If you had to draw a line on a piece of paper that would best represent your life―no words or explanations, just a line―what would it look like?
Flat, straight, horizontal, solid, and monochromatic?
Or, would it curve upward continuously, becoming heavier and darker as it rises in elevation?
Perhaps it would look like waves; with an endless compilation of equal crests and troughs?
If we're honest, some of us would have to admit that our line should look like a bunch of random scribbling, complete with meandering loops and jagged zigzags―completely without any obvious direction, purpose, or destination.
The lines of some lives would appear far too short. Others would go on and on, off the paper, to the horizon, and out of sight.
Years ago a companion of mine in ministry (Jon Nichols) shared something with me that struck me as so obviously profound and intensely personal that I wrote it down in the flyleaf of my Bible. (Jon said he got it from one of his former pastors, but I failed record the man's name).
If I wrote it down accurately, he called it "The Circle of Direction." Under this paradigm, the line representing my life would have to be a circle. Now, I would hope that if the line could be drawn in 3 dimensions, the rings would stack up and I would be rising higher and higher with each cycle. But I will have to leave the judgment of that description in the hands of God. He is both perfectly wise and exceedingly gracious. I do know that He has started a good work in me, and He is able to complete it. In fact, He will complete it. I will be fully sanctified in the end.
Let me just share (in a list format) this cycle that I have observed in my own Christian walk―which is the outline Jon shared with me (now edited, adapted, and expanded).
(Let's begin on a high note; at the top of the circle) Commitment, Contentment, & Confidence! This it the spiritual mountaintop we should hope to live on constantly.
(But the only place to go from the top... is down). Stage 2: Comfort. Perhaps that's no crime, but it is a decline.
Complacency. Christian lethargy; apathy. "Pride goes before destruction." "Let the man who thinks he is standing take heed, lest he fall."
Carelessness. If complacency is the dooming attitude, this is the dooming action. At this point temptations abound, and the descent can accelerate rapidly.
Commission. In other words, an infraction (or more than likely a string of infractions) ensues. The flesh is now in charge completely. The Spirit is quenched and grieved. At this point on the circle, Adam's zombie nature in me has full sway. I'm at the bottom of the circle. Iniquity, transgressions, sins abound. Service to the King ceases. Satan reigns.
But wait, where is there to go from the bottom... but up? Chastisement. And the ascent beings. Discipline proves sonship and commences restoration.
Conviction. That is, I'm convinced that my waywardness was not worth it, that my error was significant, and that my fellowship with God is more valuable than the appeasement of my covetous desires.
Correction. Think of King David during the time when the angel hovered over the floor of Ornan (1st Chronicles 21:15). David was being lifted rapidly back to where he should have stayed originally. He was returning to a place of favor, humility, worship, and faith. Correction is redirection.
Confession. Perhaps this one belongs before correction on the circle, but regardless, it is another step in the right direction. This word means to agree with God. At this stage I speak of my sin as God speaks of it; grotesque, offensive, despicable, damnable, abominable, evil.
Conciliation. Not a word we are commonly familiar with, but legitimate nonetheless. It's the idea of appeasement or placation. Now I walk hand in hand again with my Lord and Master. Now, wherever He lead's I'll go. This is the willing heart, the Cooperative mind, and a spirit filled conversation (manner of life; actions).
Consecration. This is devotion, holiness, sanctification, dedication, spirituality. This is the hands lifted in praise, the heart loving the Savior, and the feet in the paths of righteousness.
Clemency; Charity. God is wealthy. He is rich. He is the King of all. And in His storehouses and vaults He owns piles and piles of mercy. He is a well of mercy. He thrills to bless His prodigal child after my return from feeding with the swine. He knows all too well that my proper priorities will not remain unwavering. He sees into the future and anticipates with perfection the very moment when I will once again compromise His principles and come crashing down the other side of the loop. Yet, He ravishes me. He delights in me. This is His love for me in Christ. And I relish it. I go forth with all confidence in His great grace. Until I don't...
And, the cycle begins again: comfort, complacency, carelessness, commission, etc.
Now, I realized early on in this vicious pattern (of failing, falling, forgiveness, then faith) that it isn't necessary to go all the way around every time. As soon as I see that I'm becoming complacent, I can take a shortcut right back to consecration. This is God's will for all of us. It is not necessary that we plunge to the bottom repeatedly. Repentance doesn't have to follow regret and remorse. Repentance can precede and prevent the pain in the first place. Repentance is an act of the will whereby we turn our attention and affection away from the world's distractions and to our blessed Redeemer.
According to the dictionary, I'm middle-aged. At this stage of life a person should be wise enough and disciplined enough to stay the course. That should be expected. So, the long string of failures that I have to look back on disgusts me. It saddens me. Yet the sorrow is not enough to eclipse all temptation. It is only the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. What the law could not do, Christ does. But only if I will look to Him.
The moment we take our eyes off of the prize―and HE is that prize―our train has just jumped the track. The impact and damage may not be present yet, but the demise is sure.
Recently I shared with another Christian man that I do actually believe in sinless perfection in this life. It's at the top of the circle. As believers, when we follow the offer given to us 1st John 1:9 we are guaranteed and granted momentary perfection. It is a gift. In that moment, our sin nature lies dormant and Satan retreats in defeat. The trick is staying there. In the journey of faith, as we grow in grace, we should indeed spend more and more time making tiny loops at the top of the circle that I have described today. But it is not automatic.
Truly, there are Christians who spend long periods of time somewhere on the downhill trajectory of the circle. But it ought not to be so. Christ has made us free, not to sin but from sin. Romans 6:2b, "How shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
I hope that today you and I will become much more aware of where we are on in this circle. Don't take the long way around to find God's mercy. Take the shortcut of grace at every opportunity. Let's learn to rest in confidence. Not self-confidence, but Christ-confidence. Simply trusting everyday; trusting as we go along life's way. Trusting Jesus, that is all. Faith in Him will keep you and me at the top of the circle of the Christian life. Pain, death, disease, difficulty, disaster... come what may, it won't matter. We will be safe, constantly abiding in Him.