Asking God Questions Doesn’t Make You Weak

My last blog dealt with the hard truth about God’s occasional silence and apparent disengagement in some of the darkest times of life.  While many replied with their appreciation for letting them know they were not alone in their frustration in some vain attempt to discern the mysterious ways in which God operates, some voiced concerns that I had lost my religion or was turning from the faith.  This is one of the problems I have with the modern evangelical approach, the raised-brow responses because some don’t walk around humming Oceans all day long.

If you are a serious student of the Bible, digging deeper than just jotting down notes from the weekend sermon, you should be able to name a few men we consider Biblical heroes who, at some time in their journey, questioned God.  For those who get their religion from television, let me name them for you.  You will see that when I ask God questions to which I know I will not receive answers, I am in good company.

We all know about Job, described as the most holy man on earth in his time.  Job never neglected God and offered sacrifices for his family so that God would favor and forgive them.  And yet God allowed every one of his children to perish as a test of faith.  Job had questions in the midst of his trials.  His ultimate response to God, “It would have been better if I had not been born“.  I don’t hear him singing Good Good Father in that moment.

David, described as a man after God’s own heart, was forced to flee for his life and live in desert caves.  He had been told he was the anointed one to succeed Saul, but wondered if he would live long enough to see it come to pass.  His response, “Why have you abandoned me?  Why have you hidden your face from me?”  Of course God was with him, but David didn’t sense it-he could only respond to the reality of the eminent danger he was facing at the moment.  No Relentless Love playing in the background of this scene.

Jonah ran from God because he didn’t want to be the prophet to tell Nineveh they were going to die for their wicked ways.  After coming to his senses and being regurgitated onto a beach along with the entire stomach contents he had lived in for three days, he obeyed and prophesied to Nineveh, only to see God have compassion and change his mind.  Jonah felt he had been tricked and used and that his credibility as a prophet was now tarnished.  His response, “I’m so angry I wish I were dead“.

Elijah was chased into the desert by Jezebel who wanted him dead.  Elijah, who would live to see God do amazing things through him ended up in the desert under a tree, wondering why he was being so severely tested after he had been nothing but obedient.  His response, “I’ve had enough-I give up God, just take my life.”  I don’t think he was sensing the double portion in the desert.

Joseph, my namesake, was sold into slavery by his own brothers.  He ended up a servant in Potiphar’s estate.  When Potiphar’s adulterous wife threw herself at Joseph and begged him to give it to her good, Joseph literally fled the devil and ran from temptation only to be falsely accused of rape and ended up in prison.  A prisoner for 13 years when he had done nothing wrong.  I’m sure Chain Breaker was not the first song on his lips.

And then there is Jesus, God’s only Son, perfect and blameless, sent to fulfill a mission no one else would ever be qualified to fulfill.  And yet, He sweat drops of blood in Gethsemane asking God to relieve him from his duties.  His ultimate response, hanging from the cross, our Lord and Savior, our eternal hope, our namesake, asked his Father, “Where are you?  Why have you forgotten about me and left me alone?” 

Like I stated, I am in good company!

While it’s true that believers should be role models for faithful living, the life of living from mountaintop to mountaintop that is portrayed by several leaders, with anything less being a sign of something in our spiritual lives that has gone awry, is quite simply a mischaracterization and gross misinterpretation of the Christian life.  In many ways being and remaining Christian is a much tougher road than that of a nonbeliever. We are promised that if we want God’s best, we will have troubles, we will be sorely tested and challenged, we will be refined by fire itself and some will have their lives turned upside down.  Who in their sanity would ever truly welcome that kind of a life?  The beloved 23rd Psalm states that we will walk through, not over and not around, the valley of shadows and death.  It also makes no mention of how many times we will find ourselves there or how long we will be forced to journey through it each time.  If someone in their raw transparency asks the tough questions of God when they are in their own valley, they should not be looked down upon as being weak-they should not have people sending them the latest videos of salvation sermons du jour or be added to the local prayer chains over their backslidden status.

