A hill has suddenly arisen out of nowhere and I’m in a gear better fit for a downhill fly. I think this is the story of my life. I’m on a new bike. It’s light and it’s fast, and the gears respond to a gossamer touch of their flashy levers. The trouble is, the levers are in places I’m unfamiliar with, four locations using thumbs and forefingers in combinations to make front and rear sprockets move up or down as needed. And I’m on a hill about to grind to a halt if I don’t find the right gear soon.
It’s the story of my life because I’ve discovered I live best when I’ve narrowed down God’s lessons for me into simple phrases. If it gets too complex, I simply revert to my natural set point; selfishness, pride, and vanity are waiting like the temptation to get off my bike and walk when the hill looms too large.
I’ve learned my left thumb is the most important digit when approaching a steep hill on this new bike. Pressing the lever nearest that thumb is the single most important choice I can make to enable this swishy new bike to do its job for me on that irksome slope. And I’ve learned a few rule-of-thumb lessons in life too.
I’ve learned that an appetite for God is best developed when I’ve suffered. When I’ve experienced the deepest disappointments I’ve found myself most desperate for God. I begin to see that time alone with Him in His Word and in prayer is the first and best thing I can do with my day, and the best place to deal with the problem of suffering.
I’ve learned that the backbone of prayer is in the request that God’s will be done in my life. Reading books like The Practice of the Presence of God (by Brother Lawrence) and Letters by a Modern Mystic (by Frank Laubach) have narrowed my focus toward more regular dialogue with God through prayer. And I’ve learned that dialogue must be various versions of “Thy will be done”.
I’ve learned that faith is sometimes hard work and comes with a cost. Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship remind me that it is costly grace at work in my life that will make me finally like Jesus. This grace is epitomized in Paul’s verse to the Romans (8:28) that shocks me by saying, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. It means that God turns my weaknesses into something of eternal value; Jesus redeems all the disappointments, disciplines, ups and downs of my life for good.
So I’m riding this bike smoothly up the hill that almost had me walking. I remembered the rule of thumb just in time, and I’m in the prettiest first gear I ever felt. But it’s easier gearing down to first on a new bike than living the Spirit-filled life with success. I need to remember that suffering and disappointments are God’s invitation to come into closer relationship with Him. I need to remember that prayer is foremost about letting God have His will in my life. And I need to remember that God often works His good into my life when the hills are the most daunting. Those are the simple rules of thumb that God has taught me on this journey of life.
(Photo Credit: Andreas Werner, Wikimedia Commons)