Reaching the High Places of the Spirit
by Dan Siemens
When I lived in California, I would go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I did this as often as I could. My wanderlust invariably led me further and further into the backcountry, climbing higher and higher toward the awesome peaks that beckoned me upward.
During these excursions there were many lessons to be learned. Some were discovered the hard way. Because I lived in California’s Great Valley, which was near sea level, I would drive up the steep mountain grade until I ran out of road, usually around the five-thousand-foot level. I then would hike up to six or seven thousand feet before the day was done. For example, it didn’t take long to realize this sharp increase in altitude usually took a toll on my body. I felt headachy and experienced some dizziness, but a good night’s rest would take care of it.
Once, however, during a solo trek, I drove up to the five-thousand-foot level and then hiked in to over nine thousand feet-all in one day. It was the most difficult hike I’ve ever attempted with a backpack. Near the end, I was bushwhacking; there simply was no trail. I basically walked straight up the steep incline one agonizing step at a time. And I was rapidly reaching exhaustion.
When I finally got to the uppermost camp, my body started shutting down at having been forced to climb so high in such a short period of time. I feebly attempted to pitch my tent and string up my food pack in a tree to keep it from the bears that were reportedly in the area. But I was so nauseous and disoriented, I only got the food pack a few feet off the ground, and I had to lie down. I remember thinking, “the bears can have it!” I just didn’t care. I couldn’t even unzip my sleeping bag; I just sprawled out on top of it. I have never felt so sick in all my life.
Although I was in one of the most beautiful areas of the park, I could not enjoy a single bit of it. The incredible vista that stretched out far below my camp was dotted with melting summer snowpacks, gurgling streams, and huge rock faces that had been etched and polished from glaciers past. But I would ponder none of it until my ragged body acclimatized to the high elevation days later. Even then, I had such an altitudinal hangover all I could think about was going home.
There are high places of the Spirit where God is continually beckoning us as individuals as well as His church to dwell, but first we must learn the manner by which He takes us there. II Timothy 2:21 hints at the secret work of the Spirit as He prepares us for these places of service and ministry. Paul writes that to be a noble instrument in the hand of the Master, we must be prepared to do any good work. This not only means that we must make ourselves ready, but that we must also be personally prepared by the hand of the Lord before he brings us up into the high place of his choosing.
Even though we might see the rising peaks of fresh vision and claim his prophetic promises, God must begin the process of somehow adjusting and preparing us now in order to live at the new altitude of the next place. In other words, we must become spiritually acclimatized.
In truth, the only way to adjust to a new altitude is to gradually move upward-camping out along the way at lower places. This is what mountaineers who scale extremely high peaks like Mount Everest readily understand. Sometimes they must spend 20 – 30 days on the lower slopes of the mountain to allow their bodies to adjust or acclimatize to the higher altitudes before they can attempt their final ascent to the top. In order to help their bodies adapt and adjust, they engage in a gradual stretching process whereby they daily push themselves up to yet higher and higher points on the mountain. There, they fix their ropes to the mountain and leaving them attached, quickly descend once again, waiting for the right time and proper conditions to try for the summit.
Spiritually, this can seem like a painfully slow process for us. We might face unforeseen obstacles, even what appears to be “dead ends” as we seek to make progress on the journey upward. But this is all part of God’s process of character building to get us ready for the high places. If He transported us there in one day, we would be unprepared to take our place at the new spiritual altitude and in our incapacitated state, fail to accomplish God’s ultimate purpose. Our character must be equal to the task in order to function and flourish in the atmosphere of the new terrain. Remember that God in his mercy will not promote us to a higher place if our spiritual life and our character cannot sustain us there.
One common way God initiates this process of preparation for these places is by releasing a prophetic word to us. Many of those in Scripture including Joseph, Moses, David, and Gideon, received a prophetic promise which, paradoxically, seemed to cause their lives to take a turn in the opposite direction. But in reality, this really only confirmed that the acclimatization process had begun.
Samuel, for example, anointed David as King of Israel when he was a young boy (I Samuel 16). This was a prophetic act and declaration that indicated God’s sure promise to David for his future. But the actual fulfillment of that word didn’t come to pass until fifteen years later-not until David was adequately prepared through the many trials and testing with Saul. During this period, David’s life actually appeared to be veering off in the opposite direction of the promise! But God simply would not release him until he was fully prepared, fully acclimatized spiritually. Only then would it be safe, not only for David, but for all the people who would come under the care of his kingdom. Only then could he be trusted to take possession of his high place-in this case, ruling on the throne of Israel.
When we are waiting upon God to fulfill his word in our lives, it is easy to become impatient and discouraged. As we measure our own strength, we assume that we are certainly able to attain the prophetic summit that God has placed before our eyes and we cannot understand why we must wait. But God is never in a hurry. As Graham Cooke has written, “God doesn’t measure time, he measures growth.” And if we don’t understand this process that was initiated by the prophetic word, we may be tempted to make things happen in our own strength and suffer the debilitating consequences. Or, we simply let go of the promise altogether and thus never reach the place God wants us to occupy.
One primary purpose of a prophetic word is encouragement-that is, to sustain us in the midst of the battle. Paul actually encouraged Timothy to fight the good fight by keeping with the prophecies once made about you (I Timothy 1:18). It was the promise of the prophetic word that gave Timothy courage to persevere toward the goal as the inner work was accomplished in his heart.
Cooke outlines this whole process to the high places in progressive stages: 1) revelation-where the Father prophetically reveals our destiny, where we are headed, and who we are to become in Christ; 2) confrontation-where God moves to expose everything in us which would prohibit us from living successfully at the higher level; 3) transformation-where we yield to the Holy Spirit as he accomplishes, via the inner processes of death and resurrection, the miracle of making us Christ-like; and 4) manifestation-when the prophetic promise reaches fulfillment, and we actually see it unveiled in our lives. In essence, we reach our particular summit!
I am so thankful for the gracious wisdom of the Lord, in that he relentlessly exposes us to this preparation process, this kind of spiritual acclimatization, before he moves us up to the place of promise. We can rest ever so securely in God’s ability to get us ready. Trusting him fully, we surrender with willing hearts and thereby yield to the inner workings of his precious Holy Spirit. Reaching our spiritual summit depends on his sure promise and not our own trailblazing, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
May God give you fresh grace this very day, to keep in step with his ever-reliable Holy Spirit, as he leads you upward and onward to the High Place of his choosing.