The first year that we lived in Spain, we decided to spend Christmas in Zermatt, Switzerland, at the foot of the Matterhorn. After my husband, our son and I picked up our older son at the airport in Barcelona, we boarded a train for Switzerland, embarking on an exciting and beautiful journey. But to reach Zermatt, we had to change to a special train within Switzerland.
Isolated high in the Alps, Zermatt is postcard-picturesque. An ordinance prohibiting private vehicles in the town minimizes pollution and maximizes the alpine village’s charm. The train that is capable of reaching this pristine place is a special cog-driven, third rail train that functions in a manner similar to roller coaster cars by engaging the third rail, when necessary, to pull it up inclines.
Traversing breathtakingly difficult terrain, the train makes a long uphill journey that is impossible for standard engines. As the train continues climbing, it winds its way to Zermatt along a track that sits on narrow mountainside ledges, sandwiched between steep drop-offs on one side and towering mountains on the other.
At the track’s end rests the village of Zermatt, tucked away in a place of its own. Far surpassing my expectations, which had been limited to my second-hand knowledge and imagination, I was excited to be able to experience Zermatt first-hand. My first step onto the village streets filled me with an awe that remained with me throughout our stay. While having our immediate family together was by far my best Christmas present, there was also something meaningful about not being inundated with the familiar trappings of Christmas. Having less of the insignificant made the significant stand out all the more.
When Christmas Eve arrived, we attended a worship service at the relatively small English church that was nestled against one of the numerous hillsides. The church’s quaintness added to the Christmas’ simplistic beauty. Contributing also to an overall ambiance of peace and contentment were the quietness of the snow and the absence of vehicular noise. Walking everywhere that we went, the slower pace was life transforming.
Sitting in a church pew, waiting for the service to begin, I studied the portraits on the walls. They were memorials to the Englishmen who had forfeited their lives attempting to climb the Matterhorn. Undeterred by the death that had threatened them, they had dared to go where few would be willing to go. Though deemed foolhardy by many, they had blazed trails that would later guide others. Their deliberate boldness to attempt to surmount the seemingly insurmountable left a permanent mark on me.
Inspired by the setting, as well as excited by the opportunity that the time and place afforded us, my family decided to have our own Alpine mountain experience. Renting ski equipment, we headed uphill one morning via an underground (better said, “inside mountain”) train. Making multiple stops along the ascent, the train enabled skiers to access various parts of the mountain. Thinking that we knew what we were doing, we got off at the first stop, expecting to ski down one of the mountain’s gentler slopes. So, strapping on our skis, we headed downhill.
But the nature of the downhill was completely unexpected. It was steep (really, really steep), much steeper than any slope that we—novice skiers at best—had ever been on. In addition, its curves added to its difficulty level.
Our sons, being both younger and stronger, as well as having skied more recently than my husband and I, fared the slope better than we did. To my husband’s credit, though, he also managed to control his descent, despite lagging behind our sons. But I, on the other hand, was struggling. I was in trouble.
Not until I was on the slope did I realize that I needed a strength, as well as an expertise, that I did not possess. Without them, I could not successfully overcome the slope’s degree of difficulty. My lack of knowledge regarding both the place and my limitations had led me to attempt to do what I was insufficiently empowered to do. Unintentionally, I had put myself in a precarious situation that also inhibited the other skiers coming behind me.
After struggling through multiple failed attempts to control my descent, I relented to the truth. Conceding my pride, I removed my skis and walked down the far edge of the slope, trying my best to stay out of the way of those who were better prepared to meet the slope’s challenge.
My misplacement that day was self-generated, born out of ignorance. I had assumed that all mountains are constructed in basically the same way, that they just come in different sizes. Had I used a little upfront humility and inquired ahead of time about this particular mountain, I would have learned differently.
Assumptions abound in our thinking. They are necessary for efficiency in our daily decision-making and living. Otherwise, we would be forever reinventing the wheel, so to speak. But inappropriate dependence upon assumptive thinking leads to arrogance, which in turn can lead to our downfall, as it did (literally) for me on the ski slope.
The fact is that mountains differ in formation, as well as in size. Unlike the small Appalachian foothills to which we were accustomed, this giant Alpine mountain had been created differently. The gentler slopes that we had anticipated were not at the mountain’s base, where we had assumed them to be, but on the higher mountain plateaus—the place where we had least expected to find them. We never suspected that, to attain what we needed, we should have gone higher.
Higher! The place that logic had told us was not meant for us was, in actuality, the very place that we should have gone. It was the place that was designed to meet our needs and to further equip us.
A similar statement can be made regarding the Christian life in God’s Kingdom on Earth. Consider the parallel picture that the overall Zermatt experience depicts in relation to both Kingdom life and how certain assumptions can affect that life.
