Elijah, the Pooped Prophet

God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.

Lessons from 1 Kings 19

I’m in a very busy season, feeling thepressure of my responsibilities and overwhelmed by what’s on my plate. And,recently I experienced some hurts that triggered my depression. Just as I wasgetting over that, a very close friend passed away. So, I’m tempted to go into my default mode—retreating from God and what I know is healthy for me in order to numb the pain. I needed to be reminded of Elijah and his crisis. Maybe hisstory will help you too.

In Jill Briscoe’s book, Running on Empty, she aptly refers to Elijah as the “pooped prophet.” Elijah is an Old Testament prophet. Generally speaking, it was not easy to be a prophet of God in biblical days. They never came with messages that said, “Hey! You’re doing a great job! Keep up the good work!” More often than not, they were bringing correction from God and warning His people of the consequences of not turning from sin. Such is the case for Elijah. When our story picks up in 1 Kings 19, Elijah has been working hard for God. However, he incurs the wrath of Jezebel, who worships the pagan god Baal, and has threatened him with death. Fearing for his life, Elijah flees.  When we encounter him in vs. 3, he is depressed and suffering from suicidal ideation.

We can learn a lot from Elijah’s crisis—especially those of us who are susceptible to illnesses like depression. One of the first lessons is that we can be serving God well and be knocked down by depression. Jill Briscoe comments, “If you take time to read the span of Scripture that journals Elijah’s life and doings, I think you’ll find there was nothing wrong with his relationship with the Lord up to his moment of deep need.” Elijah was in full time ministry, and he was serving God faithfully in this thankless job of prophet. Maybe you’ve been there too. I have. I was responding to God’s call on my life when this bout of depression hit three years ago. But Elijah’s story shows us that serving God does not mean we are exempted from pain, and that depression is not God’s punishment on us for not serving Him well.

But, Elijah’s story also teaches us that there are pitfalls that those of us susceptible to depression need to be aware and take precautions against. One pitfall is not guarding against physical and emotional exhaustion. Elijah had been working hard for God—fighting against the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel—when Queen Jezebel threatened his life. He was tired, physically and emotionally. It makes perfect sense that, after running for his life and after “a day’s journey into the wilderness,” he is exhausted (vs. 4). He’s so exhausted that “he lay down under the bush and fell asleep” (vs. 5).

Doing God’s work can be exhausting. Life canbe exhausting. And we live in a culture that idolizes busyness. Society tellsus, if you’re busy, you must be important. But that’s not God’s will for us.That is why God instituted a Sabbath day. We need to rest. I know that when I’mtired, physically or emotionally, I’m much more susceptible to the symptoms ofmy depression and that there is a snowball effect. If I’m tired, I’m lesslikely to engage in the healthy practices that I know help to manage mydepression, like walking and eating healthy. As author Gary DaLashmutt remindsus, “Scheduling adequate sleep, relaxation, exercise, etc. is not a sinfulluxury. It is a stewardship responsibility so we can be healthy, long-termservants of God and people.” For those of us who struggle with depression,we need to be especially careful that we are getting enough rest.

Do you find exhaustion has an impacton your mental health?

Do you intentionally plan a timeof rest into your day and week?

A second pitfall that Elijah makes us awareof is the problem of isolation. When Elijah and his servant arrive atBeersheba, Elijah leaves him behind and goes off on his own: “he left isservant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness”(vv. 3-4).  When he needs a companion themost, Elijah goes off by himself.

Those of us who have experienced depressionunderstand the draw of isolation. It is a major pitfall for me. When I’mfeeling low, I just want to be by myself, and I withdraw from family, friends,church, my support group. I don’t want to bring others down, so I isolate.  I don’t have the energy to engage withothers, so I isolate. It’s easier to be by myself, depressed, than expend theemotional energy of wearing the mask that says “I’m fine,” oractually being vulnerable and sharing how I’m really doing. I sense Elijah feltthe same way when he went off to lie under that broom tree.

Do you find yourself isolating inyour depression?

Where do you go to isolate?

