Muddy Waters

The Bible consistently reminds us to check our spiritual diet for toxins. Proverbs 25:26 says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.” How muddy is your water right now? Is your well – your inner life, your heart – polluted by all the cultural toxins seeping in? Maybe it is polluted by your thoughts, your actions, and your lifestyle. Or does your spiritual well draw on Living Water as its pure thirst-quenching source? Maybe you’re a Christian — you’ve been made righteous by Christ — yet you’ve become a muddied spring or a polluted well, and you don’t even know it.

You might believe, “My thoughts don’t matter. As long as they stay tucked away inside my head, they’re not hurting anyone. We all think about things that we’d never do, right?” All the while your negative thoughts are silently poisoning your soul, pouring lies into your spiritual water supply. Unfortunately, our thoughts don’t just stay in our head, disconnected from our words and our actions. Unhealthy thoughts often lead to unhealthy words. Without even knowing it, you might be talking yourself, and others, out of God’s best.

Or maybe it’s the people that you hang with regularly. You know they aren’t full-on for God, but no big deal. You don’t want them to think you’re some kind of religious freak or anything. So you keep doing whatever they do, going wherever they go. Though you believe one thing, you live a totally different way.

Maybe you’ve resigned yourself to certain struggles in your life — anger, lust, discontentment — as nothing more than your personal quirks. “It’s just the way I am,” you tell yourself, all the while your spiritual enemy laughs at the cancer you continue to feed in your soul. You continue to muddy the waters. 

Rather than experiencing the richness of a dynamic, intimate relationship with the righteous One, you put God in a little box that you can check off your to-do list each week. By settling for rules and religion and feeling pretty good about how much you’re doing for the church and those less fortunate, you become blinded to legalism and self-righteousness. Your water becomes muddy

It’s time to come clean.

If you’re tired of the stain of sinful habits discolouring your life; if you long to breath the fresh, clean, life-giving air of God’s holiness; if you would love to detoxify your soul from guilt, fear, regret, and all the impurities that pollute your relationship with God; then it is time to come clean. You’ve been breathing smoke-polluted thoughts, life-draining words, and sin-filled actions without realizing the toll they are taking on your relationship with God. Deep down, you know there’s a truer way to live, a deeper, purer way to love, and a larger impact to make on the world around you. It’s time to open your eyes, your heart, and your mind to the cleansing power of God’s truth.

His Word is filled with stories of men and women who needed to come clean, who longed for more. One of my favourites is David, who’s described as “a man after God’s own heart” but, as you may know, was far from perfect. Shortly after he committed adultery and murder, David experienced a soul sickness that affected him on every level – physical, emotional, and spiritual. He knew his sins of lust, entitlement, and deception were killing his heart. He was drinking from “muddied waters” of his own making. He knew the only way to be restored and experience a joyful, fulfilling life again was to come clean before God. In his prayer of repentance, he wrote, 

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin!

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10, 12)

You can pray the same prayer. As you do so from your heart and not just your head, God will bring healing and deliverance so that the muddied waters become fresh, life-giving, life-producing waters. He will renew your relationship with Him. And, you will experience a deep peace and contentment as He floods your heart with His love and sets your focus on Him and His Kingdom. 

A Slower Walk

We are well into the fall season and stores are beginning to put out Christmas decorations and signage … fighting for space with the large Halloween displays that are up in most stores. Interesting to see them side-by-side in some of the larger stores. Not an ideal time to mention slowing life down and living life at a slower pace. 

We are so use to living life in the fast lane that we fail to read the Gospel stories of Jesus, His life and ministry, in the context of the first century. We fail to see all the in-between times when Jesus and His followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing that it took the disciples three days by foot to get there. 

Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from the well; the campfires in the evenings. Even as I write this, it sounds luxurious. Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another; there was down time, transition time between these demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter.

That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God. Time we would categorize almost as vacation time, for those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. We highly progressive moderns try to keep up without any of these intervals and transitions. 

The things that we require of ourselves — we go from a tender conversation with our eight-year-old anxious about going to school to an angry phone call with our insurance company as we drive to work, followed by a quick chat with our sister ending a decision about our aging parents’ “memory care unit.” Then it’s straight into a series of business meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some email), firing an employee, interviewing another, making dinner reservations for our spouse’s birthday, fitting in a conversation with our boss because we can’t say no, and showing up late and haggard for dinner.

