A Time to Recharge

When I promised to write about “A Time to Recharge,” I planned to say that, without rest, prayer and study, our spirits become depleted and discouraged. That was a fine idea for a blog, but this morning a less-obvious insight presented itself. We were in church, celebrating Transfiguration Sunday, and the words to one of the hymns grabbed my attention:

Lord, transfigure our perception

With the purest light that shines,

And recast our life’s intentions 

To the shape of Your designs

(“Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory,” by Thomas H. Troeger.)

This verse suggests a key purpose for our quiet times with God: to submit our perceptions and intentions to His transforming influence. Perceptions and intentions are pivotal. If those are right, God can provide hope and energy “on the fly” in the midst of action. (Mid-air refueling, so to speak.) But if our perceptions and intentions are off course, more energy will only push us faster in the wrong direction.

Transfiguration Sunday celebrates an event that took place at the peak of Jesus’ ministry, when eager crowds were flocking to hear him. During this amazing time, the twelve disciples must have been drunk with excitement and pride. What an honor to be among the inner circle of such a leader—a man anointed by God with healing power! A man who might be the promised Messiah. It’s understandable if their heads swam with visions of grandeur. They even argued between themselves as to who would have the most honored position in the coming kingdom, when the Romans would be swept away before the Messiah’s might.

Jesus knew he must prepare them for what lay ahead. Soon they would leave their home territory in Galilee, where the rural people loved them. They would make their way to Jerusalem, in Judea, where Jesus’ northern accent identified him as a hick, while his message threatened the power of religious and political leaders. Jesus’ deliberate provocations would lead to his arrest, torture and execution.

Jesus first spoke of this to the disciples when they were gathered in a quiet place for prayer. He began by asking, “Who do people say that I am?” then followed with “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter famously answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the LIving God.”

Jesus explained that he must suffer many things and be rejected and killed.

Peter protested, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

In response he received this infamous rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of men.” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

A week later, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of a high mountain. There he was transfigured before them, his face and garments shining with white light. Moses and Elijah appeared beside him, discussing his departure which would take place from Jerusalem. The glory of God surrounded them like a cloud. A powerful voice said, “This is my beloved son…listen to him.” (See Matthew 17: 1-13, and Luke 9: 28-36)

The disciples fell to the ground, terrified. The next thing they knew, the glorious light had vanished and they were alone with Jesus. “Rise, and have no fear,” he told them. On the way down the mountain, he again spoke of his approaching death—a theme he would mention repeatedly in the coming weeks.

What was the purpose of this mountaintop experience? Did Jesus commune with Elijah and Moses to strengthen himself for his ordeal? Or was it a show for the benefit of the watching disciples? The Bible doesn’t explain Jesus’ motives. I like to believe that he needed the experience as much as James, John and Peter did. Being human, as well as divine, Jesus may have shared our need to withdraw from the world in order to experience God’s presence more fully. This theory is supported by the many times the gospels report that Jesus went away to a quiet place to pray.

It is certain that the transfiguration affected the three disciples deeply. At first they were overwhelmed with terror. Then, for a time, they seemed not to understand the meaning of what they had witnessed. Later, after the resurrection, when they met their risen Lord, it all made sense. They began to preach boldly, explaining Jesus’ short ministry and miserable death in the context of the larger reality revealed that day on the mountain top.

This story yields many lessons. The simplest one is that it’s important to take time to seek God’s presence. Beyond that, we see that Jesus took extra measures to commune with God when things were going well. At a time when his ministry was growing by leaps and bounds, he took his three closest friends into the wilderness to seek God’s face, leaving the other nine disciples at the foot of the mountain to cope with a huge crowd and a demand for healing they were unable to meet.

In my life, I crave quiet times most when things are going badly. When my plans have failed and I feel discouraged, I want to crawl off into a corner and wait for God to comfort and inspire me. The example of transfiguration mountain shows that we especially need to seek God when our plans and projects are thriving. That’s when our egos threaten to lead us astray.

Worldy success, or even godly success, fires our imaginations with visions of even greater accomplishments. At that key moment, as new dreams are being born, we need to bring our treasured ideas to God and ask Him what he wants us to do with them.

Psalm 127 warns:

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.

When we’re feeling strong, competent and optimistic, we’re reluctant to take time out to seek God’s guidance—after all, we have so much work to do and it’s all so important.  Ironically, that is probably the time when we need it most.