God designed us all as free moral agents so that we would choose to love and worship him.  That comes with the compulsion to ask God questions we want answered, even knowing we may never ever see the purpose or the good that results from being allowed to face difficult life-changing situations.  Sometimes when we look back we can connect the dots, sometimes their is no clear connection or pattern and we just have to carry on.  That doesn’t make us bad or weak or even ineffective-it makes us wholly real!  I have already resigned myself to the fact that I won’t know the answers to my questions until the day comes when the answers will no longer be important.  Until then, I hope to let people know it’s okay to have serious questions.  And yes, lest someone beat me to it, all the examples of men I cited above eventually came to their spiritual senses and were restored, but not before their words and doubts were recorded for us.  Now if they were all such bold men, why do you think the scribes of the Bible were inspired to include their times of questioning?  Something to ponder.

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When God Simply Doesn’t Answer…

It’s 2:00 AM any day of the week.  I should be strolling the streets of Dreamsville like most normal people, but I am wide awake.  Sleep eludes me once again like the betrayal of a good friend, leaving me with nothing but night haunts-questions with no answers, situations with no solutions.  I should be accustomed to it by now-it’s been going on so long, but each night brings new frustrations of its own as the only peace to be found is within sleep that won’t come.

I have always attempted to write from a transparent perspective, the emotions and feelings still raw from the latest battle.  But with each post I strive to leave the reader with hope, with words of empowerment and encouragement so they can use my experiences as added weapons against the forces that seek to destroy or at least cripple the believer.  My writings aren’t flowery clichés suitable for inspirational greeting cards.  They are honest, because regardless of the façade we put on for the world to see, God knows the heart and sees the fears and doubt.  I want my readers to know it’s natural and okay to have questions in the midst of fierce battles.  Anyone who would question our faith when we are being sorely tested, is not being honest and true to the process and workings that are allowed for our growth.  But that said, there are those times, those long dry seasons which seem like an eternity, when our prayers go unanswered, our cries fall silent and our petitions are denied.  Every Christian has or will go through these agonizing seasons-mine is going into its fifth year.

There seems to be an unending string of Biblical promises that encourage us to boldly approach God with our needs-“ask and it shall be give, seek and you will find“, or “ask anything in my name and it will be done“, or ” seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will also be added“, or “if you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can command mountains to be moved into seas“, and on and on.  As believers, we are compelled to accept God’s words as Gospel, sealed promises available to all who ask, and for the most part we do believe.  What other recourse would we have accept to believe.  And yet all too often, we seek God in desperate situations and plead for his involvement only to be met with the silence of the universe.  It’s not as if we are only petitioning God for material things like more income, bigger homes, favorable investment returns.  No, many of us seek God for much more important and often intangible answers.  We ask that he help save a failing business and the jobs of our employees but receive no response and watch the business be ripped from our grasp.  We beg God in earnest to help heal broken marriages and prevent families from being torn apart, only to end up in family court filing for a divorce we didn’t want because God seemed deaf to our cries.  We plead and fast in hopes that he will come to the rescue of seriously sick family members, knowing from stories left for us in scripture of his miraculous power to heal, only to say our earthly goodbyes to departed loved ones who left us seemingly prematurely.  We agonize over the eternal salvation of family members who never attend church services with us because they just can’t believe.  And many of us travel this life alone, scarred from the wounds of past relationships, but willing to expose ourselves to the vulnerability required to love again, but finding it to be as elusive as the sleep we chase.  Sometimes, God simply doesn’t answer us.

How I wish I could tell people how to navigate these dark roads of life in a way that gives more confidence, but I don’t have those neatly packed 3 step solutions.  Oh, many others will tell us exactly what we are doing wrong.  We don’t have “enough” faith.  Or we aren’t using the right combination of religious words or phrasing to get God’s attention.  Or, we must have some secret sin hidden in our life that makes our prayers ineffective-didn’t sow some financial seed offering to assure our blessings like the days of old before Martin Luther, or, we didn’t use the exact phrase “In Jesus name”.  As silly as these suggestions may appear on the surface, we can’t help but search for some validity in them as we compare our life situations to those in our circle who breeze through life on a spiritual high seemingly untouched by the challenges that are our closest friends.  Surely, we are doing something wrong, aren’t we?

