How do you know God is real? Various people in my life have asked me this question from time to time. And it’s a good question. I truly respect people who can say they have the faith to believe in a God they never see, hear or experience; however, I struggled occasionally with a certain level of doubt about who God is and at what level He is involved with humanity. This is my open and honest self-assessment.
Most of my Christian life (about 20 years) was based on faith alone. For a while, that was good enough, but it was difficult to maintain. I grew up in a church that claimed to believe in a powerful God, but I never saw Him move. I just knew He saved me, and that was enough. And it truly IS enough based on Jesus’s “mustard seed” statement in Matthew 17:20. But I wanted more, and my whole life was about to turn upside down.
The past three and a half years have been the most transformative years of my life. My life changing journey began with a simple prayer to know God at a deeper level. I told Him I was thankful for saving me, but I wanted to actually know Him as more than my “knight in shining armor.” I wanted a real relationship beyond saving the “damsel in distress.”
A couple of weeks later, I was offered an opportunity to join a discipleship group with two other wonderful women. This was a major step for me as an introvert. I didn’t know either of the other two women very well, and it caused major stress and discomfort for me at the time. However, I decided I would never grow spiritually if I didn’t try something; and, I reluctantly agreed to join the study.
A year passed, and the strangers in my discipleship study became like close sisters. Each of us had our own journeys and struggles, but we perfectly complimented each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m extremely thankful to God and to those two women for those days. I’m not sure I could have made it through the months that followed without such amazing support and love as my foundation. By the end of the discipleship study, I began to realize I didn’t know God well at all. This realization broke my heart, and it pushed me even harder to keep searching. Was it a divine appointment for the three of us to meet? I’d like to think so.
The months that followed were some of the hardest in my life. I’ve mentioned different pieces of this part of my life in previous blog entries. I’ve come to understand that, at least in my story, it’s hard to truly know God if you don’t have a situation where dependence on His provision and divine intervention aren’t required. That story is long; therefore, I’ll simply point you to a previous entry that details a series of amazing events that occurred. Here’s very short summary: In a day, I was pulled out a dire situation and given a new opportunity. I was healed from a crippling anxiety disorder and learned the immensity of God’s love. These events radically changed the direction of my life and a level of understanding God.
For months after that life changing moment, I experienced and witnessed things I couldn’t explain. I was from a denomination that didn’t believe in speaking in tongues, but I spoke in tongues anyway. I watched the emotional crutches (over-planning for every situational outcome) I had been using to cope with my anxiety slowly dissolve away. Even my own family admits I’m a different person. I’m strong and confident (although still an introvert). I can speak in front of large crowds, and I don’t become a quivering puddle of gelatin. Life still has its stressful moments, but I’m not anxious. What a difference!
During the last year and half of my life, I saw two dear friends come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. They claimed some of the events that led to their decisions to follow Jesus were supernatural in nature, and I believe them. They are both normal, logical and sane individuals. How do you explain away things like a car radio cycling through stations with static except for the words “don’t doubt the Word of God” with each word on a different station? My friend’s daughter witnessed the whole thing. If it wasn’t God, but it really happened, then how did it happen?
I’ve also witnessed and personally experienced physical healing. How do you explain away a fever leaving a body or pain and swelling leaving a pair of legs in a moment of prayer? Both occurrances happened. The girl with the fever was one of my discipleship study friends. I was the one with the swollen shins. These experiences as well as being healed from the anxiety disorder have recently stirred a passion to join a local healing ministry to help others find wholeness is Christ.
At this point in my life, I’ve experienced too many seemingly coincidental or unexplainable moments to not believe God is real and deeply cares about us. He cares not just about our final destination but about the person we become and the lives we touch along the way.
Why do I write about the parallels between Jesus and Old Testament characters? I believe it is important to understand the strong links between the Old and New Testaments. Repeated themes of Jesus’s attitudes, life, death and resurrection are deeply embedded on every page of the Old Testament. By discovering these links, it will increase your faith and encourage you to believe the Bible is truly God’s Word. As you follow the series Old and New Testament Parallels, Symbols and Ponderings, I encourage you to consider the age of these ancient texts, the span of years between the Old and New Testament writers, the number of repeated prophecies of the coming Messiah and the accurate foretelling of the life of Christ in the Old Testament.
