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Stumbling into Health

Late one afternoon last month, I returned from my office exhausted. I tried to take a quick nap, but my left shoulder began to throb, making sleep impossible. I had hurt it lifting weights or sleeping in the wrong position. I wanted to have my physical therapist friend Steve take a look at it.

I got up and walked to our kitchen table to work on an upcoming sermon. I was studying Matthew 4 about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. I got as far as verse 6, where the devil tried to goad Jesus into jumping off the temple by quoting Psalm 91:11, “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

I started thinking about the angels assigned to protect Jesus. The security they provided him must have been encouraging. Nevertheless, Jesus resisted Satan’s bait; He wasn’t about to tempt God by taking the angels for granted. Angels are assigned to watch over us as well. They have saved my life a few times. However, at other times angels haven’t acted to protect people I love. God sometimes allows us to experience the consequences of our actions, even when those consequences are severe.

My mind hit pause as I contemplated this reality. I pushed away my notes and stood up. The sun was setting and I decided to get some exercise before dark. I walked out our door and started a slow jog up the street and around the corner toward the trail-head of the Mountain Preserve. I was thinking about the scriptures I had been reading, and soon I was breathing deeply as I plodded upwards.

The rocky desert trail starts as a narrow path as it winds toward the nearest mountain. The trail forked and I turned onto a wider path that rose toward the setting sun. The rocks along this stretch are tiny, like a landscaped yard. As I chugged along, my right foot hit a small stone and I lunged forward like a halfback tripped by a linebacker’s hand. I sprawled face first onto the path. My hands pushed through the sparse gravel like a shovel scraping the surface.

My face was inches from the dirt, and my hands were burning. One thought emerged from my heart, “Where was my angel? I just tripped over a little stone. He wasn’t doing his job.”

The next thought that came was, “You’re not Jesus.”

I stood up slowly. It didn’t seem like I had hurt myself beyond my scraped palms. I brushed the dirt off my jeans and started walking. I felt like the Lord just gave me a rebuke. It was pretentious for me to assume the angels would cover me no matter what, but it was ironic that I had just tripped over a rock when I was meditating on the role of angels.

I finished my hike and took a couple of aspirin when I got home. I know pain sometimes follows trauma by a few hours. I rotated my arms over my head to test my shoulder and heard a little pop in my shoulder joint. Another idea came to me. Maybe the angels let me fall so I could be healed? Maybe I just got a quick adjustment that saved me from physical therapy?

In the following days, my shoulder began to feel better than it had in weeks. The pain wasn’t gone, but it diminished. When God allows our lives to be disrupted, it can be a blessing in disguise. There are no accidents from God’s perspective. There are many things we don’t understand when they first occur. If we trust God and resist anger, we may see the good purposes in the mist of disruptions. The Lord doesn’t cause our accidents, but He can redeem them.

Richard Rohr wrote a book called, Falling Upward. Spirituality for the Second Half of Life. I love the concept that our falls can lead us closer to God. Nobody wants to fall, but we all stumble from time to time. Every great team loses games. Every great leader makes mistakes. Believers don’t get disqualified for falling, but for dwelling in their sin rather than confessing and turning from it.  

There are things we all have had to learn the hard way. Even Jesus learned some things the hard way. Hebrews 5:8 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered.” Jesus didn’t suffer because he sinned. Jesus suffered as he learned to trust the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Then he willingly suffered on the cross to deliver us from the penalty of sin once and for all.

May the Lord give us hearts that trust him when we suffer, and grace to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. All things really do work to the good for those who fall toward our loving Father.