The Ups and Downs of the Christian Experience

There are many examples in the Bible of the ups and downs of the Christian experience. No disciple had more ups and downs than Peter. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told Peter, “You are Petros [Peter], and upon this petra [large rock] I will build My church.” Then He said, “I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Verse 19.

Follow Me

In these verses, we see Peter on a mountaintop experience with the Lord. The Lord is giving him wonderful promises, promises that the gates of Hades will not prevail against this church. A few verses later, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan.” Verse 23. Jesus called Peter Satan himself, because the devil was using him at that point in time. Peter is the only apostle to whom Jesus referred directly in this manner.

Another experience with Peter is given in John 21. In this chapter, several of the disciples were out in the sea fishing overnight but had no success catching fish. As it grew daylight, a person on the shore called to them, asking if they had any fish. When they responded that they did not, the man told them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. When they did this, the net was so full of fish and so heavy that they could not pull it into the boat. The disciple John then told Peter that it was the Lord standing on the beach, about 300 feet away. Peter became so excited that he put his outer garment on, jumped into the sea, and swam to see the Lord. He could not wait for the boat to get there with the fish. After they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
” ‘Simon of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?’ He saith to Him, ‘Yes, Lord: You know that I love You.’ He said, ‘Feed My sheep.’ ” Verse 15. That single question test is repeated three times.

Then Jesus added, ” ‘Most assuredly I say to you, that when you were younger you girded yourself and walked where you wished, but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands [Jesus is talking about Peter being crucified—he would stretch forth his hands and be crucified just as Christ was crucified], and another will gird you [when you are nailed to a cross you cannot do anything for yourself] and lead you where you do not wish.’ And this He said, giving a sign by what death he [Peter] would glorify God. And this saying, He said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ ” Verses 18, 19.

Ellen White, commenting on this experience with Peter, says, “Jesus walked alone with Peter, for there was something which He wished to communicate to him only. Before His death, Jesus had said to him, ‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.’ To this Peter had replied, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.’ John 13:36, 37.” The Desire of Ages, 815. What did Jesus mean, you cannot follow Me now? Peter did not then have the courage to go to the cross with Christ. What did he do that night? He denied Christ three times. (See Mark 14:66–72.) But he did follow Christ to the cross later.

Ellen White continues, “When he said this, he little knew to what heights and depths Christ’s feet would lead the way. Peter had failed when the test came, but again he was to have opportunity to prove his love for Christ. That he might be strengthened for the final test of his faith, the Saviour opened to him his future.” Ibid.

Not Singing Now

Peter did not have any idea of the heights and depths he would encounter as he followed Christ. Just as Peter had that experience, the early church had that experience; the children of Israel had that experience; the remnant church has that experience. God’s people, over and over again, have gone over heights that were so high they did not imagine they could be so wonderful. But then they have gone to depths that they could not imagine could be so awful. One of the things I want to concentrate on in this study is why God allows these kinds of things to happen. There are some people who wish that we could just smooth off the high places and fill in the low places and have everything level, but that is not the way the experience of God’s people will be. It goes high, and it goes low.

For example, when the armies of Pharaoh all drowned in the Red Sea, “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to Jehovah, and they spoke saying, ‘I will sing to Jehovah.’ ” Exodus 15:1. That is the time that Miriam took the timbrel (see verse 20), and they had a wonderful, exciting experience. They were so happy they could express it only by song, and they composed a song right on the spot. Miriam was the musician, and they sang the song recorded in this chapter. If we are faithful, we are going to sing the song of Moses some day.

But notice what happens just a few days later. They are not singing now! They are out in the desert. There is not enough water to drink, and the children of Israel come to Moses and Aaron to ask if they had brought the whole congregation out there to the desert to let them die of thirst. (See verses 22–24.) They said it would have been better if Jehovah had just killed them back in Egypt. They were not on a high experience now; they were in the depths of discouragement, depression, trouble, and worry. They got so upset that they lost all their faith in God.

Friends, when things happen that you thought could not happen, do you still trust in the Lord, or do you lose your trust? They lost their trust.