As I researched this topic across the web, I began to realize there are many parallels between Jacob and Jesus, and it would be an extremely long blog entry if I attempted to cover all of them. Below are some of the most interesting parallels from the story of Jacob:
Parallel 1: The Highly Favored and Beloved Son:
If you know the story of Jacob, you may be wondering how he could be called a “type” of Christ. After all, he stole his brother’s birthright by tricking his father. He was stubborn and prone to strife. However, God loved and poured His favor upon Jacob before He was born (Psalms 135:4; Isaiah 41:8; Romans 9:10-13). Throughout the Old Testament, ancient Israel’s relationship with God consisted of love, struggle, waywardness and reconciliation. God’s people weren’t perfect, yet He called them His “chosen” people anyway. I love this parallel because it gives me, who is very imperfect at times, hope. How great is the grace and mercy of God on us!
God favored and loved His Son Jesus before the world was formed (John 17:24).
Parallel 2: Stranger in a Strange Land
After Jacob stole his Esau’s birthright, his brother wanted to kill him. As a result, Jacob fled his home to live among strangers in a far away land, called Paddan-aram, for twenty years. Before returning to his homeland, he built his family, his wealth and riches (Genesis 28:2-4).
Christ left His heavenly Father’s side to become a man upon this earth. As a result, he lived among a world that didn’t understand. His own people wanted to kill Him (Philippians 2:7). Jesus came from heavenly places to share His wealth and glory of the Kingdom with us.
Symbolism: Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob has a dream in which he saw many angels going up and down a ladder that stretched between the heavens and the earth. Theologians believe the ladder represents Jesus who bridges the gap between heaven and this world through his death and resurrection for our sins. Revelation states the ladder will be complete when Jesus returns to His Bride (the Church) (John 1:51; Revelation 21 and 22).
Parallel 3: The Bride
Jacob worked for many years for his uncle to make Rachel his bride (Genesis 29:18).
Christ is the bridegroom of the Church. He came to this earth to die for the love of His bride, the Church. God and His angels are constantly working on our behalf until Christ returns (John 5:17).
Parallel 4: The Elder and The Younger Sisters
Jacob married two wives. Leah was the elder sister and Rachel, the younger. Jacob’s family line continued through both wives and were united together in marriage. Their families eventual journeyed to Canaan, the promised land.
Christ (represents Jacob) is the link between the Old Testament (Leah: Israel/Hebrew people) and the New Testament (Rachel: Jews united with gentiles/also known as the “Bride of Christ”). Jesus was a descendent of Leah because He came from the Tribe of Judah. The gentiles, through Christ, are adopted into the family of God’s chosen people. As God’s children, we are on a journey to the heavenly Canaan (Ephesians 2:14).
Parallel 5: Israel Prevails
God gave Jacob the name “Israel” after they wrestled outside of Jacob’s camp. The Lord gave him this name after saying he “wrestled with God and man, and prevailed” (Genesis 32:24-28).
During the Second Coming, Jesus will return to earth to build the New Jerusalem to signify Israel ultimately prevailing upon the earth (Revelation 21:2).
Parallel 6: The Patriarchs
Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes (descendants from his 12 children) of the Hebrew people.
In contrast, Christ’s disciples became the spiritual fathers.
Parallel 7: The House of Levi and Priesthood
The Tribe of Levi (a tribe of priests) came from Jacob’s family line. The Levites were a class of priests, including high priests. Those who were not priests carried out other religious or political responsibilities. The High Priest was responsible for offering a sacrifice to atone for the sin of the Hebrew people (Leviticus 16).
A good friend of mine has been struggling with some negative emotions related to the word “evangelist.” It makes him picture sidewalk preachers who hold signs saying “Repent!” and shout words of judgment about sins and how wicked people are living. It makes him angry, and I can see why he feels that way. Christians who evangelize by yelling at people and trying to convert through fear make me uncomfortable too, especially as a Christian. I can’t imagine how nonbelievers must feel.
I believe evangelists and Christians in general must demonstrate the love and mercy of Jesus to be an effectively evangelist. It can be as simple as talking to someone as a friend, meeting a stranger’s physical needs (like assisting with food, water, shelter, etc.), or looking into someone’s eyes and telling them “Jesus loves you.” The eyes are the window to the soul, and people can see the love of Jesus shine through your eyes even if you never mention you are a Christian. No matter how you talk to someone about Jesus, it is important to always approach people with love and without an agenda.
