Monday, October 10, 2011

On Spiritual Ups and Downs

One of my top ten days of all time was a trip to John Pennycamp State Park in Florida with my wife Heather.  We were just dating then.  We were both in college in South Florida, but we took the day to drive down to the keys.  At the state park they rent snorkel gear and give boat rides out to the coral reef there.  They day we went was warm and clear which meant that we could go to the very best snorkeling spot, an underwater statue of Jesus that was dropped there by a ship.  If you take a huge breath you can swim down and touch the outstretched hand of Jesus.  It's really pretty surreal.

The sea was pretty calm that day just 0-2ft.  So when you're on a boat you don't notice the gentle roll of the ocean at all, but when you jump into the water even a calm sea seems to move you quite a bit with the waves.  Even being in the ocean a ton, here is what I know...  When you are on the top of the wave and you can clearly see all the people around you the ocean really doesn't seem that scary.  But when you are at the bottom of a swell and you can't see anyone, all of the sudden you feel isolated and alone and the barracuda which looked so beautiful now seems pretty menacing.

We all ride along on the sea of our life circumstances.  There will be times when you are at the top of your wave and you can clearly see God's presence and intervention in your life.  It seems as though he has surrounded you with friends and family.  You feel secure and safe.  There will also be times when you are at the bottom of the wave.  God's does not seem as present to you as he once did.  You feel isolated and alone.  Left here long enough, you start to freak out.

This is a normal part of Christian experience that we all experience in varying degrees.  Most of us float along on a sea of 0-2ft. swell, but every once in a while we are blindsided by a rogue wave.  And each of us can choose whether to keep on swimming or freak out and head for the boat; get out of the water altogether.  The interesting this is that it has nothing to do with the size of the peaks or troughs.  Some people stick it out no matter what and some people bail as soon as things get mildly uncomfortable.  Although I am passionate about looking for the work of God's Spirit in the bottoms of life, what I would like to call your attention to today is why some people continue swimming no matter what the conditions are and some people completely leave the water when times become trying.

The number one reason that a person follows God cyclically is that they didn't get what they wanted or expected from God.  You are looking for a certain kind of continued emotional experience and don't get it.  You are looking for material blessing and it dries up.  You are looking for God to fix your broken family or bring your prodigal child home and he doesn't.  You were expecting to have a constant awareness and God didn't make it happen.  You were expecting life to get better and it just didn't.

The number one reason that a person follows God faithfully is that they have learned to want God himself.  We tend to want God so that he can fulfill our selfish desires.  But how would accepting Jesus on those terms change anything about the fundamental self-centeredness of our hearts?  The cross demonstrates that God accepts us because God himself is good.  He forgives us because he himself is faithful.  And when you grasp that you begin to grasp the beauty of God.  The beauty of Jesus.  The beauty of his Holy Spirit.  And a beautiful thing is magnificent in and of itself.  Or to say it another way, a truly beautiful thing is worthy of being admired simply for what it is, not what it can do for you.  The cross and the whole gospel brings you to the place where you can worship God because of who he is not what he can do for you.

When that penny drops you can swim through any peak or any trough.  You can swim whether you are surrounded by friends or isolated and alone.  You can swim knowing that God has not and never will abandon you.  He remembered you all the way to the cross, he won't forget you now.  God is faithful, beautiful, magnificent, regal, trustworthy, good, longsuffering, patient, kind, just, loyal, true, light, love, faithful, faithful, faithful.  God is faithful.  And he is worthy of being worshiped no matter the circumstances of your life.  There will be peaks and there will be troughs, but you know that he has gone to the cross for you.  He won't leave you now, don't leave him.

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