I used to be a huge fan of roller coasters back in my younger days, but as I became older, not so much. Whereas during my teen years, the rides were thrilling with deep drops and g-force turns, as the years went by, I grew more tired of the “stomach in my throat” moments and the jerkiness of the sharp turns. It has been many years since I have ridden a roller coaster.
When I first decided to follow Jesus, I found myself beginning another type of rollercoaster ride. I remember the thrill when I made the decision to give over my life to the Lord. I stayed up all night because I was unable to sleep. For the first week or so, it was such an exciting ride. Nothing but highs. Then, suddenly, I was struggling. The thrill had slowly evaporated, until it was gone. The emotional lull was difficult after such a high. I wondered even if I had done something wrong, if God was displeased with me. Then came a Christian retreat and the thrill returned. But then I went home for a holiday break to parents who were not believers. I felt isolated and alone. From the peak, I had once again descended into the valley. This sums up my Christian life for the first two years—up and down, up and down. It was a rollercoaster ride of a different kind.
There are parallels with my experience with physical rollercoasters and the spiritual one. As I matured, I tired of both. I was still a young believer when I grew weary of the emotional ups and downs that seemed inexorably tied to my walk with the Lord. When I was up, then things were great with the Lord. When I was down, they were not. I remember one day walking from class back to my apartment and deciding I had had enough of it. What I had been learning from the Scriptures and from more spiritually mature people was that happiness was grounded in circumstance, but joy was anchored in hope regardless of the particular circumstances. So I decided to stop riding the rollercoaster and seek to anchor my emotional state in the hope I had in Jesus.
Over my many years, what I have concluded is the appeal and/or tolerance of the spiritual rollercoaster is determined by maturity. Those who are immature in the faith tend to ride the rollercoaster much more. Their spiritual state of mind is directly tied to the particular circumstances in their lives. I see this a lot in students, which is understandable because not only are they young emotionally, they are often quite young spiritually. Yet, I have seen this many times in older people as well. As long as life is going well, they are doing well. But when circumstances turn away from their liking, they plunge into the depths of anxiety and despair. Up and down, up and down.
Sometimes I wonder if the older people will ever tire of it and hope the younger ones will reach the same point I reached long ago. To both I often speak of my own experience in hope that they will embrace the truth that the Lord wants our faith to be based solely in his faithfulness (II Timothy 2:13), that he is our unmovable Rock (Psalm 62:2). Circumstances change, but the Lord never does (Hebrews 13:8). The reality is we live in a fallen world. Bad things happen and they will happen to us. Life will not always go smoothly. The audience of the Hebrew writer was experiencing this firsthand. This is why he recounts the many believers who were persecuted and suffered terribly, yet their faith remained strong. He wanted to encourage them to remain strong in hope even though their circumstances were quite challenging. And then he writes this:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
In essence, he was telling them, and us, to stay off the rollercoaster. Our faith doesn’t have to be so up and down when our eyes and hope are fixed on Jesus. But it is our choice. I made mine a long time ago. What about you?
© Jim Musser 2019 All Scripture references from the New International Version.