Part 2a of 6
Give Me Training Wheels or Give Me Death
This week has been such a week of growth for my five-year old. He is pretty much brushing his teeth by himself, showering by himself, learning to sleep by himself (this has been a hard one), and he is learning to ride his bike…all by himself. But the process of all these events has been grueling, especially the bike-riding.
We have been enduring this long process in slow increments. Training wheels were the first step in learning to ride, but recently, we really upped the ante. We took off the training wheels and the pedals, turning the bicycle into a strider-bike. Timmy strode and coasted, strode and coasted in the garage until he was ready for the subdivision road.
We would get him settled on his bike and give him a running push. He would shoot across the asphalt, trying to see how many squares of cement he could conquer. As he slowed down, we taught him the value of the brake and the foot to slow down and stop. Again, he vanquished the tarmac foe far more rapidly than I had expected.
That is when my middle son had the brilliant idea to reinstall the pedals. With the pedals back on the bike, he pushed Timmy and without thinking, Timmy just started pedalling. That was all it took. With Robert running alongside and scouting ahead for cars on the corners, Timmy ended up pedaling the entire kilometer around our subdivision. Without stopping once. What a victory! You could probably hear us celebrating in the next province.
After lunch, I took Timmy out for another run before his quiet time and that is when everything fell apart. First of all, Timmy was very tired and when he is tired, he gets very cantankerous. That time of day should have given me my first clue that all would not go well.
Secondly, I did not know that I needed to run alongside his bike like Robert had done, so Timmy unconsciously, tried to keep pace with me. This slowed him down too much to keep his balance. Wobbling and shaking, he kept falling. I kept telling him he could go faster; he could handle this and I would just keep up. But he didn’t seem able to hear me. Pretty soon, he was in tears. I kept trying to get him started rolling along, but he would just shake and cry. It wasn’t long before he was so defeated he could not even put his feet on the pedals without tear-filled eyes. At that point, he was ready again either for training wheels or the death of his biking hopes.
In all of that stress-inducing ride, never once did he stop and ask me what he was doing wrong. Never once did he pause to regain emotional equilibrium. Never once would he get off the bike to be comforted. Not even once did he cry out for help. He just kept pushing himself, berating himself, until he was debilitated by his frustration. We made it around the subdivision one time, one kilometer, and that was all I could manage within the parameters of Christian grace and patience, if you know what I mean.
Mom Loves Me
Though Timmy’s frustration complicated all forward progress, I did let him take a few more runs up and down the street in front of our house before we called it quits, exasperation oozing off of him the whole time. That is when I noticed his shirt. In bright, big letters emblazoned across his chest were the words, “Mom Loves Me.” I gasped as I made the connection between that solid picture in the physical realm and what the Holy Spirit has been trying to show me in the spiritual realm.
You see, I loved my son before he could even sit on his bike. I loved him when he was too scared to ride without training wheels, long before his bicycle capabilities ever came to be. I loved him as he began to mature in his riding competence and as he mastered each new skill. I loved him before that traumatic bike ride ever sideswiped him. And I loved him the whole time he was batting at my hands, crying over his shoulder, shaking on his pedals, scolding me for not doing it right, and putting his feet down in stubborn frustration. In every second, while he was feeling like a failure and doubting his ability to ride at all, he was wearing a shirt that boldly proclaimed the love – and the lover – that could both steady and empower him.
And this is exactly the way you and I process our dungeons; it is how we wrestle in the prisons of our unanswered prayers. We struggle in riding our disappointments through in the prescribed “churchy” way. We shake and fall all over the road in our fears and shame. We cry out in frustration, then bat our Helper’s hands away. We stamp angrily on our pedals and weave drunkenly through our potholes, all the while feeling like a failure. In fact, we often doubt our ability to ride through any of our roadblocks at all without crashing into a thousand pieces.
More than that, we doubt the One who has taught us to ride, who has pushed our bikes out into the roads, and who stands hovering over our sweaty heads to help us at any given moment. And all the while, we wear the T-shirt of identity, “Jesus Loves Me.” We sport the slogan, but we do not incorporate its truths into the bumpy rides of our lives. When the rubber hits the road, we wobble, shake and fall, because we do not ever ask the Lover of our souls to help us manage our road rage. We do not approach Him to help us process our runaway emotions. Instead, we attempt to manage things on our own. We turn away from Him. We numb our feelings, bury them under a supposedly-godly veneer, or we soothe them with inappropriate fillers.
And all the while, my precious friend, God stands waiting for you to cast your cares on Him, because, you see, the T-shirt slogan is heart-warmingly true: “God really does love you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
A Brief Look Back…and Forward
Last week we embarked on an intense journey of doubt-exploration. If you will recall, John the Baptist suffered in prison, while his relative, Jesus, worked miracle after miracle for the masses. John sent some disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else” (Lk. 7:20)? This question came from a deep sense of betrayal, since John’s resume involving significance, service, and security was deeply rooted in his faith in God.
John’s faith-struggle was highly reminiscent of Eve’s dilemma in the Garden of Eden. She and Adam were completely secure in their relationship with God until Satan introduced one little doubt, “Did God really say” (Gen. 3:1)? When Eve began to meditate on that question, she opened up a can of worms, so to speak; a can that spilled out in a downward spiral of deviation, distortion, denial, deception, and eventually, spiritual death.
I pitched out to you that the birthplace of doubt was not conceived in a lack of conviction, in negative circumstances, or even in woundings by others. Instead, doubt originates in the mind of a believer who feels unloved by God, thinks she is unloved by God, and speaks out the words, “Did God really say He loved me?” Satan preys on these thoughts like a lion sneaking up on an innocent lamb. He does not have to lie outright in this case; he just has to exploit the uncertainty that is already present.
The way to combat this doubt-inducing question is to know what God really says. You need to know who God is, who you are in Christ, who your enemy is and how to battle him, and you need to know what eternity holds for you. If you know what God says about these topics in His Word, you will immediately recognize the trap Satan sets for you and be able to combat his effects in your faith.
I spent a lot of time last week picking apart what doubt and unbelief really are. We saw that unbelief is a matter of the will. It is a hardening of the heart to God’s Words. Doubt, on the other hand, is a matter of the mind. We do not understand God’s ways and so, wobbling and shaking, we begin to process our feelings through the filter of our thoughts. Unbelief is a sin, but doubts, presented to God, can be a way to discern the truth of God’s perspectives.
Scripture mentions differing degrees of faith: great faith, little faith, and no faith. We dissected the stories where these gradations occurred and realized that they indicate different levels of faith-maturity. Obviously, God wants us to respond to our times of testing with great faith, but He appears to welcome anyone with any degree of faith, who will come to Him in their time of need. It is this last thought that is the crux of this week’s devotional on suffocating doubts.
The question we are seeking to answer in these three weeks is, “What do we do with our doubts?” One approach, often used by believers in the church, is to numb feelings of doubts. The world, on the other hand, flaunts and exposes all of their emotions. Just turn on talk shows to see the damage done by vomiting out emotions on others without any thought as to the consequences. God has another way of managing our deepest hurts and feelings. That way, as seen all through the Psalms, is to “O” – Offer all your doubts to God. (We already learned the W in our acronym, which was to welcome prison circumstances as a promotion. Now, we add the O of offering.)
We are commanded to cast our cares on God because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). Like Timmy wearing a shirt that says, “Mom Loves Me,” we need to wear God’s love for us like a tight-fitting garment. That love opens the door for our shaking faith to verbalize our inward implosions. We share our doubts and concerns with God because we are deeply loved. At the risk of confusing you further, I have another acronym for you based on the word C.A.S.T. that will outline the process we need to take in offering all of our doubts to God in a biblical way.