And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God, receiving more of Him, feeling like we’re overflowing with life.

The EMS technician, who leaves the scene of a terrible accident, races to get to his Bible study group, but wonders afterward why he couldn’t find God there. The school teacher, who come home exhausted from a day herding a riotous classroom, tries to be present to her own child, but can’t seem to find the right gear to do so. The modern pastor, who needs to be a real estate expert on one meeting, a brilliant trauma counsellor in the next, and a caring friend over lunch, only to shift gears into the role of savvy corporate CEO for the meeting that follows.

We are forcing our souls through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour, and after years of this we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” We don’t really know; we aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: go. All the subtleties of human experience have been forced into one state of being.

Mercy. No soul was meant to live like this. 

What sort of madness have we come to accept as normal when just taking a minute to reflect and rest feels like a luxury? We need time to process as we move from one event to another, one demand to the next. We need time to transition between what we are doing now and what is next being demanded of us. Not a long time – just a brief moment or two. A few minutes to process what you have just been involved in and to prepare for what you are about to focus on. A brief pause that you take to process and reflect; to sense and to learn. And, no one is going to offer this “pause.” It is up to each of us to learn how to slow things down a bit allowing us the needed time to pause and ponder and to sense God in al that we are involved in. To walk at a slower pace allowing us to live life as God intended. 

What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Five

As we continue our look at asking God the tough questions during a time when we are doubting Him and our faith and trust in Him …

In the New Testament Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, experienced what he referred to as “a thorn in my flesh” in his second letter to the church at Corinth. Paul said he had asked God over and over to remove it. But God didn’t. Paul describes this agonizing prayer: “God, I know you can do something about this. Please do. Take it away. Remove it. I’m pleading with you, please take it away from me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-8).

Maybe you can relate. “Please heal my loved one.” “Please help me get a better job.” Please help me get accepted by the new friend I have made.” Please save my dad.” Please take the depression away.” “Please stop my migraines.”

But the thorn remained, and Paul came to understand that God was allowing it in order to help Paul stay humble and dependent on God and to do something even more amazing that simply taking it away. God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). It’s almost as if God were telling Paul, “Look, I could take away this thorn for you. But if I did, then you’d miss out on drawing closer to Me and finding a deeper appreciation of my grace.”

Paul got it. He wrote, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. ” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul didn’t just hear God’s response; he listened. And that subtle difference changed the very fabric of who Paul was.

It can change you too. In your most desperate moments, God’s presence can sustain you. Just as resistance in the gym makes your muscles grow stronger, resistance in life strengthens your faith in God.  Over time, as you grow in the grace of God, what normally would have rocked your world becomes something you can take in stride, knowing God is with you and will carry you when you are weak.

You may not want to hear this right now. If you don’t that’s fair. I’m guessing this message wasn’t what Paul wanted to hear. But it served a purpose higher than Paul might have been able to understand at the time. Without Paul and his influence, the Christian faith as we know it might not exist today. 

That means this ordinary man who refused to believe that God had abandoned him could be at least partially responsible for the faith in Christ that we still see around us today.

But seeing God’s impact through you is hard to do when you are in the valley and in pain.

All our lofty principles and spiritual convictions seem to blur when we’re looking through the cracked lens of a broken heart.

That’s when you take the next step by faith.

Maybe you’ve been asking God for what you need. That’s perfectly reasonable; God wants us to reach out to Him. But are you willing to listen to what He has to say to you, even if His answer isn’t what you want to hear? Keep listening. God has not abandon you in your time of need; He will tenacious hold you close and carry you through your pain if you will let Him. 

Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Four

So Habakkuk is listening for God. He has asked some seriously tough questions in the midst of a test of his faith. And God speaks. God said, “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

That’s stunning. Shocking. And hard to swallow. God’s raising up the enemy?

Basically, He told Habakkuk, a guy He had chosen to be His prophet and therefore His messenger to the Jewish people, “Here’s the thing: you’re right — My people have really sunk to a new low. And while it may feel like I’m letting things slide, really I’m not. In fact, I’m going to have to destroy the people of Israel because they’re so wicked. And I’m going to use the Babylonians to do it.”

I imagine Habakkuk’s jaw dropping as he expressed some deep, theologically mature response like, “Say what?” Essentially God said that things would get worse before they’d get better. The Babylonians were notorious for being ruthless, violent, and aggressive in the relentless conquest of other tribes and nations. Corruption and violence among the Israelites might have been bad, but it was nothing compared with that of the Babylonians. It would almost be like us asking God why He allows so much injustice in our country, only to have Him tell us that He was going to allow foreign terrorists to annihilate us.