Another pitfall that we can learn fromElijah’s story is the danger of entertaining destructive thoughts. Elijah says,”I have had enough, Lord…Take my life; I am no better than myancestors” (vs. 4).  At this point,Elijah’s depression is talking and like it always does, his depression istelling him lies. Depression is telling him things will never get better, thathe can’t do it anymore, that the situation is hopeless, and that death is theonly way out. My depression lies to me all the time. It tells me I will neverget better.  It tells me that I’m on myown. It tells me to give up.

What lies has depression toldyou?

Never lose sight of this: There is alwayshope. In Jeremiah 29:11, God declares,

“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

When you feel hopeless, cling to God’s words.God never lies.

Do you have a verse that youmeditate on when you’re feeling hopeless?

Elijah’s crisis is helpful in identifying someof the common pits those of us who suffer from depression fall into. It helpsus become more aware of the importance of practicing self-care so that we canavoid these pits. But, his story also offers a comforting picture of how Godresponds to his children in their darkest moments.

First, before doing anything else, God meetsElijah’s immediate needs. God sends an angel to Elijah as he sleeps under thebroom tree: “All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked on hot coals, anda jar of water” (vv. 5-6). Elijah eats and goes back to sleep. Then,”The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said,’Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (vs. 7).

God knew exactly what Elijah needed to meethis physical needs in that time of crisis—shelter, sustenance, and rest. JillBriscoe writes, “Knowing everything in advance, He had made a provision.Around the corner of the desert, waiting for Elijah, was a broom tree!…Andwho should meet him there but the angel of the Lord, who had been busy—cookingbreakfast.” Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a napand have a snack. I think it’s also worth noting that the angel touched Elijah.Psychologists have studied the benefits of touch—it can be very healing. Sometimesa hug is just what you need to find the energy to go on.

God’s provisions gave Elijah the strength heneeded: “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nightsuntil he reached Horeb, the mountain of God” (vs. 8).  In our times of darkness, God is there tomeet our immediate needs too. For me, this is often God reminding me that it’sokay to rest, that not everything needs to be accomplished right now.

How has God provided for you inyour times of darkness?

We also see that God deals gently with Hissuffering children. God does not rebuke Elijah for his depression or even forhis suicidal ideation. Instead, God tells Elijah that He is coming to visithim: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart andshattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. Afterthe wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Afterthe earthquake came a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the firecame a gentle whisper” (vv. 11-12). God was in that whisper. He spoke toElijah, and what He offered Elijah was assurance. Assurance that God hadn’tforgotten him, assurance that he wasn’t alone, assurance that He would giveElijah help. For me, this often comes as a word of encouragement at just theright time—just when I’m ready to give up.

How has God gently whispered toyou in your times of darkness?

Elijah was doing his best to serve God whenhe was brought to his knees by depression. James writes, “Elijah was ahuman being just as we are” (James 5:17). In this story, we see a veryhuman man who became fearful, overwhelmed and exhausted—which led to hisdepression. In his depression he experienced hopelessness, had thoughts ofdeath, and isolated himself. Yet, God was right there, providing him with thecare and support he needed to get back to what he was called to do.

The angel said to Elijah, “the journeyis too much for you” (vs. 7). Sometimes the journey truly is too much forus too. And there is no shame in that. I have often cried out to God that it’stoo much, too hard, and I can’t do it anymore. Yet, I’m still here. Each time Icry out to Him, he gives me the strength to go on, if even just for anotherhour before I’m crying out to Him again. And if you cry out to Him, He willgive you the strength you need to go on too. It may not look like we want itto—complete healing or even a nice long break. It may only be for fifteenminutes. But we can cry out to Him again and again. And He will be there in thegentle whisper.

If something in this week’s post resonated with you, please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Rest for Our Weary and Burdened Souls

God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.

