With Problems Come Opportunities ~ Part Two

Switching Gears to a Deeper Faith: Sorting Out Facts From Feelings

The first time I saw tears in my dad’s eyes I was seventeen.  I am not sure why Dad decided to teach me to drive “stick shift” that morning, but we were about seven miles into my “lesson”–grinding the gears of our old Volkswagen van and stalling at every intersection–when I made a left turn in front of an oncoming car!    Thankfully, the driver of the other car managed to avoid us, but as soon as I could I steered the van to the side of the road where the engine ground to a stop.  It was then, when I looked at my dad, that I saw his tears.  Not a word was said as we each got out of the van, exchanged places and Dad re-started the engine to drive us the rest of the way to work.  Years later, I learned to drive “stick shift” without grinding the gears or stalling, but it took a while before I was even willing to try again!

There are times in our Christian walk when we can grind to a halt spiritually and find ourselves stuck for a variety of reasons.  I learned early in my walk with Christ that with problems come opportunities for spiritual growth we would never otherwise have gained.  Remembering this in no way negates our suffering, but it does keep the light of hope shining during those dark days.

People who are spiritually stuck often have:

  • Experienced deep hurt inflicted by someone else and the problem never resolved
  • Become discouraged by the direction their lives have taken and lost sight of hope
  • Witnessed someone else suffer unjustly and their abuser appears to go unpunished,
Humanly speaking, becoming spiritually stuck is understandable.  
However, the danger of  remaining in such a state is that the more we fixate on the problem, 
the more distant God appears to us and the more we doubt His goodness. 
When we perceive ourselves as victims, we lose sight of the victory that is ours in Christ. 

So is there a way to get unstuck?  Yes.  But it often requires the same concentration and finis as it takes to learn to drive a “stick shift” vehicle.  To learn to shift those gears takes practice and determination not to give up. It calls for accepting that mistakes will be made along the way, but chooses to learn from those mistakes rather than giving way to defeat.  In my last post, I wrote about switching gears by putting off old ways of responding and putting on new attitudes and actions that reflect Christ. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I wrote about switching spiritual gears by replacing our  “self-talk” with “God-talk” (prayer).

In this post I will write about another aspect of switching spiritual gears:

Learning to stand on the facts of what Scripture teaches, rather than allowing feelings to run us and weaken our faith.

Fact number one: This is not heaven!!!  Jesus said in John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

All too often we crumble when bad things happen or our efforts are thwarted. We forget that life on planet earth is temporary, that eternity is yet to come.  Rather than giving way to discouragement when hurt or believing God has abandoned us, it is at such times we are given the opportunity to switch gears by going back to the basics of Scripture:

“Now faith means putting our full confidence in the things we hope for,
it means being certain of things we cannot see.”  
Hebrews 11:1

Faith is not static or dormant.  Faith, according to its biblical definition, is practiced and lived out on a daily basis.   Over time, as faith is practiced it is strengthened and tempered to reflect the beauty of Christ’s presence in the heart and mind of the believer.  Faith trusts increasingly in God’s character for our future and is the basis for enduring hope.

Feelings are not static or dormant either.  However, there is a problem with feelings because they can tend to run counter to biblical faith.  Instead of being God-focused, feelings are run by our emotions and tend to be self-absorbed.

Facts stand alone for all time and are not subject to “interpretation.”  The Scriptures are the major resource Christians have to identify the facts that faith is build upon.  It is as we rely on the truth/facts given us through the Bible, that our faith is verified and strengthened.

Faith lived out greases the gears of a healthy, vibrant relationship with Christ in good times and in difficulty. That is why I encourage Clients to begin to move forward spiritually by encouraging them to do their daily praises and acquainting them with the character of God in Scripture.  God’s purposes are accomplished in us when we rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us.  II Timothy 3:16,17 says it best,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

 Whatever you may be struggling with the one thing you can be confident in, is God’s call to shift your spiritual gears in Isaiah 30:15,

“In repentance and rest is your salvation;
in quietness and trust is your strength.”

 Repentance . . . rest . . . quietness . . . trust . . . an opportunity for personal growth and a relationship that is out of this world–so what are you waiting for?

