Deep calls to deep
On my Grand Canyon trip after college graduation, we willingly descended into the abyss. But normally we avoid canyons and valleys when we’re hiking or backpacking. Valleys are deep, dark, overgrown, easy to get lost in and difficult to climb out of again. No, we tend to stay on the mountain ridges or on level ground. These places are easier to navigate and afford some of the most exhilarating views.
But sometimes we just sort of end up in the valleys, either because we aren’t paying attention, or we’ve gotten off the main path. Two weeks ago I was hiking up a local peak near my house, head down, blinders on, powering toward the goal. Before I knew it, though, I was descending again, into a long draw on the east side of the mountain. I wasn’t paying attention and ended up in a deep valley. At the bottom, I sat down to catch my breath, ate a PB&J, and began the long climb up out of this sidetrack.
Rarely in life do we choose to willingly drop down into a deep valley. But valleys happen. Maybe we’re not paying attention, or maybe we make poor choices that lead us far off track. Or maybe, just maybe, the right trail actually includes deep valleys. The trials that we face in our lives can be thought of as valleys. And Scripture promises us that trials are part and parcel of being a Christ follower.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –Jesus, John 16:33
The author of the book of James, believed by many to be Jesus’ kid brother, takes it even further saying that we should be glad to have trials in our lives because of the good that can come from them.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4
Pure joy?! Seriously?! Do you ever wonder sometimes if the human authors of the Bible could actually relate to your life? James sounds like some kind of nutcase in the first part of that passage above. Yippee! My house is being foreclosed! Woo hoo! My husband left me and the kids to start a new life with someone else! Trials rock!
But maybe our reaction to James’ exhortation is due less to his ability to relate to us and more to our lack of understanding what this life is all about. We have become complacent in our affluence here in North America to the point where we have begun to believe the lie that the goal of our lives really is to be as happy as possible. As appealing as that philosophy may be, it is not easily supported through Scripture. Instead, the Bible seems to tell us that the goal of our lives is to become more like Christ and to bring glory to God the Father in the process. And that doesn’t necessarily include personal comfort and happiness.
The great modern-day preacher Chuck Swindoll recently said that going deeper with the Lord requires that we be willing to endure the trials that life brings to us (see his 2014 sermon titled “Deepening Our Roots with God”). Short, easy trials result in shallow growth. Longer, tougher trials can result in deeper growth in Christ. This is difficult advice to follow when you’re in the middle of trouble, but we can set ourselves up for success by incorporating this kind of thinking into our understanding of God and life when we are on the mountaintop or the level plains.
“If you want to be holy, you’re in for the long haul.” Chuck Swindoll
The Father is a deep being, and having been made in His image, we too have unfathomable spiritual depth.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls… King David, Psalm 42:7
The deep soul of the Creator calls out to our likewise deep souls, if only we will listen.
Sometimes going deeper in your faith, in your walk with the Lord, requires waiting on Him amid trials. It requires surrendering in the trial, no longer focusing your prayers on rescue from the troubles, but instead pleading with the Father to redeem them in your life, to do something utterly beautiful with your pain.
Take-home point: Troubles in life don’t always mean you’ve gotten off track. Sometimes they actually mean you are right on track.
Take-home verse: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Questions for thought
Consider the last major trial you faced in life. Were you off track or did the right track actually bring you right into the troubles?
When troubles come, how do you respond? Do you get angry with God? Do you ask why? Do you panic as if something new is happening?
How have you grown in both short and long trials? Did you go deeper with God in the longer trials?
Lord, teach us to accept trials in life as one of your many tools for making us more like you. Shake up our priorities so that your glory comes above our own personal comfort. And redeem our struggles into something beautiful. Amen.