I so desire to hear the voice of God. I long for intimacy with my Lover. Like the psalmists of old, I want to experience God more than anything else in this world. There are moments I break through the veil, instances where the hand of God connects with mine in a wholesome, thrilling manner, times when I can almost feel the touch of the Spirit on my brow. Oh, I live for those moments. My heart beats in anticipation for more and more of the Spring of Living Water. I want to be overwhelmed by the breakers of God, roaring and sweeping over me (Ps. 42:7). I wish these soul-sustaining bursts of glory were more common occurrences in my life. I wish I had the faith to move the mountains that seem to stand between this earthly garden and the Eden of heaven (Mt. 17:20). Yet, for all my desires and efforts, I often just cannot.
Yet some people can, it seems. Henry T. Blackaby shares a story of glory-bursting, soul-leaning, mountain-moving faith.
His daughter, Carrie, was diagnosed with cancer. As a result, the whole family began walking a five-month journey involving chemotherapy and radiation in order to battle this invisible foe. Blackaby sums up his prison sentence with these words, “That was a difficult circumstance for our whole family” (Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, p. 228).
Difficult? Really? That’s it?
If my child was diagnosed with cancer, I would be way beyond “difficult” and far down the road into despair. My faith would begin to seep out from under the door of my prison cell with ever-increasing waves of self-pity and fist-shaking anger at God. I would wrestle with God’s love and question His goodness. Possibly, I would hide from the very God in which I profess to believe. In reality, my dungeon mentality would drag me through the curses of Eden over and over again. Naked and ashamed. Guilty and fearful. Hiding and covering. Blaming and denying. This would be my circumstantial dilemma, my faith crisis, and if I know human nature, probably yours as well.
Yet Blackaby calmly laid out his plan for dealing with his questions about his daughter’s life-and-death struggle. “We knew God loved us. We prayed, “What are you purposing to do in this experience that we need to adjust ourselves to?” (pg. 228 again). And lo and behold, God gave them an answer, which they followed, and they – and many others – saw God move mightily.
Maybe Blackaby is a superpower and I am just a faith-wimp. Perhaps Blackaby is a godly giant of the faith and I am just a spiritual dwarf. Possibly Blackaby really has all the answers and I have no idea what I am talking about. But there seems to be something missing in this proffered theology. Blackaby gives a one, two, three-step solution for a humongous faith-problem. He doesn’t appear to wrestle with a dungeon mentality. He does not own up to struggling through despair as a result of his circumstances. Instead, it seems to me like he ‘bandaids’ one of the biggest questions of suffering, this question with which we are wrestling in today’s devotional: What do I do with all my doubts?
Now, mind you, his doctrine is perfectly sound. His theology is completely correct. His answers and step-by-step thinking are biblically on the money, yet there seems to be a black hole in the way he processes his suffering. Does he feel any pain? Because nowhere in any of his steps does he address one third of the soul’s needs. He deals with the mind, he deals with the will, but he does not deal with the emotions. His A-to-C solutions, skipping point B, feel trite and patronizing. They feel thinly veneered, fragile and unable to hold up to real life. Everyone has doubts; surely, even Henry Blackaby. But if you read about this terrible trauma in his family, he may come across as completely above his emotions to you as he did to me.
I am not denigrating Blackaby at all. At all! I would never presume to speak a theology that conflicts with his; I am far inferior in biblical knowledge. He is probably one of the most godly preachers I know in this present generation. His bible study, Experiencing God, has made a huge impact in my walk with Jesus. But at this present time, with all of my questions and doubts, his simplistic approach to distress is not helpful to me.
If I am correct at reading people, Blackaby’s facile, “faith-filled” solution to doubts will not help those who are in the middle of wrestling with those same doubts. Frankly, I need a faith-mentor. A person who lives in the trenches with me, who sings the same moody dirges with me, who walks the same path of sacrifice as me, and who screams the same questions to the skies as I do. I need someone to bolster my sagging faith, not sink it under a cloud of impossible expectations. I need someone to show me how to get from point A to point C without making me feel like a failure. I need a person of God who has lived a start-and-stop, two-steps-forward and one-step-back journey of trust.
Thankfully, the Lover of my soul – who sees the deep places of hurt, who knows the depths of my pain, and who cares about every step of my sanctification process – has provided many such faith-mentors. You will find a comrade in Moses, a friend in Elijah, a confidant in the Psalmists, a sorrow-sharer in Jeremiah, a compatriot thorn-bearer in Paul, and a desperate fellow-weeper in the Beloved Son.
These godly, giants of the faith are not above sitting in the dead-end street of Point B, hashing through their emotions with God. They are not too proud to be vulnerable with their confusing emotions. In fact, their stories are laid out for us in stark colors of black-and-white to show us how to process our often-debilitating doubts. They reveal to us that faith cries, faith questions, faith sinks down in despair, faith reaches out with a withered hand, faith asks, and faith perseveres from fear to trust in the day-to-day.
Doubts tend to suffocate our faith’s flickering flame. My perspective under all the weight of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’ of disappointments – and consequent unanswered prayers – leads me to believe that my world is smothered in the Darkness of Doubt. I want to get it right, but I fail. Like little Timmy, I say that that God loves me, that I trust Him, that I believe His promises, but when the rubber hits the road, I stumble and shake and fall. When my perspective is so skewed that I cannot even trust in the One I profess, some would say that I am no more than a practical atheist. (This phrase is borrowed from Tim Miskiman’s sermon Works of the Flesh, Fruit of the Spirit.) This is when I profess to believe in God but I do not really live out that truth in the trenches of my spiritual battles. Many people in the church would point their fingers at me, giving me their verdict of “little faith” or even “no faith.”
This emotional thrashing around in my circumstances is a faith dilemma and requires a change in perspective. But I submit to you that as I struggle through all of these issues with God, I actually demonstrate a lot of faith in Him. Faith seeks God instead of self-protection. Faith loves God amidst the rejection. Faith desires to know God’s will, even as it shrinks against what He would say. Faith begs for His care and love when there are no answers and faith asks for wisdom to handle its circumstances in His way, even when languishing in a prison, forgotten and alone. As I engage my precious God at all, whether it be through tears or with an upraised fist, I am acting out of my faith-reserves.
Blackaby barely acknowledges this struggle in his book and in the section I have quoted to you, makes no allowance for its presence in a life of faith. He moves from trauma to fact to trust, totally bypassing the natural struggle in the inner man. Quite frankly, this view is shared by many godly preachers and leaders in the church. Lay-people in the church who express their inner turmoil are quickly hushed or made to feel ungodly. Meanwhile, young believers, old believers, traumatized and beleaguered believers, are stumbling around in their paralyzing situations feeling ostracized from the church and abandoned by their God.
Folks, I beg to differ with this mentality. I do so because of the incredibly godly men in the Bible who vented their feelings freely to God. I do so because I follow my Lord’s example. And I do so on the basis of about 58 laments, comprising almost one third of our entire treasury of the psalms. These songs of lament – and other lamenters who struggled with real-life issues – have garnered such an ever-growing intimacy in my life. I have lived in these despair-defining, heart-lifting words for close to twenty years and they have drawn me into the bosom of God’s deep care for those who suffer.
