Are blessings we’re expecting the ones God guarantees?
Why hills? Often we act as though they don’t even exist. Indeed, sometimes when we present to people the promise of new life in Christ, we describe such smooth, level roads, that we advertise more than God promises to deliver.
We may quote verses such as Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight,” implying to them that the life of faith will be trouble-free.
In a baptism service, I heard a new believer in his early 30s give his testimony: “My wife and I have had a lot of troubles in our marriage — the pressures of starting a new business, beginning our family long hours of work, and disagreements. Then my wife began coming to church. She became a Christian and a changed person. Now I have become a Christian, and our worries are over.”
This man had a wonderful salvation story. And it fits what we preach. We speak of discovering God’s wonderful plan for one’s life.
In the midst of a world that is broken and colorless, we present life in the Savior as mended and beautiful. If one confesses faith in Christ, we urge, life will come together. Then life will have meaning.
And it is true! To know Christ is to know the meaning of life. To know the Savior is to understand purpose in life. To belong to God is to validate sense in life.
But this is not the full truth. There are also the hills.
A woman next to me in that baptism service nearly snorted when she heard what the young believer said. She leaned over and whispered, “It may be that now his worries will really begin!”
The government demands that warnings be printed on cigarette packages. Perhaps we should add stickers on Christian tracts as well: Warning — Your new life in Christ may include many hills.
There are times when believers find their lives in shambles. They may have gained heaven but, it seems, lost earth!
We need to face reality. Christians get sick. Believers suffer financially. The righteous may be persecuted.
Even mature believers may face a crisis that is beyond their expectations. A pastor’s child may die in a car accident on the way home from a football game. A prayer-warrior’s daughter may be raped at knife point on her way home from work. A deeply committed Christian may be slandered by a best friend. A missionary couple may find their marriage ending in divorce.
There are hills all over God’s world.
My Friend, ‘Professor K’
This happened a few years ago among the faculty at the seminary where I teach. “Professor K” had taught Greek for 40 years. He knew the Bible intimately.
He was a tall, strong man whom students affectionately called “Mr. Up-So-High.” Certainly someone with his strong jaw would not have troubles!
But he did. His wife had been an invalid for years. He had managed to care for her while teaching his courses and discipling his students. When his wife grew worse, he moved her to a nearby home where she had constant care.
He visited her, but he was lonely. And he hurt deeply.
I didn’t know it then, but he said goodbye to me one Friday during a lunch break in the faculty lounge. Ordinarily, Professor K would sit ramrod straight, tie neat, jacket sharp, and features serious. That day he seemed to be slumping in his chair. He gave me an uncharacteristic, unusual smile.
That weekend I took my younger son, Bruce, to a parent-child horsemanship camp in northern Washington. On the drive home Sunday night, with Bruce asleep in the back seat, I pondered Professor K’s strange smile. I decided to ask him about it.
But Monday he called in sick. Monday night, he took his life.
Having planned out many details and leaving numerous notes, my friend ended his life with a gunshot to his head. That smile was his goodbye. Only afterward did I understand.
I cannot relate the shock that his death caused in our seminary community and in our church. Godly, seasoned, learned men do not sink to such levels of depression!
But Professor K did just that. It can happen to anyone.
So why did God make hills when He has made so many promises?
The fact is, God makes no promises that once people come to faith in Jesus Christ there will be no trouble in their lives.
The promises that God makes are not like the promises we sometimes make in His name.
A new believer may sing, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” in the first days of faith, just as a bride and groom may find indescribable rapture in the freshness of their love. But new believers, like the newly married, finally enter life as it is. And hills face both.
Blows may come into the believer’s life, as they did in the life of Job, because of the working of the enemy. Troubles may come into the believer’s life, as they did in the life of Abraham, because of divine testing. Persecution may come into the believer’s life, as they did in the lives of the apostles, for mysterious reasons caught up in the glory of Christ.
Preachers who proclaim that the Christian life is a smooth path may not only be misrepresenting life as it is, but also may be distorting the purpose of God in the lives of His people.
Only in America would we trivialize the gospel in this manner. I doubt if believers in Romania, China, or Albania peddle a gospel of ease and comfort.
Rather, in these countries, the gospel is presented as it is: new life in Christ in spite of the context of earthly circumstances.
People need to know these things as they enter the world of faith. Coming to Christ is coming to God. Coming to Christ is coming to forgiveness from sin. Coming to Christ is God’s promise of heaven. Coming to Christ is wonderful! But coming to Christ does not mean a path without hills.
The promises of God to His people are not for health and wealth, but for His presence and comfort.
The promises of God are not for freedom from pain, but for an ultimate meaning that defies analogy.
The promises of God are not for a life of unending pleasure, but for eternal life in the presence of the Savior.
Some Christians do live lives of contentment, prosperity, and significance. They have great reason to be grateful.
But not all believers live that way, and not simply because they lack the faith to claim better things.
Not even the Savior was free from pain. Not even the Savior lived in ease. Not even the Savior claimed promises that God has not made.
Perhaps you recall the Proverb that seems to promise a blissful long life:
“My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you” (Prov. 3:1-2 NKJV).
These verses seem to present a guarantee or a contract, if you will, for a fulfilled life. If the believer does his part, this text seems to promise that God will do His part to provide health, wealth, and happiness.
The issue is that the Proverbs do not present promises. They are proverbs! They are generalizations, not guarantees. In the ordinary course of things, there are certain expectations that follow certain actions. The proverbs present the basic patterns in the world that God has made.
One who sows wheat, expects to reap wheat. Yet any farmer knows that just because he has sown a certain seed, this does not mean he will automatically reap the crop. He will not find rutabagas, but he may not get wheat either. There may be drought, disease, or disaster that will not allow him to reap anything at all.
So it is with life.
If there were ever any person who fulfilled entirely the demands of Proverbs 3:1-2, certainly this would be Jesus the Savior. None kept the law of God as He did. None has ever observed the commandments of the Father as Jesus did.
But His life was cut off in the midst of His years. He did not enjoy peace, but constant struggle. He had no wealth. His only possession was His garment, something that His executioners cast dice to obtain.
If Proverbs 3:1-2 is an automatic promise of God on a faithful life, it was a promise broken in the life of the Savior.
The point is, God does not make promises for our life in terms of ease and outer contentment. The proverbs are not promises, merely proverbs. That is, they are the general expectation in ordinary times. We need to know what the general expectations are. But we also need to know that there may still be hills.
God is free to do the most unusual things in extraordinary times. This is why He made hills.
The promises of God are for the spirit.
The promises of God are for eternity.
The promises of God are wrapped in His wisdom, caught in His wonder, bound in His pleasure.
And the work of God is done in His time.
Why did God make hills?
After stopping alongside the road on the way to the retreat, I was ready for the next big push. I had gotten my breath under control. I had taken another sip from the water bottle. I had prayed again for strength to continue.
But before I pedaled off, I looked again at the one across the fence and asked her, “Why did God make hills?”
She still hadn’t answered. I hadn’t really expected much. If you are going to ask a silly question, you might do as I did. I’d been speaking to a cow.
God made the hills because He is God.
We can fight the hills. We can curse them. We may try to ignore them. Or finally, with biblical faith, we may ask for renewed strength to surmount them.
God has made the hills. In the same way, they are a part of His glory.
Dr. Allen, MOODY Monthly