The apostle Paul wrote in Phillipians 4:12 “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
Climbing a mountain is difficult. I would parallel this with the “abounding” side of a mountain. There is necessity to stop along the way to rest and revive but one can see constant progress as they reach their goals. However, the same mountain that is climbed also has another side, and that is the return. The Apostle Paul had learned and was instructed not only how to abound (grow, prosper, reach goals) but how to be abased. No one likes this side of the mountain. No matter how strenuous the climbing phase of the mountain at least it is exhilarating.
I’m equating the other side of the mountain with our down times – times when the goal is no longer in sight, times when we may not feel the vision and direction we once had. These can also be times of economic loss, friends turning away from us, and a host of other persecutions and afflictions common to the Christian walk and life in general. This is the other side of the mountain. Paul’s instructor in learning how to be abased was our Lord Jesus Christ because He is on both sides of the mountain.
This is one reason I have never fully understood the “prosperity gospel”. Yes, God wants us to prosper in body, soul, and spirit but we really don’t see the gospel of material gain in the Book of Acts church. People were willingly giving away what they had for others who had greater need. Theirs was a gospel of distribution and not acquisition. The gospel of “God wanting everyone to be rich” appeals only to a certain segment of the world’s population. Riches are not enduring – like a bird they can fly a way in the blink of an eye. If riches were a sign of godliness and the blessings of God why would the Lord say to the Church in Smyrna (Rev 2:9) “I know thy works, and tribulation and poverty (but thou are rich).” God sees prosperity in an entirely different light than this world’s view.
There are some things that are eternal and enduring, and I believe those are the lessons that Paul learned on the other side of the mountain as he endured hardships unimaginable and walked hand in hand with His Creator and Father. “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers (he must have lost some earthly goods here), in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” II Cor. 11:7-29
Through it all the Apostle Paul learned to rejoice in his afflictions because he had learned a great secret. His tribulations brought the comfort of the Holy Ghost closer to him and just to feel the closeness of Jesus was all that really mattered. He had been instructed by the greatest Teacher of all that His God would work all things together for good.
The path God directs for each of us often takes us in unforeseen ways but we can be assured that He will bring us to that next mountain top as we go from glory to glory – strength to strength.