Saturday, January 17, 2009


I'll be preaching my first "public" message this Wednesday, and thought I'd use as my topic the idea of undulation. I wish I could say this is an original subject, but it is not. I first came across the idea years back when reading C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters. In it, an older demon (Screwtape) has a series of conversations with his young nephew & protégé, Wormwood. Here's an excerpt:

“Humans are amphibians--half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. 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.”


We must realize that “the law of undulation” is a natural part of our human existence. Periods of growth and vitality will alternate with periods of dryness and dullness. Being or becoming a Christian does not free us from this cycle, but it does allow us to change our perspective. Are you married? Well, whether you've been married for 3 months or 30 years - has your life been a continuous stretch of wedded bliss? No? If it's been like mine, it's a series of ups and downs. This holds true for every aspect of our lives - work, family, football - as we've seen in the recent Chargers season - and everything else.

Now, quite naturally...




I'm always leery when I hear something about the "prosperity gospel" - that's the idea that God wants all of his children to be healthy, wealthy, popular and successful. For one thing, Jesus didn't seem to live up to those standards, and neither did the Apostle Paul. Look at II Corinthians 11:23-30 and read Paul's description of all the hardships he's endured. Doesn't seem to be the normal "career track" of one who follows God, does it? But look at what Paul says in the very next chapter, in 12:9-10:

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

So here's Paul, one of the pillars of the early church, and he's gone through more pain and suffering than likely any of us will have to endure in our lifetime. Is he bitter? Is he resentful? No! In fact, he actually boasts about his weakness and suffering! Why? Because in his weakness, the power of God became necessary, and the only thing Paul was willing to boast about was what Christ was able to do in him and through him during those times of trial and difficulty. And, if you let him, he will do the exact same thing in your life.

Now, based on this I am convinced that what we naturally tend to view as good and bad is actually mistaken. If we were to spell it out, we would probably say something like this:


That which benefits me or makes me happy = good

That which hurts me or makes me unhappy = bad

But God uses a different paradigm. I think His would look something like this:


That which brings you closer to me = good

That which takes you farther away from me = bad

Hebrews 12:7,11 says:

"Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Another excerpt from Lewis' book:

“Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs--to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with, the better. He cannot "tempt" to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

Recently I've had some tribulations concerning a continuation of my military orders, with the (unexpected) result that I've not been paid in the last 7 weeks - which is rather hard to manage in an expensive place like San Diego. But as frustrating as the situation is, I've noticed a few areas where God is at work in my life. For one, He's teaching me a lot about patience and not being in control - something that doesn't come naturally for me. For another, my faith is increasing as I have to rely on Him to provide for our basic needs - we still have to pay our mortgage and other bills, buy food, gas, etc.

The key to shifting paradigms is that we must learn to take our eyes off of ourselves & our problems and instead look to God. We must try to see what it is that He is trying to teach us in the midst of these trials, even if we don't yet have the perspective to put it all into context.

James 1:2,3 tells us:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."

There must be a building of strength before there can be a testing of strength. In the military, a new recruit/candidate must endure boot camp/OCS and then go through other training to be a Navy SEAL, Special Forces, Ranger or Airborne qualified, etc. before they are ever sent out on a mission. In each case, there is a tremendous amount of training and strength building before these men and women are ever tested. You don't just grab a recruit and hand 'em a rifle and send 'em off to Afghanistan - they have to learn how to use it. They have to be trained and built up. They have to learn endurance and perseverance - otherwise, there's a good chance they'll never complete the mission. And this training isn't just a one-shot deal; it's on-going. Faith, endurance and patience are not attributes that develop in calm, serene places where all of our needs are continually met. They are produced in austere environments where we feel battered, bruised and in need. They develop as we recognize that we alone do not possess the necessary traits to see us through - we must rely on God and His provision. We must be continually strengthened by trying circumstance in order to develop the perseverance that will hold us in good stead for when we are truly tested.

So my challenge is for you to look at your circumstances in light of what the Bible tells us, not on the basis of what your human emotions want you to think or feel. Whatever your circumstances are - whether your trials are at work, in your marriage, or wherever - look for the lessons God is trying to teach you. Endure. Persevere.

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks ‘round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”