Romans 5:2-4 – We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (NIV)
I am part of a group of men at my church studying the entertaining yet profound fictional Christian classic, The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. These "letters" are those of a senior devil, Screwtape, instructing a junior demon, Wormwood, in the management of his efforts to thwart the developing Christian walk of a particular young Englishman at the beginning of World War II. As you would expect, Screwtape wants every bad spiritual result for this "patient" and has goals which are the exact opposite of those of Christians and our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he refers to as "the Enemy".
One of Screwtape's insightful observations is that we mortals suffer from the effects of a very powerful law which makes us highly vulnerable to spiritual attack. This is the repeated waxing and waning of all aspects of human faith which he refers to as "The Law of Undulation". While the spirit of humans, he says, "can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change." He notes that "Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation — the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks." Unfortunately for Screwtape, as he notes, it is in the troughs that Christ does His best work.
Lewis' wise observation is on target: The Law of Undulation applies to all aspects of our lives, but particularly to our spiritual focus and to the degree of satisfaction that we find in both our secular and spiritual work. At times, we feel very dedicated, finding rewards seemingly at every turn. At other times, the obstacles seem insurmountable and our goals recede into a dark distance far beyond our reach. During those times, it is very helpful to keep in mind that The Law of Undulation is at work. Instead, we often see the present situation as a permanent one. The truth is that, given time, with God's help, our focus will eventually narrow and our hearts will be lifted.
In one of my deeper troughs lately, I found myself feeling that, while I was doing more for God, somehow God was not doing more and more for me. (— as if God needs anything from me and has not already done the most important thing He could ever do for me: provide my salvation.) I had prayed repeatedly for His help to accomplish my goals, instead of attempting to discern His. I continually feared catastrophe and failure in numerous situations. My valley became deeper and deeper, and I became more and more fearful.
But, as always, another thread of Bible study began to work in God's own way. In examining The Law of Undulation, our group had discussed what can help us through the troughs and allow us to move toward a new peak: hope and perseverance. As Paul tells us in today's Scripture, for Christians in the low points of our journey, there will be sufferings, but we must persevere through that suffering to build character from which will come increased hope. It is no accident that the theme of perseverance is found in the words of several New Testament writers, such as Hebrews 12:1b, "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (NIV) and James 1:3, "The testing of your faith develops perseverance." This "perseverance" is not about human willpower, but something much greater: perseverance in faith. Sometimes my troughs are there because, although I am seeking God's assistance, I am not by faith giving control to the Lord to carry my burdens. These messages from God combined to bring me to a place of hope. God was, in fact, deeply blessing me.
To find peace, I realize that we need to give over our concerns to Him and cease to be fearful. We have to relearn repeatedly that God will take care of us with His infinite power. As for me, this realization has flooded me with warmth and comfort. I have not yet left the valley, but I can definitely see the peaks in the distance and my direction is upward toward God.
We have God's hope, and with His help, we will persevere in faith as we walk into the sunlight.
Prayer: Lord God, help us to give over to You our anxiety and fear, and to rely on You for all of our lives. Help us to persevere in faith and hope as we move onward. Amen.