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He’s Not on the Cross

With Easter approaching, the Cross is heavy on the minds of many. But as it’s been pointed out time and again in the church I attend, we really ought to focus more on the empty Grave. Christ is not on the Cross, and He’s not in the Grave. He’s risen and ascended, and that is where we can find our power—or rather, God’s power to live the lives He has for us.

 

I’ve been trying to rest in this power lately. My husband and I have been struggling with infertility since the beginning of “us.” On top of that, I have Bipolar II, along with a double dose of anxiety disorders (and a myriad of other issues that can be passed on). I often wonder if I’m barren because of my health issues. God has yet to see fit to bless us with a child. You see, I am a mom—I have a beautiful step-daughter, whom I never feel the need to use the phrase “step-” for—but we’ve not been blessed with our own child.

 

Knowing I’m infertile has its own struggles and grief. I never realized you could mourn a child that never was and never will be—a child of imagination. At best, the grief that accompanies knowing you will never bring life into this world is hard to deal with. At worst, it feels impossible. In a late-night fit of anxiety, I turned to my laptop before I began to write this to look up verses on anxiety and uncertainty of the future.

 

And I am glad I did.

 

There are so many promises in the Bible—promises that are possible because Jesus isn’t on that Cross anymore, and He isn’t in that Grave. Promises of a Heavenly Hope—one that is far different from earthly hope.

 

I’ve always believed earthly hope to be paralyzing. We spend time hoping for things that may never come to pass, and our hope often turns into worrying about things over which we have no control. We often get stuck, unable to move because we want something so desperately it infiltrates every area of our lives, immobilizing us.

 

But our God is a great God, and He is a God Who keeps His Word—that is, His promises. (Which are found in His Word—capital W. And I don’t see the meaning of that phrase and the use of the capital letter to be coincidental. God works out even the smallest of details. And if He can do that, how much more can He work out the bigger details in my life and the lives of others?)

 

Here are just a few verses that really stood out to me tonight, as I grasped for a shred of anything that can give me Godly, Heavenly, Eternal Hope:

 

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.”

–Psalm 56:3 (NIV)

 

 

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

–Isaiah 26:3 (ESV)

 

“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

 

“For I am the Lord your God, Who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’”

–Isaiah 41:13 (NASB)

 

Did these verses magically melt all my trepidation and anxiety? No, they didn’t, but they helped immensely. I pray that they’ll help you, too. God does have a plan (Jeremiah 29:11), and He will bring it to pass.

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“Just Come to Him” May Be a Better Prayer Approach than “Get in the Right Mindset”…Especially for Hurting People

There’s a notion that you must speak properly to God in prayer. It says you must be on your best behavior, that you must be in the right mindset.

I’ve heard several references to Christian writers who advocate this. They say to sit in silence, meditate on God’s word and His holiness, or something of the like. This practice can be encapsulated by a quote from Kenneth Bailey in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: “Twice in the recent past it was my extraordinary privilege to personally greet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II…How much more should we sense the awesome nature of our approach to ‘Our Father who is in the heavens’ and be appropriately prepared to address him.”

I think there’s a place for this kind of practice in the Christian life. It’s not bad to meditate on God’s word or holiness or how grateful you are to Him. However, I think any attempt to claim this should be our routine every time we pray is mistaken.

As expressed in the earlier quote, many people view God as king and therefore think He should always be addressed as such. God is the King, but I think this earthly analogy breaks down when considering prayer. You’d never address a king with anything less than the best decorum. However, God seems to encourage spontaneous and even frustrated prayer. In a sense, God doesn’t demand that we always address Him with the utmost respect. He’s a king who’s more interested in a genuine, deep relationship. He wants you to express yourself to Him, all the way down from the depths of your soul.

Let’s look at some examples from David and Jesus:

 

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2).

“But now you have rejected and humbled us;
you no longer go out with our armies.

You made us retreat before the enemy,
and our adversaries have plundered us.

