Tonight after 13 hours at the hospital, I walked out my back door with my dog Lukas, and we made our way, as usual, the half acre back to where the chickens and goats were already roosting and chewing their cud under the stars. While I was filling up their empty water buckets, despising the fact that it’s still 95 degrees at 9 pm (this summer seems like it will never end), I found my thoughts drifting toward hopelessness.
“How long?” was turning into, “It’s never going to happen.” At that moment I remembered Joseph. I wondered if he felt like it was never going to happen that he would be lifted up and his brothers would bow to him. I wonder if he thought it would never happen that he would get out of prison.
And then I remembered that it did happen. And I remembered that Jesus did raise from the dead. And I remembered that redemption always happens for the people of God. Nothing is for nothing in Christ. Christ is redeeming all my pain, all my loss, all my long days and short years. Christ is redeeming what seems like will never happen.
For 26 years I’ve prayed and pleaded with God to give my husband a heart for Jesus. And for 16 years I’ve pleaded he would give my sons a heart for him too. Two years ago, my youngest son professed his faith in Christ and was baptized. A week ago Sunday my oldest son confessed his faith, and on the eighth, I’ll baptize him. Like the first little buds of spring after a long winter, or the first fresh breeze of fall after the dog days of summer, redemption is busting up out of this long tear-soaked ground. Redemption is coming!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy – Psalm 103:1-2
Elevenish years ago I was ready to die on the mountain of the issue of women not working outside the home.
Today I read this tweet from Jared C. Wilson:
A few years back, I significantly reduced my exposure to Christian influences that prove more passionate about “issues” than Christ & I’ve been better off for it. If that voice you listen to isn’t regularly stirring your affections for Jesus, how loud should it be in your ears?
Reading that I remembered my proud stay-at-home-mom years and cringed with embarrassment and regret.
It makes my gut ball up in knots at the thought that Josh tasted the goodness of Lord and walked away. I pray it isn’t so. I pray like Jonah, he’ll find himself hearing Jesus in the belly of a stinking situation. But this whole story about Josh makes me think about my own humbling, and friends I’ve watched fall while we stood tall, holding the issues we were passionate about high- the banner of Jesus’ love forgotten under our feet.
When I had a 3 and 4 year old at home I honed in on these verses
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. ” Titus 2:3-5
Whole ministries are formed based on these verses. And in the conservative Christian circles where I learned of Jesus, these verses have been central to teachings in all kinds of women’s ministries. When my boys were young I clung to them. I clung to them so tightly that I remember standing outside my garage one day thinking that I’d be willing to loose my marriage so I could, “work at home” and not have to go get a job outside my house and leave my kids in daycare.
I moralized a woman staying home as righteous and working outside of the home as sinful. Makes me nauseated remembering those days. If you search my blog far back enough, you’ll probably find all kinds of posts about how Christian women shouldn’t work outside the home. Thank God he humbled me, showed me how wrong I was, and used those same verses to draw me to the heart of Jesus and true homemaking (which has nothing to do with having a paying job outside your home and everything to do with serving and loving the people under the same roof with you).
I don’t know Josh Harris. But the fact that at one time he stood tall and wrote a book on the mountain of the purity issue and now is not only walking away from his marriage but his proclaimed faith makes me think he and I share a similar humbling. Both of us, and many others, have fallen on the mountain of issues in Christian teachings. We didn’t take heed like Paul warned, and we fell. I pray like me, Josh will find Jesus in the place he’s fallen.
The only hill worth dying on is the one where Jesus laid down his life for hypocrites- blind, wretched and pathetic like me and Josh Harris. Jesus is the banner we should be raising high. Not issues. Lest the very place where we think we stand tall and right, we fall.
It’s Jesus that my friends and family trip over when it comes to faith. They’re OK with a general nameless, faceless deity- a benevolent one. They admit not understanding but throw their hands in the air hoping that God won’t judge them any differently than they judge themselves. They trust that he (or she, or it) knows they have good intentions. And I understand. Jesus is a problem.