When times are tough, the last thing we want to hear is that they’re about to get tougher. But we know that real life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. So what now?

When you’re going through a season of struggle with God, remember: Habakkuk’s name means both to wrestle and to embrace. You can wrestle with God about all that you don’t like, yet simultaneously embrace Him because He is good and trustworthy. It really comes down to how we respond to a crisis of belief. Usually when a person enters that valley, they go to one of two extremes.

Many want to return to their last spiritual high, that mountaintop experience in which everything with God seemed great. He was answering their prayers, life was good, and their faith felt strong. They deny all the doubts undermining their faith, telling themselves, “I’m going to pretend this crisis isn’t happening right now. I know if I can just get back up on that mountaintop again, everything will be all right.” Now, you can’t fault this person for their strong belief in God’s provision and providence, but sometimes we have to come down off the mountaintop and let God help us deal with the real world.

Some others slide into the valley and decide to descent even further. They say, “Okay, God, if you’re not going to do what I know you could do, then forget you! I’m going back to the life I used to know. If you could help, but you’re not helping, then you must not be good, so I can’t trust you.” They wrongly assume that God must not love them if He’s not willing to do what they want Him to do to alleviate their suffering. 

Thankfully, there is a third option. If, like Habakkuk, we’re willing to lean into the hardship we’re experiencing and wrestle with how God might use it to achieve His purposes (the bigger picture), then we can begin to climb out of the valley. You have to remember, through, that just because things aren’t going your way doesn’t mean God isn’t still working. But I will admit that from a human perspective, His interventions may seem mysterious or even capricious. 

Although we don’t understand, we continue to believe God, listening for His voice and waiting for His answer. And just like Habakkuk, we will cling to God and trust Him, even when He doesn’t seem to make sense. The I-want-to-believer who will continue to embrace God, even though things may not get any better at first, will grow much closer to God than he or she was in the past. If you look at the people you know who are closest to God, often they’re the very ones who have been through the most difficult times, and God has proved Himself faithful to them. Their intimacy was forged through honest and open conversations with Him — permission to speak freely — asking Him and then listening patiently. 

Once more – more next time 

I Am Afraid

Bill Lewis is a teacher and preacher who ministers apostolically and prophetically. Nearly 50 years of ministry is reflected in his writings. He currently lives in the State of Ohio, U.S.A. and is a friend and co-worker in the Kingdom.

I am afraid. I am not afraid. I think it is a threat and real. I think it is a hoax and a plot to manipulate. I am staying home. I refuse to stay home. You are a racist. I am not a racist. Black lives matter. All lives matter. The president is doing a great job. The president is insane. I love the president. I hate the president.

We live in a bowl of toxicity. No one is right; no one is wrong. Opinions are flying at the rate of a 100 mph fastball. No matter what you say or do; it is a swing and a miss.

Even sitting down to write this blog, (which I have put off for a long time) I am concerned to even express anything.

However, in studying history, we have as humans been here many times. Even in American history we have survived events like these time and again. Going back to the American Revolution we had folks split down the middle on issues to the point of demonstrations and  loss of life. Even a few years later the country was divided breaking into political parties and branding one another as un-American. Moving to the Civil War period the country was divided deeply and Lincoln was vilified to the end that he was assassinated. Pre World War Two, there were many Americans who thought Hitler was a great leader moving Germany out of financial collapse. Later, of course, Hitler’s true colors were revealed. When we live in that moment, it is hard to see clearly at times. History tends to sort it out years later. As they say, “Hind sight is 20/20.”

As a minister of the Gospel, the real issue comes to the wicked heart of man. Man is fallen. His nature, without redemption, is self centered, wholly carnal, hedonistic, and spiritually lost. While the world swirls around us, there is one thing that remains true; the sovereign will of God will be executed in the long run. There is a definite plan revealed in the word that brings things to a culmination. Jesus indicated that nations would rise and fall, wars and rumors of wars would persist. He said that there would one day be a false peace.

Personally, we, as believers, need to focus on principles of God’s word. We lose the power of the Gospel when we trade heavily in political parties. We become enmeshed in the platforms of the philosophical and political agendas of those parties. We slowly become more avid about the platform than the Gospel.