Even Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer treasured the psalms of lament. Of them, he said, “What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind?…Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself…When they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that no painter could so depict for your fear or hope, and no Cicero or other orator has so portrayed them. And that they speak these words to God and with God, this I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.” (Word and Sacrament, Luther’s Works, vol. 1, ed. E. T. Bachmann. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1960, pp. 255-56). https://www.gotquestions.org/psalms-of-lament.html
So instead of despairing in my Darkness of Doubt, I need to adopt God’s perspective. Doubts should not be isolating. They must not separate us from the God we need so desperately. Doubts should not be managed stoically, as if they did not exist. Instead, doubts should be expressed in all their multi-hued and uniquely portrayed ways: tears undammed, fears unmasked, anger unbound, and doubts unhindered. Then the believer can move from an ostracizing darkness of lonely struggle to the open plain of God’s free comfort. God’s perspective on doubts is that they are a Development of Discovery. One can diligently discover the scope of inner motives and reciprocal emotions, inner hidden sins and overwhelming mercy, inner selfishness and abundant grace, inner sorrow and eternal joy.
The question on the table today is this: What do I do with all of my doubts? Do I manage them in stoic idealism? Do I ignore them in blinded faith? Do I pray they will resolve themselves, since most people believe their presence indicates a complete lack of faith? The short answer is a resounding “No!’ Instead of managing them, ignoring them, attempting to give them time to manage themselves, use the key that God provides for you. The key to what you do with your doubts is this: O – Offer all of your doubts to God. Cast all your anxieties on God because He cares for you.
Unbelief turns from God. Faith wrestles with God. Unbelief numbs the pain. Faith opens up the hurt in the presence of the great Surgeon. Unbelief skips all the emotion in hope of a quick fix. Faith stumbles through the mire and clay, weaving here and there, but ever onward toward the Face of joy and affirmation. Unbelief refuses to engage its inner turmoil, opting instead for legalistic busy-ness. Faith cries out in exasperated-yet-desperate emotion, “I do believe; help Thou my unbelief.”
There are many different views in the church about this topic of doubt, but most of those views will all boil down to two basic stances. The first stance is that doubting is sin, and as a sin, it must be dealt with immediately by confession and renunciation. The basic premise is that if a believer expresses emotions involving fears and doubts, that person can be branded as having very little faith. They may be ostracized from leadership or even considered equal to a heathen.
I hope you can tell I am speaking a little tongue-in-cheek here, but in all sincerity, church members who stand in this camp usually come off sounding very pious and religious, but also very legalistic. Young believers, or those going through terrific trials, will find no hope or affirmation in this type of a church. Possibly even, their faith will shipwreck on the shoals of the impossible expectations of the your-faith-is-weak-if-you-doubt stance of stoic, “give-me-emotionless-faith-or-give-me-death” types of believers.
The other camp of churchgoers believes that doubts are a fact of our humanity. They are a remnant of the Fall and will not just go away because the will chooses to ignore them. These types of Christians end up being good counselors and spiritual advisors, because instead of pretending there is no problem with doubt, they have learned to process their own in order to help others do the same. (I think you can tell which camp I sit in. No surprise there.)
Doubts are a reminder that we are in a spiritual battle and have a destructive opponent. Satan will whisper his lies to you and those lies will affect your thoughts, will and emotions. Ultimately, they will affect your faith, either for its strengthening or for its weakening. Perfect creation, where no doubt and fear and shame existed, only lasted for two chapters in the whole Bible. Then the doubt-whisperer, Satan himself, began his mission to level the rest of mankind by his questioning, “Did God really say?” line of doubt-inducement.
The fact is: everyone struggles with doubts if they are indeed living a vulnerable and real faith. Some are humble enough to admit it; some are not. The question is, “Are you?” Are you the type of person who numbs what you feel and think in order to perpetuate a faith that looks strong? Are you the iconic Christian who struggles hard inside the soul, but refuses to admit it in a vulnerable setting for fear that you will appear weak? Are you a stoic who goes from Point A of trauma to Point C of faith without ever facing the facts or acknowledging the feelings (see Abraham’s example in Rom. 4:17-21). If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I ask you if you are growing in your faith? Faith that matures flows from a faith that struggles.
You and I can hover in the inevitable darkness that arises from our prison’s doubts, never facing it. Never processing it. And never healing from our unbelief. Or we can adopt God’s perspective, the mindset that doubts are not evil. Doubts, as Charles Spurgeon said, are merely indicators that you are really, truly thinking. Take the key God offers you, the key of casting your cares on God (1 Pet. 5:7). That key will open the door to God’s perspective on your situation and will help you move from isolating darkness into a developing prayer-discovery, which in turn, will begin to heal your soul of each doubt you may have entertained.
Cast Your Cares
The key to a godly perspective and some soul-healing is the choice to cast your cares on God when they begin to knock on the door of your faith. 1 Peter 5:7 is a very familiar verse, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” This verse is well-known and simple to memorize, but very hard to apply.
Two important thoughts come to mind as I read this little verse. First, what are cares? Cares can cover a lot of ground: anxieties, disruptions to the personality and the mind, distractions that lead to worry, and even temptations, for these bring about worry and anxiety as well. This verse is a close rendition to Psalm 55:22 which says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved” (ESV). So you can see here that burdens are a type of care. Pretty much anything that brings anxieties, fears or doubts to your mind are cares that are to be cast on the Lord.
My second thought has to do with that word ‘cast.’ What does it mean to cast your cares? Simply put, it means to “throw or cast upon, cast off, throw upon or place upon” (ESV Strong’s and CWSB dictionary). This type of casting is not like the casting of a fishing line. That line is still hooked to your pole, which you continue to hold. You are not throwing off anything in this instance. The type of casting referred to in this verse is something you literally throw away from you and do not retrieve again. It is like casting a stone into a very deep pond. It can no longer be seen, found, or repossessed.
This thought of getting rid of your cares is stated so beautifully in the Passion translation, “Pour out all your worries and stress upon him and leave them there, for he always tenderly cares for you.” I love that middle phrase, “leave them there.” We are to throw all of our concerns on God because of His deep tender care for us.
But here’s the dilemma. Have you tried to cast your cares on God? Have you ever found that your cares just do not stay “on God?” When you pour out your worries upon Him, do you find you have trouble leaving them there? If you do struggle with casting your cares away, you are in good company.
Does your prayer life seems pitiful sometimes? You pray an anxiety through. You feel like you have done battle with it and laid it to rest. But then you walk downstairs into the same old cares of your day. You have just left your prayer closet and those same cares seem to attach themselves to your thinking and emotions once again. In a moment, every struggle, anxiety, fear and doubt comes piling back onto your shoulders. Believe me, I know it is frustrating and faith-enervating.
As I meditated on this verse this week in preparation for this week’s devotional, I wrestled with this dilemma of casting-yet-living real life. I was studying 1 Peter 3:14b-15a in my devotions and a little light went on. My Tyndale Commentary spoke this illuminating sentence over these two verses having to do with fear, “The alternative to fear is to focus attention on someone else.”
Ah-ha. Something made sense to me. That something is a truth I already know, but it is a truth with which I really wrestle. I am a great processor. I can tell you what I am feeling, what I believe, what I think, at any given time. I journal and meditate a lot; probably too much sometimes. One of the ways that I process is that I talk out loud to myself. Often, this self-talk is very negative and I find myself dipping deeper and deeper into discouragement as a result of trying to figure any given situation out.
What Tyndale is saying is that I need a change of focus. Now, I have written about this extensively. I have studied it, memorized verses about it and tried to apply it, but it is still one of my faith-weaknesses. The alternative to anxious care is to focus attention on Someone else. Now, that is a good word, but how do I apply it?
