Let’s Talk About #Depression

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This entry is Part 3 of a series on mental health and #metoo. Last week I told a little bit of my story, and invited you to tell yours. Then, because of the response to that post, I wrote about Anxiety and how we as followers of Christ can live in triumph over it (or at least fight it off better than we sometimes do). If you haven’t at least read the post on Anxiety, go back and read it, as the principles in that post apply to this one as well.


Peanut butter & jelly. Kittens & puppies. Salt & pepper. Socks & shoes. Bread & wine.

So many of the things we enjoy in life or use every day come in pairs. Sure, you can have one without the other, and at times, that’s appropriate, but more often than not, there’s a good reason two things are rarely thought of without the other.

Unfortunately for many people – myself included – there is another pair in our lives, but this pair we would be better off without…

I think I’ve been struggling with depression since I was between 5 and 7 years old. The first time I remember thinking I’d be better off dead, I was still in elementary school. The first time I made a half-hearted attempt to end my life, I was a freshman in high school. In my case, the anxiety came later, but for you, it may have been the other way around. Regardless, depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand so often, that pharmaceutical companies have developed single drugs that fight both illnesses, in spite of the fact that they occur and manifest themselves in nearly opposite ways.

Depression brings with it a heavy darkness like no other, suffocating us with the weight of sadness, hopelessness, and, after a while, helplessness. Where anxiety is passively active, depression is actively passive. Anxiety sits below the surface, that constant gnawing in the stomach and irrational fear of the what if, urging us ever on toward action, even when we don’t know what action to take.

Depression, on the other hand, just sits there, pushing in against our lungs, keeping us in bed, on the couch, staring but not seeing, preventing us from enjoying anything at all. And like anxiety, depression has its own script. Rather than plaguing us with “what ifs” and “you should bes”, depression’s script is filled with “why bothers” and “who careses”.

But depression is not of God. You already know that. While it may lead you at times to blame God for any number of things you think are causing you to be depressed, deep down, you already know where depression comes from: Hell.

Remember, Jesus said that Satan came to “steal, kill, and destroy” (see John 10:10). That sounds like a pretty good description of depression to me! So if depression isn’t from God, and is from our enemy, what are some ways we can combat it and live into the abundant life Jesus came to give us? In addition to what we talked about when we addressed anxiety, give these a try:

 

Change Your Focus: So often, we fall into those paralyzing states of depression because we’ve allowed our minds to focus on wrong things for too long, leaving them unchecked and free to destroy any glimmer of hope we may have mustered recently. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul gives some advice that is endlessly helpful for us whose brains tend to work against us and wear us down: Think positive thoughts.

Ok, I know that sounds awfully trite and a lot like what you’ve heard over and over again. But God, through Paul, is calling us to a higher level of thought: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable – if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy – dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, CSV)

Think about some of the most common thoughts you have either daily, or especially when you’re in the midst of a depressed episode. Are your common thoughts filled with the truth as revealed in God’s Word? Are those thoughts pure or lovely or praiseworthy? I’d be willing to bet they’re not because those aren’t the kinds of thoughts that come naturally, and they’re certainly not the kinds of thoughts your enemy wants you to think!

This takes practice. This takes intentionality. But if you lean on the Holy Spirit living in you, take your thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 10:5), and choose to actively and regularly focus your thoughts on those things that are from God, you really will begin to notice a change in your thought patterns which can pull your heart and mind out of the pit more quickly each time!

 

Stick to a Schedule: With the exception of the rare (and these need to be rare!!) Mental Health Day, one of the most helpful ways to combat depression is to create a daily routine and stick to it!

