Three Ways to Stumble

Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand.
Psalm 37:23-24
There are at least three ways to look at this small (but important) passage of scripture: the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual. In the physical sense, all mortal bodies are subject to infirmities which cause us to stumble—either literally or figuratively. There are outward injuries and inner diseases which can bring us down. Some of these are temporary, others seem to be permanent. Some are not life-threatening, others are.

What is true of the physical, though, is even more true of the emotional. There are so many things that can set us back emotionally—some of which are evident to others, but many (maybe even most) of which are only known to the individual being affected. Different people have different triggers, but common situations include loss of income, death of a loved one, and the end of a relationship, to name but a few. Sensitive friends and associates are usually aware of such life-altering events, and (whether effectively or not) either try to help or at least try not to exacerbate our pain. But there are things—mental illness, cruel words spoken, past history—which can cause us to stumble.

And then there's the spiritual. Of the three that I've named, this can be the most serious for a Christian. A crisis of faith can seem to come between us and God, or can cause us to question the work and Person of Jesus Christ. The causes for this are sometimes evident, and can be closely related to either physical or emotional pain. But spiritual crises can also be brought about by much more subtle occurrences—often by a combination of things. When the crisis isn't easily identifiable, we usually fail to see it coming, and it's arrival is so gradual that we don't realize the problem until after it's happened.

In all these things, but the Old and New Testament want us to know that a crisis of body, mind, or spirit does not dictate the life or well-being of a child of God. Both the psalmist and the Apostle Paul were aware of threats to the body, mind, and spirit—indeed, both were aware of complete breakdowns and death—and yet both affirmed that though we stumble, we will not fall; and that nothing can come between us and God's love. Only if we believe that what we see around us, what we can sense with our own mind and bodies, is all there is can we despair. To believe in the God of Jesus Christ is to know that joy conquers sadness, hope conquers despair, and life conquers death.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
 Romans 8:37
Prayer after thinking about today's devotion:
Help me to look beyond my current situation, O God, and see both the cross and the empty tomb beyond the clouds of my despair.
After your own thanksgivings & petitions, close with the Lord's Prayer.
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