Monday, December 06, 2004

Standing (and Falling) on Grace

Finding Hope in Being Normal

Am I the only one whose Christian life tends to run in a cycle—up, then down, then back up again? Usually it’s not extreme Jekyll and Hyde shifts here, like some out-of-control rollercoaster ride of the soul. But my desire for God and joy in God definitely ebb and flow. Sometimes a lot. Even my best weeks are hardly a steady climb up the “Jacob’s Ladder” of spiritual bliss.

Chances are, most of you know what I’m talking about. For example, last Friday God seemed light years away, and life was excruciating. Today, life is sweet. I know exactly what caused the change, and when I have an opportunity to write more I’ll explain it and also offer some practical advice for what to do when you’re down. But today, let’s just be encouraged knowing that we’re not the only Christian who faces ups and downs along the way. For example, John Piper writes: “Normal Christian life is a repeated process of restoration and renewal. Our joy is not static. It fluctuates with real life.” (Desiring God)

And Charles Spurgeon wrote from his own experience when he penned: “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” And lest we think only spiritual weaklings struggle this way, he gives us a great historical example: “The life of Luther might suffice to give a thousand instances, and he was by no means of the weaker sort. His great spirit was often in the seventh heaven of exultation, and as frequently on the borders of despair.” (Lectures to My Students)

The Bible recognizes this struggle, too. “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps 19:7). If all is well all the time, who needs reviving? Even David struggled from time to time, for he wrote: “He restores my soul” (Ps 23:3). Apparently even the man after God’s own heart had bad days.

So what should we do about the fickleness of our own heart? Well, like I mentioned above, I’ll give some more advice in future posts, but for now, here are two thoughts to keep in mind. First, recognize that what you’re experiencing is pretty normal. Strive to stand, but don’t feel like you’re all alone when you fall! Second, whether you’re up or down, realize that grace is your only hope. When we stand, we stand on grace; and when we fall, we fall on grace.

I think the late songwriter Rich Mullins drew a pretty good bead on how to view the ups and downs of life when he sang:

If I stand, let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you
And if I sing, let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs
And if I weep, let it be as a man who is longing for his home.

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