  • Get up around the same time every morning. (That means wake up well before noon, just in case you were wondering.)
  • Take a shower. Brush your teeth. If your children will allow it, put on makeup from time to time.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast.
  • Spend time with Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you, guide you, and challenge you as you spend time in God’s Word and in prayer. Pray for others, express gratitude and praise. Even in your prayers, focus your mind on what is true, what is honorable, etc. Here’s something really important I’ve learned: A good sign your depression has turned into an idol is if it monopolizes most of your prayers. So change the focus of your prayers to worship, thanks, and intercession for others. God knows what you need, and when the time is right, He will provide and heal.
  • Go to work or school, take the kids to the park, or find somewhere to volunteer. In other words, get out of the house for a bit!
  • Exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk or doing some Pilates.
  • Eat a healthy lunch.
  • Make intentional contact with another (adult) human being. If you’re at work or school, ask someone you see how they are, and then listen. Don’t let them off with “fine” – really ask, and don’t interrupt with your own thoughts and stories. If you’re at home, call a friend, especially if you really, really, don’t want to. Engage the cashier at Target in conversation, and if you’re brave enough, ask how you can pray for them. (And then do it!)
  • Limit your Social Media time. Social media is one of the quickest ways to move from having a good day to being depressed. Everyone’s life will look better than yours in the pictures and posts you see and those thoughts will consume you. (Remember thinking about what’s true? Here’s a great place to practice that one…) Get off your phone or your computer and go read a book or blow bubbles with your kids or something. Or, get your work done. Something, anything, other than looking at the polished exteriors of other people’s inwardly messy lives.
  • Eat a healthy dinner. (Are you detecting a pattern here? Good, because the food we eat can absolutely affect our mood!)
  • Take some time at the end of the day to review: What good things happened? In what ways did you succeed? What are 5 things you can be thankful for? Write these things down. A day will come when you’ll need the review. (Another option is to regularly practice the spiritual discipline of Examen.
  • Do something you enjoy. Have a scoop of ice cream. (Note: An entire carton is not “a scoop”. You know that.) Watch a movie with a friend or loved one. Take a hot bath or shower. Snuggle up in a blanket with a good book.
  • Go to bed on time. It will make following your schedule that much easier tomorrow.

 

Depression can feel unbeatable sometimes.

It’s not.

It can feel like it’s suffocating you.

It’s not.

It can tempt you to end your life because nothing is worth the pain you’re feeling.

It’s wrong.

Remember, at the cross of Jesus Christ, depression lost its grip on you. When Jesus burst out of that grave, sin, death, and every other evil thing shattered, and we are no longer bound by these things. We are free to live lives of abundant joy, of hope, of excitement because those are the lives God created us to live. We are no longer slaves to sin, sickness, and death. We live in the victory Jesus has won for us! 

 

What has helped you overcome or at least fight off your depression and suicidal thoughts?

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Let’s Talk About #Anxiety

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Yesterday, I told a little bit of my #MeToo story, and from the reactions to that post, and from an experience I had this morning, I think we need to talk about a couple of the most common consequences of sexual abuse: Anxiety and Depression


I felt it coming on. It started with a tingling in my legs. Then the sweating started, and that unmistakeable feeling in my stomach. I was heading into a panic attack.

Although I haven’t had a panic attack in about a year, I still recognized it when it started. But unlike every other time, I saw right through it and was able to stop it in its tracks. Previous attacks have prompted me to try to figure out what was causing them. This is a great place to start sometimes. But this one was different, and I recognized immediately that this one was nothing more than a direct attempt by my enemy to throw me into chaos and take my eyes off of God.

God has been doing some unbelievable things in and through me this week as He is working out some final details of our new plan. So it makes perfect sense that my enemy want to try to thwart that. So I told on him, did some controlled breathing, and in no time, he was forced to retreat.

It doesn’t always work like this, I know. In fact, this is the exception to the rule. I know the pain and helplessness that comes from suffering from panic attacks, and I know that often, there’s no easy or quick solution. I’ve been there. I understand.

So what do we do when Anxiety is our proverbial thorn? Here are 3 ways I’ve learned to overcome anxiety:

Take Your Medicine: if you’ve been battling with any kind of mental illness for a while, believe it or not, your brain has probably changed, and not for the better, as I’m sure you can imagine. Long-term anxiety (as well as other illnesses like depression and bi-polar) changes the way your brain cells function, and the way chemicals in your brain such as dopamine and serotonin are generated and passed back and forth. Medication helps remedy this problem, and in some cases, can even reverse it.

If you grew up in a more conservative or fundamental denomination like I did, you may have been taught that any kind of mental illness is the result of sin and a lack of faith, and that taking medication is the manifestation of those two evils. Listen to me very carefully: THIS IS A LIE straight from the pit of hell, devised only to keep you in bondage and to destroy you. I cannot stress this enough.

If you need medication to reverse the long-term affects of mental illness (your doctor can help you determine this), take it! God works just as powerfully through medicine as He does through prayer. He invented the technology to fix what’s broken in us. It’s just as ok to take medicine for mental illness as it is to undergo chemo treatments for cancer.

Also, go to a counselor!!! There’s no shame in getting help and everyone around you will be happy you did! Trust me, I know.