You gave us up to be devoured like sheep
and have scattered us among the nations.

You sold your people for a pittance,
gaining nothing from their sale.

You have made us a reproach to our neighbors,
the scorn and derision of those around us.

You have made us a byword among the nations;
the peoples shake their heads at us.

I live in disgrace all day long,
and my face is covered with shame
at the taunts of those who reproach and revile me,
because of the enemy, who is bent on revenge.

All this came upon us,
though we had not forgotten you;
we had not been false to your covenant.

Our hearts had not turned back;
our feet had not strayed from your path.

But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals;
you covered us over with deep darkness.

If we had forgotten the name of our God
or spread out our hands to a foreign god,

would not God have discovered it,
since he knows the secrets of the heart?

Yet for your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:9-24).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

 

This is the kind of communication He wants. He’s not interested in a “respectful” façade (Jesus says in Matthew 6:7 to refrain from empty words in prayer). He knows you at your best and your worst anyway. Why would He care about a proper appearance when you approach Him? He wants you, more than anything, to draw closer to Him. Spewing all your “junk” at Him, so to speak, does that better than approaching him with “proper etiquette.”

I’ve heard so many people say they feel they can’t pray. How can I with all I’ve done? How do I talk to Him? I feel too much shame, guilt, fear, hurt, anger (and yes, this could be anger at God), apathy, distrust, confusion, distance. I can’t bring myself to pray. To these people, it wouldn’t be helpful to say, “You need to get in the right mindset before praying.” No, to these people I say this: Just come to Him. Just start speaking, even if it’s frustration.

I once heard a therapist say, “If you don’t think you can pray, just go home, open up a window, and scream (a certain curse word I won’t repeat here). That can be considered praying.” While I don’t necessarily endorse the expletive, I agree with his point: Let everything out, don’t hold back. Start spewing. If you spew consistently, you may be surprised how deep your prayer life is a year from now.

Again, meditation and quoting God’s word before praying isn’t bad. But for those of us who are addicted, feel numb to God, feel hurt by God, feel mad at God, feel they can’t see Him, are scared to approach Him, or fill in the blank, just coming to Him may be the best way to pray.

 

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

“whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).

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The State of Numb

“Numb (adjective): unable to think, feel, or react normally because of something that shocks or upsets you”

 

The above is one of the definitions of numb, as stated in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and, although it makes complete sense, no one ever warned that a state of numbness would overcome me during the loss of a close loved one.

 

I had figured I’d cry relentlessly, whether sad tears or happy ones from sweet memories. I knew I’d feel as if a piece of me were missing. What I didn’t know is that I would get to a point at which I didn’t feel anything.

 

At first, I thought I was suddenly heartless, and there are times I still feel that way, although I’ve been told by multiple people that this is normal. No one had mentioned that a stage of the grieving process can be complete numbness. Not even peace—just nothing.

 

Navigating the waters of nothingness is difficult. When you feel nothing and keep praying for peace or even more tears that don’t come, it’s hard not to feel like you’re a monster for not feeling something. There’s a song out by Lady Antebellum that states, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all,” and how true that is! But when you don’t feel anything, you still need to live.

 

My life verses have been such a rescue in this time. For just about everything in life, I go back to Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (KJV). No matter how hard it may be, I must keep reminding myself that God doesn’t act like us humans: He doesn’t even think like us! It’s frightening in a sense but comforting because when I can’t see the road ahead, when I can’t even see the next step, He’s there and already has it figured out in His way and timing—which is nothing like mine.

I’m still walking through this uncharted land in which nothing makes sense because I’ve never lost someone this close to me. What makes it more difficult is the fact that, at the time of writing this, the person has yet to go home and see our Father’s face. I’ve been watching this person actively pass for a week now, in a mostly comatose state, and numbness was the last thing I thought I’d feel.