In the book Do What Jesus Did, Robby Dawkins tells a story about his experiences evangelizing on a university campus. He ministered to people about Jesus by walking around campus and praying for people he’d encounter. In one of his stories, he walked over to a man standing at a bus stop and asked if he can pray with him. The man said he was an atheist but agreed to let Robby pray with him if he could answer one question first. When Robby agreed, the man asked Robby, “If I were to rape, torture, and murder little girls, what would God say to me when I die?” The man was trying to get Robby to condemn him and say he would go to Hell; but Robby, a smart guy who loves debate, felt led to lower himself and ask the man again if he could pray for him instead of getting into a defensive argument. “You know, I can see that you’re really, really smart – way smarter than I am. I probably couldn’t answer all your arguments,” Robby began. “But sir, I am just a simple man, and if you would be so kind as to let me, I would still like to pray for you and bless you.” The man reluctantly agreed, probably just to get the religious guy to move along. Robby prayed over him that God would show the man how much He loved him. When Robby finished praying the man looked at Robby and then burst into tears, weeping for quite a while. What Robby didn’t realize at the time was that the man he prayed for was the head of an atheist group at the university who often spoke out heatedly against Christianity.
Many times, we as Christians try to rely on our own intellect and our own means when evangelizing. Instead, we should humble ourselves and get of the way so that God can work through us to reach people. Talk to people, listen to them, listen for anything the Holy Spirit might reveal to you about the person, and pray for them. There is so much power in prayer. Even if nothing happens, people will usually just be happy that you cared enough to minister to them.
The biggest problem with the street evangelists who hold up the signs and shout judgment is that they are seeing people through their own eyes. We need to pray and ask God, “Father, how do you see this person? What are you saying to this one whom you love?” God loves every person so much and that is what we should be portraying. Jesus said in John 12:47, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
When I think of evangelism, I often think about a famous magician, Penn Jillette, who is an outspoken atheist. After one of his shows, a man walked over to Penn and complimented him on the show and handed him a Gideon’s New Testament Bible. I thought this would have rubbed Penn the wrong way with him being an atheist, but there is a YouTube video where he says doesn’t respect Christians who don’t evangelize. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you; and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Many times, evangelism refers to ministering to strangers; however, evangelism means also ministering to those around you – friends, coworkers, and students. It may involve discussions about Jesus, but it’s possible to evangelize effectively without saying a word about Jesus. You just have to live a life submitted to Jesus; others will take notice.
I will end with a quote my friend always loves to use: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”
I hope you enjoy this heartfelt post by a dear friend about his view of the world from an atheist’s eyes. – The In-Place Missionary
Faith, Evangelism, and the Non-Believer by Eternally Grateful
A friend and I were talking one day about life prior to my recent conversion. For most of my adult life, I would have said I was an atheist. For people who have been raised in church, with God being part of their life ever since they could remember, it is probably difficult to understand the atheist’s perspective. After all, how could anyone reject something so important as God? My friend and I found ourselves agreeing it would be interesting to attempt to articulate the view of the non-believer from the perspective of someone who, until very recently, used to be one.
Atheists, Agnostics, and the Hard Numbers
It was difficult to decide how to approach writing this article due to the many misconceptions about atheism. So, I decided to start with the basics and take a look a couple of definitions. Most dictionaries or encyclopedias define “atheism” as a lack of belief in a deity of any kind. Whereas an “agnostic” is often defined as someone who “neither believes or disbelieves” or someone who believes there is just not enough information to determine whether there is a supreme being or not. Atheists and agnostics are a rather small, disjointed group according to a Pew research poll (Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey) conducted in 2007). The poll asked Americans about their religious beliefs and reported 1.6% of Americans said they were atheist; while 2.4% were agnostic. Another 6.3% of Americans claim to be secular unaffiliated. If I were to sum up the numbers, about 10% of Americans do not believe in God. I can confirm the statistics are basically right because I lived it for almost 40 years.
Some people would have you believe the country is over-run with atheists and secular humanists. Obviously, there are a few small groups who make attempts to draw attention to themselves or injustices they see. Some groups are even attempting to ‘evangelize’ using methods normally attributed to an aggrandizing televangelist; however, the number of atheists and agnostics is relatively small by my standards.
What Does It Mean to be an Atheist?
In the end, the term “atheist” is just a label. Like all labels, it just makes it easier for us to categorize things; however, when one looks deeper, things are not as they appear nor do they always fit nicely inside a box. Just like Christians, the atheists I’ve met were a diverse group, and they came from all walks of life. Some had religion in their childhood, some did not. Some were liberal while some were conservative. Some were highly educated, some not. Some believed in spirits or other forces that come to play occasionally in the realms of man. Others did not.
For me personally, being atheist meant:
There is no all-knowing, all-powerful being who was creator of the universe.
I walk alone, and I was good with that.
I don’t care (apathy) regarding the human condition. It is what it is.
I don’t matter. In a universe that is billions of years old and populated with an uncountable number of galaxies where each is populated by an uncountable number of stars, my 50 plus years of existence on this rather smallish planet is really quite insignificant.