 

Tell Dad: This is exactly what I did this morning. I felt the panic attack coming on and I knew that it was nothing more than my enemy trying to derail me from everything God is doing in and through me right now. So I told on him to my Father, and He put a quick end to this one. Sometimes, the best thing to do when anxiety creeps up (or just flat-out attacks you) – especially if you know that you’re in the center of God’s will and He’s doing great things in you and through you – is to just tell God about it, and ask Him to pour out His peace and grace on you in that moment.

 

Ask Why: Sometimes, a panic attack requires some work on our part before it can be overcome. There are times when we need to talk to God about the attack itself and work out with Him what else is causing it. David (see Psalm 42) and Paul (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) both took this approach, taking the time to examine the whys behind anxiety. Are there thoughts you need to stop thinking? Are there fears and doubts you need to confess and repent of? Have you been skimping on your time in God’s Word and sitting with Him in prayer? Do you need to intentionally put on your armor every day (see Ephesians 6:10-18)? Ask that all important “why”, and then act on whatever God reveals to you as the source of your anxiety, and what you might be able to do about it.

 

God did not create anxiety. It is a consequence of sin – ours and other people’s against us. But in everything, there is grace. Remember, Jesus conquered sin and death forever when He victoriously came back to life. But we’re living in an already/not yet world, so the effects of sin still touch our lives everyday. We don’t live defeated, though. In Jesus, we are victorious and we have everything we need to overcome. Just like cancer, God may not choose to completely heal you here on earth, but He will provide the tools, the strength, the grace, and the peace you need to live the abundant life Jesus died to give you. Why are you anxious, oh, my soul? Put your hope in God! 

 

What has helped you get through panic attacks and times of increased stress and anxiety? 

Why I’m Grateful for My #MeToo

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UPDATE: After the overwhelming response to this post, I made it part of a 3-part series designed to address our stories, and the two most common consequences many of us face: Anxiety and Depression.


It was a shocking moment. Probably the most shocking of my life. But there was no denying it. It made absolutely no sense, and yet, it made perfect sense all at the same time.

I was scrolling through Twitter and ran across this conversation between two women I’ve never met in person but have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for. Truth be told, after what I saw her do at the Lifeway Women’s Leadership Forum last week, I do, indeed, want to be Beth Moore when I grow up! (More on that in a later post, I promise). Anyway, this:

They were, of course, talking about the topic that has gripped our collective attention: sexual abuse, and the case of this conversation, specifically, sexual abuse in Christ’s Church.

It was Jen’s tweet that caught my attention and held it for a long moment. And then, I realized something earth-shatteringly significant…

I was 5 or 6 the first time someone made a sexual comment about me. It was at church. I was wearing my favorite blue dress, and all I knew was that whatever that man said was bad, and that somehow I had done something wrong. From that day on, I was overly aware of my body and how it compared to every other girl’s body.

As I got older, I developed faster than most of my friends, and I was not ok with that! People continued to make comments in front of me about my body, and I began to hate it more and more.

When I was 12, the unthinkable happened, and the journey that experience sent me on was nothing short of a nightmare that lasted 20+ years. (Not to mention all the other times since then I was touched, leered at, and otherwise was the object of unwanted sexual attention…)

Physical sickness, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and attempts, a long-lasting addiction to pornography, a string of unhealthy relationships, and, I firmly believe, singleness, were the consequences of what that man did to me that Sunday afternoon at his house.

The other day, my mom asked if I thought I was finally healed. I told her, “I think I’m as healed as I can be at this point, but there’s probably more that will come up some day”. If you’ve been on a healing journey before, you likely know what I mean.

I read that exchange again and found myself smiling, giddy even, because in that moment, I realized that what man had meant for harm, God meant for good:

How does that even begin to make sense outside of the Gospel? How is it possible that God allowed that moment that nearly destroyed me all those years ago to give me yet more confirmation that He is calling me to a new season both professionally, and personally with Him? Seriously, what on earth?!?

But it does make sense. It makes sense in the shadow of that cross on which Jesus conquered sin and death forever. It makes sense in front of that empty tomb where Jesus declared eternal victory over evil and pain.

I am here to tell you something very, very important: God is still writing your story. He’s still holding the pen, so cling to Him with everything you’ve got. If you let Him, He will take you on a wild ride. Yes, it will be terrifying at times, and it will hurt so badly at other times, but He is good. He is faithful. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving and everything He allows into your life is ultimately going to make you into who He has created you to be, to do what He has planned for you to do. Trust Him.

Trust Him today. Trust Him tomorrow. Trust Him when your world is falling apart. Trust Him when everything is perfect. Trust Him. Always. He will NEVER, EVER let you down.

Trust me. I know!