Keep Trusting

We see this same experience repeated in the lives of Daniel and his three companions, when they were taken captive to Babylon. They went up and down, up and down. They were afraid that they might lose their lives if they insisted on a different diet than the king provided. They chose to request it anyway, and the Lord blessed them. Not only did they have better health and appearance, but they excelled in school so that they were smarter than all the others, and the king decided to make them part of his special advisors. (See Daniel 1:11–20.) Life seemed wonderful!

A little while later, though, they were threatened with being put to death. The king had a dream; nobody could explain it, so the “wise” men were all to be killed. Daniel pleaded for 24 hours leniency. He and his three friends had a prayer meeting, asking the Lord for help. The Lord gave them the answer! He showed Daniel what Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed. When this information was relayed to the king, Daniel and his three friends were immediately exalted to places of honor. (See Daniel 2:1–19, 48, 49.) All the wise men in the whole kingdom thought well of them, because they had saved their lives.

But a little while later, as the four worthies became more exalted, the other wise men became jealous. Soon they gathered in the Plain of Dura, and the king became furious when these Jewish captives would not bow down to the golden image he had made. Now they were down in discouraging circumstances again. They were thrown into the fiery furnace for not bowing to the image. The Lord delivered them from the fire, and then they were exalted again. (See Daniel 3.)

Read the first six chapters of the book of Daniel, and see how many times they go up and down. The exciting thing about this story is that these young men had faith, and when they hit the bottom, they did not lose their faith and trust in God; they kept praying. They did not do like the children of Israel and say, “It would have been better for us if we had just died rather than be taken captive and go through this.”

The True Church

Their experience, from a human point of view, was totally unexplainable. People said to them, “Oh, you belong to the true church, do you? Well, where is your church? Where is your temple? We burned it down! Our gods are better than your God. Oh, you have the true religious service? You do not have a religious service anymore; there are no priests functioning. We do not observe any of the ceremonial law, it is all over.”

I asked some students one time, When Daniel and his three companions were in Egypt, where was the true church? Some people got angry that I even asked that question. Where was it? It seemed like it had ceased to exist, and we little comprehend how their faith was tested. There was nobody to explain how and why all these things were. If God really does have a people in the world, why are we in this mess? Daniel had to study this out, and his prayer in Daniel 9 shows that he figured out how and why all of this had happened. But he did not lose faith and trust in God even then. In fact, Daniel 9 is a chapter where Daniel is interceding to the Lord for His people—a people that it appeared did not exist anymore, but Daniel knew God had a people.

History Repeated

Those kinds of things are going to happen again. God’s people are not always going to be up on a high; they are sometimes going to be down low, when it looks like everything is going to ruin. Ellen White wrote: “Times that will try men’s souls are just before us, and those who are weak in the faith will not stand the test of those days of peril.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 273. Are you weak in faith, or are you strong in faith? To get through the low times, you will have to have a faith that will not quit when everything is unexplainable.

Ellen White says that the people are going to mock us in the last days. They will say, “Oh, you think that you are the true church? You think that you are God’s special people and that this handful of motley people are the only people in the world who have the truth?” She says, “The time that will try men’s souls are just before us. We shall then have no advocate to rebuke the devil and plead in our behalf.” Review and Herald, September 22, 1896. Are you ready for that? Are you ready for the time when you have no attorney, no advocate to make a plea in your behalf?

Are You a Deserter?

Not just Peter, but all of the disciples had these same types of experiences. In the first 13 verses of John 6, we read about the feeding of the 5,000. It is such an important story that it is found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You can be sure that any story found in all four of the gospels has special significance and needs careful study. Notice what happens, and how exciting it gets. “Therefore, the men seeing this miracle which Jesus did, said, ‘Truly this is the prophet. The one coming into the world.’ Therefore, Jesus, knowing that they were about to come and seize Him in order that they might make Him king, separated again into a mountain alone.” John 6:14, 15.

Were they excited? Jesus had just taken five barley loaves and two fish and fed 5,000 men besides women and children. They were so excited; they said, “If we have this man, when we go to fight and take over the Romans, there will be no problem. He can feed the whole army, and if anybody gets injured, He will be able to heal them. Victory will be assured. We will be the masters of the world.” That was their fondest hope—to conquer the Roman Empire and rule the world, and now they knew how to do it. The disciples had this same hope.