My Negative Perceptions about Christianity
As an atheist, I felt religion was not the basis of morality or justice, but was based on a social contract between individuals. I saw Christians lie, cheat, and steal just like everyone else, so what was so special about them? Experiences throughout my life furthered my negative perceptions about Christianity when it became apparent that at least some had hidden agendas. The Christians I encountered were often judgmental and hypocritical and tried to “convert” others to their specific brand of Christianity instead of genuinely loving people without any strings attached.
Public prayers during secular sporting events, public meetings, etc. were extremely uncomfortable for me. I always felt like it created an expectation to “go along” with it even if I didn’t agree. If I didn’t participate, I was “bad.” The “moment of silence” made me feel even worse because I viewed it as an attempt by Christians to get other religious groups to gang up on us non-believers. To this day, even as a born again Christian, I still cringe sometimes when there are secular events with public prayers because I don’t want unbelievers to feel excluded or forced like I did.
It would be easy to blame others for chasing me away from God; but, in the end, it was my decision. At the time, I just didn’t see or feel the way Christians said they did. I didn’t feel the Spirit, and I didn’t want to pretend about what I felt just to fit in.
Looking in the Mirror
I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who lives in the UK. In talking to him, I realized he and I had been going in opposite directions. While I had recently embraced the Message and become born again, he had been slowly drifting away from the Church. He said he was “living the lie” by the motions without truly believing. Although he is a secular humanist, he still takes his 86 year old father to church.
As we were chatting, it became obvious he was trying to steer me away from my new path. In effect, he was evangelizing me! My friend cited Christopher Hitchens as an influence and suggested I read his books or at least view his many Youtube videos with the idea that we would talk again on the issue. I was unfamiliar with the name; but after our conversation, as I had promised, I googled his name and watched some videos.
Mr. Hitchens is a rather well-spoken author known for negative views regarding religion. As I watched the first interview, I could see he was a thoughtful, well-educated man. I could also see a very sick man in the last stages of a battle with terminal cancer. Hitchens passed away in 2011. In all honesty, I would have to say I agreed with about 95% of what he said in the interview about man, human society, and religion. I’m willing to bet most believers would agree with a lot of his comments as well. I haven’t read his books or seen all of his public commentary, so it’s possible there are a few inflammatory statements associated with him; however, I’m sure there have been more than a few unkind words thrown in his direction by believers as well. All unkind words and inflammatory statements aside, I am reminded we are still all God’s children.
If someone says they are not a believer, do we really need to criticize them for being honest? They are just telling you what they feel. They have no connection to God. Why attack the messenger, especially when they are telling the truth? If someone tells us it is raining, should we be critical of them because we would rather hear it is sunny outside?
Today, as I write this, I thank God for the opportunity to hear Mr. Hitchen’s words spoken so honestly and eloquently, as they reinvigorate me to find a way to reach those who need Him most. I also pray for mercy for Mr. Hitchens, as I do for my parents and other family members who may not have known our Savior. In my heart, I know I can do no less.
Reaching Out to Others
So, how does one reach an atheist or like-minded person with the message of salvation? That’s not an easy question to answer. I’ll tell you first what doesn’t work. Preaching “fire and brimstone” or trying to force the message on a non-believer does not only fail, but would likely be counter-productive. The harm done by this is incalculable, in my opinion, for the audience will often reject the message as well as the messenger.
I think it’s better to engage each person in a positive manner. Throughout my life, I have found the tone of dialogue changes as one person gets to know another. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect his or her point of view. Try to look at things from the other person’s point of view. Everyone has to deal with the pain of living. Let us not cause someone to close his or her mind to the message and thus the door to salvation.
Also, what do non-believers know about you and your faith? Are you modeling Christ or a persona with perfect hair and flashy charisma? In my experience, people tend to avoid the high pressure salesman; but they will listen and even enlist input from people they trust like close friends. If they see the way you live and the peace you have, they may at some point say, “Hey, I think I’d like to know more about that.” And if the time is right, at some point they may decide they want that too.
Through New Eyes
Less than a year ago, I became born again. I was conquered by love, not fear. One of the things that became almost an obsession with me from the start was to address what I see as a major problem with the Church as a whole. Specifically, we Christians need to do a better job of reaching out to
non-believers. We must live the gospel and reach out with love in our hearts. God loves all His children, and we must never forget that.
For those who have spent all or most of their life in the Church, let me say this: We must remember a nonbeliever does not know the joy we know through Him. We must also remember a non-believer may also bear scars from prior encounters from our fellow Christians. We must be inclusive and empathetic, open minded and thick-skinned, and most of all, we need to love on non-believers as we do believers. As I look at my lost brothers and sisters, I feel their pain and loneliness; however, because God loves ALL his children, I am forever grateful and hopeful.