The danger of human intellectual honesty is that it opens the door that leads from the room of doubt into the halls of unbelief, the opening our enemy is waiting for.  Maybe God doesn’t really love us all the same and wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine just to save the one. Maybe we don’t deserve the promises recorded in scripture because God knows all the sins of our past better than anyone.  Or worse, maybe none of it is real.  Just typing those words causes my heart to skip a beat.  God forgive me.  As difficult and trying as life’s trials and as discouraging to feel our cries fall short of his ears, the one thing worse is the thought that there is no God, no Son, no Spirit and that it’s a two-thousand year old hoax.  As Paul wrote, if there is no real eternity or hope, what a miserable existence we have.  We can’t allow the validity of the Gospel to be hijacked by the unreliability of our feelings and skewed perspectives when we are in storms that never end and which limit our spiritual vision to earthly and human limitations.  We are not the first to question God’s silence when we need him the most-David felt it-Joseph went through it, we all know Job’s story, even Jesus experienced God’s deafening silence.  It doesn’t make me feel better about these past few years-if anything, knowing and believing in God’s sovereignty only adds to the frustration during his non-responsive seasons.  But our only hope is in him and the persuasion of his spirit to prod us forward and guide us when we can’t see the road ahead.  If and when we give up that hope, we give validity to the questions and doubts, something that is simply not an option.

I hope you understand that you have much company in these seasons. This may not have been a post that leaves you feeling fuzzy and cozy, but it’s our feelings and our attention to them that gets us to these low points.  It’s our knowledge of God and his ways that will ultimately pull us through.  Let it be so, and soon.

Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down

man-feeling-down-2

If you are one of those who are always on top of your game, you wake up and kiss the sky and your kitchen sings to you while you make breakfast, this post isn’t for you. It’s for the rest of us who don’t live in Disney World, those who strive to live a positive life but still battle the demons of failure, sin and worthlessness-real people.  I am one-I’m with you-those days when you wonder if you really matter, if you are really loved, if you would be missed if you were gone, if you are having any positive impact on those you love and pray for. Those small doubts become large gaping holes of opportunity for attack. Each day is a new war to wage against the dark, spiritual and tangible forces that are well trained at knocking us off course.  If you aren’t the target of such attacks, you aren’t fully engaged in life or your faith. The following are excerpts from a sermon I wrote years ago but still as relevant as it was then.  There are key weapons at our disposal to aid us in our daily battles against weariness, depression and discouragement.

“There are times in our faith walk when we find ourselves in a spiritual funk.  We are on a straight and narrow road, running this race-running like Forest Gump-running and running and running. There comes a time when I just want to stop running.  I see a little spot off the beaten path and I pull off the road just to stop running.  The place I find myself in here isn’t necessarily attractive-it’s isolated-it’s disconnected-it’s quiet.  It’s not lively, it’s not dead-it’s just hereHere is a place where my prayers don’t seem to travel far.  Here is a place that is under the radar from the dark forces of life.

Eph. 6:12 reads “For we fight not against people made of flesh and blood, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in heavenly realms”.

The enemy is highly trained to target those who are engaged in their faith.  But as long as I’m here, no one cares.  As a Christian, I know all I need to do is call on Jesus for help and get back on the road.  I can even see the road from here, but it is just easier to stay here.  This is my spiritual funk.

Now that I’ve painted you a picture of spiritual funk, how many of you have been here too?  How can we get there from here?  I have come up with 5 easy but vital steps for Christians to follow to avoid these funks.

Step 1-Guard your thoughts.

We are so easily led astray by our own thoughts.  We haven’t mastered the art of bringing every thought into captivity. I have struggles with reassurance issues.  In my mind, I tend to put myself up here more than I should.  The problem is that it doesn’t take much of a parting shot to knock me down to here-an unhappy customer, something the kids say, a series of unlucky events, any form of rejection.  If I believed in blind luck, I would be the one person he can’t see.  When things don’t go your way, or the people around you point fingers, you start to believe that maybe you are the problem. Job’s friends told him he was the reason for all the calamities God allowed in his life, and Job tended to believe them.  We completely disregard every positive thing scripture has to say about who we are in Christ. This is the ultimate trick of the deceiver-he wants to remind us of all our past mistakes, all our failed relationships, all our closet skeletons, and we buy right into this trick.  The result is a feeling of inferiority, insecurity, and unworthiness, all contrary to what Christ thinks of us.

Philippians 4:7 says this; “Tell God what you need and thank him for all he’s done.  If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  (Vs 8). Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right.  Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise”. 

