters. Do you ever feel that way? Maybe today?
The Original Mountain-top Experience
Stop a moment and consider an episode in Jesus’ life. One day Jesus took his three closest friends on a mountain hike. They probably did what you do on mountain hikes. Took in the views. Walked and talked.
When they got to the top something happened. In fact, this might be where we get the phrase “mountaintop experience.”
There on top of the mountain, Jesus changed in front of their eyes. He started to glow. Scripture says “his face shone like the sun” (Find the story in Matthew 17 and his clothes became white as light.
Two figures emerged from the light and started talking with Jesus. The disciples knew these guys immediately—and it stunned them. Imagine coming around the bend on a hike to see George Washington and Dr. Martin Luthor King. You know their iconic faces. They are men written into the cornerstone stories of our country. That’s what this was like for Jesus’ friends.
The two unexpected figures were Moses and Elijah. Moses, the Law Giver, founder of the people of Israel. Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets. There they were, just talking with Jesus—and everybody was surrounded by a nimbus of glory.
Then Peter did this thing we often do. He was experiencing ultimate reality! Eyes wide, he blurted out. “Man, this is amazing.” His actual words in the text were, “It is good for us to be here!”
Then he says to Jesus, “Let me build three tabernacles here. One for each of you. Jesus. Moses. Elijah.”
Ha! The curtain of reality is pulled back. Peter has the unexpected privilege of witnessing it and what does he want to do? He wants to do the equivalent of carting a load of lumber up the mountain from Home Depot to build a church. Peter wanted to capture the moment, to mark it. He wanted evidence. Then anyone could come back and revisit the place where God’s glory showed up.
Can You Capture Glory?
Peter’s desire is so often our natural tendency. If we ever have the privilege of catching a glimpse of God, we get tunnel vision. We want to capture the moment. Preserve it. Remember it. Try and recycle everything about it so that it can happen again. Those moments are fantastic, but when we do what Peter did, it creates a kind of blindness.
As soon as Peter spoke, a cloud of glory enveloped everyone on the mountaintop and they all heard the Divine Voice say, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” Then the light faded. The cloud lifted. Only the disciples and Jesus remained. All normal. No glowing. It was over.
Peter wanted to seize the glory. Relive it. Brand it. Build an interpretive center so other people could experience it. These are all the things we do with those moments of deep spiritual connection. But God ignored Peter’s suggestion and said, “Listen to my son.” Just listen.
Think about that. At this point, Peter, James, and John had been with Jesus for nearly three years. They walked with him. They listened to him teach. They chatted with him, sitting around the fire in the evening. It all seemed so normal, so every day. When Peter wanted to package that transcendent moment, God said, “No. No building project. Just listen. My son’s been with you all along.”
You Are Surrounded By the Glory!
Peter and the other disciples weren’t seeing the glory in the ordinary. You and I don’t often either. We think of those mountaintop moments as numinous.
That’s a great word, isn’t it? Numinous. It means something is soaked with the Divine. Something numinous radiates God’s presence. Those mountaintop experiences are numinous. But you know what? So is your to-do list, all those things that make up your everyday life. Peter missed seeing the glory in the daily walk with Jesus. You and I can do that too.
In the upper room, at the end of his ministry, Jesus told his disciples that he would be with them through the Holy Spirit. He said, “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20) If Jesus was telling the truth, that means that we are in Jesus, and Jesus is in us, and together we are in the Father. Through Jesus, we are standing in the presence of God!
Now, think again about your to-do list. This is what you’re facing. Maybe work obligations, the tasks that keep the household going, taking care of the kids. Maybe hard conversations you’d rather not have. Maybe the list is starting to feel like a grind, rather unspiritual.
And yet, Jesus says, “I am with you. You are in me and I am in you.” And the Father says, “Listen to my Son.” All those small things—the little tasks and obligations—they feel like the exact opposite of the mountaintop. Yet, they too are numinous. Each of those moments of daily work are soaked with God’s presence.
Our work is simply to keep that in mind, to remember and pay attention.