Our time here on earth is all about relationships with other people, as well as, our relationship with God. It’s important to invest the lives of others and sincerely get to know them. We can say things as a friend we cannot say as a stranger. It is impossible to know someone’s needs until you get to know the person. Listen to the still, small voice and remember to use a still small voice in your relationships with others. Colossians 4:5-6 NLT:
Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
I realize as I write this post how much I need to work on forgiveness. How can I expect God’s forgiveness yet not forgive others who hurt me when I was a non-believer? I know I’ve got a long way to go; but with God’s help, I will get there.
Two final thoughts:
The first is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” I love that saying! One must absolutely live the gospel first.
The second thought is inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 and came to me first through the gift of music (Proof of Your Love, by For King and Country):
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day,
and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know my husband and I have seen our fair share of struggles over the past eight years; however, we’re probably not that different from you or someone you know. Let’s face it — sometimes life is hard. When we face difficult times, we have two choices. We can choose to give up and walk away from God, or choose to rely on Him for strength and believe the struggles do not define us, claim us, nor are they the end of the story.
As our family is facing another scary life situation, I am humbly reminded that I am not in control. Although anxiety no longer plagues me, I am still awake to visceral pain and anger I feel. I must acknowledge these feelings if I am honest with myself and others around me. It would be a lie to say I don’t battle myself and my humanity when facing problems; however, these emotions cannot be allowed to control me. The One who has control gives hope, and I’m called to remain hopeful and place all my cares upon Him.
Some people have suggested we should “give up and curse God” like Job’s wife once suggested to her husband because of all the struggles we’ve seen in our marriage, but why would I do that? God has always been faithful to deliver my husband and me from prior situations and has even positioned us mentally, physically, and circumstantially better than before the trouble started. Why would He change His promise now? The Bible promises His faithfulness is unwavering even though our lives shift like the sands with the tide, and my life can testify to this truth. He is my rock, my firm foundation, and my strong and mighty tower, shielding me from the storm. I am not promised a life without struggle, only that He will be there along the way to protect my heart, mind, and soul.
I have been asked before, “How can you believe in a God who is supposedly good who allows suffering, pain, and evil in this world?” My response is simple: He gives us free will, and the struggles we face are not the end of the story. As promised in Scripture, great suffering is equivalent to great blessings. Also, encouragement, love, and mercy are stronger than ever in the face of adversity. How many terrible events have you witnessed personally or seen in the news only to have stories of heroism, compassion, and love overshadow the negative outcome? Good will always prevail, and God is always for His people. Our personal testimonies of enduring and overcoming situations break the shackles that bind other people who are going through the same struggles. Our testimonies are hope and freedom.
Although the evil forces likely delight in causing or participating in the chaos that surrounds my husband and me, they cannot possibly fathom the depth of immeasurable goodness that has resulted with each trial. Our marriage is stronger than ever because God is at the center and binds us tightly together. Our personal fortitude endures because He sustains our strength. Our foundations cannot be shaken even as our lives shatter around us because He is steadfast and stable. If at the end of the day, all we have is the almighty God, we have all we could ever need.
If you find yourself in a rough situation in life, remember: rejoice in the testimony God will give you to bring hope to others around you! Your struggle is not the end of the story, and God will never let you see the battle withut first giving you the victory.
I have had a difficult time over the last two years articulating to other people why my encounter with the God of Love has radically changed me forever. The physical experience reinforced my faith that God is real, awesomely powerful, and able to divinely intervene on our behalf no matter the circumstance or our beliefs about Him. However, it wasn’t the physical experience that change my life (read the blog post My Encounter with the God of Love to read about my encounter with God). Emotional and physical experiences are great, but memories fade. The emotions become less passionate, and the intensity of the physical experience dulls, but the revelation of who God is and how I interpret my relationship with Him remains.
I went to my first Passover dinner this year. It was a unifying experience to see brothers and sisters from different churches worshipping God together and celebrating the Passover story, the Passover feast, and how the elements of the meal contrast to Christ’s work on the cross. It also allowed me to make new friends with two older ladies who sat at our dinner table.
One of the ladies, whom I’ll call “Joy” for the purpose of this blog post to protect her privacy, explained to us that the work of Christ on the cross isn’t the only reason to love God. As an effort to help us understand what she meant, Joy bittersweetly interwove her testimony about the painful loss two years ago of her husband who had been terminally ill. On his final night, as his last moments drew near and his body was failing, she called for Hospice to take him with the hope his last hours would be as peaceful; but he never made it to the ambulance. Joy choked on her words, as did we, as she recalled crawling back into her bed and pulling the covers over her after her husband’s body was taken away. She stayed in the bed for several minutes, lying in the fetal position, sobbing, and asking God to take her.
