Unpopular opinion; there is victory to be found in Jesus Christ for whatever you are going through right now. Does that sound cliché? Are tendrils of cynicism gripping your soul after reading that? Well, that’s a problem. Grab a cup of coffee and have a seat. No. not that cup. You should probably get the bigger one.
It’s going to be a difficult task to keep what I have to say concise, because there is much that can be said. I will, however, endeavor towards that goal of brevity if you will be kind enough to extend some grace for an ever so slightly longer blog post. In short, I believe that the church, in its quest to be cutting edge and “real”, may have inadvertently misplaced the message of hope.
I am told that the church once got itself into a rut and it was being accused of not addressing “tough issues”. Real life problems were, as the accusation goes, sort of taboo and anyone struggling with them were dismissed as people who did not have enough faith. Therefore, very few confessed their struggles and so, quietly remained in pain.
I cannot really speak to the validity of that as I was not a Christian at that particular time, but if the information that was passed to me is true, it may be that the pendulum has moved way over in the other direction today. While the church now feels free to speak of and address pain and struggle and depression, it seems to now be taboo to speak of overcoming. The best we can speak of is coping.
The church used to preach victorious living, freedom in Christ, and being an overcomer through the Holy Spirit. Now, that line of talk is scoffed at as though it is unrealistic. “Life is tough,” we reason, “so, let us dispense with this victory nonsense and realize that we are doomed to be miserable and trapped.” That modern way of thought is referred to as “being real”. Indeed, it may well be real, but so is the God of the impossible. After all, are we not to live by faith and not by sight (experience)?
Today, there are many eye-rolls that communicate to us that it is improper to speak of God helping us to overcome our struggles. It’s as though the idea is no longer practical. We can discuss pain and struggle and anxiety, but, if we are being real, we must stop short of proclaiming that there is victory available. Therefore, we are left to wallow in our pain without the hope of freedom. Sounds more like Satan’s plan for our life than God’s plan.
When speaking of struggles, pain, anxiety, and depression the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, is typically one of the top examples found in the Bible. Elijah was a man of God who certainly did experience pain, fear, discouragement, anxiety, and depression and there were plenty of factors in his life that contributed to those feelings. His suicidal wishes in 1 Kings 19 and his despair while he sat alone in a cave are often pointed to and are easily relatable. However, I rarely hear about the rest of the story and how God brought Elijah through it!
I would encourage you to go read the chapter for yourself, but allow me to make some quick observations concerning what God did for Elijah while he was going through that particular struggle. First, the Lord addressed Elijah’s physical condition which surely added to his mental state (1 Kings 19:5-8). Next, God allowed Elijah some time in the cave so that he could process his pain, fear, and despair (1 Kings 19:9-10). After that, the Lord does something rather profound; He abruptly cuts off the wallowing and sends Elijah back out to face life and fulfill his calling (1 Kings 19:14-15).
The Lord was kind and compassionate upon Elijah’s predicament, but He was also kind and compassionate by not allowing Elijah to wallow in the cave of despair indefinitely. A brief respite to process pain and emotions is sometimes necessary, but we must get out of that cave and move forward. While we do not always possess the strength to do that, God makes His strength available to us! We just have to be more interested in warring than we are in wallowing.
That is not to suggest that the battle is one and done. Life is full of battles. We will experience highs and lows all throughout our journey. Sometimes we will enter seasons of sorrow that never seem to end. On occasion, we may feel that life is far too overwhelming and it would be easier just to let despair roll over is like a massive wave. Unfortunately, some of the “real” preaching today, has left others feeling that there is no alternative.
In fact, some people reading this blog post may be growing aggravated at what they might consider as me proclaiming over-simplistic hope. I assure you that there is nothing simple about it. It’s tough! But I would say to you, if you are of that mindset, that you need to stop preaching discouragement and pain management and begin preaching Gospel victory! It’s not wishful thinking or pie-in-the-sky denial of reality. It’s acknowledging pain and remembering that God is our source to overcome it. It may be a daily battle and one may need to detour to a cave for a few hours, but that cave is meant for a brief break. It is not a place to set up camp!
There is one last thing that God does for Elijah before he leaves the cave in response to the Lord; God encourages Elijah that he is not really alone (1 Kings 19:18). I, myself, have gone through great bouts of discouragement over the years. I have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, worked several secular jobs, and served in pastoral ministry and I can tell you that pastoral ministry has a stress to it unique from all the others. (Note: I said unique, not necessarily worse.) Feeling alone compounds our sorrow, but that feeling is almost always based in fallacy. We’re not really alone… unless we choose to isolate ourselves in a cave.
I have hit some really low points over the years, so Elijah’s cave is a familiar place for me. However, what I need to hear and what I want to pass on to you today, is not a glum message that leaves one condemned to life in a dark and dank cave, but a message that is real enough to acknowledge the struggle and also real enough to hold faith in the One who grants us the victory – a message of hope.
The Bible contains the account of many battles, both national and personal, and not a one of them was won by wallowing in despair. The overwhelming odds were acknowledged and set before God. In turn, God brought victory and was ready to do it again for His faithful people when the next threat emerged. We may still have to arise and fight, but there is a big difference between fighting and allowing one’s self to be a perpetual punching bag.
“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’” – Lamentations (a book of sorrow) 3:22-24
So, lay your cynicism aside. There is victory to be found in Jesus Christ for whatever you are going through right now. Be real with the firestorm you face and then cling to the real God who will take you through the fire.
Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.