Lessons from Matthew 11:28—30

Since school started, my seminary classesstarted, and my Bible study started, I’ve been busy and I’ve been missing myalone time with God. Coupled with depression, trying to fit in time forself-care, and doing all of the other things associated with simply livinglife, I’ve been feeling weary and burdened.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon in whichthe pastor talked about “pier moments.” Pier moments are those times we getalone with Jesus for a few hours or even a day and just spend time with Him,feet dangling off the pier, sitting in the quiet surrounded by the beauty ofHis creation. And it clicked. I realized this was what I needed. I needed somepier time with Jesus—my soul was craving that alone time. So I was thrilledwhen  the following Sunday, in the middleof September, turned out to be a bonus beach day.

I got there early and settled into my beachchair with my journal, Bible (well…Bible app…), a Henri Nouwen book ofmediations, and coffee. It was quiet. All I heard was the sound of the waves. Ifelt the gentle breeze and the warmth of the sun. And then I went of Facebook. Yeah,I know. Facebook generally is not the best place to find biblical rest andrejuvenation. But this time Facebook delivered. Someone had posted Matthew11:28—30, and the pieces started to fall into place for me.

Come to me, all you who are wearyand burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn fromme, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

In this passage, Jesus offers rest to anyonewho is willing to take two steps: come and take.

First Jesus says, “Come to me, all you whoare weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Rest is what He promises,but we—those of us who are weary and burdened—must take the first step. We mustcome. The great theologian, Charles Spurgeon, says this:

“’Come;’ He drives none away; Hecalls them to himself. His favorite word is ‘Come’…To Jesus Himself we mustcome, by a personal trust. Not to doctrine, ordinance, or ministry are we tocome first, but to the personal savior.”

What does it mean to come to Jesus? Well,let’s first take a look at what it doesn’t mean. Coming to Jesus doesn’t meanspending more time in church, doing more ministry, serving more, or workingharder for God. None of these are bad things with the right motivation, butthis isn’t what Jesus meant when He invited us to come to Him. Coming to Jesusmeans being open and honest with Him in prayer. It means telling Him whatyou’re feeling and what’s weighing you down. It means reading your Bible andletting it speak into your heart. Maybe for you it means journaling. Maybetaking a walk in His creation. Maybe watching the waves crash at the shore. Maybeit’s listening to Christian music or instrumentals. Coming to Jesus just meansconnecting your heart to His.

What does that look like for you?

You mightnot know what connects your heart to His. Try things. You’ll know when you hitupon how God speaks to you in your unique wiring. For me, these days I hear Godand feel connected to Him most when I’m writing. He speaks to me most clearlyas I work on these blogs.

So, Jesus invites us to come to Him. And Hisinvitation is inclusive; we are allinvited. I find Jesus’ language here comforting. “Weary and burdened” reallyencapsulates all of us who are in need of rest. Weariness comes from withinus—it’s the feeling of exhaustion, of not wanting to keep going. Burdened comesfrom without—it’s the responsibilities and obligations that are put on us byothers that weigh us down.

What has you weary?

What is burdening you?

One of my favorite commentators, David Guzik,says this:

“Jesus directed His call to thosewho were burdened. He called those who sensed they must come to Him to relievetheir need instead of living in self sufficiency.”

In our society, this is a major cause of ourweariness and burdens. We think we need to do it all, and do it all byourselves—without even the help of Jesus. I know this can be a problem for me,and my self-sufficiency is one of the reasons I do not have rest for my soul.

That leads us to the second step Jesusinvites us to take:  “Take my yoke uponyou and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will findrest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” We areinvited to take up Jesus’ yoke and learn from Him. 

A yoke is a wooden arch that binds two oxentogether. When they are yoked, they walk in pace and share the load. This iswhat Jesus invites us to do—walk with Him, learn from Him, and share ourburdens with Him. It is this relationship that makes the yoke “easy and theburden light,” because Jesus not only shares our burdens, but He does not addto them. And, if we learn from Him we will avoid becoming worn out by ourexhaustion and burdens because Jesus models for us healthy balance.

But, we need to be willing to yoke ourselvesto Him. Often, our actions tell us that we aren’t willing to do that. We do,however, yoke ourselves to our job, ministry, material possessions, reputation,grades, academics, house, money. Or, we yoke ourselves to our unhealthy thoughtpatterns, pride, anger, unforgiveness, made up religious rules, shame, fear.