“My best friend was gone; but that’s when everything changed,” Joy explained. Jesus’s presence engulfed her. Her pain became His peace. Her emptiness became His fullness. She said she physically felt Jesus hold her tightly, heard Him reassure her everything would be okay, and the promise the void left by her husband’s passing would not leave her empty because He would be everything she needed.
“At that moment, I understood what it meant to truly love Jesus beyond being my salvation.” Joy informed us softly. “If He died on the cross and rose again for us and nothing more, that would be enough; but how great is our Savior that He is not satisfied with salvation being the only part of our story with Him? He is our friend, our brother, and the lover of our souls. I miss my husband, but I don’t feel empty or lonely because He fills me. Now, I truly understand what people mean when they say they have a relationship with God. I’m so in love with Him, and He is so much more loving than we can ever imagine. He desperately wants a relationship with us.”
As I sat listening to Joy’s story, I was instantly taken back to the day when God radically changed my life and understood why that day was so important. It was a day of revelation. My soul was awakened to my desperate need to know God at a deeper level than simply the one who saved my soul. He confirmed how much he deeply loves me as my Father, my Protector, the One Who Cries with Me, the One Who Lifts Me Up, and the Prince of Peace. I was overwhelmed by the crushing weight of His love. All of the anger, bitterness, and anxiety could not withstand His tremendous force.
Although several months have passed since that day, I am reminded of His love. I had a vision several weeks ago of a painful morning I spent crying in my SUV, unable to join my husband for Sunday worship because I was so angry with God. I saw myself from a third person view, huddled with my knees to my face, and bitterly crying out to God to save me from my circumstances. Just as I was remembering the tremendous pain and wondering why I was reliving the moment, I saw Jesus holding me, crying with me. The image of His presence wrecks me even now. I don’t honestly know whether I was imagining the moment, or if it was truly God giving me a glimpse into a time when I felt alone but wasn’t. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because it reminds me of the loving characteristics of God.
My challenge to you — if you don’t feel the need to ask God who He truly is, you will likely never realize you are missing anything. After all, you don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had it, right? But if you want to know His heart and love for you, I would encourage you to ask God to reveal Himself to you. He never disappoints when we honestly seek His heart. Although He doesn’t need a relationship with man, He still wants one with you. In the same way we cherish our families, our children, and our friends at the deepest levels of love we can possibly imagine, He cherishes you; and He desperately wants you to know how much He loves you.
Okay, I admit it. I’m hopelessly addicted to trying to control my own situations and the outcomes — or at least I was. Now, I’m jumping into the abyss with both feet, and I’m learning how to not be afraid to fall.
People who don’t know me well may perceive my new found disregard for over-planning and over-strategizing to be reckless or naïve, but I assure you this assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. After years of trying to do things my own way, I’m finally learning to let go of my controlling death grip one finger at a time and just trust God. He is constantly faithful even when I fail to trust His plans and timing (Psalms 136:1-7).
My over-planning antics aren’t working so well. I have spent the majority of my life meticulously planning, strategizing, and implementing all sorts of scenarios, attempting to anticipate the outcomes. I feared the “what ifs?” of life, and anxiety was usually the root cause of the need to feel in control. Although I no longer battle the same level of unhealthy anxiety I once did (see blog post “My Encounter with the God of Love“), I’m hardheaded enough to still demand to do things my own way; and, as a result, I cause needless turmoil for myself along the way. I want to live a life without surprises and without heartache; but God continues to lovingly remind me that I’m never really in control no matter how hard I try (James 4:14-15).
Sometimes, painful experiences amplify spiritual immaturity or weaknesses. The biggest revelation regarding my control freak issues occurred within the past couple of years. I was confronted in my spirit that my struggle for control over the little things in life have caused me to be less willing to relinquish control over big things. In essence, I was indirectly demanding for God to take a backseat while I handled whatever the issue of the day was on my own. In my blog post “He is Worthy to be Trusted, Part 1: My story of hope during financial crisis”, I described the terrifying situation when my husband’s job and the family business was simultaneously lost shortly after he and I married. This was one of many circumstances God used to show me just how out of control I am and how sovereign and trust worthy He is. Glory be to the God who hears our cries and lifts us from the miry clay of our circumstances. As difficult as some situations can be, I don’t regret the out of control moments. The most spiritually growing times of my life have occurred in the midst of trial or pain.