I mean I’m asking my friends to believe in a God-man they have never seen, but only hear about from ancient manuscripts and people who often live lives that make them think this Jesus religion is foolish if not downright mean and bigoted. I’m asking a lot. I too wrestle with the fact that I have set all my hope in this Jesus I have never seen from the Bible.
But even still, I ask my friends to consider putting their hope in Jesus for three main reasons.
First, hope in Jesus because of what he said about himself in the Bible. It’s his words that grab my attention and force me to respond. What do I do with, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Or, “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 11:28-29)
What do I say to the Jesus who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
What will I do with the man who said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)?
Second, I ask my friends to consider what Jesus did and what he led others to do. He led a counter cultural movement of scared and selfish people to elevated the poor, the socially outcast, the disabled, the sick, the women, the children, the men who the religious elite did not count as educated or knowledgeable. And this ragamuffin group, with courage, laid down their lives to tell other people that Jesus is the only one worthy of putting their hope in. They faced death daily to tell others that their only hope for being made right with God is Jesus. They did this because they lived with Jesus, they watched him heal, speak truth boldly without fear and march toward his own unjustified murder as though he could overcome death with his life. And he did. His followers saw him dead. And they saw him miraculously alive from the dead with the scars that testified to his suffering. Consider this account:
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” -John 20:25-29
Third, I want my friends to put their hope in Jesus because of the evidence in the lives of his real followers. I ask my friends to consider that Jesus is actually living in them.
There’s a big Sissoo tree in my back yard where crows, pigeons and mockingbirds perch all the time. If I were to rest under the shade of that tree while the birds tweeted and chirped in it’s branches I’d be the recipient of bird poop in my face before too long. But you know what? That bird poop is not the fruit of the tree I’m trying to find shade under.
It would be foolish for me to chop down all the trees in my yard, accusing them of bearing nasty fruit, when it’s really the birds in the trees that are dropping grossness all over my face. But so often we do this with the people who call themselves Christians or the church.
There are real Christians in the world. And the Spirit of Christ lives in them. And you can tell. They lay down their lives for each other. They serve even their enemies. They confess their failures and wrongs and turn to a better way quickly. They have a joy that defies circumstances even in their suffering and sorrow. They don’t hold tightly to the things of the world, but they invest their lives in others for their good. They love Jesus and they’ve never seen him.
We all put our hope in something or someone. Hope is what keeps us pressing on in this hard life and the lack of it is what leads many to stop pressing on. There is no escaping the reality that our lives are broken. We crave hope. We crave a wholeness, a peace, a justice, a love we don’t find here. And that craving will lead us to place our hope somewhere. But inevitably, the objects of our hope fail us.
Some of us hope in our willpower, skills and positive thinking. But failure and disaster are inescapable. Some of us hope in a relationship only to find that person fails to deliver the wholeness we crave. Some of us hope in doing good- maybe if we’re altruistic enough the world life will be better. And it will, sometimes. But no matter how much good (and who defines what is good is whole other topic) we do, it doesn’t fix our world or us.
Some of us hope in a certain lifestyle and maybe for yourself, if you’re born in the right place and time and have the right resources, you’ll build a nice greenhouse lifestyle that keeps the hard things out of sight and out of mind. But even if your lifestyle satisfies you, you have to turn your back on a broken world and on the reality that your relationships and other people’s relationships are broken too.
Some of us think we have given up hope. Like Hawkeye in Avengers Endgame, we lash out, taking vengeance, hardening ourselves, taking on bad-ass personas or drowning our sorrows in a bottle or porn or food. But our walls, exhibits of vulnerability-defying-strength, and pain-numbing practices are really the places we are placing our hope. Our hope becomes a prison and chains.
The tagline for my blog here starts with hope in Jesus for a reason. I have hoped in all the above and found myself with a mouthful of gritty disillusionment. I’ve choked on what I’ve tried to quench this deeper thirst in my soul with. But when I believed this Jesus who said he laid down his life for me, I found that rather than needing the world to be fixed for my benefit, I can go out into its brokenness and be broken and poured out for it’s benefit. Jesus has turned my brokenness into a spring of hope.
So why should you hope in the Jesus of the Bible? Because, I offer, that just as he said, he is the only way. He is what our souls long for.
