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.

 

A Sidetracked Life

 

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I’m thinking that an awful lot of my life has been filled with ‘inconvenient interruptions.’ I like a certain order, and schedules and keeping appointments. I’m not a rigid person, but I become mildly annoyed when my life becomes ruled by these unplanned intrusions.

However, at times an interruption can be quite productive. Often when my plans are set aside, I get the opportunity to see the Holy Spirit step in. He does things that are eternally true and special.

Scriptures are saturated with ‘inconvenient interruption.’ Mary, whose life was jolted by a visit by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-31). Paul, on the road to Damascus was overwhelmed suddenly and converted (Acts 9:1-9). The virgin Mary would have a son, and Paul would shake the world with his preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

There are many others who had their calm lives interrupted by God.

One could almost say that the Bible is a book of ‘blessed interruption.’ I’m thinking right now of Moses, whom God shook and completely altered his life in just a few moments. And of course we read of Abraham, suddenly leaving everything to follow a promise.

I tell you, God has a flair for the dramatic. He often steps into the lives of His people. We might get irritated, frustrated, owly and a bit afraid. The question is this– can the Spirit interrupt you?

“The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.”

Psalms 33:10

Perhaps this is the next lesson in your discipleship. You will need to be a servant. The most profoundly Christian people I know are those whose lives can be side-tracked. I encourage you, look for God’s purposes behind your next interruption. Let Him arrange your schedule. 

“The Lord can control a king’s mind as he controls a river;
    he can direct it as he pleases.”

Proverbs 21:1

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Tears with a Purpose

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I’ve been thinking a lot about tears lately—in part because Pastor Bryan pointed out to me how many hits my post titled God Keeps Your Tears in a Bottle has had, in part because I’ve cried more than a few tears this year, and in part because I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash’s Cry, Cry, Cry in my car all week—and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you all here.

People cry for a lot of reasons. Earlier this year my sister died of breast cancer at only 61 years old. I cried, a lot. It’s normal and even helpful to shed tears over the death of a loved one even if we know where they are going when they die, because it allows us to express the grief we feel over not having them in our lives any more here on earth.

I remember a time I had a previous boss say some very cruel things to me in front of other people. She accused me of having done things I had not based on motives I did not have. I was very angry, hurt, and frustrated. And I cried, a lot. I didn’t cry in front of her, mind you, but afterwards I did. And it was good to express that anger to others.

Just yesterday I experienced unexpected tears. I was reciting the prayers of the people in church, which I’ve done many times. Our church has many prayer concerns for members, family, and friends with health concerns and more. Towards the end of the prayer I began to lift up prayers for a church member’s brother-in-law who is a pastor back in New York because he is faced with conducting the funerals of two teens who had been killed in an accident last week, and with comforting the families of three other teens who are in critical condition. I unexpectedly had tears in my eyes and my voice cracked praying for these teens and families that I don’t even know. But they were good tears because they touched those who heard my prayer and I know they touched our Lord, too.

I have cried tears of loss, anger, indignation over an injustice, frustration, compassion, and even of joy. I sometimes cry tears of regret when I hear a beautiful song about the sacrifice of Jesus, knowing it is my sin that required him to suffer.

Tears often serve a purpose, as expressed in this poem that I wrote recently:

Tears

Tears of sorrow, anger
drench my soul
course without end
eroding pain, anguish

Where once only aching
occupied my heart
now is a deep empty ravine
carved by a river of tears

Tears of forgiveness
water my soul’s riverbed
allowing flowers of love
to flourish and grow

Peace arises in my heart
held aloft by God’s promises
the fragrance of sweet alyssum
blossoms of my soul

I think the saddest tears of all, though, are the tears of major clinical depression. These tears are so sad because the one who cries them doesn’t know what purpose they serve.

I remember when I was suffering from major depression sitting in a chair and just crying. When someone asked me why I was crying all I could say was, “I don’t know.” And I truly didn’t. The tears didn’t wash away pain; they only seemed to make it all the worse.