God is a loving father. Do I believe God caused the job loss or the turmoil surrounding the situation? No, I have never believed He would do harm to His children, but I do know that He will use a bad situation to strengthen us, to teach us how to trust, and to grow closer to Him. Also, I believe the submissive act of relinquishing control allows God to use us. If you are willing to trust, He’ll never fail you, and you’ll never be too afraid to jump (Romans 8:28).
In Summary. I’m not trying to suggest with this blog post that planning and strategizing are bad efforts. They are good practices for aiding us with achieving the optimal goal. After all, you will rarely go anywhere without first planning to eventually end up somewhere. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes we don’t have all the answers and we need help. Sometimes, life is difficult and a situations get out of control. The good news is that God knows every situation and its outcome; He is always in control. The only way to know for sure if what God says about being worthy of trust is true is to hold you nose and take the plunge.
When He calls you to walk upon the water with Him, will you trust Him to guide you atop the violent waves of this life? The most liberating decision I ever made was just to trust God at His word and let the rest go.
We all struggle with things we’ve told ourselves we can’t escape. In some ways, what we’ve told ourselves is true because we give a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I have an issue (doubt, anger, hopelessness, a sense of worthlessness, etc.). It’s just the way it is, and I can’t escape it.” And guess what? You won’t escape because you’ve fulfilled what you’ve declared to be a truth in your life, but the whole truth is you do have power over your struggle.
Identify the lies and choose not to believe them. The Devil, our enemy, will lie and twist truths to convince you that you’re a slave. You may feel you’re not worthy, it’s something you can’t change, or you’re a victim. Those thoughts are lies. Don’t listen to them. In addition, we are good at lying to ourselves by making self-defeating statements like, “That’s just the way it is”, “But I’ve always struggled with that”, “That’s just something I can’t change”, or “I’m working on getting over that issue, but I guess it’s just going to take a while.” The enemy knows if you allow yourself to be enslaved, you will be distracted, paralyzed by your circumstances, and useless to the call the Father has put on your life. You have a choice to let enemy control you. You also have a choice to evict the thoughts, feelings, or negative emotions before they take root and darken your mind.
Confess the sin to the Father. Ask the Father to forgive you for the mental thing to which you’ve allowed yourself to be bound. For example, if you’ve struggled with bitterness over a situation that happened to you and you’ve used that as an excuse to become a hopeless or angry, confess those things to the Father and ask Him to forgive you. If you’re not sure where to look for inspiration about how to confess and talk with the Father for the issue you’re battling, here’s a great blog post from a fellow Christian blogger that may help: http://revivedlife.com/blog/prayer-to-release-anger/. There’s no magic formula or prayer template, but if you are sincere in confession and forgiveness, the Father is always faithful to forgive.
Make declarations over the situation. Know that you have power over the enemy because Jesus has given you that authority. Just as Jesus spoke directly to demons and disease to cast them out and bring healing, you can do the same thing. You can make declarations by stating something like the following: “In Jesus name, anger (or whatever it is you’re battling), be gone! You have no power over me. I chose to set my eyes on things that are good and righteous because they please the Lord. I cast out feelings and emotions that are not of God. I have been purchased by the blood of the Savior, and He is worthy to purchase my freedom.”
Troubles may come and go. Life happens, but you choose whether or not to allow your circumstances to open doorways to negative feelings, thoughts, and emotions. As soon as a new negative thought tries to enter your mind, immediately offer it up to God and choose not to allow it to take root. As a trusted friend once told me (and he was right) when I was swimming in self-pity and doubt, “You are a strong soldier of God. Now start acting like one!”
Believe and trust that God has freed you and move on. The keys to your chains have already been purchased. Live free. 🙂
I suffered from an anxiety disorder most of my life. In addition to this disorder, I felt shame and unworthy of God’s love and grace even though I had been a Christian for almost 20 years. But now, I can’t deny I’m loved.
In September 2012, I found myself sitting in a prayer service thanks to the strong urging
of a good friend. I remember listening to the live praise music and other Christians around me worshiping God with a love and adoration I didn’t yet understand. I felt nothing. After months of crying and begging God to pull me out of a desperate situation that had only deepened my anxiety and depression, I was completely drained.
“I know you’re real and powerful God, but where are you?” I remember thinking.
The prayer service message that night was all about oppression, mental and physical bondage and how our spirits are affected by these things. As the prayer director spoke, I realized I was the person who needed to hear the message.
“What an odd coincidence,” I remember thinking. But now I know it was a divine appointment.
When the message concluded, there was an opportunity for prayer and worship before we were dismissed. That’s when I felt a tug on my heart as if God was saying, “Go ask for prayer” – so I went to the alter. As the prayer director began to pray over me, she motioned for an intercessor to join us. The girl who assisted didn’t know my story, but immediately said words I’ll never forget, “God wants you to know He hears your cries. You think He’s not listening; but He hears you, and He loves you. He calls you His precious daughter.”