I am not advocating un-involvement, nor a position of disengaged pacifism. I know there are principles that must be upheld, talked about, embraced, and action taken. However, the real answer is Jesus. Seemingly simplistic, I know. Rather a pat answer you may say, maybe even trite. But contained in that simple statement is salvation, humanitarian reform, Prince of Peace, love, dignity, value, altruism in its best form. “Come unto me”…rings true today as it did when spoken for the first time.

I do not know when all this will end, but I do know that the Gospel is the best answer. Historically, America in its worst times, has been the seed bed for evangelical revival. The gospel has risen in each crisis to bring hope and restore civility. This should be our prayer and answer…Jesus.

I sincerely believe we need a move of God and thus I pray

Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Three

We have been looking at the prophet Habakkuk and his boldness to ask God all the hard questions that were on his heart. He may have known that sometimes just allowing yourself to ask these questions can take you a long way toward reconnecting with God and learning to, once again, trust Him. It’s hard to love someone — even the Creator of the universe — if you’re holding grudges and hiding your true feelings. Habakkuk clearly loves God but that didn’t keep him from respectfully challenging God (not testing Him; there’s a difference) with a request to help him understand the huge gap between what he believed and what he saw around him.

Once the prophet had finished asking his questions, he knew it was time to listen. The same is true for you. Habakkuk wrote, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts;

I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint”   (Habakkuk 2:1, emphasis mine)

I love those images. I will stand at my watch and look to see what God will say to me. As basic and obvious as this may seem, sometimes the reason we’re not getting answers to our questions is that we’re not willing to pause and wait long enough for God to reveal Himself to us.

Sometimes when we rave and rant, what we really want is simply to vent our emotions, not to engage in a conversation. When we allow our anger, doubt, and fear to control us, our questions can drown out what God wants to say back to us.

Other times, we may pose our questions to God, but then, because we’re so preoccupied with the many things that are pulling at us, we don’t pause to listen for His response. We hear but we don’t listen.

Why don’t we slow down to hear God’s still, small, comforting voice? Honestly, I think it’s because too many of us are overwhelmed. We’re so busy juggling work, home, school, church — not to mention whatever crisis ignited our doubts in the first place — that we don’t take the time to stop, to quiet our hearts before God in silence.

The writer of Psalm 46:10 quotes God: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When was the last time you stopped everything and just sat completely still, listening for God’s voice?

Notice that God did not say, “Be busy, and know that I am God.”

Be said, “Be still.”

Be.

Still.

And listen.

How do you actually listen to God? You can open His Word and let His Spirit bring truth to life. God speaks through circumstances, if you pause long enough to reflect. He speaks through people, offering divine wisdom from heaven. And He can speak directly to you through His Spirit. When you belong to Him, spend time with Him, and quiet yourself before Him, you will learn to recognize His voice. Only then!

Think about it this way: one of the unexpected benefits of going through a difficult season — walking in and through the valley — is that it gives us the chance to stop and reevaluate our priorities. To refocus. In fact, some say that the Chinese word for crisis uses two characters: one means “danger,” and the other means “opportunity.” When hard things happen, we often see more clearly what means the most to us. Spending time alone with God should be at the top of our list, even if the conversation with Him will be a difficult one.

However, as Habakkuk discovered, when you ask God the tough questions, you have to be prepared to listen to His answers, even if you don’t like them. Hopefully, if you are hurting and you press into God’s presence, He will direct you, guide you, and comfort you. But in Habakkuk’s case, God had other things to do first. And the news would be difficult to hear. 

More next time.

Permission To Speak Freely – Part Two

I am a fan of space movies and have watched most of the Star Trek series on television and the big screen. I enjoy the plot of each episode or movie and the action. It stretches my imagination and helps me to wonder about the universe. When the situation is difficult or demanding in the story often a junior officer will say to the senior commander “Permission to speak freely.” This means off the record and deep, personal honesty usually with some risk.