As I continue on my way, I’m learning. I’m learning (again and again) that God is faithful, that He doesn’t leave us or forsake us, that He is love, that His grace is sweet and sufficient, that His mercies are new every morning. I cling to Him as my rock because He does know what He’s doing and simply wants me to be still as He does His work.

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We’re All Hurting. So Why Don’t We Talk About It?

Let’s be real: we’re all hurting. If not, then I maintain you’re in the minority.

 

After starting the recovery process years ago, I noticed how many people around me were hurting. I saw the benefits of recovery for myself and realized most people would also benefit from recovery and/or therapy.

So why aren’t we more open about our problems? Why aren’t more people in therapy or recovery groups?

For one, there’s still a stigma around therapy and recovery. For many people, if you tell them you’re in recovery or therapy, they immediately wonder what’s wrong with you and if they should even be around you. Your reputation is instantly tarnished. This is despite the fact that those same people are hurting inside because of a break up or the death of a loved one.

We want to display a good image of ourselves. We want people to think we’re smart, we’re beautiful, we’re upstanding, we’re successful, we’re godly. In short, we don’t want others to think we have problems.

But that’s the thing: we all have problems. We’re all trying to look perfect for each other, yet none of us are. It’s a big masquerade.

Many of our problems simply come from hiding behind these masks. We’re lonely, depressed, anxious, grieving, hurting. If we’d just open up and receive support, we’d feel better. Many of our wounds would be healed. We’d be happier.

Instead, we feel crushed by the pressure to appear perfect—like we have it all together. We feel trapped because we’re terrified of others knowing the truth. And it eats at us. Because of this, some feel they can’t go on another day, which is one reason why seemingly perfect people fall from grace overnight or take their own life.

I pray that our society—including churches—would be more transparent about personal problems. I pray it would become more “mainstream” for people to discuss their issues. I pray we would throw away the masks and be real with each other. I pray hurting people would feel less terrified of coming out into the open. I pray the stigma around therapy and recovery would end. I pray we would truly connect with one another.

 

There’s freedom in honesty. There’s freedom in true connection.

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Immanuel: God is with Us

God sent His only Son to earth,

His birth to be a virgin birth.

Faithful Mary, young and scared,

Put faith in God, though unprepared.

The angel’s words were strange and new,

But God told Mary what to do.

Now Joseph, learning this, was shocked

And thought, before the people talked,

That he best put his bride away—

He cared for her, e’en to that day.

But Gabriel to him appeared

And told dear Joseph, “Do not fear,

For Mary carries now God’s Son;

The Savior of the world is come.”

The angel told him what to plan

To name the Babe that would save man—

So Joseph took his bride-to-be.

Around that time was a decree

Sent out from Caesar for a count

Of all the people in his lands about.

So Joseph took his wife and led

Them to the place called House of Bread.

He did not know that God had planned

To have His Son come as a Lamb.

On a quiet night in Bethlehem,

The Son of God was born to them;

And in a field where shepherds were

Tending to their sheep, were heard

Some angels in the sky o’erhead

Proclaiming Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

Then how to find Him they did tell:

“The Babe you’ll find in swaddling clothes,

For who He is, nobody knows.

A manger serves Him for a bed,

With hay to pillow His little head.”

The shepherds hastened on their way

To see the Baby born that day;

And when they reached that lowly place,

Each shepherd fell upon his face

And worshiped Christ, in a manger laid.

Was this the way the Heavenly Babe

Had come to earth? In this meek way?

Did none else care that God had made

His way to earth with us to dwell?

Did no one care for Immanuel?

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Why Rejoice Over Suffering?

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:6-12)

 

Why would we “greatly rejoice” over “suffer[ing] grief in all kinds of trials”?

Scripture tells us in many places that trials can strengthen our faith. Think about it. Do you grow the most when life is easy or when life is hard? The hard times often make us press closer to God. We need His help; we are dependent on Him. The easy times don’t encourage as much dependence.

