“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7)
We have been going through the book of Genesis since January and will continue for several more months until we have reached the end. The book of Genesis is foundational, providing a worldview to make sense out of this world we now live in and to provide guidance for living as aliens, strangers and ambassadors of the King of Kings to the world we are in. There is the vertical element, whereby we are God’s people, created and saved for a communal relationship with Him. And there is the horizontal element, whereby we are sent out to serve God in relationship with others.
We are, more often that we’d like to admit, caught up in the horizontal and less aware of the vertical. The cares, demands and difficult circumstances of the world consume us so easily, we become easily distracted from the Lord’s presence both within and among us. We become vertically challenged. When we don’t recognize our sorry state and the shortening of our vertical stature, we begin longing for comfort more than the sufficiency of God’s grace. Faced with trials and difficulties, we often expect God to provide comfort and relieve us, when that may be the last thing God wants for us at the moment. Someone once said, “Sometimes God puts you on your back so you can look up!”
A new question I’m beginning to ask myself, when curve balls and discomforts find their way into my horizontal sphere, is “Could it be possible that the Holy Spirit is at work in these circumstances to make changes to me?” “Is there some sin, some idol that God is trying to break me of when difficulty enters my vertically challenged world?” These are hard questions to ask oneself, and even more difficult for me, as a pastor, to ask those suffering within our congregation. We don’t want, for ourselves or those we love, to go through difficult times. We want comfort. We want encouragement. Yet, the greatest comfort and encouragement comes from knowing we are not made solely for a horizontal relationship. God is at work within and through us. As Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today magazine recently wrote, “As we read the New Testament, we are reminded time and again that the gospel isn’t about making life safe and orderly, but entails the risk of following Jesus. It’s not about improving people, but about killing them and then creating them anew. It’s not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate our private space and fill it with himself. The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate with God in making the world a better place—to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it. Instead it announces God’s plan to raze the present world order and build something new.”
Is there anything more comforting than knowing that our world is not spinning out of control. What could be more encouraging than knowing God has us exactly where He wants us, to do in us that which can never be accomplished in the horizontal realm.
Life is not all horizontal, nor is it all vertical, although that is the place it must start and be grounded. Life’s circumstances, no matter how difficult or dire they seem, will never be too much to endure, if we have firm foundation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are consumed with a vertical perspective of God at work in our midst.