Looking Up When You’re Feeling Down


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.


Play to the River

low hand

With the recent interest in Poker and the televised World Series of Poker held each year here in Las Vegas, it’s hard to live here and not indulge in some live poker action from time to time.  My game of choice is Texas Limit Holdem, the same as played on the WSOP but with limits on betting. The game is simple in that each player is dealt two hole cards and then uses them with the community cards dealt to the table to make the best hand possible, or bluff your way to the pot if you have nothing.  The first three community cards the dealer lays down is called the Flop. Upon the Flop each player will bet or fold their hand. Then a single card is dealt, the fourth card, referred to as the Turn card.  Again, the remaining players will bet out or fold based on what they can play or bluff. The remaining and often deciding card, the fifth community card is called the River.  More times than not, this card determines the value of your hole cards and whether you were correct to play your hand or if perhaps you should have folded and cut your losses.  There is a lot of strategy involved from knowing odds, reading faces, ability to act or remain completely silent.  You will notice if you watch live poker on TV that players will wear shades to prevent other players from being able to see their eyes.  Eyes can give away a players hand value.  The best players in the world are those who leave their shades at home and play to the River.

I can’t help but to draw a comparison between poker and life, especially as we try to walk after Christ.  Okay, so I just lost about half of you who are thinking how can a Christian compare a spiritual journey to a poker game.  This isn’t about advocating or prohibiting live gambling-that’s a matter of personal conviction. Let me continue in my own words. When you are playing and your dealt hole cards are two Aces or and Ace and King, you might get excited at the great chances you have of winning the hand. Many people are born into situations of advantage and apparent ease. Maybe you’ve never suffered personal loss. Maybe your family has wealth and you had good schools and education, married right and have perfect kids.  Life so far is good. But then life happens. It’s an amazing statistic in poker that Aces lose close to half of the time! The hand may be the highest hand you can start with but can easily lose to three deuces or a small straight. How many times have we seen the perfect family from the outside suffer through a painful affair and divorce, or their kids ending up drug addicts. You hear the comments that they came from good homes-no one expected the outcome-everyone is shocked. When you are dealt a high hand you are not guaranteed success. In fact it requires a greater strategy to protect your hand from loss because the River card can give someone a winning straight or a flush and you will lose all you have invested in what you deemed a sure thing. We see it every day-politicians caught in affairs-corporate CEOs caught embezzling-rich kids being convicted of felony crimes and yes, Pastors and evangelists stepping away from ministry due to improprieties. When we measure our two-seven hand against a pair of Kings we feel like we were short changed and have no chance of winning. The temptation to fold and throw away the hand is great. To stay in at this point would require more time and investment and your losses could be increased.

On the other hand (pun intended) life deals you the lowest hand possible, a two-seven off suit. You see no value in staying in the game and in most cases you would fold this hand-it has little chance of being a winner. You weren’t born into privilege. You have an illness that affects your lifestyle. You can’t find adequate work, the kids don’t call, you may be alone due to divorce or separation, depressed and ready to fold. Yet you have a faith and a belief in someone higher-Christ, who sees your hand and may even be your dealer, and in spite of overwhelming odds you play the hand and stay in the game.   One rule of poker is you can’t cash a pot if you aren’t in the hand to the end.  So you journey on and wait to see if life will improve on your hand. Then comes the Flop, the first three community cards, a six, a three and a King-all different suits, no help to you or your cause at all. In fact the over card of the King reduces your chances of winning even more. Surely someone in the game is holding a King and just paired up. You have virtually no shot of winning this hand.

The enemy likes this game. He likes to remind us of our failures, our short comings, our history and track record. We look at the percentages and feel like the enemy is right. It’s easy to feel the weight of doubt when we focus on what we can see and not on what might be coming for us. It’s hard to claim the promises of God when we can’t see the evidence of favor in our current circumstances, when we can’t hear his voice when we pray, when we desperately long for his presence but can’t seem to find him.  I can’t begin to tell you how many hands I threw away only to find that the Turn and River cards would have secured the victory for me if only I had stayed in the hand.  And yet against overwhelming odds and a hand full of relative nothing, you play on because the Spirit prompts you to remain faithful.

The Turn card is a five-no help, no pairs, nothing to bet out on except a pure bluff. It is so hard to continue the fight when it appears that nothing is falling your way. You go to church, you pray, you study the Word, you give, you feel like you are doing everything right but just can’t find victory or peace in your life, and can’t get beyond the hand you are holding, but you play on and ask for God’s help and peace in your struggles, believing with everything in you that he still has a plan for your life.

The River card comes out, almost in slow motion.  On live TV the dealing of the River is extended to create drama as it can make the difference. The card is a four. You played out a losing hand all the way to the River in faith that God was working on your behalf even if you couldn’t detect his engagement, even if there was no evidence of success, even though many had advised you to lay down the hand and quit. But you played on to the River and found that you were in possession of a straight, a hand that wins most every time.  That one little card dealt last, that off suit 4, tied all the lose ends of your scattered life together in a way that now made sense. All your nothingness now had value and secured for you a winning hand. Your faithfulness paid off and the hand life dealt you was victorious after all!

If you are holding a hand full of nothing and are tempted to fold it and give up, be encouraged that no hand wins until the River card is dealt, and that as long as you are in the hand, you can still win! Thank God for his promises which are true. Thank God that he has plans for us that we know nothing about until it’s revealed just in time. I am currently holding a hand full of nothing. The circumstances I face aren’t what I’d call a winning hand and I’m not sure exactly what God is up to in my life. But I know enough to stay in the game, stay faithful to God even if I lose the hand, and by all means, play all the way to the River!  God Bless!