Are you in the middle of a healing journey? I would love to pray for you, mourn with you, and encourage you. Email me.

An Open Letter to LifeWay Women

Dear Kelly & Team,

About 24 hours and one year ago, I sat in the second row on the right side of Longhollow Baptist Church’s sanctuary with tears streaming down my face. I was tired, I was broken, I was confused, I was discouraged. I knew God had called me to full time ministry, and I knew He had called me to a church in San Antonio. But nothing looked right, and nothing felt right, and I wanted to quit.

As I sat there, listening to Travis lead us in worship, I wondered why I was crying. I’m not generally a crier, but I am a chronic over-thinker, so when I find myself sobbing, I have to stop and figure out why. Yes, I was all of those things I said above, but there was something else going on.

That morning, for the first time in almost a year, I was finally able to stand, throw my hands up in surrender and really worship. I didn’t care what was going on around me (something I have to be on a normal Sunday morning or the building might burn down or the ushers might not go forward at the right time to receive the offering…). Instead, I felt for the first time in a long time that it was just God and me in that room.

The rest of the week is a little bit of a blur, but I knew that day that I needed to come back to the Women’s Forum again this year. The Forum was the perfect mix of leadership/professional development and time to reset, rest, worship, and get my head on straight.

As I get ready to board a plane (or two, as the case may be) from San Antonio to Nashville, I am a completely different person than I was a year and 24 hours ago. I’m healthy – mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I love my job, my teams, my coworker, and my church. But more than that, I am so in love with Jesus.

Last year was the start of God doing some major work in me, and it all came to a head this past Spring when I ran into Psalm 103 and read about God’s steadfast love for me, that I am completely and forever forgiven, and that I am known. That word, “steadfast” stuck with me, so when I saw the theme for this year’s Forum, God and I had a good laughed together – Of course that’s the theme!

So, all of that is to say this: Thank you to you and your team for all of the hard work that you’ve put into making the Forum happen. There simply aren’t enough words to tell you how much this conference means to me and how excited I am to be coming back, but as I type this last paragraph, those tears are threatening again, but this time, they’re tears of joy and peace.

Our God is steadfast, and thanks to Him (and yes, you and your team), so am I! See you tomorrow!

Amy

On coffee and prayer

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Last night, amidst hungry mosquitos, noisy cicadas, and several very loud trains rumbling past just feet away, I got to spend 3 hours over coffee with a new friend. Our friendship, as of right now, is about 6 hours old – all spent over coffee, talking and laughing over the cacophony of passing trains at our favorite coffee shop. Sometimes, God gives us the gift of instant friendship and for me, this is one of those times.

The hours she and I have spent have been filled with the things that make my soul sing: funny stories, sarcastic jokes, and deep theological discussions. Last night’s conversation reached its pinnacle, not in our laughter, but as we sat in awed silence for a few minutes, contemplating a beautiful, mind-blowing truth.

Hebrews 7 is, quite simply, a stunning passage – incredibly rich, deep, and surprising, like a really good cup of coffee. I could spend paragraphs taking it apart, examining it, taking us back to the Old Testament to explore a short, but profound story. But there is one verse that has always stood out to me, and it was this very verse that ushered my new friend and I into a few moments of holy, silent awe:

Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. ~ Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)

That’s right. At this very moment, Jesus Himself is praying for you, and me, and my new friend, and Houston, Beaumont, Rockport, Sierra Leone… Jesus is praying for us!

That’s such an amazing thought, but let’s take it a little further.

How often do we pray for other people? Our friends, our family, our coworkers, and strangers in faraway towns? Most of us pray for others pretty regularly. It’s what those of us who believe in the power of prayer do. We trust that God cares about the intimate details of our lives and the lives of those we love, and so we bring Him our fears, our worries, our pains, and our desires, and we do that for the people we care about. It’s a beautiful system, if you think about it.

But here’s where Hebrews 7:25 blows that all out of the water. When we pray, we are bound by certain limitations – time, understanding, less than full knowledge of a given situation, our own sinful nature and desires, and even by language. BUT, Jesus isn’t bound by any of this. More than that, Jesus transcends all time, all understanding, all knowledge. He has no sin in Him. And He speaks the very language of God because He is God.

Photo by J. Khuansuwan

This means that when He is praying for us, we know that Jesus is praying the most perfect prayer possible. He knows that situation you’re concerned about – beginning, middle, and end – so He knows exactly how to pray and intercede on your behalf in a way no human ever could, no matter how much they love you.

And, the prayers that Jesus prays for us will always be answered in the affirmative. Paul puts it this way: “All the promises of God find their yes in Him” (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV).

