Sunday, February 27, 2011

When You Don't Like God

Have you ever found yourself not liking God? I know this sounds like an almost irreverent question, but I believe if most of us are honest we will at some point go through times when we still love God, but we don’t actually like Him. We don’t like what He is doing—or not doing, so we think.

Have you ever been frustrated over how God is running the universe? Do “natural disasters”—shouldn’t they actually be called “supernatural disasters”—ever disturb you wondering if God somehow gets pleasure in wiping out large groups of people with a hurricane, storm, or other force of “mother nature?”

Or, what about when you claim a biblical promise on prayer, and believe with all your heart that God is going to come through with a miracle of healing, but the person you are praying for ends up dying? If and when this type of thing happens, you probably don’t like God for a season. I have a friend who lost one of his best friends to cancer, and afterwards could not pray for about six months.

I hope I haven’t caused you to stumble by simply asking these questions. Instead, my intent is to help those who are struggling with such issues, because I believe they are far more common than most of us want to admit. Being a fully devoted follower of Christ does not mean we never wrestle with such difficult issues. Instead, it means that we actually do face these struggles head-on and don’t pretend they aren’t there.

King David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), and at times he struggled with such questions as, “Why, O Lord do you reject me and hide your face” (Ps. 88:14); “Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep?” (Ps. 44:23); “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Ps. 6:3). We can establish from his example that having a heart for God does not mean we don’t struggle and question. In fact, sometimes it is because we so deeply love God that we do struggle. If we did not care about the things of God then we would not struggle because the issues in question would not matter to us.

So, what is the answer when such questions trouble us? Faith. We must believe that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, even when our mind is flooded with unanswered questions. After all, God’s Word says to “lean not on your own understanding” but to “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Prov. 3:5-6). You see, it is ultimately a heart issue and not a mind issue! God does not promise to answer all of our questions (“the secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to man”—Dt. 29:29), but He does promise to “never leave us nor forsake us” (Hebr. 13:15) and to be a “very present help in time of need” (Ps. 46:1).

What is faith? “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebr. 11:1). It is that “not seen” part of faith that is difficult, isn’t it? We don’t see something now but we believe in God—that is faith! The “not seen” time may be when we are actually seeing bad things or circumstances that challenge or “test our faith” (Jas. 1:3). I don’t think we talk enough today about this biblical concept of the testing of our faith. A test is something we are put through to determine what we know or how we will respond. If we pass the test we are advanced, but if we fail the test we will either have to retake the test or be sent back in life.

When Jesus was asked about a tragedy that occurred (tower falling upon and killing eighteen persons—Luke 13:4), I find it interesting that instead of giving an answer about why it occurred, He simply used it as an object lesson on repentance and judgment. Perhaps rather than ask, “Why did this happen to me,” we should be asking, “What do You want me to learn from this?” Based on Luke 13:4 when natural disasters take the lives of many people, God would want this to remind us of the final judgment and the need to live with an eternal perspective. I must be willing to not have all the answers. After all, I am not God. I must be willing to accept my human limitations and just trust in what I do know about God. Someone once said, “Don’t doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light.”

I must not allow the clouds of questions and doubts about life block the sunlight of what I do know about God. We know far too much about God (i.e. holy, loving, sovereign, faithful, merciful, gracious, powerful, eternal, etc.) to allow the few things we don’t know about Him cause us to stumble or lose faith.

In a wonderful little booklet called “When the lights go out” by Graham Cooke, he says, “Faith depends on one thing—your understanding of the nature of God … It is not essential that we understand everything, but that we trust God in everything” (p. 16, 28). This is why I believe the most important part of the Christian journey is gaining a proper understanding of who God is!

So, when things occur that cause us to question and not like God, it is good to be honest about this, especially with a trusted friend. And at the end of the day we must exercise faith by clinging to the truths of who God is. We must cry out to God in desperate prayer, asking for His help and strength.

The sanctification process in the Christian life is not easy. It is filled with times of doubt and despair. The people God has used the most throughout history have often been sifted, tried, persecuted, and depressed. But in the end, they remained steadfastly trusting in the nature of God.