At the risk of ‘over-acronyming’ you this week, I have a four-step acronym on how to properly cast your cares on God. By properly, I mean so that they do not keep coming back. I will use two wonderful examples from the lives of very godly, full-on-faith lauded leaders – plus some bonus lament-writers – to show you two things: even spiritual giants struggled with doubts. However, they knew the key of offering those doubts to God. They knew how to cast their cares on the One who cared for them.
C – Clear Away the Rubble
Whatever lies have been whispered into your heart, know this: you are important to God. Not only are you incredibly valuable, but your thoughts and emotions are treasured by God as well. Were you aware that God values your emotions so much that He keeps track of all your sorrows? He collects all of your tears in His bottle and records each one in His book (Ps. 56:8 – NLT). He knows all the weeping that occurs as you plant your gospel seed, but He will bring a harvest from that tear-planting (Ps. 126:5-6).
Because of this lovingly tender care of your God, it is important to share all that you feel and think with Him – bad and good. Do not mince words. Do not hold back. Tell the Lord all your anxieties, all your fears, all your bitterness, all your inabilities, all your stresses and cares and doubts. The only way to move forward through the rubble of your inner soul-collapse is to offer up your ‘less-thans’ to God’s capable ‘greater-thans.’ Clear out all your negative emotions. Confront all of your negative thinking. This will make room for God to give you His perspective.
Every time I face a negative circumstance where doubts and fears erupt in my heart, I have trained myself to take it to the Lord first thing in my devotions. Before I get into the Word, before I begin to pray, and before I even begin to praise and thank God, I sit before the Lord in all my frustration. With a pencil, I begin to attempt to describe to the Lord the troubled waters lapping at my soul’s peace. I share it all, every ugly, uncensored feeling I have. Sometimes my journal reads like a person stepping away from the faith; it is that raw. Check out this small excerpt as I reflected on the similarity between John’s prison response in verses 18 and 19 and my own “prison”:
John was in prison and he heard all the things Jesus was doing for other people, but not for him. God, this is true of me too. You are working big time for (others)…But God, I have been in this prison for years and I have seen no change. Additionally, John dies in prison: unheard, unsung, un-delivered and all you do when he died is get alone by yourself for a bit. God, where is the support? Where is the personal affirmation? Where is the deliverance from the situation? My perspective on all of this is the same as Gideon’s: If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where is your wonder on my behalf? Why have you abandoned, rejected, not shown favor or love, promises failed, forgotten to be merciful to me, withheld your compassion? You are not moving now on my behalf and John never received your movement. He died in a horrible way. I’m not so afraid of death right now, God, as I am afraid of my unchanging existence. Having no reason to live, no significance, no impact, no change is killing me inside…no joy, no relationship, no vitality, only tension and hurt. My perspective is that you have abandoned me in this prison. I do not see a rescue or a movement to remove from this prison. I don’t see you working on my behalf and honestly, I feel rejected. You are not removing me from prison, just like you did not remove John from prison. I feel like I am going to die in this prison: unseen, unheard, un-affirmed, without justice…you will leave me in pain, in loneliness and in a great dearth of fulfilled promises. I feel completely expendable just like Job.
I have edited out some extremely personal thoughts, because the reason behind this journal entry is not important; the content is. As you can see, I came to God with every runaway emotion I could think of and laid it out before God as vulnerably as possible. Far from being perturbed with me, God met me there as I made a choice to clear away the rubble.
I believe all of this spewing angst, this vomiting of emotions, is the godly approach. I have good teachers, because for the last two decades I have sat daily in the psalms, where raw emotions are expressed honestly, and received graciously, by the God of all comfort. To encourage you further, let’s look at two examples of godly leaders who chose to clear away their own emotional rubble.
Moses: Moses had a terrific bout with doubt in Numbers 11. After the people began complaining about their hardships (Num. 11:1), after fire came down to consume them (11:2-3), after the rabble began to crave meat (11:4-6), and after the people began wailing (11:4, 10), God became exceedingly angry and Moses was troubled (11:10).
He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin” (11:11-15).
The circumstances were dire. The people spoke out evil words and hurtful actions against Moses and the Lord. Here we see two of the situations in which doubt can arise in a beleaguered heart (if you can remember these from last week). In the process of dealing with the fallout from the wailing Israelites, Moses collapsed before the Lord. He could not take one more word out of their deceived and ungrateful mouths.
The question “Did God really say?” did not pass Moses’ lips verbatim, but you can hear it alluded to all through his cry to God. “Did you really say, God, that you would help me? Did you really say I was your chosen servant? Did you really say you would take these people to the Promised Land? Did you really say you would provide for them? Did you really say there would be victory and joy and abundance? Did you really say all of this, God?”
Negative circumstances and hurtful words primed the pump for Satan’s best tactic to come into play. He had Moses questioning God about a myriad of things and remember that Hebrews 3 taught us that doubts arise because of sin’s deceitfulness. But Moses was a man who knew God and saw what He did. He did not fall for the same response as the Israelites, who wailed out loud at the entrance of their tents (11:10). They doubted God, but their doubts hardened their hearts against God. Moses doubted God, but cleared away the rubble by taking his doubts to God.
Elijah: Elijah had just experienced an incredible victory. He had faced off with 450 Baal prophets and won. His God came through for him, throwing fire down from heaven and incinerating the altar, the ground, and all the water around. After that powerful display, every bystander helped kill the prophets of Baal at Elijah’s command. Then Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and prayed seven times. As a result, rain clouds appeared on the horizon after years of drought. Not only that, but he was empowered by God to outrun Ahab’s chariot all the way to Jezreel (see 1 Kings 18).
Such supernatural workings. Such a mighty outpouring of God’s power. What an awesome privilege to participate with God in miracle after miracle. But that is when the spiritual attack came.
King Ahab told his wife, Jezebel, all that Elijah had done, including the slaughter of her Baal prophets. She promptly sent a message to Elijah with these words, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2). And that is when Elijah’s faith imploded.
He had faced 450 Baal prophets and the king’s anger, but one woman had the power to reduce him to a shaking earthquake of fear: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” (v 3a). When he arrived in Beersheba, he left his servant there and traveled by himself a whole day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he could die (vv 3-4). “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Weary with exhaustion and fear, he lay down and fell asleep.
Elijah is one of the most supernaturally-endowed men of the Old Testament. I cannot think of a greater faith-walker than this prophet. But after the mountain-top experience of Carmel, he sunk to an unprecedented low. One wife, one evil queen, one Baal-worshiping, threatening woman was all it took for Elijah to be so afraid of his circumstances that he felt death was more welcome than the pain of his life.
We will deal with all that transpires in between his sleep and the appearance of the Lord on Mount Horeb, but for now, I want to go to another time when Elijah let it all out before the Lord. On the mountain of the Lord, God asked Elijah what he was doing there. Elijah’s answer is piteous, but honest, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (v 10 and 14). Elijah shared this same speech with the Lord, not once, but twice.
What would cause such fear in this great man of God, fear so great that it buried his faith? I believe the circumstances-turned-sour ignited in him some fear, which then led to doubt. The words, “Did God really say?” are not listed in any of Elijah’s actions or words, but fear-inducing doubts are pretty clearly the subtext of Elijah’s reality.
