May 3, 2015

Ups and Downs

Judges 4:1–6:10; Philippians 1:19–30; Psalm 65:1–13

A few weeks ago one of my friends said, “I just wish life could be normal for a little while.”

She was experiencing ups and downs. Her husband is ill. Some days he is feeling good, but other days they are off to the doctor or the emergency ward because he takes a turn for the worst. Aside from this major issue, she had other things coming at her some days, and not on others. She wanted this to just level out.

I’d just read a pastor’s book that said this longing for normal is common, but life is never like that. Ups and downs are normal, not level sailing. Part of it is simply that this is the way of life. Some of it we bring on ourselves, at least the people of Israel did, particularly during the time of the judges. The Old Testament reading gives this glimpse into their up and down pattern...

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds. For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in. And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord. (Judges 6:1–6)

As they cried out, the Lord sent a prophet to them. He said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:8–10)

While not every up/down is due to disobedience, some of mine are. Over the years of being a Christian, this ‘normal’ has drilled into me the importance of keeping short accounts with God. When I disobey Him and realize it, the quicker I can confess and repent, the more ‘level’ things stay, at least within my heart. The world outside can be in turmoil, but peace of heart makes a huge difference. Without it, my emotions go up and down with every event.

This might be what Paul had in mind when he wrote the following words: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” (Philippians 1:27–28)

Have a worthy manner of life is the ideal. Those who oppose us are affected when they see us standing firm, particularly in a crisis. God’s grace is able to do the most amazing thing; He helps us stand firm even when life is in a VVVV pattern going up/down/up/down/up. One way to stay standing firm is by realizing ‘this too shall pass’ but the most important way is relying on God no matter what side of the slope I’m on.

Some of this is summed up by the psalmist who declares, “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.” (Psalm 65:1–3) 

Stumbling and falling into a valley or a dark place will happen, but God forgives and stands me up again. Slowly I am realizing that the distance to higher ground is not as high or far as I once feared it would be!

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