As the third rail train had provided access to Zermatt, so the Third Person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit of God) is the One capable of making the “uphill journey” to provide access into God’s Kingdom. Drawing us to God, He enables us to “get on-board” with God’s plan of redemption through our acceptance of salvation in Christ Jesus. By His power alone are we able to enter into the Kingdom by saying “yes” to Christ.
The Kingdom, set apart from the world at large, can be neither seen nor experienced until we arrive there. With matchless beauty and serenity, the Kingdom is dedicated to the glorification of God through the worship of Jesus Christ. Celebrating Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, the Kingdom is a “place” where the eternally significant abounds, taking precedence over everything temporal. It is a “place,” where (unlike the rest of the world) love and mercy direct all steps.
The first to “walk” the Kingdom streets on Earth, the original Apostles went where Jesus had instructed them to go. Climbing a spiritual “Mountain” by the power of the Holy Spirit, they dedicated their lives to God, serving those who would follow. They also forfeited their lives (in this world) for the same purpose.
Their lives and deaths are memorials—testimonies—to the Truth of God’s Kingdom that prevails in both this world and the next. Empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak and live the full Gospel Truth, they blazed trails into the world’s misunderstanding of God, pointing countless numbers to the One and Only Way into God’s Kingdom and into transformed lives.
Once in the Kingdom, Christians can live out their days on Earth in enjoyment of the Kingdom’s many benefits. They can come together in church services, worshiping God and learning about the Kingdom experiences of the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus. They can live a safe life, sure of the security that the Kingdom promises, all the while observing the spiritual “Mountain” of God only from a distance, thinking that “Mountain” experiences are not for them.
But the “Mountain” is the Kingdom. To not experience the “Mountain” personally is to miss the purpose of the Kingdom’s existence. As the village of Zermatt exists because of the Matterhorn, the Kingdom exists because of its King (God Almighty). God’s intent in bringing us into the Kingdom is that we would have ongoing personal experiences with Him, experiences that are beyond the world’s comprehension.
The Kingdom of God is not just a different version of the physical world, but a different world altogether. It is a spiritual world that operates beyond the physical, one that seems illogical to the rest of the world. Kingdom life is a life of reversals, replacing hate with love, division with reconciliation, retaliation with forgiveness and selfishness with generosity. Attaining these lofty objectives (and much more) requires a “lift”—an empowerment that is only acquired within the Kingdom in Oneness with the King, who is Power.
As the Zermatt Experience had required two train rides: one TO Zermatt and another WITHIN the mountain, the Kingdom life that is available to us requires Holy Spirit power for two life altering events. First, He is needed to carry us INTO the Kingdom, and then He is needed WITHIN the Kingdom to provide greater spiritual experiences (intimacy) with God through His permanent indwelling Presence.
To take the first “trip” into the Kingdom, but not the second, is to settle for less than God’s best for us. Such a decision is often made by default in ignorance (unawareness) of what God has prepared for us. Leaning on worldly thinking that we carry with us into the Kingdom, we may incorrectly assume that a little of God is sufficient, that higher spiritual plateaus do not exist or that such a place isn’t “right” for us. The assumption can send us down the slopes of life’s challenges ill prepared to overcome them, struggling in ways that could have been avoided.
The Matterhorn is an enormous mountain, one that is highly respected for its world-renown precipices (steep drop-offs and sheer cliffs). Yet it is climbable. Its name is a combination of two German words meaning “meadow” and “peak.” The name alludes to movement from the meadow at the base of the mountain to the mountain’s peak, implying that the peak can be reached.
Indeed, the mountain has been climbed to various heights by many. But everyone who experiences the mountain in any way is transformed by the experience. Forfeiting some things along the way, yet gaining others, the sojourners always return to village life as changed individuals, forever marked by the incredibility of the mountain itself.
So does every “Mountain” experience with God mark us forever, changing us in ways that nothing else can. Lifted to new levels of intimacy with God, the Holy Spirit enables us to let go of things that are detrimental to the Kingdom way of living, while grasping the things that transform our lives for the better.
Every “spiritual climb” is intensely personal, unexplainable fully to others, even to other “climbers.” But the testimony of each and every “climber” is important, having at its root the desire to confirm the “climb’s” reality. To assume that such a “climb” is not a reality, or is not a reality meant for us specifically, is to question the provision of God. Likewise, to assume that such a “climb” isn’t possible by us is to question the power of God.
Every person in the world is at one time or another just one decision—one Holy Spirit “ride”—from entering the Kingdom of God. And every Christian entering the Kingdom is just one decision from greater intimacy with God in this world.
God calls all of us to come up to His level, to join Him on one higher plateau after another, moved along by the power of God. The Only Way to do that is to get on-board and to stay on-board with God’s provision of Himself, the Holy Spirit Enabler.
And it must be vitally important that we do so. For, after all, God came down to our level to pick us up, didn’t He?
Who, but God, would have ever pictured that scenario?
INTO: “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” (Mark 3:13)
WITHIN: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high…” (Revelation 21:10a)