Are you yoking yourself tosomething besides Jesus?

I know I am. Many of the things above applyto me. But Jesus wants me to free myself from the yoke of these trappings andyoke myself to Him, because that’s where I will find rest for my soul, andthat’s where you will find rest as well. If Jesus’ yoke is easy, and if Hisburden is light, none of these trappings belong.

I love how The Message paraphrases thispassage—“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get awaywith me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms ofgrace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with meand you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

So if you’re feeling worn out and burdened, I encourage you to come to Jesus and take up His yoke. Get away with Him for a few hours and be refreshed. Walk with Him and work with Him and watch how He does it, because His way never leads to weariness and burdens. That’s the way of the world, not the way or our Savior.  

If something in this week’s post resonated with you, please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

With Hands Held High

God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.

Lessons from Exodus 17:8-16

Life is really hard. But God never intended for us to do it alone. He has called us to live in community, and within that community He wants us to have a tribe—that small group of people with whom we can be completely vulnerable and open, who will support us through all the pain that life can bring. Too often, though, when we are in pain we isolate. We hold those feelings in thinking that will bring relief when in actuality, it only makes us suffer more.

Over the course of my journey with depression, God has shown me my own tendency to isolate. As He has given me the courage to be more open and share my story, He has shown me how important community is, and how important that small tribe is. Exodus 17:8-16 has taught me some important lessons about the need for a tribe. Maybe it will resonate with you too.

In this passage, the Israelites were fighting the Amalekites. Moses, his brother Aaron, and another man named Hur (who is likely a leader of the Israelites) went to the top of a mountain where they were able to see the battle. As long as Moses stood with his hands up, they were winning. But, whenever he brought his hands down, the Amalekites were winning. This was a long battle, and Moses became weary.

“When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady until sunset.” (Exodus 17:11-12)

Aaron and Hur were Moses’ tribe—that small group of people whom he could rely on this support him in his time of need. And from this story, we learn a few important lessons.

Frist, this passage shows us that sometimes God asks us to do very hard things that are more than we can handle.  It was Moses’ task to hold his hands up for the duration of the battle, and this was a hard task. Try holding your arms in the air and see how long it is before you’re itching to put them down! I can’t last very long. But God gave Moses this hard task to do, and it was something that only Moses could do—because he was the one to whom God gave the task. Maybe you’ve been there, knowing that God is asking you to do something that is so very hard. Frequently, when we go through something difficult someone will tell us, “The Bible says God never gives us more than we can handle.” Friends, that is not in the Bible. God often gives us more than we can handle.

What hard task has God called you to that is yours alone?

What are you facing that is just too hard to handle?

Second, we learn that God does not intend for us to take on these impossible tasks alone. God didn’t intend for Moses to go through this on his own. Yes, he was the only one who could hold up his own hands, but God gave him Aaron and Hur for support. Aaron and Hur supported Moses physically and emotionally. They gave him a rock to sit on. Each one took an arm and helped Moses keep that arm in the air.  They were there with him—one on each side of him; Moses didn’t have to take on this difficult task alone. They stayed with him for hours, throughout the duration of the battle. As one commentator says, “In such a crisis, not even the gifted, charismatic, anointed Moses can afford to be a lone ranger.” Moses needed Aaron and Hur to come by his side and give him the support he needed. When we are suffering we need Aarons and Hurs to be by our side, to be our support. We need people who are in it for the long haul. It is also worth noting that Moses accepted their help. He didn’t try to do it on his own. I often make that mistake—rejecting help because I don’t want to bother others or don’t want to admit I need help—but that is not God’s plan.

When you are hurting, to you tend to isolate or reach out?