You can almost hear the words, “Did God really say He would supply my needs” (see 17:9)? Elijah had just pulled off the biggest overthrow of idolatry Israel had seen in a very long time, but there seemed to be no one to take care of his safety. “Did God really say he would hear my cry” (see 17:22)? He called out for God to defend His honor and He did. He called out for rain and it finally came. Why could God not save him from one vengeful woman? “Did God really say He is the one true God” (see 18:21, 24)? He had just stamped out idol-worship in the land. Was God not powerful enough to protect him from Jezebel? “Did God really say He was faithful to those who were faithful” (see Deut. 7:9)? Well, no one was more faithful than Elijah, but God seemed to be orchestrating his own death sentence. Was He reneging on His covenant of love?
So many doubts flashed across Elijah’s mind. I know this because of his response. Asking God to kill you is not a normal response to stress; it is instead a desperate cry from a battleground that has seen enormous devastation. Even though Elijah prayed to die – he was that defeated – please take note of where he directed his bitter frustration. The first thing he did when he got to that deserted broom tree was to pray and vent his runaway emotions to God. And he did it two more times on Mount Horeb.
This speaks to me in high-level decibels. Elijah battled the same fears for a long time. From the moment he asked God to kill him until he reached Horeb, he struggled with those fears and doubts for at least forty days and nights (19:8). Even after that long pilgrimage of despair, he still had not reconciled those doubts with his God. It took two more God-encounters to lay those doubts to rest.
The battleground of doubts can be both bloody and prolonged. Elijah suffered through loneliness, despair, bouts of unanswered prayer, nights of restless sleep, a journey of pilgrimage-proportion, and a lonely night on the mountain where the covenant God left him in a cave – all before he received any answers from that same loving God. Even when the Lord spoke to him and he saw the power of God moving all around him (vv 11-13), this great prophet still spewed the same doubting rhetoric to his Father.
And I am grateful.
I am soothed in my soul because Elijah’s struggle mirrors my own. There is something so sweet and tender about the intimacy between the Creator and the creation, where the human may openly flaunt his weaknesses and still be loved, cared for, and affirmed.
Friend, both Moses and Elijah were incredible men of God; maybe some of the most incredible faith-walkers in all of biblical history. Yet, in God’s sovereign plan, He allowed them to experience a “prison sentence” of despair. He did not immediately answer their prayers, which left them begging for revelation. In that desperate search for God’s answers, they actually embarked on a search for biblical perspective. By laying their raw doubts and panicky emotions before God, they began to clear away some piled-up rubble, which had obstructed their erroneous view of God. As they cast their doubts upon God, they found that the process led them straight to Truth.
A – Ask the Lord To Speak
Typically, after I have laid out my runaway emotions before God, I sit back in my chair with my blue pen poised over my journal. That blue pen is my receiver. I must have a word from God. With all of my messy soul-rubble laid out before me in my journal, I feel spent, enervated and hopeless. I know I will not be able to lay any fears to rest until God has responded to my soul-needs. I know I will not be able to walk in faith in my dungeon circumstance without the comfort I need directly from God.
So I quiet my tempest-tossed mind. I wait for an answer from my Lover. And I listen to that still, small voice. I need Him to speak and I have faith that He will.
And He does.
Here is a personal journal excerpt from August 3. The bold color is the Lord’s response:
God, I feel like you and me are okay. I am seeking you, growing in love with you more and more, but I am having a terrible time with…My attitude stinks and I just don’t know how to change it. God, I rely on you, not myself. You chose me but I do desire to choose you back…God, I don’t see another way…What will make the difference?
Heather, remember you read about making assumptions? Yes. You are making all kinds of assumptions about all of this: the timing, the sequence, the outcome. You are trying to mold my plan – which you do not fully know – into your earthly parameters. It can’t be done. I have a plan. I have shared a tiny bit of it with you, and you are assuming ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘where’ I am going to carry it out. Stop assuming, Heather, and start praying. Turn your assumptions about what I could or should do into prayers for what I will do. I am a prayer-answering God.
God, it seems to me that you answer prayers in your own way all the time in ways that don’t seem to benefit me. You won’t change……God, it’s so awful.
What if I am working instead on changing you…Do not assume anything. Live in what you know.
Which is what, God. What do I know in all of this mess? That I am a good God and all my ways are good (Ps. 119:68).
That I love you (Rom. 8:37-39, Jer. 31:3). That I am faithful and will keep my promises (Josh. 21:45, Josh. 23:14, 1 Kings 8:56). I have good plans for your life (Jer. 29:11), and that I will work all things for your good (Rom. 8:28), that I am for you (Rom. 8:31), and that I have good works for you to do (Eph. 2:10).
God is a personal God. He may not speak to me like He speaks to you, but be assured of this: He does speak. Knowing this, I believe it is imperative that I begin a dialogue with God that begins to open up space for my attitudes and thoughts to be formed, verbalized and answered by God. After all, He is the only One who knows my situation, knows my human frailty, and knows the answer to my dilemma.
The meeting place between my sinking heart and my Lover’s answers from heaven is the common question. Questions show interest and invite conversation. Questions open up dialogue and engender intimacy. And questions beg to be asked and answered. I hope you saw that my anxious questions written above actually became the teaching material that God used to speak to some security needs.
Notice now how the common question opened up an amazing dialogue between Moses and some other wobbling God-seekers and Jehovah.
Moses: At the risk of redundancy, let me pull out the same four verses I listed before from Numbers 11. Remember Moses was incredibly frustrated with the Israelites, frustrated enough to pray that if God was going to continue to treat him like this, he would rather die (v 15). But I want you to see that in the midst of all of Moses’ emotional spillage, he still invited conversation. He still asked the Lord to speak. We can see this by his verbose use of questions.
He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? (11:11-13)
All those questions were burning with resentment and frustration. Moses had had it! He couldn’t go on one more day without God making some changes. His prison sentence felt interminable, but as he questioned God, who is a personal and responsive God, he was answered.
In essence, Moses struggled with two aspects of his prison sentence. The first question he had involved the burden of the Israelites (vv 11, 12, 14). They were too much for him and he used a lot of colorful language to describe his absolute frustration. God answered those questions about Moses’ huge burden. He told Moses to bring seventy elders to the Tent of Meeting. He would come down and meet with Moses and commission those men to help carry the burden of the people so Moses would not have to do it alone anymore (vv 16-17). He would take some of the Spirit on Moses and put that same Spirit on those leaders (v 17).
Moses’ second concern was how to provide meat for all those people (v 13). God answered that question too. He told Moses that He would send meat, but they would eat nothing else for forty days, until they were so sick of it that they loathed it (v 18-20).
The two main concerns that Moses shared with God, though couched in dramatically negative angst, were phrased so that God was invited to answer. His questions generated a safe, intimate meeting place. He asked specifically, which encouraged God to interact personally with him in a very specific way.
Psalm 10: Psalm 10 is one of the first Psalms of Lament and I want you to notice now it begins. “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble” (v 1). David spent the next ten verses giving examples of why God seems so far away. It is a lament about the absence of God in his own negative circumstances.
Again in verse 13, David asked the Lord two more questions, “Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, ‘He won’t call me to account?” These questions summarized all the angst of the first twelve verses. David was trying to clear away the rubble of God’s seeming absence in all of the wickedness of his world.
Something happened in verse 14. David’s mindset turned completely around. We do not have any words from God listed as an answer to David’s agonized questions, yet truth suddenly began to spout from David’s mouth. What happened after those questions were asked in verse 13?