As if that wasn’t enough, “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26, ESV). When we can’t find the words to pray, the Spirit digs in deeper than our words ever could.

I have clung to these promises in the last few weeks, when national and world events have left me without words in my heartbreak. When I have been too weary to pray for my neighbor, the Spirit has brought my intentions to the throne of God. When I’ve not known what to ask God for in my own life concerning my own future, Jesus has asked on my behalf.

What I’m learning (besides that I will never fully grasp how much God really loves me this side of Heaven) is that prayer is not the burden I sometimes feel it is. Rather, like so much else in my walk with Jesus, prayer isn’t about me at all. It has always been, and always will be about Jesus – He paved the way for us to God, He taught us how to pray, and He does the praying for us that we can’t do for ourselves. All we need to do sometimes is just sit quietly, bathing in the knowledge that the God who asks us to bring Him our burdens is already carrying them for us.

So what does this mean for us? When I got home last night, the following quote was all over my Twitter feed, and I think it perfectly captures what I’m trying to say here:

If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. ~ Robert Murray M’Cheyne

The fact that Jesus is praying for you right now means that you have absolutely nothing at all ever to worry about. He knows what you need. He knows what you want. He knows what is the absolute best thing for you. You can rest in that, knowing that when you pray, not only does God hear you, but with His whole being – Father, Son, and Spirit – He is there praying right along with you! How great is this God we serve!

How does understanding that Jesus is constantly praying for you change your outlook on life today?

God is in Control…?

Imagine the following scene:

An author sits down at his desk to write a story. It’s a story he’s been thinking about and planning for a long time. In his imagination, he’s carefully chosen the main character and knows everything about her – where and when she lives, what she looks like, what she does for a living, what her family is like, what she enjoys doing, and what she hates. The author knows all of the periphery characters as well, and has in mind how all of these characters will interact throughout the story, and what effect they’ll have on each other.

The author knows the story itself too. How it starts, the climax of it, and how it will end. He knows these things because he’s been thinking about this for so long. All that’s left to do is to sit down and write it.

He pulls out some paper and a pen (he’s old school), and he starts to craft an amazing tale of joy, heartbreak, sin, and redemption (fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, mon…Oh, sorry, I got a little carried away there). It’s setting up to be an epic adventure. But then, all of a sudden, his main character starts to rebel. He writes a line, and finds her arguing with him about what he’s written. He writes another line, and watches as it gets erased right before his eyes.

“Look,” he says to his character, “I know what I’m doing. I know this story, just trust me.” The character apologizes, promises to cooperate, and hands back the pen. But as he continues to write, from time to time, his character again tries to take matters into her own hands, rewriting parts, erasing other parts, and adding things that make absolutely no sense in the broader arc of the story.

How do you imagine this story will finish? Probably in complete chaos!


That, in short, is Israel’s story. God blessed the nation of Israel with His very presence, He guided them, cared for them, and provide for them, but time and time again, they rebelled and did whatever they wanted. The book of Judges sums this up really well with its last verse:

In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. ~ Judges 21:25

I can’t speak for you, but I can say this: It’s my story too. I’ve spent my entire life trying to control whatever I could, including God and everyone around me. From time to time, I’ve come to the realization I’m doing that, either because someone points it out, or, much more frequently, because things start to dissolve into chaos.

Whenever this happens, I get angry and find someone else to blame, never owning up to the fact that the only common denominator in these patterns is me. Eventually, I get so tired or things just get so bad that I confess my sin to God, ask Him to forgive me, and ask Him to take back the control of my life. But in time, the cycle starts all over again.


The book of Judges is a series of stories about how Israel kept taking back control of the pen, trying to write their own story, only to find themselves living in a chaotic world where “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. When they realized what they’d done, they would cry out to God and God, in His great mercy and unfailing love would send a rescuer – a judge – to deliver them out of their enemies’ hands. The judge then led the nation in a battle of some sort against whoever the oppressor du jour happened to be, Israel won, and “there was peace in the land for ___ years” while said judge lived.

But shortly after God gave the Israelites victory, they started doing their own thing again, and the cycle continued (often with really gruesome consequences…the Bible is NOT Rated PG!!).

The people of Israel knew the pattern they were in. They had books written about it and orators telling the stories of the past to current generations. They knew, but they kept thinking that somehow, this time would be different. It wasn’t for them, and it isn’t for us.

Whenever we think we know better than God and we grab the pen out of His hand to try to write our own story, we’re just repeating history.