Third, this passage teaches us that, while we live in a larger community, our tribe should be small. Moses had two trusted companions as his support while he was going through this trial, not 20. Not everyone can be your Aaron or Hur. Even Jesus had his inner circle amongst the twelve disciples. In his book The Inner Voice of Love, Henri Nouwen writes, “Don’t tell everyone your story…God will send you the people with whom you can share your anguish, who can lead you closer to the true source of love.” This is not to say that you should hide your pain. I think we should be open and share. But, just as there are layers to pain, there are layers to sharing. Only a few very trusted people know the deepest layers of my pain. Once we have healed, we are much more able to be open, but while we are still hurt and bleeding, we need to be selective so that more injury is not caused.

Who are the Aarons and Hurs in your life?

I want to tell you about an Aaron in my life. His name was Mike, and he passed away suddenly last Sunday. I began preparing this post before I lost my friend. For the last few days, I haven’t been able to write, to concentrate on anything really. But as I have been grieving this week, God impressed upon my heart the Mike was someone who held my hands up high in so many different ways, and especially after I opened up to him about my battle with depression.

We both taught English, just down the hall from each other, for the past 19 years. Over the nearly two decades we spent together, he became one of my closest friends. He was the only person I saw on a daily basis who knew about my depression and my struggles with meds. He asked questions. He checked on me. He offered real, practical help. He let me vent. He made me laugh. He got me to talk. He always had time for me. I am so grateful for the 19 years I had with my friend, and I know I was Aaron to him as well, and that brings me comfort.

For the past week I have gone to school every day without him being just down the hall. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that I will never see him again. The pain has been awful. But I know I am not alone. Mike was my Aaron, but I have Hurs too. They have been checking on me and praying for me. Offering a shoulder or just to sit with me. Mike would be happy that I have Hurs. He would want that for me. God wants that for me. He has placed Hurs in my life because He knew that I would lose my Aaron and need them.

God wants you to have Aarons and Hurs too. For those of us going through storms, often the last thing we want to do is invite people into our pain. But we need a tribe. We need support. If you don’t have an Aaron or a Hur, pray. Ask God to show you who those people are—the ones who can be trusted with your pain, who can be a support system. Ask God to bring Aarons and Hurs into your life. Life is tough enough. We don’t have to go through it alone.

If something in this week’s post resonated with you, please comment below. I would love to hear from you!

Walking on Water with Jesus

God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.

Lessons from Matthew 14:22-33

I teach high school English. A few years ago, as part of a Spirit Week event, the juniors came to school in costume. To encourage participation, I held a costume contest in class. One of my students—who was often told he looks like Jesus because of his long, dark, curly hair—came dressed as Jesus. He wore the requisite sandals and a white terry robe purchased at Kohl’s for the occasion (which I recommended might make a lovely Mother’s Day gift for his mom…) He walked to the front of the room, announced that he was dressed as Jesus and then dumped the contents of a water bottle on the floor and said, “Like Jesus, I too can walk on water.” He won the contest. It was witty. I hope Jesus laughed.

But when we think of the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water, I think we forget just how miraculous this event was, and how much faith it took for Peter to step out of that boat. He wasn’t simply walking on spilled water on the solid floor; he was walking out into a tumultuous storm.  Many of us have heard Peter being maligned for his lack of faith as he began to sink. I don’t think that is the lesson Jesus wants us to learn from this passage. Instead, I see proof that, in the face of doubt, Jesus will stretch out his hand and steady us.

When the passage begins in Matthew 14:22, Jesus and the disciples have had a long day. Jesus just fed the 5000 with five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples helped serve that meal. They ministered to the crowd. It was getting late, and Jesus sent the disciples on, ahead of Him, while He went to spend time alone with His Father. But in verse 24, we see the precarious situation the disciples are in. They are a “considerable distance from land” and they are “buffeted by the waves.” They spend the night battling these waves. In fact, scholars believe that by dawn—when Jesus appeared—they were two to three miles from shore and had spent nine hours fighting the storm. And so, when we read in verse 26 that “they were terrified” and “cried out in fear” that “It’s a ghost” when they see a figure walking on water to them, we can understand why they are so afraid—they are exhausted, it is dark, and they are contending with the waves. I get that. There are times when my life’s circumstances and the battle against the thoughts in my own mind leave me so exhausted and fearful, that I don’t see Jesus. I overlook His presence because I am so focused on and worn out by the storm.

