The Highs and Lows of Life
The Highs and Lows of Life
As I look back on the past forty years as a Christian, there have been times of great spiritual highs – experiences of the Holy Spirit, God’s love, the joy of seeing people encounter Jesus for the first time, amazing answers to prayer and seeing the kingdom of God advancing. On the other hand, there have also been spiritual lows – desert experiences, bereavements, disappointments, failures, temptations, opposition, health issues and exhaustion. In the passages for today we see how spiritual highs and lows are closely connected.
Trust that ultimately suffering will end in victoryPsalm 22:1-11
This psalm forms the background to Jesus’ cry on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (v.1a). It is not a coincidence that Jesus quoted this psalm (Matthew 27:46).
Psalm 22 lays out a prophetic background to the cross and resurrection, which we see fulfilled in Jesus. He was ‘scorned by everyone, and despised by the people’ (v.6); mocked and insulted (v.7). They hurled insults at him, shaking their heads (v.7b). ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him’ (v.8a).
This accurately describes the suffering of Jesus (see Matthew 27:31–46) and yet it ends in victory.
The message of the psalm is about the importance of trust at our very low points (Psalm 22:4–5,9). Jesus, at the very lowest point of his life – crucified and God forsaken – trusted in God to deliver him. The apparent defeat of the cross turned out to be the greatest victory of all time.
If you are at a low point, remember that suffering does not have the last word. In Jesus, the resurrection and the victory of God have the last word. Keep trusting him
Lord, thank you so much for the times when I have cried out to you and been saved; trusted in you and not been disappointed. Help me in times of suffering to keep trusting in you.
Grow in authority through the battles and blessingsMark 1:1-28
Pippa and I watched a video of Billy Graham preaching in Los Angeles in 1963. The film is in black and white. He preaches from the Authorised Version of the Bible. But even after fifty years there is power in the message. What is most striking of all is the authority with which he speaks. This kind of authority is a reflection of the supreme authority of Jesus.
In this passage, we see that God prepared Jesus through the spiritual highs and lows in the blessings and battles he experienced.
Mark is the shortest Gospel. It covers three weeks of Jesus’ actions and twenty minutes of his words. It is the liveliest Gospel; it races from event to event with an air of breathless excitement. It is the urgent announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Mark’s favourite word is ‘immediately’. Jesus knew all about a pressurised life. He experienced both spiritual highs and lows. At his baptism Jesus experienced a great spiritual high. He saw a vision: ‘He saw heaven being torn open’ (v.10b). He experienced the Holy Spirit: ‘The Spirit descending on him like a dove’ (v.10b). He heard God’s voice: ‘A voice came from heaven’ (v.11a). He received an assurance of sonship: ‘You are my Son’ (v.11b). He knew deep down God’s love for him: ‘… whom I love’ (v.11c). He enjoyed God’s pleasure: ‘With you I am well pleased’ (v.11d).
From there he went straight into a spiritual low out in the desert where he was tempted by Satan for forty days (v.12).
Do not be surprised by the spiritual attack that follows great spiritual experiences. We always try to warn people about this. If, for example, on the Alpha Weekend¹, you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, receiving a deep assurance of God’s love for you and knowing that you are a child of God, do not be surprised by the attacks – in the form of doubts and temptations – that often follow.
As I look back on my own life, I can see that, although these times of testing seemed very painful at the time, I now recognise how significant they were in preparing me for what lay ahead.
This is all part of God’s economy – it was ‘the Spirit’ who sent Jesus into the desert (v.12) to ‘be tempted by Satan’ (v.13). In some ways, the ‘desert’ times and fierce temptations give an assurance that it really is true. The experience of the Holy Spirit is real but at the same time the spiritual battle and testing may be intense.
Jesus emerged from this period of testing with an extraordinary authority:
- Authority to evangelise
Jesus preached the gospel and called people to follow him. Your number one priority is to cultivate a relationship with Jesus.
- Authority to lead
When Jesus wanted someone to leave their job and work directly for the kingdom, he went up to them and asked (vv.17,20). The earliest disciples’ lives were changed completely from being centred on fish to being centred on people.
- Authority to teach
People were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because ‘he taught them as one who had authority’ (v.22). All the people were so astonished that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching – and with authority!’ (v.27).
- Authority to heal
Jesus heals the man possessed by an evil spirit. He has authority to say to the evil spirit, ‘Come out of him!’ (v.25). People are amazed not only at his teaching, but also at the way in which he ‘gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him’ (v.27).
Whatever you are going through, believe that God is preparing you and giving you an increasing authority for whatever it is that he is calling you to do.
Ask him to fill you again with the Holy Spirit. Know that God looks at you with pleasure. Listen to his voice saying to you: ‘You are my [child], whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (v.11).
Lord, fill me again with your Holy Spirit… Help me to grow in authority in my words and actions.
Pray and act to turn the lows into highsExodus 17:1-18:27
Moses had moments of great spiritual lows. The people ‘quarrelled with Moses’ (17:2); they ‘grumbled’ (v.3); they were ‘almost ready to stone [him]’ (v.4); the ‘Amalekites came and attacked’ them (v.8). Yet God turned the lows into highs. How?
- Support and encourage one another
First, Moses prayed for himself. He ‘cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do”… [and] the Lord answered’ (vv.4–5). Second, he interceded for Joshua and the people: ‘As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning’ (v.11).
‘When Moses’ hands grew tired… Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side and one on the other… So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword… “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord”’ (vv.12–13,16).
This passage reminds us of the power and necessity of intercessory prayer. It also reminds us of the importance of the loving support and encouragement that we can give to one another when we are weary.
- Learn how to delegate
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gave Moses some excellent advice (18:19). He pointed out that if he didn’t delegate, he would wear himself out: ‘The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone’ (v.18b). Moses was humble and wise enough to listen to his father-in-law.
Trying to do everything yourself is ‘not good’ (v.17). It is a bad form of leadership and leads to exhaustion: ‘You’ll burn out’ (v.18, MSG). It also results in the underutilisation of other people’s gifts, time and ability. They are likely to get frustrated and so are you.
However, delegation in itself will not solve the problem. We need the right leaders. If you delegate to the wrong people, no amount of micromanaging will solve the problems. If you get the right leaders you can trust them, release them and empower them.
Follow Jethro’s advice. Use, at least, these three criteria when selecting and appointing leaders. First, choose capable people (v.21a). You need people of ability in order to have confidence as you delegate. Second, choose leaders on the basis of their spirituality – those who ‘fear God’ (v.21b). The third criterion was character. You need people who are ‘trustworthy’ (v.21c) – loyal, discreet and reliable.
Moses gave leaders a variety of responsibilities (‘thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens’, v.21c), presumably depending on their ability. He delegated a certain amount of the decision making but not all. The simple decisions were delegated but not the difficult ones (v.26). The result was that Moses was able ‘to stand the strain’ and the people went home ‘satisfied’ (v.23).
Lord, help me to make my relationship with you my number one priority and, through the highs and lows of life, to stay close to you.
Jethro was a very good father-in-law. He rejoiced over all Moses’ successes and offered advice where he saw there were problems.
Verse of the Day
‘You are my [child], whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11).
¹ Alpha is a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith in a relaxed and informal environment. Each talk looks at a different question around faith and is designed to inspire conversation. Alpha typically runs over ten weeks, with a weekend away. For more information or to find an Alpha near you, visit alpha.org
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.