Step 2-Seek out positive nourishment

There are several good sources of Christian nourishment available to us.  One of my favorites is Christian music.  I’ve always loved music-it is the one medium that can completely change your attitude or actions.  For example, when the classic rock song “I can’t drive 55” comes on, amazingly, I really can’t drive 55.

Music can be uplifting-I’m always amazed how a piece of music that was recorded years ago on electronic media can still become a worship experience in your car.

Our brains are complex recorders-we can recall every good or bad thing we’ve seen or heard in the course of a day.  If that’s the case, we should expose ourselves to positive influence, whether music, or a good book or a good TV program.

Romans12:2 says we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  This is a daily process if we are to avoid spiritual funk.

Step 3-Choose your friends wisely

This one is interesting to me.  I don’t personally believe that as Christians we are only supposed to hang with other Christians.  That’s not the model Christ gave us.  In fact Jesus, according to scripture, was quite a party animal. But his closest friends were believers.  When we socialize it is important to spend time with those who share your faith-they will become a great help and support to you when you’re in trouble.  And be very careful about those you hang with who are not Christian-they can easily lead you down a different path.  Our non-believing friends need our influence, but we must not yield to theirs.  It is too easy in the course of having a good time to let your guard down or compromise your core values after prolonged exposure.  The friends you confide in will ultimately be advising you.

Psalm 1:1 reads “Oh the joy of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.”

Step 4-Know your weaknesses

I have weaknesses.  I am not alone.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian, we all have kinks in our armor.  The enemy always knows your weakness.  For some maybe it’s lust, for others maybe pornography.  Some may have a substance addiction-maybe you gossip-maybe you eat too much-maybe you have a gambling problem-maybe you’re just plain crazy.  Having a weakness is not necessarily the problem, especially if you’re honest enough to admit it to yourself and to God. However yielding to your weakness over God’s strength  can put you in your own spiritual funk.  Putting yourselves in situations where you could stumble is just not responsible as a Christian.

1 Peter 2:11 says “Dear brothers and sisters, you are foreigners and aliens here.  So I warn you to keep away from evil desires because they fight against your very soul”.

What does this mean?  It’s simple really-if you can’t hold your liquor, you should stay out of bars.  If you have an eating disorder, the Carnival Buffet is not for you.  If you can’t get on the internet without migrating to a porn site, stay off the computer.  If you’re down to your last $3, don’t spend it on Megabucks.  If you like spreading rumors, don’t listen to any new ones.  Are you starting to get the picture?  Don’t give our enemy any advantages against you.

1 Peter 5:8 says “Be Careful. Watch out for attacks from the devil, your enemy.  He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some victim to devour”.

Step 5-Spend time alone with God

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do when you’re in a spiritual funk is to spend time alone with God.  Part of being in this place is the feeling of disconnection you feel.  When you cry out to God, it’s as if you hear the echoes of the canyons, but when you pray, you almost feel the prayers bouncing back off the ceiling.  It is in these times that it is most imperative that you habitually seek God out, remembering he hasn’t gone anywhere, even when we don’t feel his closeness.

James 4:7 says “Humble yourselves before God.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.  Draw close to God and God will draw close to you.  (vs. 10).  When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.”

Sometimes our path is dark and cold and each step is just another step of faith into the unknown. But God promised to be with us in the valley of shadows and death, not to take us around it as some might suggest but to be our guide and companion until we can navigate through the density and the turns. Our yellow brick road to Oz may seem more like a muddy trail through an endless swamp but in Christ, we can be sure that our final destination will be worth the hazards of the journey.

 

Dancing With the Scars

dancing with the scars

There is a popular reality television show that everyone is familiar with, even if they don’t watch it, called dancing with the Stars. The concept is to pair up professional dancers with known celebrities from the world of entertainment and sports who have little to no professional dance training and turn them into reasonable facsimiles of Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire.  I watched with curiosity the first episode of this season because a NASCAR Driving legend, Michael Waltrip, was on the show and I wanted to see if he had moves on the dance floor that compared to his moves on a race track.  It became apparent within about ten seconds why he is a racing legend and not a dancing star.  In racing terms, he missed a gear on the start, was loose in the corners and tight exiting, had no grip and could not stay close enough to his dance partner to take advantage of the draft.  I don’t see him being a celebrity dancing judge anytime in this lifetime. The same can be said with many of the celebrities selected to appear on this show.