How about you? Do you ever feel so worn out that you just don’t recognize Jesus’ presence in your situation?

But let’s look at Jesus’ response. Jesus doesn’t rebuke the disciples for not recognizing Him. Instead, He immediately says, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (vs. 27). Jesus’ comfort and reassurance is immediate. His first response is to calm their fears—that is His priority. Jesus knows that it’s frightening to see things in the dark. New Testament scholar R.T. France commented, “The disciples’ irrational fear is met by the familiar voice of Jesus; considering the startling manner of His appearance, His words sound almost banal, but their very ordinariness contributes to the reassurance.” We sense Jesus saying to His disciples—”Hey, It’s just me. Don’t be scared.” His calmness during this literal storm must have been reassuring to the disciples—to hear His voice devoid of fear lets us know that we too need not fear.

During this season of my life, I have felt the darkness much more than light. But darkness lies. Darkness told the disciples that they were seeing a ghost, that the waves would overcome them, that they were utterly alone. Darkness tells me that this depression will never end, that God doesn’t have a purpose for the pain, that I’m fooling myself that God can redeem this season of hurt, that no one really cares and I’m on my own. And the darker it gets, the more sinister the voice becomes. But I need to remember that even in the darkness, Jesus is walking towards me saying, “It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

What lies does the darkness tell you?

Do you see Jesus in the darkness?

Verse 28 brings Peter into focus. As I mentioned last week, Peter is my favorite disciple because he is just so human. Like so many of us, he really wants to be a good disciple but so often messes up. But I don’t think Peter’s doubt in this passage is a mistake per se; I think it’s a very normal reaction. When Peter hears Jesus’ voice he says, “Lord, if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water.” There is a beautiful mix here of faith and doubt that shows us that faith and doubt can coexist. But notice—Peter’s faith precedes his doubt. First he says Lord, and then he says if. That’s a lesson for me. Yes, I will have doubts, but I am to lead with faith. Put God before the if.

It’s also important to note that Peter isn’t testing Jesus, as he is so often accused of doing. He is doubting and needs reassurance…and Jesus responds! So it’s okay to ask God to reassure me that He’s here, that He’s leading me. It’s okay for you to ask for reassurance too.

Peter’s faith is also evident when he says, “tell me to walk to you on the water.” Peter doesn’t just ask Jesus to enable him to walk on water. He asks Jesus to bring him to Jesus—that is his desire. He wants to come to Jesus. There is a relationship implied here.  When you ask to come to someone there is a connection, a bond, trust, love. Unlike Peter, when I’m in the dark I tend to run from God. It’s something I’ve recently become aware of and it’s something I’m now working on. Faith and doubt can coexist, but if I want to lead with faith, when those doubts crop up, my first response needs to be to bring it to God.

Jesus’ response to Peter’s request is the simple command, “Come” (vs. 29). And Peter does. Without any apparent hesitation, he “got down out of the boat” and he “walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” I cannot say I always to the same thing. Too often, my doubt leads and I question whether I have truly heard His voice.

How do you see faith and doubt coexist in your own life?

Do you tend to let your faith lead, or your doubt?

Verse 30 is where we can become so critical of Peter, as if we would do better! But I hope you can see Jesus’ love here. Peter sees the wind and becomes afraid, and he takes his eyes off of Jesus. That’s when he begins to sink. When I take my eyes off of Jesus—which I do all the time—I too begin to sink. I sink into my doubts, fears, insecurities, sadness, anxiety, depression.

Can you relate to Peter? Are there times when you take your eyes off of Jesus and begin to sink?

Yet, Matthew writes that when Peter is “beginning to sink” his first response is to cry out to Jesus. The wording here is important. He is “beginning to sink.” He wasn’t in up to his head before it occurred to him to ask Jesus to save him. That is an important lesson for me. I tend to wait until I’m up to my eyeballs, thinking I can do it all myself. I was drowning in depression, my head barely above water, before I sought godly counsel. God doesn’t want that for me; He wants to be my first and immediate response, not my last resort. He wants to be that for you too.