Scripture often refers to the purification process of metals: “when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10); “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10); “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). As the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible puts it, “Ores of precious metals (the most precious of which was gold) would be melted in a furnace to separate out the impurities and produce purer metal” (note on 1 Peter 1:7). The analogy is fitting—like precious metals, our impurities are purged and our character is made more beautiful, so to speak, when we go through the furnaces of life.

Peter sticks to the metal analogy and affirms that our faith is even more precious and enduring than gold: “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The reason or end result of trials, he says, is “praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Our faith and growth through trials glorifies Jesus. This is great news because God deserves the glory and we get to contribute to His glory. Indeed, our joy is interconnected with His glory—when His glory increases through our lives, our joy increases. We become more heavenly creatures.

Peter tells his readers they are even more blessed because “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Peter was with Jesus, but he commends his readers’ faith for believing even though they weren’t with Jesus. As Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus and Peter both imply that future generations who don’t physically see Jesus are blessed for not seeing yet still believing. This is especially difficult during hard times. However, it is also another reason to rejoice during and after hard times. If you cling to Jesus during trials, there is always reason to rejoice.

 

Question: Do you rejoice during hard times? How do you see God working in your life during those times? How can you learn to rejoice even more and serve God more during those times?

 

Prayer: Thank you for the trials in my life and how you’ve used them to make me more like you. Give me the vision to see how trials are changing me. Help me to have Spirit-filled joy at all times, especially when it’s hard. Amen.

 

This is an excerpt from a devotional book I’m writing on 1 Peter – W.R. Harris

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Yelling at God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

“God, always the last resort of the helpless—God is sometimes so slow to act!” – Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur

This is a subject I want to address because I think people sometimes feel guilty about it. As with anxiety and depression, this can be sinful, but it can also be perfectly fine.

I know I yelled at God more than once during my bouts of depression and OCD. Sometimes you’ve been bent so much you feel you’re about to break. The natural response is to question God and/or yell at Him. Perhaps you’ve been in the same situation and you yelled at God and now you feel guilty. It happened to me. On top of all the other shame and depression and guilt I felt, I felt guilty about yelling at God. I thought He was looking down at me saying, “Jeez, will this guy ever get it together?”

Granted, you can hate God from the bottom of your heart and curse Him. That’s sinful, and perhaps some of you reading this book have been there. The good news is God always offers forgiveness. But you can also yell at God in distress, opening up to Him about your deepest thoughts and fears and frustrations. You can honestly question God to His face and tell Him why you don’t understand His reasoning. You can scream at Him to look at you and help you—you can even tell Him you’re frustrated at Him for not helping.

The sort of uber-spiritual, fundamentalist, puritanical theology discussed in the previous chapter would probably tell you you’re sinning and you wouldn’t do this if you actually trust God. But that’s a lie from the pit of hell. How do I know? Let’s look at Jesus.

On the Mount of Olives in the most difficult situation in history, Jesus prayed to His Father. Jesus knew what was about to happen; as God, He knew the future, so He knew He was going to follow through and hang on the cross. But the weight of punishment for humanity’s sins was so distressing that He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus cried to God in His distress. What a wonderful Savior He is. He didn’t stroll happily under the guise of “I trust God, so I don’t need to be stressed.” Our Savior is not the spiritual guru of unattainable spirituality that you can’t relate to. He does not look at you in your struggles and say, “Ah, humans…” with a smile and a shake of His head. You are not alone in your suffering. Christ does not just understand your suffering, He has suffered with you. I wouldn’t want the savior of the uber-spirituals.

And look at David in the Psalms. He questions God and lays his heart bare before Him. He doesn’t always understand God’s ways.

I think God wants us to be completely open with Him. I’ll even go as far as to say I think God wants us—at least sometimes—to question Him. There is little in life that brings us closer to Him.

Talk to God. Open up to Him, even if it’s ugly. He can handle it. And if it’s done with a good heart, don’t feel guilty. Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty about it either.

This is an excerpt from my book Anxiety and Depression Are (Not) Always Sins, which can be bought on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B075Z17W11