Habakkuk, as we saw yesterday, is having one of those “permission to speak freely” times with his superior officer and “boss” – the God of Israel. He is going through a deep valley and is questioning what is happening to him and his people. Wondering where God is in all the things that are happening. And, as we saw, it has been quite a conversation. It might be good to reread yesterday’s blog to refresh your memory. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I agree with C.S. Lewis that God’s highest agenda is not our immediate happiness. I believe that God is much more committed to our eternal joy, our spiritual growth, and the condition of our hearts. This means what we need to grow out of spiritual infancy into a richer, ever-maturing belief in a God who is infinitely wiser than we are. We need to learn to trust Him even when we can’t feel Him, believe in Him even when He doesn’t make sense, and follow Him even though we’re not sure where He’s leading us.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). As counterintuitive as this may sound, I don’t think James is telling us just to suck it up and keep going. I think he is reminding us of that bigger picture, the larger story, that sense that something greater is going on than the trial we find ourselves caught up in. Here’s something curious: James don’t tell us that we can’t ask God what’s going on; he tells us only to count our problem as joy.

The point, as Habakkuk seems to have grasped, is asking honest questions while also trusting God and His Word. Think about it: you can have a sincere faith in God even as you are wrestling with unanswered questions. God is big enough to handle it. And He loves you enough to be patient with you as you learn about parts of His character that were too deep for you to comprehend before your crisis of belief.

Apparently, this prophet was also willing to listen when God responded. The good news is that God will meet you in your moment of greatest need. Just as He responded to Habakkuk, He will respond to you. In fact, God has plenty to say to us about how we should face our trials – the valleys we walk through. Again, He never says we can’t ask Him our honest questions. On the contrary, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)

So if you have questions, ask away.

Just be prepared when God answers. 

Mountaintop Experience – Part Two

We had a mountaintop experience with the Lord and now life has apparently settled back to “normal” and we are walking through a deep, dark valley. Faith does not seem to exist and you even question whether God really does love you and wonder if He seriously cares for you or even knows that you exist.

Sometimes the pain in these valley times is so intense that all you can think about is relief. Everything in you just wants it to stop. Because the immediate hurt is so extreme, instead of thinking about Jesus, you may just be thinking about getting out of the pain you’re in. But this can be become a pivotal moment in your faith journey. This is when you can experience the depth of God’s grace in a way that’s impossible during better moments. During mountaintop times. His presence is real in your pain. And it might become more real in this valley than it was on the mountaintop, if you can recognize that the way is through, not out.

Perhaps that’s why Blackaby sees this crisis as so vital, a requisite part of the Christian’s faith. If we’re going to become stronger in our faith, more committed to God, more in love with Jesus, then our beliefs will be tested. They must be tested. Blackaby explains, “Will God ever ask you to do something you are not able to do? The answer is yes, all the time!” People may tell you that God won’t give you more than you can bear. While they probably mean well, that’s simply not true. The Bible does say that God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). But He often gives you more than you can handle, so you can learn to depend wholly on Him.. 

Those words can be difficult to read and digest when you’re hurting. Believe me, I understand. Remember: I’ve been there. As a father of 6, I have been there. And as a pastor for 50+ years, I often walk with people through the lowest points in their lives. It’s never easy. But God’s faithfulness is always evident. Often in hindsight. But He is always there and working on your behalf.

I think Christianity has gotten a bad rap in the last few decades because so many Christians try to pretend they have everything figured out. This includes the problem of pain in the world. I’m not against developing a theological understanding of evil in the world, of human suffering, and of the goodness of God. That’s very important. It’s just that when you’re standing in front of a father whose son has just be killed for his faith, or a woman who just learned that her cancer has returned, theology — or at least the ability or need to explain it — isn’t necessarily our first objective. When words don’t work, remember that presence does. Love does. An embrace does. It is time to embrace those walking through the valley and do the same thing Jesus did: love them, challenge them, accept them, forgive them, be there for them.

That’s the beauty and power of the incarnation. God didn’t shout His love from heaven or the mountaintop. He showed us His love on earth as He became one of us in the person of His Son Jesus. When someone is in the valley, rather than trying to explain what’s happening, sometimes we are better off listening. Rather than preaching, we focus on loving. And in those moments of quiet presence, God often reveals Himself in ways that go beyond our human ability to understand. 

Unless our own suffering draws us closer to God, it’s hard to offer genuine compassion — and hope — to others. When we aren’t connected to others’ pain, it’s tempting instead to offer them bumper sticker platitudes and pat answers designed to keep our own fragile faith intact. Some people even go so far as to tell those who are suffering that it’s because of sin in their lives or because they don’t have enough faith or because they’re simply getting what they deserve. What a terrible, dangerously, hurtful, unbiblical response! Nowhere do I see Jesus condemning people who are hurting; I see Him only allowing His grace to convict their hearts and convince them of their real need.

Our world is broken. Because we live in a world where our free will has opened the door to our spiritual enemy, we will all continue to experience painfully hard, terrible, unexpected events in our lives. It’s not that growing mature in our faith exempts us from these events. The opposite might be closer to the truth. It’s simply that we’ve experienced enough pain and grown so much closer to God — even in spite of our pain — that our faith has been strengthened, deepened, and matured for the next tough time in the valley.

Author and scholar C. S. Lewis explains it this way: “I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think He wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.”

So, remember, mountaintop or valley — God is with you and He never leaves you or forsakes you. Take His hand and walk through the valley. 

Mountaintop Experience – Part One

Most of us know what it’s like to have a mountaintop experience. For many of us, this is how we became Christians in the first place. We had an amazing experience in which we felt God’s presence in a real, tangible, all-consuming way. We sensed His love, His grace, His power, His Spirit. In that moment we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives on this earth, as well as the rest of eternity, serving Him, pursuing Him, and making Him known.

That is certainly my story. The night that I was saved I actually saw Jesus ‘in the flesh’ and He physically hugged me and poured His love into me. I saw Him. I touched Him. I heard His voice speak to me (see 1 John 1:1-4). I experienced His forgiveness and an inner washing resulting in a supernatural clean feeling inside. And the spiritual transformation began!

It didn’t matter where I was; I believed that God was with me. I shared my faith with anyone and everyone I met or ran into while out shopping or just taking a walk. I especially spoke to other pastors and priests assuming that, like me, they had bought into religion and did not have a personal relationship with the living Jesus Christ. It seemed like God answered every prayer. Every Bible verse I read seemed to be written just for me. And everywhere I went it seemed like God gave me the words to say and showed me a difference that I could make.

Initially, being a Christian felt like this amazing experience. You have these powerful times of praying and studying the Bible. Each day the words of the Bible seem to jump off the page, ministering to you in just the perfect way. Sermons seem to be especially for you, directly addressing something important that you’re going through or thoroughly explaining a Scripture you just read. Then you see the same verse on somebody’s social media feed, and you know that God is speaking to you. When you get in your car, your favourite song comes on the radio, and it feels like God played it just for you. You feel an urgency to help your non-Christian friends, and God constantly gives you the right words to say. You know He’s with you. When you’re in a rush at the mall, a parking spot opens up right in the front row.

That’s when you know you are on the top of the mountain. 

Then, at some point, life starts to creep back in. And God’s presence seems to fade. Without even realizing it, you have come down from the mountain, back to the real world, and your faith doesn’t seem quite so amazing anymore. You still believe in God, still go to church, still try to read the Bible and pray when you have time. But the sermons aren’t always just for you. Your favourite song isn’t on the radio anymore. And the best parking spots are all taken.

Suddenly life isn’t going as you planned and hoped. Your prayers feel flat and stale. Like God has stopped listening. Someone betrays you. God doesn’t feel as close as He once did. You feel disoriented, uncertain where you stand with God, or whether you’re still standing at all. You were up on the mountaintop, and now you’re down in the valley.

If you’ve never been there, I hope you never are. But I suspect you might know something about what I’m saying. You woke up one day only to realize you were burned out. Discouraged. That little orange light comes on, telling you that your faith tank is dangerously low. It’s at this time that we hit the valley. You have come off the mountaintop and are now walking through the dark valley 

In his book Experiencing God, author Henry Blackaby describes this valley as a “crisis of belief,” a season of struggles and doubting God and His goodness in our lives. Usually, this crisis is ignited by a specific trigger, such as a serious physical challenge, a financial setback, or a relational disappointment.

Often the trigger is something unexpected or even unthinkable. Sometimes several smaller but challenging events overlap, and the combined burden becomes a crushing weight that causes a person’s faith to collapse. Didn’t Christ say that His burden is light and His yoke was easy (Matthew 11:30)? Suddenly, getting out of bed in the morning feels intimidating. You can’t imagine how you’re going to get through the rest of the morning, let alone an entire day. Where’s God now?

In those moments, faith seems irrelevant. When the Titanic is sinking, it’s hard to enjoy a game of shuffleboard on deck or to appreciate the string quartet playing music on the bandstand. When you don’t know whether the radiation and chemo will work or where the money’s going to come from or when you’ll see your child again, it’s hard to believe that praying, trusting and hoping will make a difference. It’s hard to keep the faith when you have so little control over everything else in your life. Yup, you are in the valley. 

More next time…