The Hebrew Bible describes a peace called shalom. Shalom is a state of wholeness. Shalom is what we crave. Shalom is what we hope for. Shalom is what we and all the people around us, marching like ants to and fro, trying to find a place to rest our hope, are searching for. And there’s this Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27)
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he said.
Put your hope in Jesus because of what he did.
Put your hope in Jesus because he’s alive in his people.
I guess there is a fourth reason.
Put your hope in Jesus because there is no hope without him.
“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Hosea 2:15
This verse came via email to me today like shade in the hot Arizona sun. I used to tolerate the heat in Arizona pretty well, but as the years have gone by, I haven’t grown more accustom to the heat, I’ve grown more intolerant of it.
Hope seems a long way off these days. Coming around the calendar again my body remembers the fiery trials like the heat of summer and seems to wither in its sting rather than stand weathered and resistant.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fullfilled is the tree of life.” the wise man wrote. It’s hard to dream when hope seems to keep getting pushed away by the hot troubles of life. I noticed today that I don’t dream much. I don’t aspire to hopeful things, beautiful things. I would say I feel like the Psalmist, weaned, not thinking about things too high for me. But the reality is I feel like a sick child, tired, curled up fetal trying to sleep away the hard things.
There’s only one way to escape the heat of summer- get in the shade.
I find it hard to dream, but like Elijah, I can hunker down some place and give up. Yet, even there I find the Lord comes nourishing my weak flesh, letting me rest, and giving me what I need to keep going.
Sometimes all you can do is find a place to hide with God’s word and cry. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
Hope that keeps being put aside does make the heart sick. But when you look to Jesus, the sick heart is shaded by a reviving hope in the heat of trouble. Is your heart sick? Does hope seem to evade you? Look to Jesus. His wings are big enough to shade you from the heat and feed you hope in the very place where trouble beats down.
How long till I see the fruit
of what I cannot see?
How many season? How many years?
What if it takes my whole life and then
I’m buried six feet under dirt and worms
and grass and
more seasons pass and…
I cannot see the future days
when there are no more weeds
no more thorns
no more seeds dead in the ground
just oaks of righteousness
plantings of the Lord
seas given way to forests
of branches clapping their hands
waving in the presence
of the scarred King
who once bore a crown
that pierced his brow and left
him dead upon a tree
and left him broken among
the rotting things
but could not keep him there.
I cannot see the future days when
this dying will bring life.
But I am putting all my hope
in his rising.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Romans 4:16-17 where it says, “…to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations;- in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told…”
I struggle with depression. I don’t always feel like laughing or even smiling. I hear the hopeless thoughts and know what the psalmist meant when he said he pleaded for God to let him hear his voice so he didn’t become like a dead man (Psalm 143:7). The circumstances of our lives can often send us the same message Abraham and Sarah got from their circumstances, “We’re as good as dead!” God gave them an outrageous promise. He said they would have a child when they were obviously too old to do so. God’s promise was impossible in their circumstances. And just as Abraham and Sarah were promised the impossible, we too are promised something that just can’t be in our physical, mental and spiritual condition.
Abraham and Sarah both laughed at the thought that God would give them a child in their old age. Surely they laughed at the scandal of the idea. When I face the impossibility of the promises God has made to me in Christ, my first inclination is not to laugh. It’s to do what Sarah did- doubt and try to do the best I can with what I have and end up with lots of Ishmaels in my life; lots of self-made ways to try and be what only God can make me in Christ. And then when I find myself in the mess I’ve made, like Sarah I’m angry and depressed. I forget what God promised. But when I remember, when I see Christ in the scriptures, in the church, in my life, there is something in me that just wants to laugh.
Proverbs 31:25 says of the woman who fears the Lord, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”
I used to read that and think, “How can she laugh? There are so many bad things. So many hard things. So much death. So much isn’t right in the world or in my life, how can I be a woman who fears the Lord and laughs at the future?” I had this idea that her laughter was a mocking victorious laughter. A sort of, “Haha! Give me your best shot future! I’ve got this!” But as I read about Sarah and Abraham and the laughter that came out of them at Isaac’s birth, I think this laughing at the time to come is an unexplained joy we feel when we believe God, despite all the impossible circumstances in our lives that seem to say there’s no way God can make me like Jesus and make all things right and destroy evil, sin and death. God is doing what he promised in us!
