Yes. Christians have good days and bad days. You are not saved one minute and lost the next, but your commitment varies. You may be strong on Sunday and struggling by Wednesday. Even the most devout Christian you know is up one day and down the next.
Think of a roller coaster. You ascend to the peak and suddenly you are at the bottom. It’s no different in life. You struggle, and always will, with consistency.
It was even hard for the apostles to be consistent. Remember, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. He and his brother argued over who would be greatest in the coming kingdom. Thomas fought disbelief and weak faith and Paul waged a battle in his own spirit against sin while calling himself the chief of sinners.
So, sure, there are up and downs in the life of every Christian.
Why are there ups and downs?
This is a good question to begin with. There are ups and downs in our spiritual life because we are human. And while we walk in Christ we are still “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” at our core (Revelation 3:17). Sometimes, that human core seeps through.
Ideally, Christ lives in us.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. Galatians 2:20
The life-changing work of Jesus is life-long. While we are in this body, in the flesh, we remain subject to its temptations and trials.
We face ups and downs because we have bad habits to break. Before we obeyed Christ we cultivated many harmful habits. Some were tragic, like drug or alcohol addictions. Others the world viewed more kindly, like bad language or the occasional outburst. Because we try to be like Christ, we try to break the un-Christian habits. That’s hard, and it takes a lot of time.
We face ups and downs because we have good habits to form. Our life is changing in Christ. We have new goals and new interests. We are forming better preferences in life, better habits.
For example, Jesus was intensely concerned about others. That evidences itself in our desire to help those in need. Jesus was a man of prayer and so are we. Jesus taught God’s word so we seek to know it better through study. Concern, prayer, and study, just to name three, are important habits we are forming. Like breaking bad habits, developing good habits is hard and slow.
We face ups and downs because Satan is still hanging around. Jesus beat Satan when he came out of that borrowed tomb. That was a victory for Jesus and for us (1 Corinthians 15 is an important read here, especially verses 20 & 57). But, Satan is still skulking around. His schemes and devices are well known. He attacks in your weakness and he lies his way into your life. He works to create doubt in your heart where none needs be.
We face ups and downs because Jesus isn’t finished with us yet. He has gone to prepare a place for you (John 14:2). But, he is also preparing you for eternity. It’s called sanctification. That’s a five-dollar word for being made holy. God is working in you for his good pleasure (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13, Hebrews 13:21).
Paul struggled with some kind of “thorn in the flesh” for which he begged deliverance. God’s answer was “no,” learn to depend on me (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul was still under construction. So are you. Lean on God, not on yourself.
Once, Paul described himself as a “wretched man” waging a constant war between what he knew to be true and right and what was evil. He was miserable even though he was certain of his salvation. Read Romans 7:14-25. You’ll feel his despair and even outrage at himself as he battles daily allurements. But don’t stop reading yet. Read the very next verse in Romans 8:1.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
Paul knew that he was in Christ and therefore not condemned! You know that too! Whatever clash he endured, and there were many, he was still walking in the light of Jesus.
There are probably a million reasons, unique to you, to explain your trials. What gets you down might not have the same effect on me. We all have our own unique potholes to bump across.
How do I smooth the ups and downs at a higher level?
This is also a good question and really goes directly to the point of this article. There are ways to decrease the volatility of our spiritual lives. Just because you struggle there is no reason to languish in your trials. Maturity will come.
Take note of Peter when we first meet him. He’s a fisherman with nothing to suggest what a powerful influence he will be come for Jesus. We follow Peter and watch as he declares that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). But later, despite that grand statement, he denies even knowing Jesus (Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75). Still later, it is Peter who preaches the first recorded gospel sermon (Acts 2). Maturity takes time (1Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13).
We smooth the ups and downs with discipline. I know, you were hoping for a quick and easy answer. Sorry.
Discipline begins with a decision to pursue the things of Christ at all costs. Jesus counseled his disciples to “seek first” God’s kingdom, then all the things of this earth would be added to them (Matthew 6:33). Joshua was quite demanding when he urged the Hebrews to choose who they would serve (Joshua 24:14). his actual words were “choose this day whom you will serve.” Their choice was important and needed to come that same day.
Discipline may be called rigorous training. Set a training plan. Set aside time for prayer, study, service and worship. Let nothing take their place.
We smooth the ups and downs with prayer. Have you ever known a truly devout Christian that did not prayer feverishly? Yeah, me neither. Prayer is intrinsic to the daily life of the Christian. Jesus would rise early in the morning to pray (Mark 1:35). He prayed through his homesickness of heaven (John 17). He prayed during the worst moments of his life (Luke 22:39-46). His praying was so well known that his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1).
Every Christian should set a specified time each day for prayer. You will actually have many opportunities during the day to pray which you should take advantage of, but find a time, the same time, every day to pray.
Use a notebook as a journal to record your prayers and God’s answers. That way, you’ll know what you are praying for before you bow your head.
We smooth the ups and downs with Bible study. There is no greater study than that of the Bible. The world’s greatest researchers are seeking answers to the novel coronavirus but their study is inferior to the study of Jesus. I would hope they study the Bible too for there is nothing greater.
Study the Bible, do not just read it. It is a vital study. Take notes, do research, and compare your conclusion to the truth of his word.
We smooth the ups and downs daily. Commit to constant work on your spiritual life. Jesus is transforming us from a rebellious life to one of glory. It is a daily process that cannot be done apart from his loving grace.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Romans 12:2
Allow Jesus to renew you. Allow him to transform your thoughts into a reflection of his glory. His thoughts become your thoughts as you are transformed into his likeness.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis mine, JBE
We leave you with one last thought. The pursuit of spiritual maturity demands daily denial.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Everyday we are saying no to ourselves and yes to Jesus. He is the centerpiece of all we do. Our world revolves around him.
There are no short-cuts. Because he loved us so much that he died for us, we try to give back that love. We will never be able to repay him, but we serve him and love him because he first loved us.
We will always struggle in this body. But Jesus has been here and knows what we deal with. He has been tempted just like us (Hebrews 4:15) and was without sin. He knows the weaknesses; he knows the ups and downs and still loves us!
Don’t give up. Keep pressing ahead.