Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“Been There, Done That: Christ Didn’t Work for Me!”

In the course of blogging, I encounter many people who claim,

  • Well, I tried Christ and it didn’t work for me!
Many are relieved that Christ “didn’t work.” Consequently, they are now free to live their lives in any manner that they want. However, for others, I sense that this had been a genuine disappointment. They might be angry and defiantly demand proof of God’s existence, but there also seems to be a genuine longing and recognition that their lives are incomplete without God. Many talked of a personal crisis insisting, “He wasn’t there for me when I really needed Him!”

What can we say? Their experience (and the interpretation they place on it) trumps anything we can say. Sadly, we – even Christians – wrongly interpret our experiences. We have wrong expectations about how God will work.

One of the most glaring examples of this comes out of the “prosperity gospel.” According to this heresy, we merely need to follow certain laws, and God will automatically empty His bank into our lap to satisfy our every need, right now!

However, He doesn’t always work this way, and this isn’t the true Gospel. Consequently, many walk away from such churches deeply disappointed, convinced that “God didn’t work” for them.

We all have to labor through our faulty expectations about our Savior and His sometimes mysterious ways. After battling against decades of depression, I was mistakenly convinced that, now with Christ on my side, depression would vanish into nothing more than a distant memory. It didn’t. It even found a new companion – panic attacks – which devastated me for years.

It was apparent that Christ hadn’t “worked for me” – that He even despised me. However, I had nowhere else to go. There was no other hope. I had tried five highly recommended psychologists and psychiatrists, each having terminal degrees, and each had left me worse off than I had been before.

I had never imagined that a person could experience so much pain. I became dysfunctional and found it difficult to even carry on a conversation. I saw death as the only escape from my suffering, since God, evidently, was indifferent to my prayers. My faith was no more substantial than cloths on a line during a tornado. However, there was no other place where I could turn.

During many sleepless nights, I couldn’t even pray or read the Bible. I would simply lie in bed with the Bible on my chest, hoping, against all reason and experience, that somehow this God would have pity for me.
I would try to read the Bible, but it was just words. However, at other times, a simple phrase like, “And God heard him,” would suddenly come alive. No, it actually exploded into a burst of light, burning away all the cobwebs. In a mere second, all of the clouds of depression and panic were driven away – far away. As hard as I would look for them, they could no longer be found. For the day, at least, they had been driven away by a force that transcended anything I could understand.

The depression and panic would return, but so too would these Scripture-borne bursts of healing light. However, they were never at my beck-and-call. Instead, they came as directed by an invisible hand.

I no longer experience these bursts, but perhaps my Lord has deemed that I no longer need them. Perhaps He now expects me to walk by faith and not be sight.

Yet, I am still waiting for Him to address other needs – painful needs. However, I’ve learned some critical truths. Abraham had to wait 24 years for his promised son, Isaac. Along the way, he often despaired of the promise of God. Moses had to wait 40 years for God to equip him to lead His people out of Egypt. Moses had so thoroughly given up on God, that he resisted God’s plan for him to deliver Israel out of bondage.

Waiting in darkness builds character. Passing through the “valley of the shadow of death” is a requirement for spiritual maturity, and it’s going to hurt. Paul warned:

  • But we have this treasure [of God and salvation] in jars of clay [our sordid lives] to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:7-11)
Sometimes, God does answer our prayers immediately, but most of the time, He doesn’t. We therefore need to wait patiently. This is a central theme of many of the Psalms. King David even had to lecture himself to wait patiently:

  • Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11)
Waiting doesn’t come easily or naturally. It usually brings out the worst in us. It brought out the worst in Job. He had lost everything and couldn’t understand why. He therefore wrongly charged God with injustice. Finally after much waiting, Job had a private, yet humbling audience with God. Afterwards, the humbled Job was blessed with far beyond anything he had had previously.

We need the right expectations or else we will despair. Peter warned:

  • Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
Suffering and the waiting for God to respond is clearly not “something strange.” It is God’s modus operandi.
However, it is also His MO that, “any who come to Him, He will in no way cast them out.” (John 6:37)

I wish I could say more to those who have despaired of God. I guess this essay is just my feeble attempt.

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