There is no way we can make the things God promises come to pass. But just as God promised and gave Isaac to as-good-as-dead Abraham and Sarah, he will make us who feel the weight of sin and death in our bodies, who were once dead apart from Christ- he will and is making us free (John 8:36), alive (Ephesians 2:5) and whole (2 Timothy 3:17) because he’s given us Jesus. He will finish what he’s started in us (Philippians 1:6). He will make all things new (Galatians 21:5). And we will reign with him forever (2 Timothy 2:12)!
In March, Fathom Mag published an article I wrote about my own struggle to concede my need for an anti-depressant. A wise pastor and friend helped me to see that medication was not an alternative to provision from God. It was a provision from God.
I’ve been taking Prozac for a couple years now and it has helped me function at a more healthy level. But my depression didn’t go away with antidepressants. I still wake up feeling somewhere on a scale between numb to hopeless for no apparent reason. Some seasons of depression the darkness is thick and paralyzing. Sometimes, despite it’s disorienting fog, I can still hear the birds and walk step by step in the light I have. Medication and counseling have both helped me function through times of depression. But nothing has re-lit the smoldering ash pile in my heart like God’s word.
We Are Not Just Souls
We are not just souls. We are bodies too. The gnostics believe in transcending the body to reach a higher deified goodness too good for all things physical. But Christians don’t, or shouldn’t believe that. Although I think we often do, which is part of the reason why I’m not the only Christian who’s had a hard time accepting medications for help with a mental health problem.
We believe in a risen Christ. He isn’t floating around in some etherealexistence. He has a body. A scarred body. And we believe we too will be raised into an ever-living body like his. Our God dwelt among us in a body. He ate, slept, suffered and died. And he walked on physical, resurrected feet out of a sealed tomb.
We Are Not Just Bodies
Just as we are physical, we are also spiritual beings. We need food and water and sometimes medication. But we also need God. We need his word. We need to hear him and talk with him. We need relationship with him.
Prozac has helped my physical need for serotonin. But God’s word has been my rock when, despite the medication, my world feels like sinking sand. God’s word has been the light I know is there even though I can’t see it. God’s word has been my hope when I feel numb. God’s promises have been my assurance when I feel alone. God’s word has given me words, fruit of lips as it were, so I can praise my Redeemer when I feel blank. My feelings will never match the worth of Jesus, so even when I feel nothing, when I speak God’s word out loud, I acknowledge the truth with my broken body and spirit.
When Jesus, hungry from 40 days of fasting, was tempted, he didn’t say, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” because we’re not supposed to eat. Jesus went on to eat bread, but he depended upon God’s word to overcome the spiritual testing he was going through. And in this life, full of testings of our faith, depression being one of them, we need food, and sometimes Prozac. But we cannot counter the temptation to give into faithlessness with antidepressants alone. Just as we need food for our bodies, and may need antidepressants for our ill brains, we need God’s word to withstand the temptation to let depression win.
There are many passages of scripture that are helpful in depression. But here are four key passages I recall and repeat when I find myself in it’s fog.
1. Psalm 42. The whole chapter is helpful, but particularly these words:
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
When I’m depressed this psalm forces me to question myself and preach to myself. Sometimes it’s all I can say. And between the question I ask my soul and the answer I tell myself I am helped to press on in the fog.
2. Romans 8: 28-39 All ten verses… but these clips really spark a flame of hope in me.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is so much help here. These words stare depression in the face and say, “Do what you will, but you only serve her. She’ll conquer you. Because she’s mine. Christ died for her, and lives for her. Nothing, not even your poison, can separate her from my love.”
3. Micah 7:8-9
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
Depression is not sin. But I am a sinner. Depression is not a form of God’s indignation I’m made to bear. But my brokenness, the world’s brokenness, including depression, is all the result of sin in God’s image bearers. When I sit in the deep darkness of depression I can remind myself, and my enemy, that Christ is my light. And one day I’ll be free from this darkness and see his vindication.