You may disagree with me, but I believe those questions opened up a dialogue with God. They were David’s wobbly-faithed petition for God to answer. And I believe He did through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 16, Jesus invited His disciples to answer a question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is” (v 13). The answers came back: John the Baptist, Elijah. Jeremiah or one of the prophets. “But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv 14-16). Jesus’s answer to Peter was this, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (v 17).
We do not have the account of the Spirit’s influence in Peter’s thinking. The words from the Father are not listen in our bibles, yet Jesus quickly let Peter know that God had revealed the answer to him by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
I believe this same ministry occurred in Psalm 10 and in every other psalm where the trajectory of the lamenter’s faith seemed to suddenly turn around. Look at a couple of these examples:
- “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long” (6:3) / “…the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer” (6:8b-9).
- “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (13:1) / “But I trust in your unfailing love…” 13:5)
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me…” (22:1) /Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast” (22:9)
- “Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you” (85:5-6)? / “I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints – but let then not return to folly” (85:8).
In all of these examples – and many, many more – the questions that were used to solidify each petitioner’s runaway emotions were also the fodder through which the Holy Spirit spoke kingdom truths into their earthly mindset. Their interpretation of their circumstances, as expressed in the common question, was overlaid with the truths of heaven. And there was a huge turnaround. They asked for God’s perspective while interpreting their soul’s pain and God, who is a good, good Father, answered.
Psalm 10 is no different. David cried out his heart to God, begging Him by way of a question to answer his soul’s need. In that instance, he needed to hear that God was not distant, that He did not hide in times of trouble, that He had not forgotten the helpless in their despair. Though the actual relay of the truths by the Spirit was not documented, the actual truths themselves were. I believe David received some rhema word from God between verse 13 and 14 that enabled him to speak these words, “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless” (v 14).
No one in this world would say that Moses was a faithless man. And David is called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Yet both of these men floundered in moments of deep doubt and despair. But out of their severe discouragement, they were able to muster enough faith to clear away the rubble and begin to ask God for His perspective on their situation. And God answered, just like He will do for me and for you.
After you have laid out all the messy entanglements of your faith and heart, begin to ask the Lord a word that would speak to your soul need. You might ask for His comfort and encouragement. You may beg for some guidance or wisdom. Or you may petition him for His perspective on your situation, for His promises to help you endure, or for His vision for your future. God will speak His abundance into your deficit. You may not even know what to ask God, but I encourage you to ask anyway. Asking God to speak to you may just be the action you need to see a huge turnaround in your dungeon mentality.
S – Surrender To His Words
There is a warning woven throughout all of this good news. The caution is this: when God speaks to you, when He takes the time to look into your heart, to really hear your words, and to respond to your soul needs, you had better listen. One of the quickest ways to shut off the free-flowing dialogue between you and God is to disobey something He has expressly spoken over you. If you are going to go to God with all of your rubble, you need to know prior to that outpouring encounter that He is the great Rubble-Excavator. He will begin to work, but it may not be in the way you desire. You must be open to God’s construction methods.
Likewise, if you ask God for His response to your questions, if you beg Him for answers, you had better be open to what He suggests. I once heard someone say, “If God is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.” This applies even to the prison cells you may find yourself in. God is sovereign and has overseen, if not ordained, that prison circumstance in which you find yourself hopelessly incarcerated. Changing your circumstances is not God’s first agenda; changing you and your heart is. He wants to conform you to the image of His Son and sometimes prisons are the best conformers.
The beauty of a prison is the angst it provokes in your heart, an angst that moves you to emote, to cry out, to begin to question and probe and process. The uncertainty of your situation moves you to seek the truths of your God. But when that truth is revealed, in whatever form it comes, it must be applied personally.
On July 26th, I was in the process of seeking God’s perspective on one of my prison circumstances. God had not changed my situation, nor had He answered my “why?” So I knew that I needed to find out where God was working so I could join Him in that work. I had studied eight passages which God seemed to be linking together and so I began asking questions of God:
What are you trying to tell me? I’m just not understanding your point…My dilemma in life right now is my unanswered prayer and your seeming lack of movement on behalf of this prayer. I know you are answering other prayers and working in other ways; I don’t understand why you are not answering this prayer. I am begging for a change, Lord. I can’t go on like this forever…What do I do?
You believe in me. You trust me despite what happens. Heather, I am the sovereign God. I know what I am doing. Who do you say I am?
But in 8:24-25, you calmed the storm. You took care of the problem. In 9:9 Herod saw the wonders the disciples were doing (preaching and healing) and asked who you were. Peter spoke this truth (9:20). But he lived with you and saw you moving. God spoke who You were in a great transformative moment (9:35). Your healings led to the answer to the question. You were meeting people’s answers to prayer, which led them to believe. You won’t answer my prayer, God. And what about people who are never healed? What then? What if you never heal (me)?
…I am most concerned about your soul…I am most concerned with who you say I am…I am most concerned with your personal faith in me. You say that I am sovereign but in practical life, are you believing it? (If your situation) never turns around, will you still say that I am sovereign, that I am good, that I am loving? I don’t know, God.
I am really struggling with this.
I know. Everything Jesus did was to elicit faith in me somehow…healing, calming storms. Delaying answer to prayer, feeding 5000, casting out demons and pointedly talking about the suffering on the cross. Heather, on earth suffering is inextricably linked with glory. For Jesus, mountaintop experiences were juxtaposed with unbelieving valleys, suffering with glory. Out of the 8 vignettes you have studied, how many linked suffering to glory?
Every single one of them, Lord.
Heather, on this earth, there will always be deep suffering of every kind juxtaposed with varying amounts of glory. But through it all, Jesus was still the Son of the Most High (8:28), the Christ of God (9:20), the Beloved Son (9:55), whether people believe it or not…If I change (your situation) or not, I am still the same God. I do not become unloving, un-good, un-Sovereign just because I do not answer your one prayer.
God, how do I come to believe this? How does my pain and hurt wrap itself around this truth? How do I truly embrace this at a heart level?
You embrace this through faith. It is a fact which leads to fatih. State the facts over and over until the feelings follow…In spite of fear, you can choose to believe anyway and take steps of faith toward me. Or you can let pain shroud your faith until you disobey.
I spent the next half hour working through those 8 vignettes in Luke and came up with 26 different descriptions of who God was. He was the God who slept in peace even though He knew trouble was coming (8:23). He was the God who spoke and the wind and the waves calmed (8:24). He was the God who had power over the demons (8:25-33). He was the God who responded to need (8:44ff). He was a God who raised people from the dead (8:53) and I went on and on. This exercise was important to see God’s overwhelming sufficiency for those with profuse inadequacies, but all this study did not help me much. It wasn’t personal. These were logos words when I needed a rhema word and I let God know my feelings on this matter.
God, there are so many descriptions of who you are. I don’t know what to answer to your question.
Who do you say I am, Heather?
And as I sat quietly before God, as I pondered that question in the center of my soul, the Holy Spirit whispered some words to me. I began to weep because I knew they were true in the depth of my being. They rested me. They refreshed me. And they gave me peace. The words were…
You are my beloved.
Yes, I know you heal and do miracles, but honestly, to know I am special to you is far more important than anything else. I have faith that you love me and call me your beloved child.
Then, Heather, this truth is your center. Even if I don’t change…your circumstances, the fact that I am your darling is all you need to know. I am sweet on you. You are sweet on me. Unanswered prayers do not change this fact. I am your beloved whether this prayer is ever answered or not. When storms arise, or healing will never come, I love you deeply. Whether your faith falters or you don’t understand everything, know this truth: I am yours and you are mine. All unanswered prayers can be left at my feet because I am the final answer. My Presence covers all the questions that my words do not answer. I am all you’ll ever need…
Lord, thank you for showing this to me. I am so very grateful.
