A divine plan for propelling us onto new spiritual plateaus
Bright and sunny with a soft breeze.
That was the climate this particular morning and exactly how I like it when headed out for a walk. My then-2-year-old son, Jude, loved our walks for many reasons, but particularly for the thrill and excitement of the downhill runs in his stroller. These hills couldn’t come soon enough for him.
We had barely left when Jude yelled, “Let’s go faster!” Pointing to the uphill crest in front of us, he leaned forward in enthusiastic anticipation. I looked at the graduating elevation before me and realized he had his directions mixed up. An incline wouldn’t give him the speed he was looking for; the hill had to turn in the opposite direction. Sure, we could gain some speed, but it would be more difficult (certainly for me, the one pushing). What he wanted would be best achieved when this uphill journey pointed down.
I assured him that on the other side of the summit, where the curve of the paved road seemed to meet with the sky, he’d get what he wanted—a full-speed race down to the bottom. A downhill journey would set the perfect stage for maximum momentum to occur.
Where We Find Full-Speed Faith
“Things are looking up.”
That’s what we say when the downturns of life reverse direction. We much prefer the “uphill” portions of our journey—the seasons where things are headed in a positive trend. None of us would likely choose the more difficult “down” times over the easier to manage—or at least easier to accept—rise of the “up” ones.
Yet time and again, experience shows us that spiritual momentum and full-speed faith are often best achieved when things are looking down. Somehow, when our days and details are not going in a way we’d prefer, eagerness in our seeking and searching for God picks up the pace and intensifies in speed.
To be clear, we can most certainly experience spiritual growth when things are going well. Thank the Lord that difficulty is not a requirement for discipleship. But in our quest for happiness and ease, could we be sacrificing the spiritual growth we deeply desire on the fleeting altar of good times? Is it possible that in our drastic attempts to keep ourselves and our loved ones from experiencing the “downs,” we are being robbed, and robbing others, of the optimum environment for spiritual speed to be gathered, distance to be covered, endurance and character to developed, and quickened faith to be cemented into place?
Scripture says it this way: “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy ... your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow” (James 1:2-4, NLT).
Maybe, instead of merely detesting the “down times,” we can also be expectant of the high-speed work God is preparing to do in us while we’re passing through adversity. Maybe, just maybe, the warp speed with which He wants to propel us to the next dimension of our callings will be best achieved on this side of the hill of life.
We can and must address and encourage each other through harsh realities, yes, and we can also count it as our privilege to make our requests for His intervention in our lives known. But we must also have the sting of joyful and holy fervor that reminds us our more difficult days are propelling us onto new spiritual plateaus. Somehow, through this, we start trusting more fully, believing more abundantly, expecting more wholly and our hearts start percolating with a newfound spiritual passion.
Things looking down, my friend? I pray that things will look up again soon. But until then, lean forward into the fast and furious winds of grace and prepare for the ride of your life.
Priscilla Shirer is a Bible teacher who speaks nationwide. She has written multiple books, including A Jewel in His Crown. With her husband, Jerry, she founded Going Beyond Ministries. For more information, visit her blog at goingbeyond.com or follow her on Twitter @PriscillaShirer.
Are you missing the most essential part of sermon prep?
That God would call a man from the hills of Kentucky to England's Westminster Chapel is one of the great incongruities of church history. I was honored to serve at that famed church from 1977 to 2002. In fact, every time I ascended that lofty pulpit, I pinched myself.
Yet it was both a preacher's dream and a pastor's nightmare.
The dream: All I had to do was prepare sermons and preach them.
The nightmare: Being a good pastor from the pulpit only. John Calvin once said he would as soon enter the pulpit undressed as unprepared—and, believe me, the Westminster pulpit is one platform you do not want to enter having not done your homework.
One trip to Israel was all it took to make me repriotize my life and ministry
After 19 years of international ministry, a weekly television broadcast, establishing a consultancy for pastors and other initiatives, I have experienced something that has caused me to entirely rethink my approach to ministry and also my theology. It has changed the way I prioritize, the way I preach and the way I pastor. This life-changing encounter was with the land of Israel.
After sailing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, standing in the Garden of Gethsemane and peering into the field where the battle of Armageddon is to take place, I realized that much of my ministry had been based upon personal introspection—what I had read and what other scholars had interpreted. Moreover, we often allow English grammatical rules to interpret biblical text and biblical culture.
However, Western theology often opposes Eastern thought. For instance, the Western mind argues the truth; thus we have so many denominations and different reformations. But the Eastern mind simply obeys the truth. In the past, this difference in approach would have inhibited me from fully absorbing the Scriptures. But my trip to this unique place changed all that. I can now personally identify with Naaman the leper who took soil from Jerusalem back to his native land of Syria, so that he could stand upon it and worship the God of Israel.
Don’t worry about being ‘too political’ in the pulpit
“Pastor, you are too political,” said the irritated parishioner. But he did not stop there. “If you continue this, I’ll leave the church.” A further implication was obvious: “along with my tithe.” In that moment, the pastor is at a crossroad.
Some parishioners have heard sufficiently diluted preaching for so long that they don’t recognize truly biblical preaching. Therein lies the problem.
After all, isn’t the Bible quite clear? “Go into all the world—except the political realm,” according to some people’s Bibles? How has that type of preaching worked out for us? Is anyone’s community more righteous today than 20 or 40 years ago? Not one.
A proactive approach can help minimize the X-rated threat to your ministry
Porn is probably the fastest-growing problem in the church. When speaking at my Sex, Men and God conferences, I have found that more than 50 percent of the men attending will admit to being addicted—not struggling with—to pornography.
What about your church staff? Many of your staff members were also raised sexually by Playboy, the Internet and our sex-saturated culture. We have to accept the reality that being in ministry doesn’t make anyone immune to the porn problem. This problem is largely a male issue, but there is more research supporting the fact that there is a rising in number of Christian women who are also dabbling in pornography and social networks for inappropriate relationships.
I know from personal experience what it’s like to be trapped by porn and sex addiction. I have been free for over 24 years, and being free is much better.