4. Psalm 143. Again, the whole thing. But these words are poignant.
Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
This is the prayer of the depressed. God has given me something to pray when I can’t smith together a petition of words. This says exactly how I feel when depression comes- like those who go down to the pit. And this helps me remember what I need even more than medication- to hear the word of God. To hear him say, “I love you.”
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV
Last summer, after a week long vacation with my family on the Mogollon Rim in eastern Arizona, I found myself pouting as we drove away from the beauty of Pine, Fir, Spruce, hidden lakes, quiet, sites of elk, bear and deer in the wild, and a visiting hummingbird on our cabin porch every morning. I knew we were heading back to the hot desert valley and “real” life where the everyday issues that arise from marriage, raising children, work, housekeeping, bills, friends, neighbors, family, church, etc. were going to have to be faced. My husband drove and I wallowed in pity as I stared out the car window watching the high elevation scenery give way to desert. Hot tears broke through and I found myself giving in to all my faithless thoughts. I squeaked out a prayer, “Help me Lord. I don’t want to go back.”
As I sat there crying and praying, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “Sheila, you’re looking for beauty in nature and quiet, but I want you to find beauty in laying down your life for others. Relationships with others is where I’m at.
1 John 3:26 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Yes all creation is pointing us to the majesty and power and beauty of God (Psalm 19:1-2), but only in the beauty of laying down our lives for others, being the ones who help our friends up when they fall, do we find the greatest image of the majesty, power and beauty of God: Jesus! Jesus laid down his life for us (John 10:11). He is the Friend of friends. He didn’t avoid people or the messes of relationships to reach some nirvana or peaceful place alone with God. He laid down his life daily in the hard things of relationships and ultimately at the cross giving us an example. And in his resurrection, giving us the power to follow his example.
Sometimes one feels better than two because it’s less messy. But the truth is we were not made to do life alone. In the pain of relationships we have the power of Christ in us, and his love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to lift each other up and walk with each other through hard things. This is the evidence in the church and in the Christian’s life that we belong to Jesus. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
Father, help me to surrender my life to you. Give me eyes to see your beauty and experience your peace not in isolating myself, but in following Jesus- laying down my life for others.
On Easter Sunday an unbelieving loved one sat with me in church while the gospel was heralded and the very doubts and questions he has were exposed. This of course has created some interesting conversations in the last couple days. Questions about evidence. He wants evidence of the resurrection.
I know there are smarter people than me who have done the research and present compelling evidence for the resurrection. But as I’ve been praying about my loved one’s questions and seeking wisdom from the scriptures, the most obvious evidence is right here. Me.
In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus is about to ascend to the Father and he doesn’t say, “I’ve left you all this evidence of my death and resurrection. Now go. Convince everyone with this evidence.” No. He says, “I’m sending you! You are the evidence I’m alive. Now go make disciples in my power. I am not dead. I am with you.”
Christian, you and I are the evidence Jesus has left on earth that testifies to the reality of his resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t alive we would have no power to love like he loves. We would have no power to repent and take up our cross and follow him. We would have no power to make disciples. Jesus is with us. One day we will see him face to face, but until then, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives that is the greatest evidence that he is alive.
When I spoke with my loved one the other day as he expressed his doubts, I said, “Look at me. Look at my life. Am I a credible witness to you that there is a power at work in me to love and live like Jesus?” This puts me in a position of dependence on the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t mean look at me because my life is perfect. It means, “Lord, I’m yours. For your name’s sake, lead me in ways that testify to my loved ones that you really are alive.” It’s saying, “Jesus you said you were with me always. Be with me and be the evidence in my life and in the church that testifies to my loved ones, you’re alive!”
Paul did this. Three times in the New Testament he tells the churches he’s writing to, “Look at me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). It’s a bold move to call people’s attention to your life as evidence that Christ is alive. But it’s what Jesus sent us out to be. We are his people, alive in the Spirit, because he is alive. He is with us everyday empowering us to be witnesses that he is alive!