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TONY ELDER: If we stumble, it's because we didn't rely on God to uphold us

You never know what you might hear when you receive public prayer requests during a church service.

That's one reason, along with time restraints, why many congregations no longer include that opportunity as part of their time of worship. It's much safer and quicker to only mention a few requests which have been submitted and screened beforehand.

However, at the church I serve, we still regularly give the opportunity for the spontaneous sharing of such requests.

Last Sunday, it was interesting to hear an unusual theme that developed during our prayer time. It seemed that several people within our small congregation, or their relatives, had fallen over the past week. One came through the experience apparently unscathed, another with minor injuries, and yet another having to be hospitalized.

Therefore, as we prepared to pray, I lightheartedly suggested that maybe we need to be more earnest in claiming the assurance given to us in the Bible that the Lord is the One who can keep us from falling (see Jude 24).

Interestingly enough, later that day I heard that TV personality Barbara Walters had also taken a fall and had been hospitalized. Physical falls can result in some significant injuries, especially for folks as they get older.

But of even greater consequence is when someone stumbles and falls spiritually. Of course that's what the Bible is referring to when it talks about the Lord being able to keep us from falling.

On the one hand, it's wonderful to know that God is the loving Father who will pick us up, dust us off, and help us get back on our feet again after we've taken a tumble in our walk with Him. But let's not forget that He's also the mighty God whose strong hand can hold us up and keep us from falling in the first place.

Many of us gratefully rely on the Lord for forgiveness and second chances. But let's not sell Him short in the fact that He can also strengthen us and help us, so that we don't have to seek His forgiveness quite as often or have to be given so many second chances.

One of the themes throughout the Psalms is that God is the One who can set our feet upon a rock and establish our steps (Psalm 40:2). He's the One who "does not allow our feet to be moved" (66:9). In one place, the Psalmist testified, "You have delivered... my feet from falling" (116:8).

In the New Testament, Paul warns us about falling. But then he adds, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (I Corinthians 10:13).

In other words, we can fall, but we don't have to.

So if we do stumble, does that mean God let us down? No, it probably means that we didn't rely on God to uphold us and maybe even fought against His attempts to do so. Maybe we didn't seek the way of escape which He provided, or we willfully ignored it or chose to go our own way instead.

God can keep us from falling, but He's not going to force us to stand if we insist on doing otherwise.

Hopefully, there won't be any more physical falls to report among my congregation this week.

Let's all seek to cooperate with the God who can keep our spiritual feet on solid ground too.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.