How ironic is it that I was surprised by my own story and words! God has done such a work in my heart through the story of Joshua. Their journey and their battles have provided a visual, for me, of God's call to freedom and abundant life.
About halfway through this small group study, though, God began to show me how He called me out of a depression that began during the summer of 2014 and didn't let up until the beginning of 2016. In the middle of that darkness, I felt so strange. It didn't seem appropriate that I'd begin to feel despair after God had already proven He would save our marriage and family from destruction. My depression didn't care about timing! It hit with determination and pressed in with fight for a year and a half.
These past couple of months have given me the opportunity to peek back into the darkness with enlightened vision. I've realized that the road God used to renew my strength and empower my resolve was a path I wouldn't have taken had I not been desperate for Him. If despair hadn't bullied me into a corner and threatened to suffocate on a daily basis, I may not have been willing to do whatever it took to find His victory in spite of my feelings of defeat.
See, having grown up in the Christian world, I knew all the right scripture to speak over my depression. I understood who we do and do not listen to for help and assistance in times of need. I was completely aware that there is a right and a wrong way to present myself to the Lord and plead for help. The problem, however, was that the familiar scriptures didn't lift the depression. The acceptable teachers and speakers didn't provide my greatest help. And, all of the right presentations fell flat in my great need.
With fear and anxiety, I went before the Lord in an honest way. I shared all of my frustration with my situation and with Him. I filled journals with questions while speaking disgust that my questions continued to be unanswered and our circumstances never changed.
Then, I began to listen to different speakers and teachers. I read books that some of my Christian brothers and sisters had labeled heresy and false teaching. I was careful. I wrote out prayers in each book telling God that I was pretty sure I couldn't believe in the things they were writing and teaching. I asked Him to guard my heart and my mind as I studied. I emptied myself at His feet and acknowledge my pain. In it, I asked to see as much of Him as I could possibly handle. Slowly but surely, He began to reveal Himself to me in clarity.
The list of God's people that helped to lift me from my lowly state is long. My Bible and my journal were consistently the first stop in my search for more. But, Beth Moore, Steven Furtick, Priscilla Shirer, Levi Lusko, and Carl Lentz are a few of the speakers God used to open my eyes to believe Him for abundance in every circumstance. Books like 1,000 Gifts, The Circle Maker, and Forty Days of Prayer stretched my heart and my prayer life. They gave me the freedom to fully expose my heart and mind in prayer time with the Lord.
Here's the thing, though. For a little over a year, I didn't tell many in my Christian circle what I was learning and who I was learning from. I knew what they'd say and how they'd warn. It seemed that everywhere I turned, the people who had faithfully led me to the foot of the cross and to a Jesus that convicts, saves, and restores were being blasted as false teachers. Books filled with stories of a giant God that had moved in mighty ways despite trials, depression, and heartache had lifted my eyes from despair in my pain to hope in my Redeemer, but they were being blacklisted by my religious family.
I felt such anger about it all. But, then I remembered times when I'd done the same. God showed me that I have also been guilty of judging pieces of someone else' story without knowing the entirety.
I won't do it again, because I'd grown to see that these people God used to lead me into His light love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. After studying their work, I see the whole picture rather than scrutinized sentences taken out of context. And, what I found was that they are free. What I began to see is that they also had times in their lives when God allowed them to reach the end of themselves emotionally. In those times, they too found that they needed more from God than the Christian world said was safe and appropriate. And, like me, they found God to be all the more they needed!
Here's the thing.... No believer would argue with this statement, "God is bigger than we can even imagine." We all know the scripture in Isaiah that says, "His ways are higher than our ways." In other words, even the smartest, brightest, most knowledgeable person in the world doesn't hold a candle to the wisdom and sovereignty of our God. We will never fully figure Him out. And, if someone tells you they know everything there is to know about God, I can promise that you want nothing to do with their god. That god is too small.
So, why are we, Christians, still wasting our time picking apart Christian authors? Why do we still feel the need to pull out every little phrase that sounds incorrect among Christian speakers and vomit hate and disgust over social media about it? Should we ever stop and think that possibly another believer found great comfort in the way in which that author, that speaker, that whoever chose to share the Gospel? Is it possible we, religious Christians, are doing more harm than good with our attacks on what we're against instead of simply sharing THE CHRIST that saved our lives from the depths?
I hope I don't sound angry. I'm not. There is nothing about my position today that holds onto anger over this subject. Sadness is what I feel. I feel sadness for the years I missed out on going deeper with God, in Christ, because I was afraid I'd do or say something wrong. I will, from now on, go to God full of child-like faith knowing that if I do get something wrong, He will lovingly and Fatherly show me my mistake.
I'm grieved for other Christians who are stuck in depression, despair, or boredom because they need more from God, but they are scared to admit it and ask for it. I know there are others who live where I lived. They love God, and they want to know more of Him. But, they've fallen for religion's lie that says, "there's a right and wrong way to do this thing. And, who knows what will happen if you choose wrongly."
And, I'm terribly, terribly sad that a lost world in need of the Gospel we have is missing it because we can't agree on how to share it?
Can we agree on the fact that Christ died and was raised to life so that we could each have a personal relationship with Him? Can we put our differences aside long enough to acknowledge that it's possible God, in His sovereign wisdom, leads us all on individual pathways to know Him more and more as we grow and mature in Christ (the only way to salvation). And, can we set our fear aside and replace it with trust in our God. He is willing and able to teach and correct. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us. Through the Spirit, God will redirect our wayward paths. He's powerful! Let's not just say it. How about we actually believe that He will complete the good work He began in each individual Christian!
Today, I'm sitting in Starbucks writing this post. Over the past year, life's circumstances have remained scary and uncertain for me. But, I've not stepped back into the darkness of despair. I'm grateful I had to drop to new lows with God. Because I needed Him for more, I was able to see He is more. I don't want to go back! I still ask Him to correct me when I'm wrong. If I'm going to err, I want to err on the side of believing for too much. Maybe that sounds risky. But, my God is worth the risk. I want to know every, single bit of Him I can know this side of Heaven.
So, I'll seek and question. I'll read and listen. I'll test everything I hear against the wisdom of scripture and call on the Spirit that lives in me to help me interpret. But, I will not, will not, will not argue with a Pharisee. Legalism picks apart every statement and looks for a, "NO," which builds a wall between God and me. Relationship gives me the freedom to pursue God with my questions, wrestle with Him over my frustrations, and ask for more of His revelation. All of these send me towards Him, because I know He will love me even if I'm wrong. And, in His love He will correct me when needed allowing me to move one step closer to Him in the process of sanctification. Then, I'm better equipped to lead others towards Him where He will be the author and perfecter of their personal faith story.
Ahhhh.... What a relief!
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don't follow their example. For they don't practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden."
Matthew 23: 1-4