Straining at Your Oars

“He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”

Mark 6:48

It’s good to know that Jesus sees our labor and effort.  He truly understands all that concerns us, and he perceives every issues that matters most to us.  Attentive and keenly aware He comes to our boat.  It’s quite common for us to think that he isn’t aware, and we may feel that He’ll pass us by without a word.  But that is not the case at all.

Jesus watches over us, all the time. 

He knows all about our battle, the fight we have with our flesh, the difficulty we have with the challenging people in our lives. I often struggle to steer my boat. Jesus knows when and why I labor like I do.  And He doesn’t condemn me.

The disciples were straining very hard to keep the boat afloat. 

Every oar was being used and every man had his seat.  They must work together.  Some were frantically bailing, and a couple gripped the tiller. Considerable effort was being expended but to no avail.  The wind pushed harder against them.  This is perplexing.  If you remember, they’re simply trying to obey the command of Jesus to cross the sea. 

Why do things have to be so difficult?

I’m intrigued by believers who expect sunshine, blue sky, and red roses because they are doing God’s will.  They don’t seem to think through the issues of conflict and challenge, weakness and humility.

“It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

Doing the will of God will often mean that there will be a headwind directly at us.
 

The seas will become impossible, and we may even be driven back.  But special comfort comes when we realize we’re being watched.  Jesus is doing constant surveillance on us, and He sees our toil on the oars. He comes to us, walking on the water.

Even in our storm, our hearts can rejoice.

“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”

Matthew 28:20

 

Our City of Refuge

Buried in the Old Testament is the idea of the Cities of Refuge.

They speak profoundly to our situation and bring real hope for us who struggle so. Six places of safety were given to protect those who accidentally killed another person— maybe an ax-head flew and hit someone, and they died as a result.

God told Joshua to establish cities of protection where one could be safe from an avenger. There were six of them, three on the east side of the Jordan river, and three on the west. The cities were pretty much covering Israel; each was spread out intentionally so they were always close. That city became a place of asylum for those guilty of manslaughter.

Us as believers, we know that we’ve committed crimes against God and other people. The burden we carry threatens to undo us. Satan (and his minions) want to destroy us—and honestly, we deserve it. We are essential ‘criminals’ who have hurt others and damaged ourselves in the process.

Outside of the city, we’re vulnerable—but inside those walls we find safety.

Those who have killed others are protected. If we venture outside, we find our adversary who is waiting. Scripture tells us that we must stay cloistered there until the current high priest dies. Upon his death, we’re released and may leave the city walls.

For broken believers, the whole concept rings true.

The text speaks for itself, and there is spiritual logic in all of this. We see parallels here that speak to our condition. We’ve messed up big time. We also carry issues that the enemy can attack. Depression, bipolar, trauma, and even thoughts of committing suicide—they can be a real part of our lives.

I must tell you that safety is found in only a place.

Finding God and abiding in him is our place of safety. His walls protect us, Jesus is our high priest, who never dies; that means we need to stay with him, permanently. I like Hebrews 6:18, LB:

“Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without a doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.”

For us especially, we often have problems with the doctrine of assurance of salvation. Our enemy works overtime to accuse us (Rev.12:10). We’re his targets and the lies of many demons assault us. We can, at times, wonder if we’re really saved. We wonder if we are really forgiven, and we doubt our salvation. Satan’s efforts can be constant and crippling.

I encourage you to think this over and pray about this. Numbers 35 is a good place to start. That chapter is pretty clear. Look also at Exodus 21:13-14; Joshua 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 19:2-13.

Restore the Sparkle or I Will Die

Trials are hard, at times they seem to suffocate us and weaken our walk with God. David shares with us his own difficulty in these six verses.

Buckle your seat belt folks!

 

Commentary, Psalm 13

For the choir director: A psalm of David.
 

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

V. 1-2, David believes that he has been forgotten. A phrase is repeated an astounding four times, “How long?”  It seems that impatience is a significant issue for him. Often when it gets this bad, we desperately look around to find anything to fill the gap. Anything.

Something else struck me. Within these two verses, you’ll find five hard questions. Whenever you find a question in the psalms especially, you must stop reading and take a closer look–why is he asking this?

V. 2, “Anguish…sorrow, every day.” Somehow David is alert enough to recognize (and admit) that his life is saturated with real difficulty. It seems it comes and when it comes there’s  no relief– it’s a constant, gnawing, challenging pain which can be physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three).

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have     defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

V. 3,  Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” (I love this version–“sparkle). David knew that life could be exceptional, it was meant to gleam and shine. There is much more than just breathing in life. He speaks of being restored. He looks toward God to change his world again.

