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Archive for the ‘FAITH’ Category

When one asks, Jesus always receives — always!

SOURCE:  Tolle Lege/J.C.Ryle

“At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life” by J.C. Ryle

I ask you if any man’s case could look more hopeless and desperate, than that of this penitent thief once did?
“First of all you are meant to learn from these verses Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners. This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches you that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it,—it teaches you that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.

He was a wicked man—a malefactor,—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked,—for when he first was crucified he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered. The grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death.

If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first. He began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to ‘remember him when He came into His kingdom.’ He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late, the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy. But it proved not too late at all.

The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,—spoke kindly to him,—assured him he should be with Him that day in paradise,—pardoned him completely—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins—received him graciously—justified him freely—raised him from the gates of hell,—gave him a title to glory.

Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to them as these, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that he was a strong deliverer. In the hour when his body was racked with pain, He showed that He could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, he conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now have I not a right to say, “Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God through Him?” Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say. “Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none?” Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, “By grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works,—fear not, only believe?” Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized. He belonged to no visible church. He never received the Lord’s Supper. He never did any work for Christ. He never gave money to Christ’s cause,—But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, “The youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true?” Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.*

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strengthened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life?

These things are sad indeed; but there is hope even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can cleanse you. Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Reader, are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief,—come to Christ, and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He can make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ by faith, and live.

Reader, are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ. Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ. Alas! the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour. We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fulness there is in Him.

Reader, do you ever try to do good to others? If you do, remember to tell them about Christ. Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ. Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love. Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell them of what He has done for the chief of sinners. Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time. Tell it them over and over again.

Never be tired of speaking of Christ. Say to them broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and undoubtingly, ‘Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did,—come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.'”

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–J.C. Ryle, Living or Dead? A Series of Home Truths (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1851), 258–265.

18 Questions about Faith and Mental Illness

SOURCE:  Brad Hambrick

When engaging a difficult and highly personal subject, it is better to start with good questions than a list of answers. The better our questions are, the more responsibly we will utilize the answers of which we are confidant, the more humbly we will approach areas of uncertainty, and the more we will honor one another in the process of learning.

As I’ve read, counseled, and thought about the subject of mental illness, here are some of the questions that have emerged.

The purpose of these questions is to expand our thinking about mental illness. We all bring a “theory of mental illness” to this discussion. This theory, whether we can articulate it or not, shapes the questions we ask. Exposing ourselves to important questions from other perspectives is the first step in becoming more holistic in our approach.

Don’t allow these questions to overwhelm you. All of these questions existed before you read them. Speaking them didn’t create them. Actually, an appropriate response to this list would be the generation of more questions. Take a moment to write down the additional questions you have.