But God wants so much more for us than control. He longs to give us a life of abundance, of peace, of joy, of adventure. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows the story He wants to write on your life. And He knows that if we’ll just keep our hand off the pen, it’s going to be so good!

So how do we stop grabbing the pen? It’s simple: We trust God.

[Hahahahahaha!!! I’m hilarious! Ok. Sorry. I’m fine now.]

While that’s true, it’s nowhere near simple. If it were, we wouldn’t keep finding ourselves with ink all over our hands.

We all know we’re supposed to trust God, but some of us, myself included, have a really hard time doing that. We have things in our past that God allowed that we can’t understand because we don’t yet know the end of the story.

The Bible tells us that God is good, kind, overflowing with love for us, and that He does everything He does for our good and for His glory. But if you’re anything like me, these are facts stored away in your mind that you pull out whenever a friend is going through a hard time. But they’re not true to you because they haven’t made the trip from your head to your heart.

This was exactly my problem, I (very) recently (re)discovered. So I’m going on a search… I want to KNOW God, not just know a whole bunch of facts about Him. I want to be in relationship with Him, to take my place as His beloved daughter. I want to know Him so well that I have no problem letting Him write my story. So because I’ve been stuck in that maddening cycle for so long, I need to do some things I’ve never done before. And maybe you do too…

So, let’s help each other out:

How have you successfully moved knowledge about God from your head to believing God is who He says He is in your heart?

Bad theology vs. God’s goodness

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You are good and do good; Teach me Your statutes. ~Psalm 119:68

In the last week, I overheard two different conversations that went something like this:

“[Insert bad thing here] looked like it was going to happen, but I prayed and [insert bad thing here] didn’t happen. God is so good!”

Then there was this gem:

I don’t even know where to begin, but what these conversations, and this truly horrifying if real (and pretty hilarious if not) post have in common is this: Really, really, bad theology.

A quick Google search on “verses about God’s goodness” returns about 670,000 results, and the first return lists 61 verses that mention God’s goodness. A quick search of these verses reveals not a single verse that says God is only good when He saves us from a near miss, heals us the way we expect, or blesses us with a new car. No, God’s goodness doesn’t always manifest itself in these ways, but so often, the good times are the times we remember to praise Him for being good.


Last weekend, I flew to Pittsburgh and back to visit a friend. My flight out of San Antonio was delayed so badly by storms in New Orleans that I missed my connection and got to spend a fun-filled night in Chicago’s lovely Midway Airport. (In case you’re wondering, 9 hours of no sleep and hearing “Caution, the moving walkway is ending” over and over and over again is enough to make a girl lose her mind!)

On the way home, I flew through Nashville, and again, was waylaid by storms. But when we finally took off and got up to our cruising altitude, I got to witness the intense beauty of of a line of thunderstorms from high above. I watched for nearly an hour as lightning lit up the clouds, forking back and forth as tiny towns below felt the full brunt of a line of severe storms. (I took the video below – trust me, it doesn’t do it justice!)

As I watched, I imagined families huddled in basements and closets, parents comforting scared little ones as storms raged around homes for hundreds of miles. But from 30,000 feet and 60 miles away, it was incredibly beautiful!

Then, something else caught my eye. I looked up above the clouds and was met with an inky black sky dotted with millions of stars!

From my viewpoint, they were shining brightly, but the people under the storms couldn’t see the stars. All they could see was the lightning, the rain and hail, and the heavy winds. For them, the world was swimming in chaos. But just above the chaos was a calm, dark sky, full of millions of points of light.


Just a few days ago, a church van carrying 14 senior adults returning from a retreat was hit head-on by another car, and 13 of those church members died.

When I heard the news, it all came back to mind – the conversations I’d overheard, the storm I watched from high above, and that sky filled with stars. 10 miles up the road from me, a church family is hurting as badly as a family can and this week, they will bury 13 of their own. A church family.

Isn’t God supposed to be good? Doesn’t God’s goodness mean this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen, especially to Christians?

But the God of the Bible isn’t conditionally good the way our limited minds want Him to be. In spite of the bad theology floating around out there, God is good

  • when the accident happens
  • when the baby is born with a birth defect
  • when the cancer wins
  • when house burns down

Even when we’re hurting, even when we suffer, God is still good.

Our circumstances don’t change God’s goodness, but God’s goodness can change how we react to our circumstances. Our reaction to the hard things in life can make or break our faith, and our reactions to the hard things in life will always reveal our theology – good or bad.