In the midst of such tears, there is One who knows their purpose. Romans 8:26 says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Through prayer God can sometimes lead us to an understanding of the purpose of the tears of depression, and ultimately to healing. Often the wounds are so deep it takes years and a great many groaning prayers to heal. But we must accept our weakness and our need for God’s Holy Spirit to intercede for us.

For me, after much prayer of my own, the blessed prayers of others, and the intercession of the Holy Spirit, God led me to an understanding of the purpose of my tears. They were tears of anger and unforgiveness; they were tears of lament that I had allowed myself to remain in bondage to the sins of another for so long. Ultimately, with God’s help, the tears did lead to healing once I truly understood why I was crying.

Peace, Linda K

 

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Linda has a good and perceptive blog at http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/. Please do pay her a visit.

 

 

 

 

 

I Came to Love You Late [Regret]

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Regrets are a funny thing. You really start to gather them when you get into your fifties. They are a bit sticky, once you have them, they’re hard to get rid of— (kind of like dog hair on a nice jacket.) I’m in my mid-50s now and am surprised by the memories of things gone by. I guess this is one of the job hazards of being middle-aged.

Why do we remember the bad things; surely they weren’t all mistakes?

God’s Word gives us fresh insight into this state of mind of regretfulness. What it gives is akin to instructions to disarm a bomb— it’s ticking, and ready to explode. There are some have been severely wounded when a regret goes off.

What bothers me is all the missed opportunities. I wonder what life could of been like if I had accepted Christ at a younger age. A lot of pain would’ve been averted and perhaps I might have loved Jesus deeper than I do now. Some of us come to love Jesus late in life. There is so much time frittered away. I regret the years spent in rebellion and disobedience. I remember the words of an 70 year old man who had just received Christ, “Why did I wait so long for this to happen?”

13 “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Philippians 3:13-14, NLT

Paul had learned to adjust his vision. He no longer let regret define him, choosing rather to forget the past and press into the future. The solution to regret is to focus on what lies ahead. Heaven is our destination–it is our calling, it’s really where we belong.

Peter tells us that our past sin was enough. We have wasted enough time doing evil. I don’t know about you, but I had a bellyful of sin, and it’s time to lay all the foolishness and rebellion and live instead for God. Enough is enough.

3 “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.”

1 Peter 4:3

There is a sorrow that leads us to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10) ,and while it affects me I should make full use of it— not knowing when it will leave. I have regrets like anyone else, but there is also a joy of having my sin forgiven. They both mingle and at times I rejoice, but the sadness comes and goes as well. David, that great sinner-king, understood the joy of forgiveness.

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

Psalm 32:1-2

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The Inertia, [Apathy]

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“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”

Helen Keller

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As I suffer with manic depression I have come to see that much grief comes not from mania, and not from the debilitating depression. These are both substantial, but my biggest issue has to do with the inertia that lies between these two poles. There is a paralysis– an apathy that immobilizes me. And this is as bad as any other state of mind.

“And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.”

1 Kings 18:21

My passivity is disturbing, and bipolar disorder is as much of “detachment” as it is of extremes. I sit and stare, not able to motivate myself to get up and do something. I’m not really depressed, but nor am I manic– I’m just “there” unable to find energy to do anything. Life just rolls over me.

Perhaps the most deadly sin is this “faltering between two opinions?” We are content to just sit and watch with no commitment. We’re content to let things just roll on by as we sit in our inertia and passiveness. This is the part of my BP that scares me the most (or at least it should.)

If you suddenly went up in flames I wouldn’t stir. Yes, it would get my attention, but I probably wouldn’t do anything, (I’d probably just take notes for my book.)

Inertia is not just a part of a mental illness. It effects normal people as well, and there are degrees of it. The average person it seems will avoid making a real decisive decision at all costs. Inertia can be encountered in any church (ask a pastor who tries to get volunteers) or workplace.

In his day, Elijah cried out for a decision from the Israelite people. I have to believe he was disturbed not only by the idolatry– but by the passiveness of the bystanders. Their neutrality was a big issue.