V. 4, Also, he is quite aware that his life is being threatened. The word, “gloat” is an interesting translation. It has the idea of relishing someone else’s failure. The dark prince savors your defeat. He has been looking forward to this desperate moment. The enemy rejoices at his failures.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

V. 5,  But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.” The Lord has covered David with His hand. His life has been saved by a love that never falters or weakens. Never! He knows that God has rescued him.

Notice how David responds to the wonderful goodness of God.

  • I trust. 
  • I rejoice.
  • I sing.

V. 6,  Tremendous verse; it is really wonderful. When we finally get to this last verse, we see that we have “run the gauntlet” with David. And we have learned how to sing.

Often good jewelers display their diamond necklaces on a black background. The darkness intensifies the brightness of the jewels. They become even more beautiful to look at. David is singing and praising the Lord in His nearness. The darkness has only strengthened his faith.

I truly believe that this is what we were made to do.

Thinking About Mental Illness

“The Thinker” bronze statute, by Rodin, c.. 1880

“Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.”

(1 Corinthians 14:20, NASB)

Those of us who are broken have to think through many things. Jesus is our Teacher, and He fully intends to educate His disciples. Following Him is vibrantly alive, it’s never a static thing. Instead, I must deal with the issues of living, of having a growing faith that is becoming real at long last.

This really isn’t a “one and you’re done” experience.

The Bible describes a slow growth into the image of Jesus- -painstakingly learning about our frosty hearts, and how God keeps pouring His “super-heated” grace on the broken. We’re finally becoming ‘poor in Spirit’ and we’re learning to ‘mourn’ over our sins, perhaps we realize that we’ve fallen quite short of His will for us. (Matt. 5:3-4).

This list isn’t orderly or exhaustive, and it’s written primarily for the mentally ill Christian believer:

  • Stigma-This is one of the basic hazards that come with being a believer with a mental illness. People will whisper and treat you like you’re a moron, even in God’s church. You’ll try to become thick-skinned and ask Jesus for His help. He understands you completely. Even the Lord’s own family considered Him mentally disturbed. You’re in good company. (Mark 3:20).
  • Medications– This will be a stretching time as you must determine what’s best for you, your family, and basic functionality. There will be many opinions and definite issues that ‘disciples.’ must navigate. Some say that therapy and ‘meds’ are wrong. Your patience most likely will be required and you’ll need to seek His wisdom. He will tell you what to do.
  • Church“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” must anchor us. We were built for real fellowship.  It’s quite easy to attempt to go it alone, but that isn’t what God wants. Not being with others is a disease of the spiritual heart. I’ve chafed at this from time to time. 
  • Therapy— To go or not to go? I happen to believe a good counselor is worth their weight in gold, but a bad therapist can be a real challenge to your faith. Figure out your tolerance level on this. Quite often I simply need a good listener, and listening is a skill that is developed over time. (It’s also a great indicator of the therapist’s ability.)
  • Marriage—  A good spouse is often key to managing your mental illness. God has gifted them to deal with your disability; they’re your partner in this. Bring them into some of your appointments. Talk, and listen. Learn to pray and worship together. Read the Word out loud. Remember they are learning too. Your disability is shaping your discipleship to Jesus. 
  • Family— They’ll often feel the brunt of your issues. It is good to be aware of this and adjust to their needs. Above all, don’t flog yourself for your failings. Allow God to redeem your situation. Trust in the Lord, and try not get in His way. He wants to renew things. Always look for creative ways to love your family. (Surprise ice cream does wonder!)
  • Work— Not surprisingly, some employers have very little tolerance for your issues, but the law says is that they can’t discriminate against a mental illness. I hope it won’t come down to that.
  • Fellow strugglers-– Finding other mentally ill believers is priceless. When I meet someone who also struggles with severe depression I want to give them a big bear hug. We instantly have a rapport that isn’t easily defined. Finally, there is someone who understands my battle.
  • Prayer–Desperate prayers have a tendency to get answered. Start praying for five minutes a day. Pray, do not complain. Be real, not religious. Talk with Jesus like he was your best friend. Prayer is the key to making the above work. Prayer is the “heartbeat” of heaven.

We have the joy of combining our discipleship with our illness.

This is a formidable task. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit stands ready to give us His wisdom. He graces us with intense spiritual power. The battle rages and times get tough. Perhaps “grittiness” should we should add to the fruits of the Holy Spirit? I’ve now walked with Him for over 40 years now, and I know Jesus has never left me alone. He never lets me ‘twist in the wind.’

The Lord truly will accommodate your illness with His power and grace.

He always does this for His children. No believer is ever overlooked or forgotten. He is constantly aware of you.

“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.” 

— Alan Redpath

These are only some of the areas that are affected by your mental illness. A wise spouse, pastor, elder, friend, or therapist can do wonders when things get difficult. Sometimes we need a new perspective as we sort things out. God will often use others to bandage and heal us. That’s the way He works.

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.”

Philippians 1:6, Message

 

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