The Roller Coaster Ride of Life! – 2 Corinthians 4: 1-10
By Dr. Jack Hodges
“Therefore seeing we have this ministry, even as we obtained mercy, we don’t faint. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who perish; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. For we don’t preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake; seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not to despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; struck down, yet not destroyed; always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
It is hard to believe that it has been 25 years since we first saw the 1994 movie, Forest Gump. So much has happened in each of our lives and in the world in those 25 short years. Do you remember how the movie started out? It opened with a scene showing a feather floating down and around, being whisked about by the wind of a passing car or a sudden gust of wind, finally coming to rest on the muddy old shoes of a man sitting patiently on a bench, seemingly waiting for a bus. Forest Gump, who is all decked out in a white suit, reaches down, takes the feather, opens his old suitcase, reaches inside, takes out a book and places the feather inside the book. Then, he closes the book and the suitcase. A bus comes and goes. Forest seems oblivious and a bit bewildered. A lady in a nurse’s outfit sits down beside Forest on the bench, herself clearly there for one purpose, to catch a bus home from a long day’s work. Forest opens a box of chocolates and asks the lady if she would like one. She declines, showing a bit of apprehension about what kind of fellow she has sat next to. “I could eat about a million and a half of these,” exclaims Forest Gump. He continues, “My momma always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Although I see the point, life is not like a box of chocolates. That’s too tame, too passive, and too delicious. For me, life is like a roller coaster ride. Yep, life is like a roller coaster ride—with highs, lows, twists, and turns. Like “Bubba” says about shrimp in the movie, “You’ve got your shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich…”
Well, in the world of thrill rides, you’ve got your wooden coasters, steel coasters; your inverted coasters, your suspended coasters, and your impulse and your strata-coasters. You’re hanging, suspended, sitting, laying down, and/or strapped in. The old wooden coasters take you on one hill after another, hurling you upwards toward the sky and then the bottom falls out leaving your stomach back at the crest of the hill while the rest of your body is free-falling towards the earth, anticipating a disastrous impact—only to find yourself suddenly twisting and turning, flying and falling again and again. Dizziness and disorientation are often the result. The faint of heart holds on for dear life. Thrill-seekers throw their hands in the air and allow their bodies to be tossed about like a wet rag.
The newer steel coasters “glide” along on a steel tube with a series of wheels that surround the tube, the only thing that prevents these missiles from flying off the track. These are usually the fastest, highest, and most thrilling of all the coasters.
A number of years ago, my wife and kids visited the theme park at Cedar Point in Ohio, which is world-renowned for its collection of coasters. Let me tell you about the coaster called Millennium Force. At that time, it was 2nd highest coaster in the world, with a drop of 320 ft. Today, there are six other coasters that have higher drops, one of those being Fury 325 at Carowinds. When I got on Millennium Force, I was already a little dizzy from some other coasters that had twisted and turned me every which way but loose. So, when I was strapped into this coaster and jetted down a 320-foot drop at about 92 miles per hour, I was ill-prepared for what I was about to experience.
Acceleration and de-acceleration are expressed in terms of “G,” with 1-G describing the effects of gravity we experience under normal conditions while at rest on the surface of the earth. When accelerating to 2-G, one would feel the force of gravity doubled. As G-forces increase due to acceleration, you begin to feel heavier and experience difficulty in moving your arms and legs. As G-forces continue to increase, you may experience difficulties in moving your hands and feet and are not able to lift your head to look around. At 5-G’s, your ten-pound head would weigh 50 pounds.
There are other effects of increasing G-forces as well. Blood circulation becomes impaired as the heart must work harder to pump blood through the body. This impaired circulation can lead to a dimming of consciousness as the heart can no longer pump blood to the brain. One might start to experience tunnel vision, then colors would fade away and everything would appear as white.
That’s where I found myself at the end of this 320 ft. drop on that coaster. If I were in a space shuttle or aircraft and didn’t take countermeasures, the white would have faded to black and I would have just experienced a gravity-induced loss of consciousness or blackout. Aeronautics experts say that, in general, anything more than 4 or 5 G’s will cause the average person, who has not been trained to deal with these effects to blackout. Extremely high G-levels can lead to more serious complications, such as compacted bladders, bursting red blood cells, subdural hematoma, the inability to breathe and the cessation of circulation.
Gravity Induced Blackout (GIB) is dangerous to your health, wouldn’t you agree? Not many of us have experienced this, not even on the level that I experienced that day. But I believe that in this roller coaster ride of life, every one of us experiences what I will call “pressure-induced whiteouts (PIW) or “pressure-induced blackouts” (PIB).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a roller coaster to induce the kind of pressure that can and will produce the same kind of phenomenon. I wonder—in your life journey, how many “G’s” have you felt like you have been pulling lately? How often have you found yourself at a place or a time in your life where everything seems blurred or whited out? When you can’t seem to see ahead, or you literally feel the weight upon your heart or chest? You may be there right now! This kind of pressure may have been triggered or caused by any number of things; but it usually occurs as a result of a series of mounting pressures, expectations, or unresolved conflicts. It may have been brought on by a failure (e.g., job, marriage, missed promotion); or perhaps a result of a hurt, pain, or a wound (misunderstood, abandoned, dreams shattered, and etc.).
Whatever the circumstances that you find yourself facing, one thing we know for sure is that the deceiver’s strategy is always to trick us into making choices that place us under the weight of these pressures. And these stressors, over time, will certainly lead to confusion, a “whiteout” or “blackout,” and even, perhaps, an inability to see, think, or feel. Satan is hoping that our confusion, numbness, or sense of being overwhelmed will lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In that moment of weakness, Satan levels a one-two punch: (1) you can’t trust God—God won’t do for you what He said he would do; and then the next jab, (2) you are of no value or significance to God or anyone else—so you might as well give up! Time and time again, the deceiver throws his punches. What he is hoping for is that you and I will succumb to the pressure and choose to remain paralyzed Christians and are mere survivors of this roller coaster ride of life.