My ‘why’ questions were never answered, but God met a soul-need. Amongst all of my thrashing about and studying diligently to find an answer, God knew the only answer I really needed was to hear that I was loved. He met that need that day after hours in His word. It was simple. It was sweet. And it was transformative. I knew I could accept a non-answer from God about my circumstances because I was surrendering to my Sweetheart. He loved me. He called me “beloved.” And that was enough to calm the raging storm in my soul.
Moses: Even after God gave him two answers that met soul-needs in his life, Moses struggled to surrender. “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!” Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them” (Num. 11:21-22).
God’s answer was a requirement of adjustment, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (11:23). Moses did surrender. He did lay down his questions at the feet of His long-armed God. I know this because of his willing response: he did everything the Lord asked of him (11:24-25). He surrendered his questions to God’s overwhelming sovereignty.
Elijah: Elijah cleared away some rubble before the Lord. He had had enough and felt insignificant in his own eyes compared to his ancestors (1 Kings 19:4). He asked the Lord at that time if he could just die. Elijah was in bad shape emotionally, but notice that God knew his real need: he was tired (v 5).
Instead of blasting Elijah for his lack of faith, instead of berating for his doubts, God ministered to his real needs. He was physically exhausted so God sent an angel to feed him. He provided a cake of bread and a jar of water (v 6). Then this tired prophet laid down and slept the sleep of the dead again. The angel came back a second time and provided more food. Fortified by good rest, healthy food and sustaining water, Elijah traveled forty days and nights to reach Horeb (vv 7-8).
God’s response in this occasion is so encouraging to me. We may not know it, but there are times we feel soul-weary because we are physically weary. We may not even know the difference between the two or the damage being done by our go-getter attitudes. But God does. And if we seek him with our doubts and questions, He will minister to our needs – our real, God-seen needs.
Elijah was not in need of a sermon; he needed food. This prophet did not require the quotation of a Bible verse; just some water. His faith-crisis did not necessitate a church service or the anointing of his elders or even a prayer hotline; he just needed a good nap.
Instead of pushing on in ministry, Elijah surrendered to sleep. In lieu of the image of a great faith-warrior, this prophet removed himself to the most isolating place he could think of and he surrendered to God’s ministrations. As a replacement for a bible study or a prayer meeting, God replaced his spiritual disciplines with some good old fashioned bread and water. And Elijah surrendered to the Lord’s adept sensitivity and supernatural healing remedy for both his body and his soul. That surrender equipped him for a forty-day journey, a further revelation, and a change in ministry calling.
Precious one, the Lord desires to speak with you. He is a personal God who is concerned about every aspect of your existence. The question is: do you believe Him? Do you believe He cares for you? Do you believe He has your best interests at heart, that He has a plan for you, that His arm is long enough to cover all of your stacked-up emotions and strewn-out questions? He is a big God, you know. More than enough for you and all of your suffocating ministry requirements. More than enough for me and all my suffocating doubts.
My friend, clear away the rubble of your doubts and fears by casting all of that anxiety upon the Lord. Ask the Lord to speak over your stresses and worries. Ask Him to share His heart and perspectives with you. But be sure to surrender to His heart.
Capitulate to His timing. Yield to His mystery. Defer to His outlook. Acquiesce to His ways. Relent to His agenda. And succumb to His methods. Having the mindset of the clay pot before the Potter – “Have thine own way, Lord” – is essential to casting cares that do not return to weigh you down again.
T – Take hold of His Words
Personally, I do not struggle too much with the C, A and S of this acronym. If I can lay my concerns out before God and wait upon His rhema word for my situation, it is not so difficult to surrender to His will for my life. The biggest problem for me in these first three steps is discerning the perspective of God. Sometimes it takes a very long while to clear away my own rubble so that I can decipher the still, small voice of God.
Elijah: Elijah had this problem too. After his journey to Horeb, he spent a difficult night in a cave (1 Ki. 19:9). The word of the Lord came to Elijah in that cave, “What are you doing here, Elijah” (v 9b). What a question? It cuts to the heart of the matter almost as cleanly as the question in Genesis 3:9, “Where are you?”
What was Elijah doing in that cave? Was he running from his calling? Was he hoping for revelation from God in the very place of all revelations, the mountain of God? Was he sick and tired of the fight? Was he desperate for a new vision of God? Or was he ready to throw in the towel altogether? What was he doing in that cave? In the Lord’s question was both a rebuke and an invitation to confess Elijah’s fears and feelings.
And so I ask you the same question: What are you doing holed up in the isolated darkness of your cave-like circumstances? Exhausted by ministry. Frightened by supposed abusers. Singled-out by persecutors. Called to the battle by God. Tired from your long journey or alone in your misery. What are you doing in your cave? God’s question bids an answer. His question invites vulnerability.
Elijah accepted the Lord’s invitation to share his fears and feelings. His answer was honest, although somewhat ambiguous at best and bitter at the worst, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (v 10). Elijah was depressed because he was sad at Israel’s apostasy, desecration of sacred places, and the martyrdom of the Lord’s prophets. He felt alone in his zeal and unrewarded for his hard work. He felt “somewhat bitter at having served God so earnestly and spectacularly and yet having experienced rejection and solitary exile” (Expositor’s Biblical Commentary).
Instead of addressing Elijah’s feelings, the Lord told him to go out and stand on the mountain, for the presence of the Lord was about to pass by (v 11). A powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the surrounding rocks. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came a powerful earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Then came a fire, but again, the Lord was not in the fire (vv 11-12). Instead, Elijah heard a gentle whisper and in that moment, he knew the presence of God had arrived; God Almighty was close (v 12).
The lessons here are obvious to me:
1) When we do spectacular things for God, that is the exception, not the norm. God performs miracles, shattering rocks and burning sacrifices with fire, but He most often operates in the realm of the day-to-day. And this is also the way He usually converses with us; not in earthquakes or tongues, miraculous healings or instant transformations. He chooses to confine Himself to the realm of our normal, everyday existence. That is where we will learn to know God. Yes, even if our day-to-day involves a prison or two.
2) As soon as that gentle whisper began to stir in Elijah’s conscience, he immediately knew God was on the move. I love this about Elijah. His obvious intimacy with God preceded the spectacular and it comforted him in the absence of the spectacular as well. Above all, he knew His Lover’s gentle voice and knew when to respond to it when God chose to speak.
Do you know your Lover’s voice? Would you recognize Him if He began to speak into your mind? I have found that prior to my prison circumstances, I am often too busy to hear the voice of God. I am too attentive to the task at hand to lift my heart to the Person at hand with me. One of the reasons God brings prison circumstances into our lives is to slow us down and cause us to need Him desperately. In that desperation, we turn to Him because there is no one else. And from all the fear and doubts of our dungeon mentalities, God trains us to hear His still, small voice.
The Lord questioned Elijah again, “What are you doing here, Elijah” (v 13b) and Elijah’s answer was exactly the same. Had he learned anything between the first question and when it was repeated? No, he hadn’t. He was still too stuck in his depression to learn much about his situation before God. But God kept asking the questions in order to lead him to a godly conclusion. And isn’t this the same for you and me? God asks us questions, engages with our questions, in order to help us clear away the rubble of our soul. There is a purpose to this divine conversation: God is attempting to lead us to truth.
