These following posts are adapted from a sermon I gave for the high school group in my home church after they came back from CBM camp (a christian camp for Chinese churches in NorCal).
Before we dive into the topic of spiritual highs and lows, we first need to answer: what are spiritual highs and spiritual lows? These terms aren’t in the Bible, but it’s often used in circles where kids have grown up in church. They use these terms to describe their feelings during or after a retreat, camp, or conference. During the retreat/camp/conference, they experience a “spiritual high” where they have strong feelings or desires for religious things and God. After the event ends, they subsequently experience a “spiritual low” where these strong feelings or desires subside or disappear completely. These feelings seem closely tied to having joy and delight in God or having no joy and no delight in God. For this post I may use these terms synonymously.
If these terms aren’t in the Bible, are these feelings in the Bible? Let’s take a look at a handful of passages and let you decide (emphases added):
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:4-5)
My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” … Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:3,5-6)
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:8,12)
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63:1-4)
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials (1 Peter 1:6)
It is in the Bible! It’s normal to have spiritual highs and lows. It’s inevitable. So how do we think through this? What do we make of this?
3 things to consider when thinking about spiritual highs and lows:
Our Salvation, Our Sanctification, and God’s Sovereignty
Let’s begin with Our Salvation.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter, as you guys probably know, was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. He was writing to Christians who were suffering. In the time of this letter, Nero, the emperor of the Roman Empire, burned down the city of Rome and then blamed it on Christians. These Christians were heavily persecuted and scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They lived in and among a pagan culture and a world that hated them. Take a look at verse 6: “in this you rejoice, though now for a little while… grieved by various trials.”
It was a tough environment to be a Christian. There was persecution for being a Christian and doing religious things. Everyone was against them. The circumstances and environment would all point to a spiritual low—they won’t want to desire God because they’ll be persecuted for it. But here, Peter is trying to encourage these suffering believers. But how does Peter encourage these believers in circumstances that would point to a spiritual low? Interestingly enough, the first thing he reminds these believers is their salvation. Why? How is this comforting? It’s because their salvation didn’t depend on themselves or situation or circumstances. It isn’t even based on our feelings! It’s not based on our spiritual highs or lows. Good thing it isn’t! It’s so uncertain! Sometimes I desire God, sometimes I don’t! If my salvation were based on my highs and lows, I wouldn’t know if I’m saved tomorrow! I might not “feel” like I’m saved.
However, the truth is that our salvation is a completely external act. It’s an action that is completely apart from us. Look at verse 3: “according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope.”
Look first at “mercy”. Mercy is the withholding of judgment that is due. Before a holy, just God, we are guilty and are due an infinite wrath for our sins. God can choose to show mercy by withholding that from us. It is HIS great mercy. It is totally dependent on God on whether or not he shows mercy to us.
Let’s continue: “he as caused us to be born again”. When we take into consideration the analogy of being born in an earthly way, we come to realize that we have no part in our physical birth. It was all our mother’s work! In the same way, we have no part in our spiritual birth. It says he “causes us.” God did it all! He caused it. We had no part in it. It’s not based on our feelings.
So what does this say about spiritual highs and lows?
2 Things: A Caution and a Comfort
The Caution: you can have a spiritual high and not be saved.
Again, spiritual highs – having periods of time where you desire God or desire religious things, may indicate salvation but does not determine salvation. The heart that desires God is a good sign that we are believers, but it isn’t the basis. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We can easily confuse an experience or an emotion as our basis of our salvation. You can get caught up in the emotion of camp, get caught up in the emotions of those around you. You may have read the bible. You may have prayed with people. You may heard good preaching. But, if you have not done business with God, if you have not repented of your sin and placed your faith in God, you are NOT saved.
There is a danger of legalism as we think through spiritual highs and lows. We think that our highs determine our standing before God; “if I want God or desire God, then I am saved.” We also often think that God will like us “better” when we do “well” – like read our bibles, pray, etc. Our salvation has nothing to do with our work. “If I read my bible and pray, then I am saved.” By no means! We had NOTHING to do with our salvation.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one my boast.” (Ephesians 2:8)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
I caution you, even if you have spiritual highs, reflect on whether or not you have placed your faith in Christ. If not, I urge you to forsake your sins, repent, and place your faith in Jesus Christ to save you. Your works can’t save you. Your spiritual highs can’t save you.
What else does our Salvation being based on grace imply?
The Comfort: you can be saved and have spiritual lows
Lets take a look at verse 6 again: “…you have been grieved by various trials.” Peter here points out that they do suffer and have suffered grief! That sounds like a spiritual low to me. Remember, he’s writing here to Christians; these Christians are suffering grief.
Here’s another example: David writes Psalm 51 after sinning against Bathsheba. He says: verse 8 “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” and in verse 12 “Restore to me the joy of your salvation..” Something only needs to be restored if was broken or taken away. This implies that David’s joy of salvation was lost! David was definitely saved, but his joy of salvation was lost for a period of time. Even David went through spiritual lows. Be comforted! If you are a Christian, if you have placed your faith in Christ, you will face spiritual lows, but that has NO EFFECT on your standing before God!
Back to 1 Peter 1:6. In spite of trials and spiritual lows, “in this you rejoice.” What’s this referring to? Our Salvation! Be assured that you are that still saved despite facing lows. It’s not based on our feelings. It’s based on God. The God who “caused us to be born again” will keep us UNTIL the end. Find comfort, Christian if you’re experiencing a spiritual low. Your salvation is not lost!
You may think or say, “Chris, I know I’m saved. I don’t doubt that. I’m just frustrated! It feels like my faith is like a roller coaster, some highs and some lows. It feels like my faith is like the stock market, it just keeps going up and down. Never constant.”
15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Does this sound like you? It sure sounds like me.
You see, at the cross, Jesus took away the penalty of sin and the power of sin. This means that the penalty of sin, death, has been taken care of as Jesus bore the wrath of God. And this also means that the power of sin was taken away at the cross. We are no longer slaves of sin; the power of sin has no control over us. We have the ability to say no to sin—not that we necessarily will say no, but we have the ability to. So, the penalty of sin and the power of sin are gone, but its presence in our flesh (verse 20) is still there! There’s a tension! As Christians, in the least we want to desire God and want that “spiritual high” but the sinful flesh desires the opposite!
This leads to the next topic to consider: Our Sanctification
Stay tuned for next time as we consider sanctification and spiritual highs and lows!