However, the other thing that I know for sure is that God is who He said He is. He is the great “I am!” I know that He will deliver on all His promises because He is faithful and true. And I know that He has a plan and a purpose for each believer to deliver us through the PIW’s and PIB’s of life and allow us to experience the “thrill” of living this roller coaster ride of life for Him and His glory and honor.
I believe that this is exactly what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 4. He shows us the truth about the journey: (vs. 8-9)
“… we are afflicting in every way, but not crushed; perplexed (or in doubt), but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…”
You see, it is not God’s intention that the twists and turns of your life paralyze you or make you sick. God knows that this mortal life is a roller coaster ride; that it is certainly going to be difficult and at times, painful. This is not heaven! Although He has prepared for us a place in eternity, we are not yet there. So, while we wait, our loving God desires that we experience the thrill and joy of living for Him.
I have developed a strategy for riding roller coasters that allows me to enjoy the thrill of the ride in spite of the reality of the pressure, G-forces and impact that each turn, each drop, each twist has upon my physical body. What I have found is that this strategy also works as I am facing PIW’s and PIB’s. Here is what I do:
- I make some preliminary “wise” choices
- I recognize and accept the design of the roller coaster
- When I get on the coaster, I focus straight ahead
First, I make some preliminary wise choices. Several of those include: I choose not to ride anything that goes around and around (I know I will get motion sickness); I choose not to ride anything that goes backward; I limit the number of rides that I take on a coaster that is designed to constantly flip me over and over; and I don’t ride anything on a full stomach. In other words, I limit or steer clear of rides and coasters that I know will make me sick or that attack my balance or equilibrium.
May I suggest to you that our histories are full of junk. Satan has succeeded in filling our lives with cycles of experiences which tend to go around-and-around. Why do you choose to go round-and-around? “Not me!” you might content. Well then, how many times have you heard yourself say, “Here I go again!” “I just can’t do anything right!” “I just can’t stop this!” or any number of other dialogues or “self-talk” that cycles over and over. These tapes indicate that there are (what I call) “core beliefs” that have been built up, over time, based upon and undergirded by lies that Satan has fed us throughout our lives. There is always just enough truth to trick us, but not enough to reveal the true nature of that core belief—that it is a lie. The Holy Spirit, however, also speaks to us (as believers) as we go round-and-around, showing us that we are riding a ride that is making us sick, producing confusion; that is convincing us that our lives are helpless and hopeless. So, when I glimpse that I am going in circles, I choose to stop riding that coaster.
I also choose not to ride any ride that goes backward. Does that mean that I won’t regress from time to time? Certainly not. But I do have a choice. When I am aware that a certain choice will take me backward, I choose to go forward. Satan’s attempts to trick me into thinking, believing, and acting upon the lie that I “can’t go forward,” are met with the truth from God that exclaims that “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”
And I also choose not to ride when my stomach is full. You know what’s going to happen if I do? —my stomach won’t be full very much longer. When my world is full; when there is just too much stuff going on around me and I am feeling overwhelmed by it all, I don’t make important decisions. I wait until I am able to digest, I think, I reason, but most importantly, I pray and wait for God to give both an answer and the peace and security that will come as a sign of knowing His will.
Secondly, I recognize and accept the design of the roller coaster. Each coaster has a unique design and a unique purpose. One may be to drop you; another to hurl you; one to shake you, or another to turn you. Perhaps, some of the new steel coasters do all the above. But all the coasters have one common purpose for which they are also designed—to bring you safely to the finish. When I grasp hold of the fact that these coasters are designed to carry me and the other riders through to the end, then I can focus upon having fun. It is the same with our roller coaster journey of life.
My confidence in life lies not in my own abilities; nor may it be placed in any number of the survival skills that I have learned over the span of my life. My confidence certainly cannot be focused on people or human structures. My confidence must only be focused on recognizing that my Savior has designed a plan to bring me safely through the storm to the finish. In spite of whatever circumstances, I face, the Lord will fulfill His promises to me and will complete His purpose in and through my life. My hope and confidence are in Him!
Thirdly, I focus straight ahead. In the midst of a 320 ft. drop at 92 mph, or as you are turning a sharp curve or being twisted upside down is not the time to sight-see. You can’t afford to be distracted by other things that are going on around you. You must focus straight ahead. When things are moving so fast around you or you have fallen into confusion or can’t see far ahead, the trick is to focus just ahead on what you can see. “Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord,” declares the Word of God—not upon your circumstances, not upon any other individual; but upon the one who goes before you and lights your way toward peace and security and blessings. Keep your eyes on the author and finisher of your faith—upon Jesus. He is the straight and the narrow way. He invites you to see Him, know Him, and love Him. He alone says, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy of heart, and I will give you rest.”
There is one final thing that I do: I laugh, throw my hands in the air, and enjoy the ride! My God is for me! For sure, not all the journey is going to be pleasant—I can’t expect it to be. This journey in preparation for heaven is a bumpy ride. We are riding in an out-of-control world characterized by sin and rebellion. But I know who I am in Christ. I belong to Him because He has laid claim to my life and sealed my destination by His marvelous sacrifice of His precious bloodshed on the cross. I know He has designed a plan for me and I know where I am headed. I can’t see it all just yet, but I know where the end of the ride will be and I know He will bring me safely through it. Blessings and enjoy the ride! -Pastor Jack
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor and an International Mission Board missionary.