The danger of bad theology is that when the bad thing does happen, our faith can’t stand up against the doubt, the fear, the anger, and the grief that is sure to come. Bad theology puts our faith at risk, because bad theology makes us question God’s character.

Here is the truth we absolutely must cling to if we’re going to maintain a right view of God, fully trust Him in every situation, and develop a strong, firm faith:

Even when…God is still good.

Bad theology can break our faith. Good theology that believes in an unconditionally good God results in a faith strong enough to stand against whatever life throws at us. Even [insert bad thing here].

Where have you seen God’s goodness in the middle of the storm?

Doubt, fear and flannelgraph

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This morning in staff prayer, my pastor tagged to the message series we started this weekend on doubt. He read the story of Peter walking (at least for a moment) on water with Jesus, and asked us to consider where we are wresting with doubt.

To be honest, this was always one of my least favorite stories when I was growing up. Peter looks too happy to be sinkingAs soon as Drew started reading the story, I immediately flashed back to my Primary Sunday School class, Flannelgraph board and all! (Shout out to Flannelgraph – RIP.) I remember the look on FGPeter’s face, the way his arms reached up toward Jesus, the FGWaves next to him, the other FGDisciples still in the boat watching their flat friend sink.

I remember my teacher telling us that Peter doubted so Jesus reprimanded him for his lack of faith. That bothered me. A lot. I knew that God was already out to get me, and I knew He was sitting in Heaven just waiting for me to mess up so He could punish me. But I had thought Jesus was nicer than God. Jesus healed people. Jesus held children on His lap and kissed babies. Jesus raised people from the dead and loved everyone. Somewhere in my 2nd grade brain, Jesus was the nice version of God.

Peter at least got out of the boat, I argued – he had faith to do that. So why did Jesus then tell him off for doubting? Why, my 2nd grade brain wanted to know, was Peter getting the short end of the stick when he did what none of the other disciples had faith and courage to do? Why was Jesus being mean to Peter after what he had just done? Why was Jesus not the nice version of God in this story?

These are valid questions for a 2nd grade brain and 2nd grade-level faith to wrestle with. But the problem is, “several” years removed from 2nd grade, there’s still part of me that believes some of these same lies. When Drew asked us to think about our own doubts, I didn’t have to think very long or hard. I know what I doubt.

I doubt that God is good.

Even now…Even with a great job, a great home, some money in the bank, amazing co-workers, the unbeatable weather and incredibly beautiful scenery and flowers of southBluebonnet Sheep Texas, and a commute that consists of baby goats and sheep, horses, and donkeys rather than the stand-still traffic of Central Jersey…Even now, I doubt that God is good.

My doubt in God’s goodness manifests itself in fear: I’m afraid to trust that I really am in a good church with co-workers I can trust. I’m afraid to believe that all the goodness I have in my life right now will last much longer. I’m afraid to let myself be fully happy. Really, I’m just waiting for that proverbial other shoe to come along and ruin everything.

And there may, in fact, be a shoe. I’m not naïve enough to think there’s not. But I’m allowing my fear and my doubt to steal my joy. I’m allowing my fear of God and my doubt that He is good color my perception of the gifts He’s given me here. I’m allowing my fear of the shoe and my doubt that I can ever really let myself enjoy the good things God has put in my life steal happiness from today.

I know it’s dumb, and I know it’s wrong, but I’ve lived with this fear and doubt since long before 2nd grade, and they’re really hard to shake. I have evidence lined up for miles for why I’m right to think and feel this way. But then I run into these words, and that evidence doesn’t stand up quite as well:

For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever,
and His faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 100:5

These verses leave no room for doubt, and His great and enduring love leaves no room for fear.

Doubt, in and of itself, is not wrong. In fact, in some ways, doubt is a good thing – a sign we’re thinking, working out our faith, and really seeking after God and all He is and all He has for us. But the kind of doubt I’ve allowed to creep in many, many times in my life isn’t the good kind. It’s the kind that makes me withdraw from God, makes me question His character, and leaves me feeling worn out and hopeless. It’s the kind that just makes me tired.

But Jesus has the answer to all of this:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

In other words, “Stop fighting Me. Trust My heart for you. Allow yourself to rest in My goodness.”

Jesus isn’t the nice version of God. Jesus is God – in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. He is God, and the love we see in Jesus is the very love of God Himself. God is good – we see that in the way Jesus tenderly loved the people around Him. And He tenderly loves us. God is good. All the time. Even, and especially, when we doubt. And my no-longer-2nd-grade brain really needs to grasp that concept…

jesus_walks_on_waterSo I’m inviting God into my doubts, asking that He would help me trust in His goodness and in His love for me. I’m asking Him to help me trust that even if everything does fall apart (again), He is still good, He still loves me, and my faith in Him, even when it’s small, is valuable and precious to Him.

