Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls of all ages! Welcome to the greatest show on earth!
One image comes to mind when we hear those words—the circus! We see lions and elephants, clowns and trapeze artists, amazing performers and death-defying feats—a kaleidoscope of colorful spectacles amid a three-ring pandemonium.
It all started in the 1700s with an Englishman named Philip Astley, the son of a cabinetmaker. He loved horses and horse riding. And being remarkably athletic, he devised jaw-dropping maneuvers on horseback. People paid to see his equestrian acrobatics. Astley opened a trick riding school in London and concocted a ring surrounded by spectators. By riding around at rapid speed, the riders drew from the excitement of the crowds while benefiting from the centrifugal force that aided their balance. This ring became known as “the Circle,” and the surrounding amphitheater was called “the Circus.”
Astley hired clowns to entertain the crowds between acts, and later jugglers and trapeze artists. The modern circus was born. Promoters like P. T. Barnum, J. A. Bailey, and five brothers of the Ringling family from Wisconsin took the circus to every corner of the globe.
In recent years, the contemporary circus (the nouveau cirque) has eclipsed the popularity of the traditional circus. The most successful is Cirque du Soleil. Its shows have been seen by more than one hundred million people on six continents, with an annual revenue of one billion dollars, as reported in 2017. These shows are staged in specially designed auditoriums rather than tents and rings, with very little animals at the cirque. Instead you’ll be spellbound by aerial acrobatics, heart-stopping gymnastics, aesthetic techniques, and characters whose stories are told in motions that are as graceful as the wind. Cirque shows are marketed with intriguing titles like Alegría, Quidam, Kà, and Le Rêve.
Whether a traditional circus or a nouveau cirque, every show has one thing in common—performers place themselves in danger for our entertainment. Some have died or been seriously hurt by falls. That’s why our hearts race during some of the acts and why audiences collectively gasp and stop breathing during tense moments. The circus is designed to give us loads of fun, punctuated by moments of sheer fear and cold sweats.
Life does that to us too, doesn’t it? Perhaps one of the reasons we’re drawn to the circus is that it’s a parable of life. There’s lots of excitement, but the fun is interspersed with moments of stress and brushes with death. Sometimes we feel like we’re living in the three-ring pandemonium or flying through space hoping a hand will grab us before we fall. Sometimes we clown around, but other times we feel like ringmasters who have lost control of the acts. Sometimes we face a roaring lion seeking to devour us. Other times we feel like we’re cleaning up after the elephants. If you’ve ever seen a performer spinning plates in the air and trying to keep them all going at once, you know it’s a metaphor for life. When cartoonist Bill Keane syndicated a comic strip about the craziness of home life, he called it “The Family Circus.” Similarly, actress Jane Seymour quipped about motherhood, “I’ve become a juggler, I suppose. It’s all a big circus, and nobody who knows me believes I can manage, but sometimes I do.”
It’s not easy to manage. If our problems weren’t so difficult, they’d be funny. Life is a series of troubling circumstances—one act after another. When life is in chaos and pandemonium, it’s hard to soar above it all with the greatest of ease. But we know from Scripture that we can rise above the circumstances and find victory in Christ. Isaiah 40:31 tells us we’re to “mount up with wings like eagles… run and not be weary… walk and not faint”—even if sometimes the walk is across a tightrope.
My prayer is that you can learn to soar above circumstances. Gazing down, we may see pandemonium in three rings, but up in the heights of God’s heavenly hope, we know we’re harnessed to heaven, gripped by an unfailing hand, and surrounded by grandstands of grace. As you read this, may God lift you with cords of love above the problems and chaos, up to the heights where you can soar on the circuits of His victory.
David Jeremiah is the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church and the founder and host of Turning Point for God. For more information about Dr. Jeremiah or Turning Point, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org.
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