Intellectually, most Christians seem to accept this concept -- that God is in control -- until circumstances get rocky. At that point, we naturally seek to change our circumstances. It seems like the best way to find true happiness and contentment. I am learning, though, that this isn't the way God works. God wants to change me, and He uses my circumstances to do it. He is the Potter; we are the clay (see Isaiah 64:8).

What were the circumstances that prompted you to give your life to the Savior? What drew you to Him? Was your life a mess? Were you discouraged and anxiety-ridden? I have asked myself those questions. And I honestly wonder if it hadn't been for what I used to call "terrible" circumstances, would I have ever surrendered my life to Him? If life had turned out like I had planned, would I have rejected the gospel?

In my life, troubling circumstances ultimately helped me find contentment in God. For instance, my teenage marriage and misery brought me to the Savior. Moving away from friends forced me to depend on God for satisfaction. Unemployment forced us to depend on God for our every need according to His riches, not ours. We learned firsthand that He is the Great Provider. Much later, our broken hearts led us to surrender our son.

But in God's presence, we found peace before the circumstances changed. This is what Jesus came to give us, peace in the midst of pain, no matter what the circumstances. This is what vertical living is all about. Unfortunately, our tendency is toward horizontal living. We look for peace in people, places and things.

How easy it is to slip into horizontal living. For instance, have you ever bought a brand-new car right off the showroom floor? If so, you'll remember that wonderfully distinctive smell that says, "I'm new and I've never been used, abused, or scratched." Yeah, this is going to do for me.

When I drive that new car, I feel great because the circumstances are ideal-I don't have reason to worry about a thing. For instance, I'm confident that the oil doesn't need to be changed and the fan belts aren't worn. No need to fret about the tires either. It's the greatest feeling. What really bums me out, though, is how short-lived that smell is. I've gone into debt for a smell! Then, within a few weeks, it's gone.

It must bother others as much as it does me, because now many car-wash operations offer an air freshener called "New Car Smell." Spray it inside the car and bingo! You feel good again. That's what horizontal living is -- a cheap, temporary substitute for the real thing.

The real thing is vertical living. It's an inside job the Holy Spirit produces in people with surrendered hearts.
Recently, a young woman at one of my weekend conferences told me her story of vertical living. Cheryl and her husband had been married only one year when he had a massive stroke, which left him a quadriplegic and unable to speak. He was 31 years old. In one brief moment, the entire course of their lives was changed. Faced with a lifetime of communicating only through eye contact and needing long-term care assistance, they began a new way of living.

They moved in with her parents, and she went to work. Nurses met his needs during the day. She took care of him at night. After one year, this lifestyle overwhelmed Cheryl. So, in a state of utter frustration and discouragement, she left the house to have a good cry.
"I can't do this, Lord," she sobbed. "I just can't take it. I don't feel like living like this. What about me? What about my dreams? What about my expectations? This is too painful, and I don't want to handle it one more day."

Then, after a few moments, the Spirit of the Lord spoke to her heavy heart. It was unmistakable: "Cheryl, when I told my children to love others, I never told them that they could do it in their own power. I said I would provide My strength and love through them. When you are weak, I am strong. You must let go."

Suddenly, Cheryl saw her life from a different perspective. As she walked home, she finally embraced vertical living. Opening the door of her home, she felt as though a warm liquid were filling the inside of her body. She entered her husband's room and was instantly aware of a new love for him that she had never felt.

That happened 15 years ago. Today she says they have a beautiful marriage-a love that defies explanation. It has nothing to do with their circumstances, because their circumstances never changed. He is still a quadriplegic, although he can move three fingers on his left hand, which allows him to use a computer. He still cannot speak but, according to Cheryl, these have been the sweetest years of her life. Why?

She learned the secret. And what was it? A surrendered heart. A heart surrendered to God and filled with the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). Isn't that what we're all searching for?

Do you want in on that deal?

Begin by building an altar, one at the feet of Jesus. And on that altar, surrender everything ... dreams, idols, entitlements, and expectations. Just let them go. Now you can start living above the circumstances, not under them.

Excerpted from Under the Circumstances: A Woman's Guide to a Surrendered Heart, copyright 2000 by Judy Hampton. Used by permission of NavPress/Pinon Press, Colorado Springs, Colo. All rights reserved. For copies of the book, call 1-800-366-7788. Visit NavPress at www.navpress.com.

Judy Hampton is a keynote speaker at retreats across the United States. She also has her own business as a manufacturer's representative to the gift industry in southern California. She and her husband, Orvey, live in Brea, Calif.

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