The truth of Elijah’s situation was that he still had a ministry, he still had important plans to carry out for God, and he was not alone. Seven thousand people still served in Israel who had not bowed to Baal (vv 15-18). And those confirmations reverberated in the depths of Elijah’s soul. He was still significant to God. He was still called to serve God. And he was still secure in God’s love and care.
With those revelatory confirmations that spoke to Elijah’s rawest soul-needs, the Lord commissioned him to keep going. He was to anoint a new king over Aram, a new king over Israel, and a prophet to succeed him (vv 15-16). Because God had spoken to him, Elijah surrendered to His Word; he literally T – Took hold of God’s Words in his life. The next verse shows Elijah taking hold of God’s word to him, “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha, son of Shaphat…Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him (v 19).
Not only did Elijah clear away some rubble, he asked God for His perspective, surrendered to it, and took hold of God’s Word in his life. That casting-on-God process enabled him to move from the Darkness of his Doubts to a Development of Discovery. He discovered God’s provision in his weakness. He discovered God’s strength for his journey. He discovered the ways of God, that He usually operates in the smaller things of life. He discovered the voice of God. And he discovered the truth of his reality, God’s perspective on his life, and a new calling for his future.
Moses: Briefly, I want to take you back to Moses’ encounter with God in Numbers 11. Remember, he cleared away some rubble in his soul by telling God how he honestly felt (vv 11-15). He asked the Lord for His perspective on Moses’ situation (vv 11-15). God gave him quite a few instructions about what he was to do to minimize his stress (vv 16-20) and when Moses questioned God’s omnipotence, He answered that question, too (v 23). Moses surrendered to God’s words and T – Took them to heart: “So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said…” (v 24). As a result of his obedience, God came down and spoke with him further, took the Spirit that was on him and shared it with the seventy elders who were commissioned to help Moses in judging (v 25).
My Story: As stated earlier, I struggle to find my way forward in my swamped circumstances until I can hear the directive of the Lord for me. Until His gentle whisper soothes my storm-tossed soul, I am unable to find much equilibrium. Until that defining moment comes, I will appear emotional and weak of faith. I cannot be a Blackaby, who jumps from point A to C without wrestling through my emotions in the mire of point B. Maybe I will grow in my faith to be such a giant as Blackaby, but I doubt it. The fact that Moses struggled tells me that doubts are a reality. The fact that Elijah wrestled proves that our match is not against flesh and blood. The facts of many psalmists’ angst and Jesus’ blood-stained battleground prove to me the validity of the spiritual brawl. It is needed to grow my faith and I surrender to that painful process.
But the hardest step of all for me to take is step four. This is the determining point for me as to whether I will truly cast my anxieties on God and leave them there in His presence or pick them back up again in my dungeon circumstances. I must always remember to T – Take hold of God’s Words to me. This means I must think His truths instead of meditating on my own dungeon mentalities. I must talk them into my heart instead of allowing negative self-talk. I must teach them to myself at every turn when my natural flesh wants to hunker down in my cave-like situation. And I must tend to my natural inclinations to give way to Satan’s whispers, “Did God really say?”
In response to God’s directive for me to turn my assumptions into prayers, I have embarked on a journey never-before traveled. I pulled out an empty journal sitting on my shelf and have created space for nineteen categories where I need to implement God’s Word into my life. Some of these categories include what God directs me to do in this trial, promises He has given me, biblical reasons for my trial, God’s perspectives on my reality and verses detailing God’s passion for me. Every single lesson God speaks to me pertaining to this trial, I am writing down in this little journal and praying over on a daily basis. This is my way of obeying God’s directive to take hold of His Words to me.
My desire as I pray through parts of this journal each day is that I will begin to adopt the mind of Christ for me (1 Cor. 2:16). My circumstances may not change and that is something I must address in my soul. God’s will of confirming me to the image of Christ is more about changing me than my situation. In order to get to Point C of faith, I must surrender to God’s words every day and take them into my heart whenever my soul begins to rebel in unbelief. I must overlay my doubts with the gentle whisper of God’s truth.
A Snail’s Take
As my Saturday Starbuck’s morning draws to a close, my attention is arrested by a snail crawling on a statue outside of my window. This snail is equally comfortable slithering horizontally on flat ground as he appears to be crawling vertically up the side of the statue. How is this possible? Why can the snail navigate against gravity without wobbling, slipping or falling? How is he able to move as confidently plummeting face-down a statue’s slippery, granite sides as he is slithering across a rough pavement?
As I began to research these questions, I found two interesting facts about snails that pertain to my spiritual life. They actually do not need slime to move along the ground. They propel themselves by generating a series of muscular pulses on their feet. “These waves of muscle contraction and relaxation travel along the central portion of the foot from tail to head. The waves move much faster than the snail itself, and generate enough force to push the snail forward.”
However, Janice Lai, a Stanford graduate student, discovered that the mucus does help snails stick to surfaces when traveling up a wall or across a ceiling because of its unusual properties. “It allows the animal to stick to a surface while moving, with the mucus changing its characteristics according to how firmly the snail presses on it. The slime initially acts like a glue…but when the snail’s foot presses down hard enough on the mucus, it becomes more liquid, allowing it to flow underneath the moving snail.” https://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/april/snail-slime-trails-040611.html
Just like the snail, you and I will encounter panoramas in our lives that will require us to move along smooth, horizontal plains or up and down gravity-defying circumstantial structures. The snail easily navigates both types of terrain by activating natural muscle movements and employing a sticky mucus.
At the risk of of being irreverent, I believe those muscle movements and mucus are essential for us to navigate all the circumstantial plains we encounter in our lives, all the dungeons and caves of this world. If the terrain is smooth-going, we need to activate our spiritual muscles. We do this by engaging in spiritual disciplines: learning to know our God by reading His personal words to us in the Bible, sinking deeper and deeper into His love, growing in our prayer life, and moving forward in ever-increasing faith.
But there will come a day when the terrain takes an abrupt vertical drop or climb. We cannot defy spiritual gravity by our will-induced muscles alone. On those days, we will need an extra aid, a Higher Power, the ability of Spirit-empowered activation. We will need to activate the glue-like properties of 1 Peter 5:7.
We will need to clear away the rubble in our relationship with God so that our pathway is free from heart-obstructions. We will need to engage in an all-out fighting conversation with God, asking Him the questions that rage against the faith in our hearts. We will need to surrender to His word and will for our movement forward. All of these faith-movements require us to deal with the emotions and the thoughts behind our dungeon mentalities. But then, we will need to take the final step, which requires a faith-induced vertical leap. We will need to take hold of God’s truths by the power of God’s will activating our own recalcitrant ones. Then, and only then, will we truly cast our cares on God. Then, and only then, will we climb up and out of our gravity-defying circumstances, despite insurmountable odds and the enemy’s doubt-inducing temptations.
For sure, move horizontally through your life with spiritual muscles at the ready. But know this: a vertical drop is on your horizon. You will need the sticky, glue-like properties of God’s Word to keep you safe in your dungeons and caves. John the Baptist knew this to be true, for instead of curling up and dying in his prison, he sent his disciples to the Lord to clear away his soul-rubble and ask God what His perspective was on his situation. Instead of falling down in despair, he offered his doubts to God.
My precious friend, John’s offering can be yours as well. Take the glue-like power of God’s Word to heart. Cast your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. And watch your faith slither along your horizontal planes and vertical summits as effortlessly as a slow-moving but steadily-progressing snail. Terror can become Turbo when you offer your doubts to God.