The title of this week’s blog is obviously a play on the title of the popular show.  Dancing in it’s truest form is an expression of joy and freedom, whether you can dance the waltz with grace or you are like me and do the Humpty Hump like a white boy at the club.  Most people enjoy cutting loose and letting your inhibitions go once the music comes on.  How many times have you seen people deep in conversation in a club suddenly jump to their feet and head to the floor proclaiming “that’s my groove!”.  There is a release that comes from personal expression, even if you have three left feet.  But for many dancing through life is a difficult task.  Present or past circumstances prevent one from feeling totally free. Scars from previous episodes are too painful to dance through.  Those scars may represent the emotional wounds of silent depression, bitter divorces, physical or mental abuse, addictions that still haunt you, rejection by those close to you-there are an unlimited number of traumas that leave scars in our lives that may not be evident to everyone but are real just the same.  Those scars are sometimes like heavy chains weighing one down to the point that freedom of any joyful expression is nearly impossible and like Michael Waltrip, awkward at best.

In my life I have felt the pain of divorce, lived through the destruction of alcoholism, suffered the devastation of total loss of fire, dealt with serious illness-all things that can shake a person’s faith to the core. Joining in to the dance of life with joy is not always easy.  There tends to be a hesitation or even a fear that any joy expressed will be temporary as you are always expecting something else to come your way and add another scar.  And in the deepest and darkest times of despair, you even question the willingness of God to sustain or restore you.  The enemy convinces you that your scars are ugly before God and that even He won’t look upon you because they are repulsive.  When God delays His responses to your urgent beseeching, you wonder if maybe the enemy is right.  Job must have felt this when God removed His hand of protection and blessing from him, leaving him literally scarred and in a heap of ashes.  Listen to his words found in Job 10;

18 “‘Why, then, did you deliver me from my mother’s womb?
    Why didn’t you let me die at birth?
19 It would be as though I had never existed,
    going directly from the womb to the grave.
20 I have only a few days left, so leave me alone,
    that I may have a moment of comfort
21 before I leave—never to return—
    for the land of darkness and utter gloom.
22 It is a land as dark as midnight,
    a land of gloom and confusion,
    where even the light is dark as midnight.’”

Remember if you know this story that just a few chapters earlier the Bible describes Job as not only a righteous man, but says that in all the earth there was no one else like him!  Job was the standard for Godly living for his time.  How quickly and completely was his destruction and how deep the scars inflicted, that the most wealthy and righteous man on the face of the earth could so easily question everything he believed about God because of the overwhelming circumstances he found himself in, through no real fault of his own. His kids were destroyed while they were dancing-Job had no more desire to dance.

How many of us have been there in our lives, or maybe you are reading this and going through a similar stage even now?  We become self-conscious of our scars and reluctant to show them.  Reluctance can lead to isolation and from there to depression and hopelessness. We shun dance floors. What is our answer?  Here is the solution, at least as best as I can put into words that carry some truth. Our feelings of despair, our awareness of the ugliness of our scars and our repulsion to others and to God, as real as they may feel, are a FALSE SELF PERCEPTION!  How do we know this to be true?  It’s simple.  Scripture tells us over and over and over again that GOD LOVES US! There is no shortage of passages that refer to God delighting in our existence, in God accepting us as we are, in God forgetting our sins and removing our scars as far as the east is from the west!  God relishes contriteness, brokenness, disillusionment, all manner of emotional suffering and reaffirms that nothing in our life, our past, nothing in Heaven or earth, nothing we’ve done or could ever do can ever separate us from or change the level of God’s love for us.  God sees our scars as beauty marks, as evidence of battles we’ve endured and lived to tell about.  We are encouraged to dance through the pain like no one is watching, to sing out loud even if we miss the notes and to live life as a celebration of the uniqueness of our experiences-to DANCE WITH THE SCARS!

Don’t miss out on life because of your inability to put steps together.  No one is judging or voting on our elimination. Don’t fear the freedom of joyous expression as you live your life, scars and all!

On a personal note, many of you have opted to follow my weekly blog.  There are millions of us doing this-I am deeply honored that you follow mine.  I welcome feedback and certainly all referrals to your friends and family if you like what we put out each week as we attempt to exhort you to living your faith in real life.  God bless you all!