When Faith Doesn’t Seem to Work

by Terry Powell

I am not a Christian because my faith “works” for me. Talk to a devout Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist and he’ll extol the here-and-now benefits of his faith. He’ll cite a serenity of spirit, or a sense of order that believing brings to his life. Yet his belief system contradicts mine, so logically these various faiths cannot all be true!

If I were a Christian just because faith has utility for me, because my days are more likely to unfold in a smooth, trouble-free manner, I’d be a pragmatist, pure and simple. And I’d be prone to shuck my commitment to Christ the moment a different philosophy or religion appeared to offer me more.

Don’t get me wrong. Following Christ is not without rewards in the present. My faith often sustains me, provides perspective for decision-making, and injects happiness rooted in a biblical worldview.

But not all the time.

There’s the inevitable warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with. And in my case, either chronic depression or other weaknesses of temperament sometime get the best of me. I’ll keep praying for relief and I’ll strive for sound mental health, yet I don’t want to be among the growing number of Christians who expect God to give them on earth what He only promised for heaven.

From a theological perspective, I’m a Christian because God chose me and initiated a relationship with me (Eph. 2:1-10). From a human perspective, my faith is in Christ not because it works, but because I believe Christianity is true. And truth is objective reality, not a subjective experience. No matter how I feel, or how my day goes, truth doesn’t change. Truth just is. I wrote this poem to convey this point.

Nature of Truth

When all hope yields to despair

and I doubt that God is there;

when my heart is cold, unfeeling,

and my prayers bounce off the ceiling;

when depression takes its toll

and winter winds assault my soul;

when the race seems all uphill

and dying grows in its appeal;

when things don’t go as expected—

still, God’s Truth is unaffected.

In the long run, faith works in the sense that I’ll enjoy eternity with my Savior (thanks to His works, not mine). But being a Christian doesn’t shield me from affliction in the here and now. It does assure me of God’s compassion and healing presence: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Love, Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

Pouring Oil on the Waves (Peace)

“Storm Warning”

“…And through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.”

Colossians 1:20, NLT

Jesus has brought a complete peace into God’s world. Everything is now reconciled, taken care of by what Jesus has done. The precise word is “shalom.” It has within it the idea of ‘wholeness, or healthiness.’ It is in a general sense, being ‘made whole or complete.’ This present ‘sickness’ has become obsolete. That is our message.

There is no room really for any “peace” without completeness, it just isn’t possible. The “peace” that the Bible teaches is far more comprehensive, and total. The word in Hebrew, has a strong attachment to health, harmony and prosperity. It has the sense of being well, with the complete absence of turmoil or conflict.

“And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.”

Isaiah 9:6-7, NLT

Peace is more than a snazzy marketing approach. At its basic sense it is what He fully intends for the “peoples of the earth.” But this all comes to us with a price. In Isaiah 53:5, (ESV)

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”

The brutalization of Jesus had a purpose. He “brought us peace.” And we needed peace, desperately. But, oh, the cost!

In ancient times, sailors in a nasty tempest, would pray to their gods, and then pour oil on the waves. They believed the oil, poured out in barrels would settle the violent seas. (I suppose they figured the viscosity of the oil on the waves, would give them some time to manage their ship.)

Today, we know that it doesn’t work this way. Our storms however, are just as bitter, and challenging. Things get so tumultuous, and savagely extreme. But somehow, we want to pour God’s peace on our awful storm. Inherently we know that His peaceful presence can restore some sanity on our crazy lives.

Jesus is “the Prince of Peace.” We look right at Him when things get so ugly. He has come to do this. He is God’s solution to our sad conflict. He brings the oil, for our storm.

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Recurring Depression and Fruitful Ministry

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Expositors” 1834-1892

DOES RECURRING DEPRESSION PREVENT A FRUITFUL MINISTRY?

The ‘Depression-Prone’ Preacher

by Terry Powell

Long before the proliferation of mass media, he was known and revered throughout the Christian world. Scholars of his era labeled him, “the prince of expositors.” His commentaries, devotionals, and sermons are still being published, generations after his death.

So many folks in London wanted to hear him preach that he occasionally pleaded with church members to stay home so unsaved visitors could get a seat and hear the gospel. The pages of his book, Lectures to My Students, should be dog-eared by every vocational or volunteer teacher of Bible.

Yet, depression dogged Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) most of his adult life. A major bout with despondency occurred in 1858 when he was 24, serving as a pastor in London. That’s when he wrote, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I know not what I wept for.” Repeated episodes spawned these words: “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with…as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.”

What can we learn from this depression-prone, yet outrageously fruitful leader?

  1. Depression doesn’t necessarily hinder ministry effectiveness. He often didn’t feel like serving, yet enabled by God’s grace, he kept giving himself to others. No matter how physically and emotionally drained he was, most Mondays he wrote out by longhand the previous day’s sermon so it could later be published.
  2. The pain of despondency may expand one’s usefulness by cultivating dependency and humility. Spurgeon said that despondency was “my trial, my thorn in the flesh that Satan wanted to use to take me down, and God wanted to use to deepen my dependency on Him.” A favorite verse of his was 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In reference to this verse, Spurgeon said, “My job is not to supply the power, but the weakness. That’s one job I’m good at! It’s God’s job to supply the power.”

  3. Openness about one’s depression may encourage others, and point them to God’s sustaining grace. Spurgeon’s transparency concerning his depression was rare for his day. Knowing how many people suffered in silence with this malady, he preached a message to show others how he coped with it (titled “When a Preacher Is Downcast”). From experience he learned and taught an ironic truth captured in my favorite Spurgeon quote: “God gets from us most glory when we get from Him much grace.”

  4. His life and ministry demonstrate that depression and spiritual maturity aren’t mutually-exclusive. Depression didn’t negate Spurgeon’s godliness, nor did his steadfast use of spiritual disciplines cure it.

Biographies of and articles about Spurgeon don’t always mention his predilection for depression. Yet reading about his accomplishments and ministry output will show you what God can do through a yielded person not in spite of depression, but possibly because of it. Spurgeon also suffered from severe gout in his later years, long before medical intervention could eliminate or minimize the pain.

I benefited enormously from Arnold Dalimore’s Spurgeon (Banner of Truth, 1984). Also, in a chapter of John Piper’s Future Grace, titled “Faith in Future Grace Versus Despondency,” you can read about Spurgeon’s battle with depression. In 2014, Zack Eswine wrote a more thorough coverage of Spurgeon’s despondency: Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression (Christian Focus Publishers)

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

 

Thanksgiving Comes After Christmas

“The private and personal blessings we enjoy – the blessings of immunity, safeguard, liberty and integrity – deserve the thanksgiving of a whole life.”

  –Jeremy Taylor

“Thanksgiving comes after Christmas.”

–unknown

“If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek His grace.”

 –Max Lucado

“It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular. Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day. Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful “in general.” It’s very strange. It’s a little like being married in general.”

    –Cornelius Plantinga

 

 

 

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