Joshua would call out to a passive people these words:

“But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:15

I know my own heart, and I know my own spiritual paralysis. Rather than commit myself, I would rather settle down on a sofa and just let things happen. I’m quick to point out how those in the arena are doing it all wrong. I’m ready to criticize, but unwilling to volunteer.

Mental illness is filled with ordinary things, but often in the wrong proportions. When we do things it is extreme or not at all. My own apathy is just a mirror of what happens in the hearts of normal people.

I may be excessive, but my own issues have made me aware of what is happening in others.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

–Theodore Roosevelt

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The Blue Letter Version

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The ‘red letter’ Bible emphasizes the words of Jesus by making them red. But sometimes we can learn just as much by which words he didn’t say.  I would like to submit to you the ‘Blue Letter Version’ of things Jesus never said.

He never said:

V. 1) You’re too far gone to be saved.

V. 2) I’m so disappointed in you.

V. 3) This wouldn’t be happening if you were a better Christian.

V. 4) It’s okay not to love certain people.

V. 5) Everyone should be just like you.

V. 6) Its all up to you.

V. 7) You don’t have to forgive someone who has hurt you.

V. 8) You missed my will for your life.

V. 9) I’ve given up on you.

V. 10) This is a cross you must bear alone. 

When we think through these we should realize that each ‘verse’ is wrong. Jesus never said any of these; I am certain he wouldn’t even think these things about us. We can only surmise that what he did declare is real, and that his love for us is boundless and limitless. People like you, and like me, are loved in spite of our sins. His love doesn’t fit the conventional wisdom.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

John 6:37

There are other verses to consider. These affirm his love to each of us.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

1 John 3:1

The Blue Letter Version exists only in my mind. Yet sometimes I catch myself thinking things from our list. But in a way, each of the above is logical. But each are also wrong.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.”

Isaiah 55:8

I encourage you to listen to the ‘drum roll’ of grace that is beating from the heart of Jesus. He loves you with a supernatural love that can not be silenced. Accept his love (or not) and he will love you the same. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Securely attach yourself to this love.

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Sometimes I Haven’t the Slightest, [Oblivious}

“Ah yes, the Shroud of Turin! We will have to dry clean it before we return it.”

Inspector Clouseau, (Upon discovering stolen artifacts) in The Pink Panther 2

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I honestly think that our bumbling attempts to follow Jesus are entertaining angels who watch our efforts and shake their heads in astonishment. ” Did you see what Bryan just did?”  I guess I’m the “Inspector Clouseau of the spiritual realm.”  Clumsy and very much oblivious, I bungle my way down the path of discipleship, without a clue. It seems when something right happens, I still end up butchering it.

We  have experienced so much, been given so much light, and yet we consistently choose to trade it for a lie. For the most part, I don’t sin automatically, I choose it, consciencely and deliberately.  People don’t sin because they feel they have to. We sin because we like the pleasure it brings. We sin because it feels nice. We sin because it brings a thrill to our bodies, fleeting satisfaction to our souls and excitement to the boredom of our everyday lives.  We sin because we believe the lie that the pleasure it brings, though passing (Heb. 11:25), is more satisfying than the pleasure obedience brings.

The issues I have are medical and psychological.  I have chronic Hepatitis C.  I survived a brain tumor and I need to walk with a cane.  I do have a bad case of Bipolar disorder. I have some struggles with paranoid delusions and social anxiety. These are forgivable and God gives me buckets of grace.  I know first-hand his agape love for me.

But he cannot bless disobedience and rebellion.  When we announce to the world that “Jesus is Lord” we can expect God will hold our feet to the fire over this.  The Holy Spirit will not negotiate when we suddenly decide we are hungry for sin.  Apprehended by grace, we must fully surrender all claim we have to sample sin’s delights.

In the middle of my psychiatric issues, I must remember joy.  I can not imagine being without it.  I’ve been clinically depressed to the point of suicide many times.  But God gives me joy in my darkness.  “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah)

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