All to His Glory!

“If Any Of You Lacks Wisdom . . . . “

I can still remember the first time I read James 1:5,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” 

 I was a new Christian with much to learn as a wife, a mother and a daughter of God Most High.  In my world before Christ, making mistakes or showing oneself as weak was a dangerous thing.  Once exposed, the resulting fault-finding and blame-shifting were elements that tore at the soul of this wounded and confused kid.  I had lived most of my life desperate to please and keep peace at just about any  price.   The thought of not having to guard against being ridiculed for showing weakness intrigued me and was downright revolutionary.   In the thirty-plus years I have walked with Christ since reading James’ letter, I have tested this promise many times and in various scenarios:

Crying out to God in fear. . .
Turning to Him with deep regret . . .
Seeking Him for the comfort and assurance I lacked–
 
God has proved Himself faithful . . .
EVERY . . .
SINGLE . . .
TIME . . . .

In my last post, I wrote to you about humility being the key to helping others as we rely on God for the wisdom and strength we need.  We looked at a picture of relationships being lived as God designed them to be–“Two are better than one . . . “–in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12.  We focused on what happens when we invite God into those relationships as the powerful “third strand.” We marveled at how God’s people are strengthened and how those relationships become cosmic because of His Presence.

As I concluded that post, I promised to write in my next post about a very practical tool/exercise that has been helpful to me and has benefited many others.  I ask but one thing of you–I ask that you apply it personally before attempting to help someone else with it.  I make this request because you will never appreciate the value of what is offered unless you have personally reaped its benefits.  Also, by applying it first, Christ’s admonition that you, “take the plank out of our own eye” before going after the speck in the eye of a friend or neighbor (Luke 6:42) will have been honored.

The goal of the exercise is to discern (or expose) who or what the primary influence ruling your thinking and responding at various times is.  It is based on the assumption that there is always a rule or authority that influences how you think and/or act.  We start with the bare bones:

  1.  Draw a triangle on a piece of paper with a heart placed in the center of the triangle.
  2. Write your name next to the right bottom tip; to the left of the triangle write either “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or a specific problem or concern that comes to your mind.  (The point here is, that this illustration holds merit in both difficult (challenges) and easier (joyful) times.)
  3. Draw an arrow from where you have written your name to the top of the triangle.
  4. Draw another arrow from the top of the triangle to the bottom left where you have written, “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or have entered a specific problem or concern.

Now, put some flesh on those bones:

  1. The premise of the exercise: we rarely respond to the challenges and joys we encounter straight on–draw an arrow between your name and the other side underneath the triangle, then “X” the line out.
  2. Instead, we are influenced by whatever “rule or authority” we hold to at any given time.   Identifying what is at the top of the triangle is the key to determining what rules the heart at any given time.  (When working with a Client I ask them, “who or what” is influencing their thinking about their problem?  The answers vary: pressure . . . fear . . . anger . . . hurt . . . anxiety . . . pride . . . money . . . confusion . . . guilt . . . resentment . . . and the list goes on!)
  3. The next step (remembering James’ encouragement)– ASK GOD for the wisdom you need to identify what is influencing your thinking toward what you wrote to left of the triangle.  (Write those influences above the top of the triangle.)
  4. Now, take a deep breath and consider this: Anything written there that is influencing you (other than God) is probably an idol.  Write “God or Idol?” above your reasons listed over the top of the triangle.
  5. Finally, ASK GOD for the help you need to clean out the excuses and keep Him in His rightful place–“God and . . . ” never works!

There are times when I know my attitude is not right or when I know what my problem is but I feel stuck.  In both cases, when I ASK GOD for the wisdom and courage I lack, He has delivered without fail.  I have learned through this simple exercise that when God exposes my sin He does so, not to ridicule me for my failures, but to free me by facing my sin to enjoy a deeper faith.

Proverbs 16:2 warns:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

To hold onto our “reasons” for what we do is to lose what we need most–
the blessing of Christ’s Presence in our lives.
 Seek Him for the wisdom you lack to grow and mature spiritually through those difficulties.
He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!