After the young intercessor spoke, the prayer director placed her hand on my forehead and prayed for God to break the hold of spiritual oppression and restore my joy. Suddenly, I was overcome with an immediate feeling of immense love and joy. It struck me so hard and so fast that I felt like I might stagger backwards during the prayer, and that’s when the surprise giggles started — and I could stop, but I didn’t want it to end. During prayer, joy and happiness overpowered me, and the silly giggles increased into laughter. I felt the love of the Father completely engulf me, sweeping away the pain and the darkness I suffered for so many years.
When the prayer ended, I realized I was a different person. My anxiety disorder was gone and peace had replaced it. I undeniably know God loves me. I will never question His love for me again. For the first time in my life, I have learned to trust with my whole heart.
Thank you for reading my story, and I hope it has encouraged you.
The blog post below was written by my husband. Enjoy!
– The In-Place Missionary
I grew up always going to church. My parents were both Christians and were always heavily involved in the churches we attended. We were members of three different churches throughout my childhood and my late twenties. The churches were of different denominations, but I would consider all of them traditional and conservative. The Sunday morning services were structured and usually similar – sing a few hymns or praise songs and listen to a sermon. There were also different things going on at times other than on Sunday mornings, such as a Wednesday night supper, small group meetings, student ministry activities, etc.
In all my years growing up in the church, it always seemed the sermons were always basically about how I should act and live my life – I should tithe 10% of my income, I shouldn’t curse, I should do this list of things to be a better parent, etc. I don’t say this to imply that there is anything wrong with that. Those things are true. There is nothing wrong with getting instruction on how to “be a better Christian.” The problem was that I didn’t realize there was so much more to God than what I had experienced up to that point in my life.
The turning point for me began when I went to a conference at a local church that was actually very close to my house. My wife had a friend at work who told her about the conference, and she agreed to go. The conference was Friday night and Saturday morning. I missed the Friday night service because of work. My wife got a friend to go with her on Friday; I joined them Saturday morning. When I first walked into the building, I noticed you could feel God’s presence overwhelmingly in the church. The service started with worship music, but it was not the kind I grew up experiencing. I wasn’t familiar with the songs, but it wasn’t the songs or the musicians or singers that struck me. It was the way the people in the congregation were worshipping. I could tell they were really singing the songs to God and pouring their heart and soul into worshipping Him. They were crying out to God and sometimes shouting and dancing, but I sensed it was not for show. During worship services I had previously experienced in other churches, people stood around and sang, a small number of people might close their eyes, or a couple of people may lift a hand while singing. It was completely different from what I was familiar with.
This is the part where I should say I am an introvert. I am usually pretty quiet and reserved. I must admit I was a little bit uncomfortable attending this church at first. Yet something about it drew me in, and I felt called to regularly attend there. I tried to resist and told God it was uncomfortable, but God instructed me to step outside of my comfort zone in order to really grow. The fact that it was uncomfortable for me was the point.
I have been going to this church every Sunday now for about nine months. It has really changed everything I thought I knew about being a Christian. I have seen and heard many testimonies of the sick being healed, even the dead being brought to life. I have seen people, including my wife, receive visions from God. I have seen people give prophetic words over others. I never experienced any of this in the first 30 years of my life growing up in the church. It seems a lot of churches worship God and talk a lot about Jesus, but they put the Holy Spirit in a box and don’t allow His power to work.
Jesus says in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (NLT). Jesus performed all kinds of miracles, from healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, and casting out demons all the way to bringing people back from the dead. Yet He says if we believe in Him, we can do all those same things AND EVEN GREATER WORKS! Not growing up being taught these truths, it blew my mind to think I could lay hands and heal people in Jesus’s name. The way I grew up, prayer was a passive act, meaning you only asked God to do things like heal people. You didn’t actively go to the person, lay hands on them, and say “in Jesus’s name, be healed!”
I am still learning a lot about the power of the Holy Spirit, so much so that I almost feel like a new Christian. I am diving in though because I want God to work through me to impact the lives of others through healing, prophetic words, or even just encouraging others. I have seen Him work through others at my church through healings, prophetic words, and speaking in tongues. I long for Him to use me like that. Once you have tasted and seen the awesome power of God, there is no going back to worshipping God passively and distantly.
I think two sentences from a book titled The Essential Guide to Healing by Bill Johnson and Randy Clark sum up my feelings: “Just as Jeremiah criticized the Israelites for creating with their hands gods who were helpless, modern man has created a “god” who is helpless to act in this world. A god this writer refuses to worship.”