  1. Is mental illness a flaw in character or chemistry? Is this the best way to frame the question? What do we lose when we fall into the trap of either-or thinking?
  2. Why do we think of genetic influences as if they negate the role of the will or personal choice? Substance abuse can have a clear genetic predisposition, but every addiction program – even those most committed to a disease model – appeal to the will as a key component to sobriety.
  3. In the modern psychological proverb, “The genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger,” where is the person? How do we best understand the interplay of predisposition (genetics), influences (environment), and the individual making choices (person)?
  4. What percent of those who struggle with “normal sorrow” are labeled as clinically depressed? What percentage of those who think their sorrow is normal are actually clinically depressed? How do we communicate effectively when the same word – depression – has both a clinical and popular usage?
  5. Would we want to eradicate all anxiety and depression if we were medically capable of doing so? What would we lose, that was good about life and relationships, if these unpleasant emotions were eradicated from human experience? Would that be heaven-on-earth or have unintended consequences that are greater than our current dilemma?
  6. Can we have a “weak” brain—one given to problematic emotions or difficulty discerning reality—and a “strong” soul—one with a deep and genuine love for God? If we say “yes” to this question in areas like intelligence (e.g., low IQ and strong faith), would there be any reason to say “no” about those things described as mental illness? C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says, “Most of the man’s psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst of this raw material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us; all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises (p. 91-92).”
  7. When do labels serve well (i.e., offering a sense of hope by breaking the sense of isolation and shame that comes with believing “my struggle is completely unique”) and when do labels serve poorly (i.e., diminishing hope by creating a sense of determinism and stigma)? How free should a counselor be to choose whether to use or not to use labels based upon these potential benefits and detriments for a given individual?
  8. What is happening when we “think” and “feel”? Are these experiences merely random neurological fireworks, the soul talking to itself using the physical organ of the brain like an internal telephone, or something else? Ed Welch in Blame It on the Brain? says, “It is as if the heart always leaves its footprints in the brain… The Bible predicts that what goes on in the heart is represented physically. But the Bible would clarify that such differences do not prove that the brain caused the thoughts and actions. It may very well be the opposite. Brain changes may be caused by these behaviors (p. 48).”
  9. Is mental illness a physical event with spiritual side effects or a spiritual event with physical side effects; do choices-emotions trigger biology or biology trigger choices-emotions?
  10. How do we best assess when the relief of medication would decrease the motivation to change versus when that same relief would increase the possibility of change? Pain can both motivate and overwhelm; is this simply about personal thresholds or should mental anguish be evaluated by a different set of criteria?
  11. Are our emotions more than the alarm system of the soul (moral) and the chemicals of our brain (biological)? Do these two categories tell us everything we need to know about emotions? Are these categories complimentary or competitive with one another?
  12. Can we have a collective disease? Is mental illness always personal or can it be cultural? Cultural changes necessarily add to or detract from the kind of stresses that influence mental illness. How should we understand this influence and when might an “epidemic” require a collective solution as much as personal choices?
  13. Why are we, culturally, more open about almost everything in our lives than we were a generation ago except mental illness? Why does this stigma / prejudice maintain its socially-accepted status when most others have been rejected? Kathryn Greene-McCreight in Darkness Is My Only Companion says, “The mentally ill are one group of handicapped people against whom it still seems to be socially acceptable to hold prejudice (p. 36).”
  14. Are we trying to medically create an idyllic sanguine personality?Is “normal” becoming too emotionally narrow? If not in the medical establishment, then are societal norms pushing people in this direction and the service-oriented medical profession trying to accommodate its well-intended, but misguided clientele? Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, M.D. in Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine say, “The consumer model to which medicine seems to be uncritically adopting pursuance is providing what the patient wants—that is, customer satisfaction in matters of health—is the measure of success (p. 26).”
  15. Does the alleviation of symptoms with medication always mean we are curing a disease? We medically treat the symptoms of many diseases and non-diseases to provide relief. This is good. Why have we allowed the debate over the disease model for mental illness to polarize the conversation about the roles of medication can play in mental health?
  16. How should we understand the effects of the Fall on the mind and brain? We know our bodies age and die. We know all of our organs are susceptible to disease and deterioration. We have “norms” for the frequency, duration, onset, and prognosis of these effects of the Fall; what are the equivalent expectations for the mind and brain?
  17. How do we understand the tension between “already” and “not yet” with regards to the health, development, and preservation of the mind? How much should we expect to be able to remedy the effects of the Fall upon the mind prior to the ultimate redemption that will occur when Christ returns (Revelation 21:4)?
  18. How much should we expect conversion and normal sanctification (spiritual maturity) to impact mental illness? Outside of medical interventions, most secular treatments for mental illness focus on healthy-thinking, healthy-choices, and healthy-relationships; so how much should Christians expect sound-doctrine, righteous-living, and biblical-community to impact their struggle with mental illness?

What do we gain from asking good questions? Humility. Humility may be more vital for this conversation than most other conversations we have. Why? Because the neurological, genetic, and medical research that have prompted many of these questions is still in its infancy. What we “know” in these areas will likely seem as outdated as a VHS tape 10 years from now.

“It is very likely that in the future, with increased research into depression and also increased understanding of the Bible’s teaching, much of the current confident certainty, which presently masquerades as biblical or medical expertise, will also look ridiculous, cruel, and even horrifying (p. 12).” David Murray in Christians Get Depressed Too

But if the Bible is timeless, do research developments in these areas matter? Yes. Not because new scientific discoveries will change what the Bible means, but those discoveries will likely change our application of the Bible. Did the discovery of epileptic seizures change the truthfulness of the Bible? No. But it did help Christians understand that these were not demonic events. It is likely, if God should tarry, that many similar discoveries will emerge in the area of mental illness.

Secret Wisdom in the Wake of Suffering

SOURCE:  Marshall Segal/Desiring God

Wisdom may be as basic a human need as air, water, or shelter.

We all need guidance and direction, and we need it today and every day.

If you don’t think you need wisdom, then you need it even more than the rest of us. We make decisions every day that require wisdom — in choosing what to do or not do, in meetings at work, in loving our spouse, in our routine at home, in parenting our children, in weathering heartache and suffering.

Job was starved for wisdom in the wake of perhaps the greatest personal tragedy ever recorded. He lost one thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys to thieves (Job 1:3, 14–15), and his servants watching over the animals were slaughtered (Job 1:15). Only moments later, fire fell from the sky and burned his seven thousand sheep, along with the servants tending them (Job 1:16). Then, all three thousand of his camels were seized in another raid, and the servants responsible for them murdered (Job 1:17). Lastly, and most tragically, Job’s own sons and daughters all were killed — seven young men, and three precious girls. A strong wind struck their house, causing the roof to collapse on them (Job 1:2, 18–19).

Can you imagine not just losing one child but ten — and all in one horrifying moment?

Job lost his ten children that one afternoon, along with almost everyone else he loved and almost everything else he owned. Then Satan even attacked his body, spreading sores from his head to his feet (Job 2:7), adding awful pain and irritation to his already unbearable grief and distress.

Few, if any, have known suffering like Job.

The book is one long, excruciating wrestling with why — an impossible mountain climb to wisdom in suffering’s dead of winter. Why all of the oxen, donkeys, sheep, and camels, Lord? Why did they have to kill my servants? Why give me the blessing of ten children — knit together delicately, delivered safely, held and raised lovingly, prized immensely — and then ripped right out of my arms? Why add insult to injury, covering my grieving, lonely body with agony? Why?

Who Sinned That Job Should Suffer?

Job says, “Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12).

He’s listened to his well-meaning, but misguided friends fumble for answers for more than twenty-five chapters now — most of their counsel and advice spent accusing him of wrongdoing, presuming the waves of suffering fell on him because of some unconfessed sin. While he did misspeak at times (Job 38:2), Job carries a confidence that God is not punishing sin, but doing something profound and mysterious in all the sorrow.

His friends play the naïve and simplistic role of Jesus’s disciples — “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). What sin did Job commit to deserve loss, death, and pain like this? With less clarity, but great faith, Job echoes what Jesus would say hundreds of years later, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). It was not because of sin that my livelihood was stolen, or my servants killed, or my sons and daughters crushed, but because God, in great love and mercy, wants the whole world to see his glory.

And in his infinite wisdom, only God knew exactly how that will happen — in Job’s life and in ours.

The Author and Fountain of Wisdom

Where is wisdom like God’s found? Job says, “It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air” (Job 28:21). We will not find the right answers in the world — in newspapers, books, schools, or with Google. The world is filled with knowledge, opinion, and passion, but is starving for wisdom. So where should we turn when we’re searching for wisdom — for answers — in the midst of disappointment, suffering, and tragedy?

“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.” (Job 28:23–27)

Only one holds the wisdom we need in the blinding, deafening wake of pain and loss. He sees everything everywhere all at once, and all the time. He weighs and wields the wind — imagine how hard it would be for Job to say those words after seeing his dead children.

God weaved the world with wisdom and runs the world with wisdom, including every drop of rain, every cool summer breeze, and every hurricane-force gust.

Fear the God of Comfort

But how do we search the infinite mind of God to find comfort for our sorrow and hope for our future?

Job goes on, “[The Lord] said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28; alsoProverbs 3:7). Are you asking Why? in the midst of terrible suffering or sudden tragedy? Draw near to the awesome God of the universe, and away from every other way people try and deal with their pain. Forsake sin and all its empty promises to heal and comfort you. Run, instead, to the Author and Perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2), as well as the loving Father and Worker in your pain (Romans 8:28).

The fear of the Lord is not terror, but awe-filled faith. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied” (Proverbs 19:23; alsoProverbs 14:27). Christians live and suffer with a fearful rest and satisfaction in God. The believers in the early church walked “in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). One kind of fear breeds clarity and comfort, rather than anxiety and confusion. Isaiah says, “Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13–14).

If God and his wisdom are our comfort and confidence, we will walk away from foolishness and evil. Satan makes sin even more tantalizing in suffering — brighter colors, louder notes, sweeter smells. But faith knows the comfort we need is waiting in the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). We do not envy sinners (Proverbs 23:17), because we know that disaster and confusion — not freedom, clarity, or healing — are the fruits of sin.

In the face of devastating news, our gut reaction and temptation might be to doubt God or run from him. But heart-wrenching wisdom and understanding are not found anywhere deep inside ourselves or somewhere far from God, but woven into his wise and sovereign love for us.

We cannot capture or completely grasp his wisdom, but we can worship him and trust him with all the painful unknowns in life.

(Should I Pray) Whatever It Takes, Lord?

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

Whatever It Takes, Lord

We want to be people who love Jesus with all our heart, who trust him fully, follow him faithfully, and bear maximum fruit for his name. We want to be filled with as much God as we can possibly hold (Ephesians 3:19). We don’t want to be lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), or waste our brief life here on earth (Ephesians 5:16).

So let’s lace our prayers with whatever it takes requests.

The Safest Prayer

Over the years, many people have told me they fear praying “whatever it takes” because God just might actually answer. And if he does, he might make them do hard things or go to hard places where they might suffer. He might take away people and things they love. He might make them miserable.

Praying whatever it takes feels dangerous.

I understand this fear. I used to feel it, too. We look at what some saints endured and we think, “No thanks.” But if we read Hebrews 11, we find that saints who seemed to pay a significant cost to fully follow God were not holy stoics who chose obedience over joy, but holy hedonists who, like Jesus, chose costly obedience for the sake of their joy (Hebrews 12:2). They considered any hardship they endured worth the cost because the joy of their reward was so great (Hebrews 11:26).

After years of praying whatever it takes, I can tell you my former fears were misplaced. I used to fear the wrong thing. It isn’t dangerous to pray this way; it’s dangerous not to pray this way.

Whatever it takes praying is a means to experiencing inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8), not misery. I’ve learned that choosing not to ask God to do whatever it takes out of fear I might lose something is like declining Thanksgiving dinner because I fear giving up my bag of Cheetos.

We are never safer than when we are in Jesus’s hands (John 10:28). And the safest way we can pray is to ask God to do whatever it takes for Jesus’s joy to be in us and for our joy to be full (John 15:11).

God Only Wants to Give You Good Gifts

I don’t want to mislead you. God’s answers to my prayers have resulted in some of the most difficult experiences of my life. But hear me: I would not trade any of those experiences for the world. They’ve only encouraged me to pray all the more because of the joy-infused hope I’ve tasted through them (Romans 5:2).

It is true that God frequently answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect. But he only does this for our joy. God is always pursuing us with goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6). Listen to how Jesus describes the Father’s disposition toward us when he encourages us to pray:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

The Father has no desire at all to give us misery when we ask for joy (Matthew 7:9–10).

Don’t Be Afraid to Pray, “Whatever It Takes, Lord”

So don’t be afraid to pray, “Whatever it takes, Lord.”

All we are doing is asking our Father for what will make us and others most happy (Luke 11:13;Matthew 13:44; Ephesians 1:17–18; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 4:3). This will not endanger our joy, but result in more of it (John 15:11; Psalm 16:11).

Any suspicion we have that God will make us miserable in answer to our earnest prayers for more of him is a demonic deception. Satan is casting a lying light on Scripture and our experience, playing on our fears, so that he can cheat us out of the joy God wants to give us. We must not let our unbelieving fears determine the nature of our prayers.

That’s why it’s actually more dangerous not to pray such prayers. We live in a cosmic war zone, opposed by spiritual forces of evil far beyond our strength (Ephesians 6:12). We really need God to do whatever it takes to defeat them. And he chooses to do so often through our prayers (Romans 15:18;Philippians 1:19).

So let’s boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and ask for as much of it as we can get, whatever it takes. For it is asking the One we love most to give us what we need most that will make us most happy. We should not fear, for there is no safer prayer.

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5 Things to Do When God Seems Distant

SOURCE:  Rebecca Rene Jones/Relevant Magazine

A few ways to wait well.

That June, I stood at the podium draped in black cap and gown. I was 18, my tassel dancing as I lifted lips to the mic and delivered a valedictory address full of all the right bluster: Drive slow and enjoy the brave journey. Believe in your beauty. Live out loud.

Two months later, in August, I moved into my freshman dorm. Three days in, my dad died.

After his funeral, I unplugged my mini-fridge. I hiked across campus to the registrar’s office, surrendered my meal card, un-enrolled. I stripped my mattress clean of my new sheet set and hugged my roommates an awkward goodbye. On the ride home, I began what would flower into months of questioning all of it: my dreams, my design, my direction. I balled my fist, banged hard on heaven’s screen door, and here’s the hard part: For a while, God kept quiet.

If you, too, find yourself here, on this same front porch, famished for even the faintest nudge in the right direction—sit down. Here’s what I know about waiting when God feels distant.

Know That What You’re Experiencing Is Normal

It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. “The law of Undulation,” he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, “undulation” implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet “communications of His presence” and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that’s critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.

Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.

Embrace Boring Things

Today’s temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.

But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don’t yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).

Carve out quiet places to remember what you’re hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It’d be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I’ll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.

Tell God What You Think

It’s OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn’t exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven’t you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we’d hoped?

On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God’s good character. They’re sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.

Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we’re handed crisp itineraries.

Don’t Demand Burning Bushes

God can use pyrotechnics, of course, but our brushes with Him aren’t always so theatrical. When we knock, ask and seek, sometimes He doesn’t match our decibel level.

God honors and often uplifts the quietly faithful, and what’s more: He often comes in the quiet. When God tells Elijah to wait before Him on the mountaintop, we witness something remarkable: God doesn’t show up where we think He’d appear. He’s not in the snapping windstorm, or the earthquake or the blaze. Elijah can’t find God’s voice in any of them. Then comes a gentle whisper, and it is so divinely flooded that Elijah covers his face with his cloak.

What if God intends to meet us precisely in the places we’d least imagine?

“Help me overcome my ‘Misplaced IF!'” ~Mark 9:24

SOURCE:  Charles Spurgeon/Reformed Quotes

Is your “if” in the wrong place?

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe.”—Mark 9:23.

Certain man had a demoniac son, who was afflicted with a dumb spirit. The father, having seen the futility of the endeavours of the disciples to heal his child, had little or no faith in Christ, and therefore, when he was bidden to bring his son to Him, he said to Jesus, “If Thou cast do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.”

Now there was an “if” in the question, but the poor trembling father had put the “if” in the wrong place: Jesus Christ, therefore, without commanding him to retract the “if,” kindly puts it in its legitimate position. “Nay, verily,” He seemed to say, “there should be no ‘if’ about My power, nor concerning My willingness, the ‘if’ lies somewhere else.” “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” The man’s trust was strengthened, he offered a humble prayer for an increase of faith, and instantly Jesus spoke the word, and the devil was cast out, with an injunction never to return.

There is a lesson here which we need to learn.

We, like this man, often see that there is an “if” somewhere, but we are perpetually blundering by putting it in the wrong place. “If” Jesus can help me—”if” He can give me grace to overcome temptation—”if” He can give me pardon—”if” He can make me successful?

Nay, “if” you can believe, He both can and will. You have misplaced your “if.”

If you can confidently trust, even as all things are possible to Christ, so shall all things be possible to you. Faith standeth in God’s power, and is robed in God’s majesty; it weareth the royal apparel, and rideth on the King’s horse, for it is the grace which the King delighteth to honour. Girding itself with the glorious might of the all-working Spirit, it becomes, in the omnipotence of God, mighty to do, to dare, and to suffer. All things, without limit, are possible to him that believeth. My soul, canst thou believe thy Lord to-night?

~ Charles Spurgeon

Anxiety: UNDER PRESSURE

SOURCE: Cameron Lawrence/InTouch Ministries

We might be people of faith, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to anxiety.

It’s a weekday morning, and the coffee shop fills quickly, a line snaking around tables from the counter to the door. The machines answer back to their handlers—hissing steam, grinding beans—in a kind of waking song. I watch patrons sip from the day’s first cup, souls once again easing into their bodies.

And yet, I am drinking decaf—an unpardonable sin, I realize—just as I have for a decade. Not as a demonstration of dietary conviction or some obscure religious observance, but because of how years ago caffeine became a destructive force in my life. No, let me try again: I gave up caffeine because it revealed a destructive force already latent within me—a propensity toward anxiety of the sort that overtakes the mind.

It started in the weeks leading up to my wedding and then intensified after the honeymoon. Beneath my usual calm demeanor, irrational thoughts were inexplicably taking over my interior life. It was as if I had been walking through the familiar landscape of my existence, when suddenly I discovered a solitary door in the middle of an open field. I walked through, and at first nothing seemed different. But then I sensed them—specters creeping among the tall grasses, rustling the high branches. The world of my mind had become populated with shadows of my hidden fears. I looked for an exit, but the door had disappeared.

I prayed. I read the Bible. I went to church and talked with my pastors. Still, the anxiety persisted, affecting my work, relationships, and faith in God.

After several months of this, my wife had an idea. “Why not try giving up caffeine?” I’d been drinking a lot of coffee, and it hadn’t occurred to me that the daily intake might be exacerbating my condition. As a solution, it seemed too simple, too small to matter. But what did I have to lose?

I cut out caffeine, and within a week something was different. My mind was becoming clearer. After two weeks, thought patterns that had possessed me were weakening. In a few months, I felt more myself than I had in a long, long time. Since then, I can’t say I’ve ever been quite the same, having by grace passed through terror and found what I didn’t know lived in me. In truth, it lives in me still, even if not in the same ways. I feel anxiety flare up from time to time, trying to intrude. Trying to push me out of my own life. And what I’ve learned is that I’m not alone.

Just the other day, I was having dinner with a friend, when he confessed that he’d been suffering from panic attacks. Work had been tough—tougher than ever—but the anxiety he was experiencing transcended typical job stress. This easy-going, happy guy had found himself crippled by fear that had come with a suddenness and severity that left him sobbing in the morning’s wee hours. Medication has been helping, but the fear is still there, lurking. And a few months ago, I was on a retreat with some fellow writers, only to discover that due to all manner of hardships, several of the group were taking pills of their own.

No, this isn’t about coffee. This isn’t about caffeine or whether I think you should consume it. This is about the simultaneous strength and fragility of the human mind, and how powerful it is in shaping our lives for better or worse. This is about the problem of anxiety we each face in our own way. This is a conversation about faith.

Yet I hesitate to write that last line, because far too many Christians have abused their brothers and sisters struggling with anxiety. “Just have more faith,” people say, not comprehending the complexity of fear. Faith is more than the mental assent to a tidy system of beliefs. It requires more than a list of affirmations we repeat to ourselves, as if mantras can overcome our deepest existential crises. These fears, these anxieties, often lurk beneath the veneers of our theological systems and churchly behavior. We can’t always identify them, but they’re shaping our lives, guiding our reactions and decisions, whether we realize it or not.

Faith is an encounter—sometimes with a presence, and sometimes with an absence. Underneath all our apprehensions is one fundamental fear: that there is no God, or that if there is one, He isn’t good—despite our biblical training or the inspiring testimonies we’ve heard. Despite our own mysterious experiences, even if intermittent, of Love Himself. Deep down, we are often still afraid. So what to do?

Praying, reading Scripture, confessing sin, attending services, speaking with professionals—and yes, even taking medication—can all be redemptive. And we should submit ourselves to wise counsel, whether pastoral or medical. But in the end, the ultimate solution must be an encounter with God Himself, an ongoing communion we struggle toward—not through works that any man should boast, but through a humble, repentant heart.

This is how we open our hearts and minds to Him: We call out from within our desperation, and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and wait for Him, who in due time will come shining in—liberating our plains and forests, rivers and oceans, of every haunting ghost.

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