“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles … A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” (Ps. 34:6, 19). “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

In the words of the famous Winston Churchill, “Never give up; never give up; never give up!”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Digging Out of Discouragement

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Ps. 42:5a

We all get discouraged from time to time. Life is just plain hard at times, whether this comes from troubled relationships, health issues, or merely the “hassles” of life such as mounting bills, a computer failure, or a cancelled flight. Sometimes we find ourselves discouraged, or even depressed, and not really know why. Our emotions can be a weird thing!

So, what do we do? How do we dig ourselves out of discouragement? Let me offer six suggestions:

1. Speak truth to your soul.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Ps. 42:11

When the psalmist says, “put your hope in God,” it is as if he is speaking truth to his soul – “come on soul, put your hope in God. You can do it.” I get the feeling this was an act of his will. He probably did not feel this inward excitement to trust God. After all, he already told us he was confused as to why his soul was downcast. He was discouraged and didn’t know why. However, as an act of his will he talked to himself. And he talked truth to himself.

There was a popular book years ago titled, “Telling Yourself the Truth.” This title says it all: we need to tell our self the truth when we are discouraged. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Speak to yourself the truth about God, your identity in Christ, forgiveness, life, heaven, etc. Do this until you feel different. I had a counselor tell me once, “Act your way into a new way of feeling.” This doesn’t mean you fake it and live a plastic life, but what it does mean is sometimes you have to will to do something that will help, even when you don’t feel like it.

2. Give thanks.

I realize this sounds like a cliché, but bear with me here. Recently our pastor introduced communion by sharing a neat insight on Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. The bible says, “On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took break, and after giving thanks….”(1 Cor. 11:23). Did you catch that? He gave thanks on the night He was betrayed. When someone close to you betrays you, giving thanks is not the thing you naturally want to do. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did. We are not told what He gave thanks for, but there is always something to thank God for, regardless of our circumstances or emotions. Therefore, make the choice to rejoice and put on an attitude of gratitude, especially when discouraged, and see what a difference it makes! “In all things give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18).

3. Dwell on God’s character.

Here is faith at its finest. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebr. 11:1). Focusing on God’s amazing attributes will get our eyes off our selves and onto the One who is most able to strengthen and help us. Give praise to God that He is eternal, strong, loving, faithful, gracious, unchanging, forgiving, and patient.

Notice in this Psalm how this is exactly what he does to encourage himself in the midst of being downcast: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan … “(Ps. 42:5). Be sure to remember God!

4. Fight the fight of faith.

Living for Christ is a battle. We fight with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. On top of that, we are aliens and strangers in a place that is not our true home. We can retreat or stand up and fight. I suggest it is time we make war! Ask God to give you a warrior spirit to fight against that besetting sin, anxiety, fear, and depression. Stand up and claim the victory that is rightfully yours. Don’t sit there and let Satan beat you up. Get up, receive God’s forgiveness, and move forward. Satan gets one victory if he can knock you down, but he gets a greater victory if you stay down. God is all about picking us up and encouraging us to get back on the field to finish the game. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).

5. Ask others to pray.

One of the biggest temptations when discouraged is to isolate your self. We often don’t want to be around others. We want to be alone and sulk in our depression. But what we need to do is ask others to pray for us. Paul did this in 2 Cor. 1 when he said, “we were burdened beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life …. and you helped us by your prayers” (2 Cor. 1:8, 11). He opened himself up by talking about his pain, and as a result, others prayed, and he benefited from their prayers. Avail yourself of the power of prayer from others. God gives grace to the humble, and it takes humility to admit to others that you are in pain.

6. Take physical care of yourself.

The Bible does say to “love others as you love your self.” One way to properly, and not selfishly love your self, is to exercise and eat right. There is an unavoidable connection between our spirit, soul, and body. If you are seriously depressed, one of the first things you should do is schedule a physical with your doctor. There may be a chemical imbalance or other medical issues that need attention. I find it interesting that the way God dealt with Elijah’s discouragement was telling him to “get up and eat” (1 Kings 19:5).

Once again, it is normal to go through times of discouragement, doubt, and even depression. Living for Christ is not easy in the least. Do not beat yourself up for being downcast, but do take steps to dig out! God is the lifter of your head. He wants to help you in your time of need!