After wanting to make Him king, when Jesus tried to explain the true meaning of the loaves the next day, the Bible says, “Many of His disciples said, ‘This is a hard saying, who is able to hear it?’ And Jesus knowing in Himself that they grumbled concerning this said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of man going up where He was before? . . . But there are some of you which do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones they were which should not believe and who it was that should betray Him. And He said, ‘On account of this, I have said to you that no one is able to come to Me except it be given him from My Father.’ After this, many of His disciples went away, and did not follow Him or walk with Him anymore. Therefore, Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Are you also going to go away?’ ” John 6:60–62, 64–67.

Many followers forsook Jesus. Ellen White says, “Praise and flattery would be pleasing to their ears; but the truth is unwelcome; they cannot hear it. When the crowds follow, and the multitudes are fed [that was the previous day when they were way up high, but today they hear something that brings them way down low], and the shouts of triumph are heard, their voices are loud in praise; but when the searching of God’s Spirit reveals their sin, and bids them leave it, they turn their backs upon the truth, and walk no more with Jesus.” The Desire of Ages, 392.

A Different Spirit

“As those disaffected disciples turned away from Christ, a different spirit took control of them.” Ibid. Have you ever seen that happen in Adventism? Have you seen people who are fired up, and the Holy Spirit is working on their hearts? They are convicted, and they say they want to be with the revival and reformation movement within Adventism; they want to be ready for the Latter Rain; they want to be ready for Jesus to come; they want to be with the people who are going to go through to the end. Crowds follow, and the multitudes are fed with spiritual food, and it is exciting. But as time goes on, the Holy Spirit puts His finger on their problems. If we are really going to follow Christ all the way, we need to give up the sin in our lives; we need to change our lives.

With different people it is different things. There are many who come so far in their Christian experience, but they reach a point of decision, perhaps on a seemingly small issue, and they cannot go beyond it. Ellen White writes about this: “At every advanced point the heart is tested and tried a little closer. If the professed people of God find their hearts opposed to this straight work, it should convince them that they have a work to do to overcome, if they would not be spewed out of the mouth of the Lord. Said the angel: ‘God will bring His work closer and closer to test and prove every one of His people.’ Some are willing to receive one point; but when God brings them to another testing point, they shrink from it and stand back, because they find that it strikes directly at some cherished idol. Here they have opportunity to see what is in their hearts that shuts out Jesus. They prize something higher than the truth, and their hearts are not prepared to receive Jesus. Individuals are tested and proved a length of time to see if they will sacrifice their idols and heed the counsel of the True Witness. If any will not be purified through obeying the truth, and overcome their selfishness, their pride, and evil passions, the angels of God have the charge: ‘They are joined to their idols, let them alone,’ and they pass on to their work, leaving these with their sinful traits unsubdued, to the control of evil angels. Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 187.

So, you see, someone who has gone a certain distance in the revival and reformation movement, saying they want their life to come into perfect harmony with the Bible and with the Spirit of Prophecy, may come up to a certain point where finally the Holy Spirit puts a finger right on some cherished sin, and they cannot give it up.

The Bible says that, as the disaffected disciples turned away from Christ, a different spirit took control of them. Have you ever seen that happen? A person, or a whole group of people, goes a certain distance, but they finally reach a point where they say, No, I can’t go any further. I can’t go along with that; that is too much. And they turn, and they do not even know what has happened, but those watching can see that a different spirit has taken hold of them. I have seen it happen so many times, and usually the person to whom it is happening does not realize what is occurring. An observer, from the outside, can clearly see what is happening, and they can see that the person is not even the same person that they were two months before. In the Scriptures it happened in one day—a different spirit took control.

What happened when this different spirit took control? “As those disaffected disciples turned away from Christ, a different spirit took control of them. They could see nothing attractive in Him whom they had once found so interesting.” The Desire of Ages, 392.

Someone may say, “I used to belong to such and such a home church, but I don’t even want to belong to a home church anymore. I’m going to go somewhere else to worship.” In fact, they often fight what they once supported and promoted. This is not a game, where you just go here or don’t go there. When you are not supporting the revival and reformation movement, eventually you are fighting it.

To be concluded . . .

Pastor Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life Ministry and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas.