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Posts tagged ‘disillusionment’

Raw Praying: A Prayer for the Spiritually Disconnected and Distressed

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. (Jer. 20:7) Why did I come out from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame? (Jer. 20:18)

Gracious Father, this is some pretty raw praying by one of your called and beloved prophets. Jeremiah’s lament makes me thankful today for the freedom you give us to bring our unfiltered and unfettered feelings to you. If we don’t bring our painful emotions to you, we will take them somewhere. Somebody besides ourselves will feel the brunt of our anguish and anger, disconnect and disillusionment.

Father, only you have the big enough heart and broad enough shoulders to walk with us through our seasons of chaos and confusion. I praise you for your constant, compassionate welcome. If you’re not put off by Jeremiah’s struggle, surely you will take on ours.

It’s comforting to know that the same prophet who assured others of your gracious promise and good plan—a plan for prosperity, not harm (Jer. 29:11); the same prophet who gave us a vision of the glory and the grace of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34); this same prophet, like us, experienced seasons in which he felt deceived, betrayed, and abandoned—even regretting the day he was born. We’re all weak and broken. We all need the gospel of your grace, every single day.

This gives me courage as I seek to steward my own feelings. But today it gives me compassion as I pray for a few friends who are feeling exactly what Jeremiah felt. For the friend I sat with yesterday who’s feeling set up, chewed up, and spit out by you, bring the gospel to bear. She loves you, but she feels abandoned by you. She knows better, but she feels bitter. My instinct is to “fix her,” but the way of the gospel is to listen and love before launching. Give me patience and kindness as I trust you to restore her to gospel sanity.

For my friend whose spiritual melancholia is heading to an even darker place, Father, give me wisdom. What part of his struggle is purely physical? What’s, to some degree, demonic? What’s just plane ole’ pity party? I can’t tell, but I trust you to love him through me and to give me the grace I need to walk with him. Help me, Father, and heal my friends. Meet them as you met Jeremiah. So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ strong and loving name.

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When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The reason there was a “Palm Sunday” was because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17–18). It was perhaps the most powerful, hope-giving miracle Jesus ever performed during his pre-cross ministry; the capstone sign of who he was (John 5:21–25).

That’s why the Apostle John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6).

The word “so” connecting those two sentences is stunning. The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.


“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”

Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul — the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.

But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?

And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Martha hurried out.

When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus laid his hand on her head.

He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live (John 5:25).

Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished (Luke 12:50).

But Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.

When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”

His living words revived her hope. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.

He replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but as he spoke it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:54). No one ever spoke like this man (John 7:46).

She answered, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”


We know how this story from John chapter eleven ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.

And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child’s deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18).

Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.

So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?”


Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of the forthcoming book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith (April 30, 2013)

“I’ve Got A Hole Inside Me”

Editors Note:  The following article is about the topic of  homosexuality.  In reality, what the author writes about could pertain to any life-controlling problem any of us is affected by.  Regardless of whether your life struggle is with homosexuality or not, read this article keeping your particular struggle in mind and know that your Heavenly Father  relates to you in the same way that this author experienced.

SOURCE:  Anonymous/Discipleship Journal

The reasons people develop a sexual attraction to persons of the same sex are varied and complex. One thing is certain: becoming a Christian does not automatically take away those wrong desires. Many, many homosexuals are able to change their orientation with the help of caring ministries and God’s power. But the battle is seldom easy.

A Christian man wrote the following testimony to read at his church’s support group. You may disagree with some of his perceptions. Nevertheless, we hope it will help you understand and develop compassion for those who struggle with homosexuality.

I’ve got a hole inside me. I’m not sure where it is, but I know it’s there. It’s deep, wide, and ugly, and if I don’t find ways to let God heal or fill it, it will continue to grow until I am all hole and no me.

My father helped dig the hole. He was a minister who loved his congregation and God more than his family. He wasn’t there for me. Because of his relationship with his father, he probably wouldn’t have known how to love me even if he had been there.

My mother helped dig the hole. She was alone while my father ministered, and I was cast in the role of her best friend, always there to keep her company.

Once when she travelled with my father, I was sexually abused by the oldest son of the family with whom I was staying. I tried to tell my parents, but I was five and I didn’t have the words. I dug the hole deeper. I was bad and dirty because I had allowed the older boy to touch me.

In early grade school, I knew I was different. I followed boys I admired home just to find out where they lived. In school I couldn’t look at them enough. If only, I thought. If only I could be like them in every way, maybe … maybe I would be whole instead of a hole.

I learned I could check out these boys in the school washrooms. Then in sixth grade, I discovered that in the downtown washrooms there were curious men like me. I thought I had come home.

I didn’t fit with the kids who went to church. I wasn’t concerned about whether it was wrong to go to movies. I wanted to know why God didn’t save me from my differentness and my desires. I tried to explain myself to our assistant pastor, and he said I had to resist sin or else. My hole got bigger.

As a teen, the hole was filled with pain. I knew I was a wretched sinner, and I had to keep up the appearance of being a nice person. I landscaped my deep hole—tall trees, low shrubs, even a weeping willow. Everyone loves weeping willows. I spent two semesters at a Christian college majoring in Bible, but I couldn’t keep up the pretense.

In desperation, I quit school, ended a long-term relationship with a male friend, and started attending a new church. There I heard about healing for homosexuals. I got busy in the local body of believers, but all my activity was like a shovel or two of dirt into my bottomless pit.

I started to date women—more shovels into my crater. Eventually I met a woman I thought I could commit to. I told her my homosexual behavior was in the past. On one level I thought I was being honest. Now, I know that, on a deeper level, I was aware of the deception.

I wanted to believe I could replace a bad habit with a good one. Perhaps marriage would be God’s ordained lid to fit over my chasm of pain. It was … for a while.

But my emptiness was too great. I started visiting forest preserves where I could meet others who were in pain. I would feel temporarily refreshed after these sexual encounters, but I knew they were wrong. When I tried to stop, the pain would become too much.

One day a forest ranger caught me and called the police. I was arrested for indecent exposure. I knew I had to deal with my problem: I had a compulsive habit.

I started attending Sexual Addicts Anonymous and Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers, all held in Bible-believing churches and attended by men like me who had grown up naming Jesus as Lord. I found a group of married Christian men whom I could talk with, pray with, and depend on, because we were all struggling.

I was surrounded by people who were incredibly gifted pray-ers. They made me accountable. They allowed me to call them night after night when I traveled for business.

All of their efforts helped to make my problem … worse!

I couldn’t stand it. Everyone else was getting it together with God, and I was actually going backwards. God was not supposed to work that way. I thought He had promised to make it all better.

What He really promised, of course, was that He would be with me. Big help that was! I wanted Him to fix me. The least He could do was fill up my horrible pit, right now! I had prayed, hadn’t I? He was the Mighty One, wasn’t He?

I felt hopeless, deserted, and alone. Something was wrong here. I hadn’t prayed right. I hadn’t done morning devotions correctly or long enough or early enough.

The only thing that comforted me was the psalms. David was a man in pain, and I was too. He cried as I did: “God, where are You?” There was no hope. I had tried everything I could think of. All the landscaping around the hole was uprooted and I stood staring down into the crater.

“God, where are You?” I cried. This time, instead of a hollow echo over my hole, I thought I heard Him answer, “Wait.” No! I couldn’t do that. I had to get healing. I had books to read on healing the homosexual. I had intense spiritual people to pray me out of this. But Jesus said, “Wait. I will be your good Shepherd, but you have to wait on Me. And I want you to learn to listen for My voice while you wait. Do you think you can handle this? It will not be easy.”

Wait! Learn to listen! I had exhausted all the alternatives. I had to do what God asked.

I’m gaining confidence in my Shepherd as I learn to wait. I’m learning to recognize His voice. At times, I feel His love wash over me. I’ve started to journal our conversations. I write what I think He is saying. Then I write my responses. I say, “Thank you, Lord.” He answers, “You’re welcome, special man.” Sometimes I think I will never stop crying, but He is crying with me.

Jesus never said He would just ZAP! and my hole would be filled, leaving the ground of my being unmarked. He said He would always be there for me. I am learning to wait on Him.

I’ve learned to see Him on the Cross. Sometimes when I ask for forgiveness, I see my sin go into Him as if it were lightning. Sometimes I see Him cutting the connections I’ve made in past unhealthy, sinful relationships. I see those bonds disappearing into the slash in His side.

My prayer: Thank You, Father, that You are using the pain in my life to teach me to stand before Your Cross and wait and listen. Thank You for my tears and Yours, which are just beginning to fill my crater. I’m vulnerable and scarred. You are the Master Landscaper who can take my internal disaster and create in me a garden for Your use, in Your time.

—Anonymous

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The author and his wife have been married for eleven years and are best friends. Although their relationship is platonic, they support and care for one another, openly discussing their feelings and struggles.

Passages Of Faith: Confusion, Doubt, Disillusionment, Trust

When life disappoints us and nothing is turning out the way we’d planned, our faith has a chance to grow up.

SOURCE:   Paula Rinehart/Discipleship Journal

For the first time in my life I was up against a situation over which I had no control. No amount of effort could change the outcome. No seminar or book could help. Even the doctors, those white-coated wonders, just shook their heads and said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Rinehart, these things just take their own course. There’s not much we can do.”

Perhaps my feeling of uncertainty was magnified by the days I lay in bed, waiting to see if I could keep this small life growing inside of me. Maybe I just had too much time to think. But when I eventually miscarried, I felt as if I had lost more than a baby. The awareness that my life was turning out much differently than I’d ever imagined thrust me outside the protective bubble I’d been living in for years.

That small death was the first of a series of stinging losses in my mid-thirties. Within a few months my parents’ marriage dissolved, we found that our son had significant learning disabilities, and the book I was writing bit the dust. Like so many people in their thirties, I had discovered that I was not the one directing the traffic of my life. I was not in control. That clear-eyed awakening was frightening.

Do you remember how you felt as a child when someone would take you by the arms and swing you round and round until you begged them to stop? Afterward, you’d lie on the ground gasping for breath, then stagger forth too dizzy to see straight. That’s the way I felt—shaken, off-balance, trying desperately to regain my footing—when I was blindsided by unexpected circumstances.

Almost nothing in my life seemed sure and certain anymore. Inside I was a bundle of questions and doubts. I, who had begun this spiritual journey on the trumpet call, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” began to edge toward skepticism. “Really?” I wanted to say. How was it that the abundant life that promised so much more—more intimacy, more impact, more satisfaction—was mysteriously turning out to be less? How, I wondered, had this wonderful plan come to include marriages beyond repair or saying goodbye to a gaunt little boy born with his eyes sealed shut?

Somewhere during this time I picked up Gail Sheehy’s book Passages, which explores the stages of adult development. I found myself intrigued with the idea that being an adult wasn’t a matter of climbing some steep hill and then sitting on the top waiting passively for the end. Each “passage” of adulthood is marked by particular crises or turning points that hold the potential for new growth. Could it be, I wondered, that growing up spiritually is patterned in passages or phases, too? Maybe I had come to a critical juncture and I didn’t know it. Maybe real spiritual growth was more like a story of a pilgrim on his way toward home. If so, periods of doubt and disappointment were part of that process.

I began to see the lives of New Testament men and women in a new light. For the first time they seemed like real people. In their stories lay the outline of a basic cycle of spiritual passages that moved in ever-deepening spirals from illusion to disappointment to real hope. Here were people a lot like myself—incomplete, not yet-fixed, with their own set of questions and doubts. What bumbling failures they were at times, yet they continued to follow Jesus.

As I found my story among their stories, I dared to wonder if my own disillusionment would dissolve into a different and deeper trust than I had ever known. But first I needed to look back at the beginning of my faith-journey.

A Faith That Insists

If you asked me for a word to describe the most rudimentary form of faith, I would choose predictability. Early faith hopes against hope that God will move in our lives in predictable ways. We seem to think God’s promises are connected by an invisible string to the dreams and expectations in our own minds. “If I do this then God will  . . .”

Faith, at this point, is a manageable belief system where our faithfulness or obedience obligates God to bring about our desires. At its heart, it’s a faith that insists.

The disciples started out with this kind of faith. Jesus told them over and over that He must suffer and die, and if they followed Him they would encounter their own measure of the same. But Christ’s words fell outside the boundaries of the disciples’ expectations and understanding. When Jesus was crucified, the disciples were stunned—unprepared to have life turned on its head.

I believe this demand for certainty, for predictability, is where faith starts for all of us. I’ve spent the bulk of my life as a Christian in this passage of “predictable faith.” Some part of me has longed to believe that faith is like a vending machine—you put your coins in at the top and the drink rolls out below. I was afraid to entertain the reality of trusting a God who was beyond my control, because it left me feeling too unsure, unsafe.

Although faith of this sort may suffice for a time, it cannot bear the full weight of life. It is a subtle form of trying to conform God to our own image of Him.

One of my husband’s seminary professors used to begin his fall semester freshman class with this question: “Students, I have one question for you. What is God like?” His students would get out their pencils, hem and haw, and wait for the professor to dispense the prescribed answer. But he outwaited them. In desperation, one student after another would attempt to fill the awkward pause. “God is love, God is just, God is like this, God is like that.” The professor would just sit there, unimpressed.

Finally, after they had exhausted everything they knew or had ever heard about what God was like, He would lean over and say, “Men and women, let me tell you something. God is not like anything. He is His own standard. And the tragedy is that you are going to build your little theological boxes around what you think God is like. Someday when you really need Him, you’re going to race to your box and open the lid, and He won’t be in there.”

God does not allow us to continue to reduce Him to a size and shape we can manage. He moves in our lives in ways that burst our categories and overwhelm our finiteness. When we realize He’s bigger than anything we can get our minds around, we can begin to relax and trust Him.

Ironically, the crisis of disillusionment is what shakes our preconceived notions and beckons us to deeper faith.

Disillusionment

The disappointment that leads to this second passage of faith is usually quite unexpected. To think that faith would turn to disappointment appears contradictory, as though God were defeating His own purposes. Yet, we rarely see the extent of our expectations until, for one reason or another, they are not fulfilled.

At this point, many reactions are possible. Confusion and doubt are two of the most common ones. As John the Baptist sat in prison toward the end of his life—his disciples disbanded and his future uncertain—he felt the need to send a friend to question Jesus. “Are you truly the Christ, the One we’ve been waiting for?” Christ assured him that He was. And He did not rebuke him for needing that reassurance.

When the rest of the disciples watched their dreams die with Jesus’ death, they began to fade into the surrounding landscape. No doubt they were filled with a sense of failure and defeat. Peter and John must have returned to fishing. You can almost hear them asking each other, “What now? Where do we go from here?”

For some, disillusionment leads to cynicism and apathy, a kind of dead-in-the road state, as though someone has let the air out of your tires. But it doesn’t have to be that way. What feels like the end of faith actually holds the potential for its true beginning. When we let go of our determination to make God conform in safe, predictable ways, it is possible to receive something better in its place.

One of disappointment’s hidden benefits is that it moves you out of your head— your cognitive understanding—into some of the messy, broken places in your heart.

I remember one summer when I felt defeated. The Bible became like a dead book to me. I went for weeks with almost no thought of prayer. And then one morning I woke up and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Paula, you’re an angry woman.”

You would have to grow up in the South to understand how repugnant such an idea was to me. It was the opposite of the “good girl” image I had of myself. Anger? Nice girls don’t get angry.

Yet the moment I admitted the truth, a strange thing happened. I sensed God almost asking my permission, as it were, to be invited into the muck and mire of my struggle. Would I let Him lead me into some of the sealed-off compartments of my heart? Not the polished, presentable places, but the rooms where unacknowledged grief and fear and bitterness had been incubating for years. There were parts of me, He seemed to insist, that had yet to hear the gospel.

This was my first gut-level identification with those words of David I had memorized years before: “If I make my bed in the depths, you are there  . . . even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Ps. 139:3, Ps. 139:10). I was amazed to think that God would not turn away from me when I didn’t even want to be with myself—when I was so inclined to turn my back on Him. I had not realized, on a deeper, more emotional level, that He cared that much.

Disillusionment showed me how thin my loyalties were. I was not the “good girl who God was lucky to have on His team. And God was much different from I had thought. I found He was both more exacting and more merciful than I could imagine. It’s precisely because God transcends my understanding—and my control—that I can dare to trust Him.

A True Hope

Recently, a friend asked me, “How is faith that comes on the far side of disappointment better than faith that precedes it?” She was saying, “Tell me how loss adds up to gain and how your relationship with God is different.”

Hmmm  . . . I thought. How can I put this into words that make sense? In my early Christian life, answers came quickly for me. I saw faith as a set of propositions to be defended, a body of knowledge to learn and pass on, a storehouse of sure answers.

But the faith that emerges out of broken dreams is different and harder to describe. There is room for mystery—for not knowing all the answers. The passage of faith that follows disillusionment begins when there is no experiential reason to believe. It is born in the fearlessness that comes when you’ve already lost a good portion of what you were so afraid of losing in the first place.

Somehow, you know God is there in the midst of this passage—in ways you didn’t expect. He makes His presence known by the pain of His seeming absence. He doesn’t necessarily change the circumstances; He gives you the courage to face and move through them.

In one of his later plays, T.S. Eliot describes faith on the far side of disappointment as a “kind of faith that issues from despair. The destination cannot be described; you will know very little until you get there; you will journey blind. But the way leads toward possession of what you have sought for in the wrong place.” Journeying blind is perhaps another way of reminding us that we really do walk by faith, not by sight.

I am convinced that Peter’s courage in the book of Acts is the fruit of having waded through a heaping measure of failure and disappointment. There wasn’t much some angry synagogue official could tell him about himself that he didn’t already know. Without Jesus he was just another visionary, a common coward. And Christ who, by all rights, should have left him fishing by the sea of Galilee not only welcomed his return, He entrusted him with the care of His people.

Faith that withstands its own demise is free of the need to control life. It moves beyond the safe confines of predictability to a place where we begin to enjoy a relationship with a Person—a relationship that is often elliptical, full of ebb and flow, desert and garden.

In his book on prayer, Richard Foster says that one of the greatest things he learned in his own spiritual journey was “the intimate and ultimate awareness that I could not manage God. God refused to jump when I said, ‘Jump!’ Neither by theological acumen nor technique could I conquer God. God was, in fact, to conquer me.” The focus of our faith shifts from discovering ways to get a fix on God to experiencing the reality that He is the One who has hold of us.

That inner shift of surrender must happen over and over throughout our lives, in ever-deepening ways.

The process of letting go of learning to trust—is never a small or inconsequential thing. As Henri Nonwen once said, “[This] is the great conversion in our life: to recognize and believe that the many unexpected events are not just disturbing interruptions of our projects, but the way in which God molds our hearts and prepares us for his return.”

Somehow it helps me to realize—when my life takes unforeseen turns—that it’s all part of the process. There are many passages to a deepening faith, and I’m just smack in the middle of another one. In the meantime, I catch glimpses of God. But one day I will see Him with unhindered gaze and completed understanding. According to the Apostle John, in that Day “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

Some days I can hardly wait.

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