And so is yours. So go ahead and doubt, question, wrestle. It’s ok, God can handle it. But I say to you what I have to keep saying to myself: Do not, even for a second, believe the lie that God is out to get you, that He is anything less than good, and that He doesn’t love you. He gave His own Son for you and bought you back from death with His blood. There is no greater good or love than that! If you believe nothing else right now, I pray God will help you believe that.

What doubts are you wrestling with today? How can you invite God into your doubts?

When God slams a door

Today I’m writing over at The Back Row, a great site for humor and healing. You can also follow them on Twitter for some fun lists and biblical advice. This article, in particular, is some of the best writing I’ve seen on the questions of suffering and God’s sovereignty. Check them out! 


I did everything right. I know I did…

  • I prayed
  • I read Scripture
  • I prayed boldly and consistently
  • I sought wise counsel
  • I prayed God’s words back to Him
  • I obeyed everything I thought God was asking me to do (even the weird stuff)
  • I prayed contemplatively
  • I trusted
  • I prayed with gratitude (for everything I could think of)
  • I checked my motives
  • I asked others to pray with me
  • I worshipped with all my heart, soul, and strength
  • I prayed humbly

I did everything I knew to do, and then asked if there was anything else. And as I did these things, I saw God act. I saw signs that I was headed in the right direction. I saw confirmation of what He was asking me to do, and I said, “yes, Lord, whatever You want”, and I meant it.

Read the rest…

How to get God to give you want

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Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart. ~ Psalm 37:4 (NASB)

It’s been cross-stitched, painted, sung, and posted to Instagram over top of pretty pictures of mountains and baby feet. It’s one of the most quoted – and misquoted – verses in the Bible, and we should probably take a quick look at it, just in case we’ve been missing the point all of these years…

There are some words in this verse that often trip people up, so we’ll start by taking a look at them:

  • Delight: The Hebrew word used here is ‏עָנַג‎ (anag), and it’s actually a root word meaning “to be soft or pliable”, “delicate”, and in this case “to have delight”.  It’s used again in verse 11.
  • Desires: This Hebrew word is מִשְׁאָלָה (mishala), and translates exactly as you’d think it would: desires or requests. This word is only used one other place in the Bible: at the end of Psalm 20:5.

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The second thing we need to do is read verse 4 in the context of the entire Psalm.  Go ahead, we’ll wait for you. 🙂  We also need to read Psalm 37 (and really, any Scripture) within the context of the Bible as a whole. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to go read the whole thing right now!)

So let’s put these pieces together and see what we have…

This oft abused verse is NOT saying that God will give you whatever you want, whenever you want it, no matter how much you enjoy Him or “delight” in Him. We know that because that goes against other teachings in the Bible, and even Jesus’ own words (see, for example, John 16:33. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find myself asking God to give me tribulation very often, and yet…)

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So if that’s what it’s not saying, what IS it saying?

First, this verse reminds us to love God with everything in us (Deuteronomy 6:5). When we love someone or something, we take delight in it, we take delight in spending time with it. Just ask spouses, parents, and foodies about their love for the objects of their deepest affections. So we take delight in God by loving Him, genuinely desiring Him above everything else, and therefore, staying in step with Him as we walk. And, remember that the root word is referencing something that is soft and pliable. In other words, not hard, stubborn or demanding our own way.

It gets a bit harder when we move to the second part of the verse, but here’s where that context thing comes in. We know from the rest of the Psalm that David is encouraging the people to trust and obey God (v.3), to rest in Him and wait on Him (v.7), and to humble ourselves before Him (vv.11-16). None of these things come naturally to us as human beings, so David is telling the people, again, to stay in step with God as they walk.

Taking all of this together, we find a more likely interpretation of this verse than that God is our Heavenly Santa Claus:

When we love, obey and trust God with all we have, staying in step with Him, His desires become our desires.  (Note, please, that it’s that HIS desires become our desires, not the other way around! If that were the case, we would be God instead…)

And we know from Romans 8:28 and John 14:3 He will always work His will for our good, and for His glory.

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So how do we get God to give us what we want? We need to humble ourselves before Him, love Him, trust Him, obey Him, and allow His desires to become our desires. Only then can we make requests of God that will be for our good, for His glory, and will be things He gives as good gifts.

How have you seen the truth of this verse play out in your life as you’ve walked with God?