When Peter’s eyes were fixed on Jesus, he was fine. When he saw the wind and the waves he became afraid and looked away. In the midst of my darkness, when I keep my eyes on Jesus I can do what He’s calling me to do. When I become overwhelmed and afraid—that’s when I need to keep my eyes on Him the most, but it’s also when I tend to turn away…and that’s when I start to sink.

But, for the second time in this passage Jesus’ response to his disciple’s distress is immediate: “Jesus reached out his hand and caught him” (vs. 31). Jesus reaches out and saves Peter before He says a word. The saving comes before the correction. Jesus responds to me the same way. When I cry out to Him in fear, pain, darkness, anxiety, sadness, He will reach out and save me. To be honest, I don’t always feel His hand catching me. But the Bible says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). And so I know that there is a safety net there, even when I don’t sense it beneath me. I can trust that God is there, with His hand outstretched every time I call upon Him even when my emotions lie to me and tell me that I’m on my own.

In your times of need, when you call upon God, how do you sense His presence?

When Jesus does speak to Peter, His correction is gentle: “‘You of little faith’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?” So many times I have heard this passage taught as a rebuke of Peter’s doubt, but that isn’t what Jesus is doing here. Jesus “said.” This word in Greek (legō) means simply to speak or teach. Not scold or reprimand. Yes, Peter had “little faith” in that moment, but he had faith, and Jesus acknowledges this. What I find fascinating, though, is Jesus’ use of the word “doubt.” We have such a negative connotation with the word “doubt,” but the word Jesus is using is the Greek word “distazō,” which simply means to waver. As R.T. France explains, Peter’s doubt “denotes not so much a theological uncertainty or unbelief but a practical hesitation…Peter’s problem was not so much a lack of intellectual conviction as the conflict between the evidence of his senses and the invitation of Jesus.” Isn’t this so often the case for us? We want to believe, we do believe, but the enormity of the problem in front of us, on a practical level, causes us to doubt. We don’t know how or when God will work it out, and doubts creep in. But when they do, and we start to sink, let’s remember that, like Peter did, we can cry out to Jesus and He will catch us.

Can you relate? Is there a time in your life when you felt this conflict between faith and doubt?

The other disciples witness this whole scene. And when Jesus and Peter get back in the boat, they are floored. Their only response is: “Truly you are the Son of God.” Peter’s experience and Jesus’ handling of it provides an opportunity for them to truly see God. I can’t help but think this is one of the main reasons God had called us to live in community. I hope and pray that as I share my struggles and my experiences with you, you will be encouraged and share yours as well.

If something in this week’s post resonated with you, please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

There is Always a Plan for Our Redemption

God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.

Lessons from Luke 22:31-32

 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus spoke these words to Peter (referring to him by his pre-conversion name, Simon) just before Peter denied Him—not once, but three times. Jesus was facing the darkest time in His own life—He would shortly be arrested, beaten, and crucified. This was the time when He needed His disciples—His friends, His brothers—the most. Yet, it is in this moment that Peter fails Him.

Peter certainly was a flawed man. He doubted. He was impulsive. His motives were not always pure. But, Peter loved Jesus. He tried to be a good disciple and a good friend. And Jesus saw something special in Peter, despite his flaws.

I find Peter to be very relatable, and I find his story—especially his mistakes—encouraging. Peter was immensely human. But, despite all of his flaws, God used him anyway. Perhaps it is because of Peter’s flaws the God was able to use him. They kept him humble. In this passage, we see that Peter will make a mistake; he will turn away. But we also see that God will use him anyway. And from these three simple sentences, we gain a profound truth: There is always a plan for our redemption. Always. Let’s take a closer look at this passage.

Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” The first thing we see here is that Satan is instrumentally involved in the failure of Peter (and the other disciples). Satan desires nothing more than to turn believers’ eyes away from God, to make us stumble and turn away. But what exactly does it mean to be sifted as wheat? In biblical days, sifting wheat was a three-step process. After wheat was harvested, it was threshed to remove the grain from the stalk. To do this, the wheat was piled on the threshing floor, and oxen were driven back and forth over it. Then, it was winnowed. Using a winnowing fork, the threshed grain was thrown in the air and the valuable kernels would fall straight back down to the floor, creating a separate pile from the husks. Finally, the kernels went through a sieve to remove any other impurities, like pebbles. The farmer was then left with pure wheat kernels, separated from the chaff.

This is what Satan asked to do to Peter. Satan asked to break him, to trample him, to toss him around like chaff. And God said yes—because while Satan aimed to destroy Peter’s faith, God knew that this process, though painful, would ultimately reveal that pure kernel of wheat.

Are you in a season where you feel as though you are being sifted as wheat?

What do you think Satan wants to stop you from doing or becoming?

But we also need to note that Satan has to ask God for permission. If we believe that God is love, then it stands to reason that there must be a purpose behind His permission, and there must be a limit to what He will allow Satan to do.

Why do you think God is allowing you to be sifted?

What pure kernel does He want to produce in you?

Jesus then says, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” There is a spiritual battle ensuing behind the scenes that Peter was unaware of until now. Peter did not know that Satan asked for him by name, and he did not know that Jesus was praying for him. But Jesus didn’t pray what we would typically pray—that God would take the trial away. Jesus prayed instead that during this sifting process, Peter’s faith would not fail.

There is an important distinction to be made between our faith faltering and our faith failing. Peter’s faith faltered, but it did not fail. He turned away from Jesus for a time, but he turned back. He did not walk away forever. He did not decide that Jesus was not who He said He was and renounce his faith. He did not decide that he was too flawed to be of any use to God and therefore stay away. Instead, he responded to conviction by turning back to his Lord.

What has caused your faith to falter?

 What is the status of your faith now?

But this is the sentence that gets me every time I read it: “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” This is the sentence that gives me so much encouragement every single time I read it because Jesus is saying that there is always a plan for our redemption. Jesus says to Peter, “When you have turned back,” not “If you turn back.” Every time we falter in our faith, every time we walk away, every time we think we have stepped too far outside of God’s will, He is there telling us that He will use even our faltering for good. There is nothing we can do that is so horrible that God cannot redeem it. We can always turn back.

God knows that there are times when our faith will falter, but He also knows that when we turn back, that is when we are best able to come alongside others. And this is where the hope is—God will use us to help others. We know the struggle. We know what it is like to fail. When Peter denied Jesus, he came face to face with his flawed human nature. But Peter turned back, and because he did, God used him powerfully to build His church (Matthew 16:18). 

We might be tempted to say that God used Peter in spite of his weaknesses, but what if God used Peter because of his weaknesses? Commentator Bruce Larson said, “We have a desperate need for life specialists—those who can reach out to others because of their recent hurts…Each of us, because of our painful experiences, is a specialist in how to survive in life to the glory of God.” Peter certainly knew what it was like to fail, and he experienced God’s grace and redemption. It is with this understanding that he became a founder of the Christian church, and it is with this understanding that he encouraged others to always turn back to God—He “strengthened his brothers.”

In what ways has God made you a “life specialist”?

Using this passage, God spoke into my heart a message that has been vital to my faith: Satan has asked to sift me as wheat, and though he cannot steal my salvation, he is after my walk, my witness, my ministry. He would love to destroy me, to reduce me to a puddle on the floor, render me completely ineffective to serve as God has called me.

As I have walked through this season of depression, there are many times when my faith has faltered and I have turned away. For a time, I turned away from God in my heart. I didn’t pray or read my Bible. I attended church out of obligation. I led my Bible study while hiding what I was feeling, leading with words that were empty in meaning to me. No one was allowed in—especially God. My faltering faith wasn’t visible to those around me, which perhaps made it more dangerous. By not allowing anyone in, I suffered alone and ran a greater risk of failing to turn back. I also robbed others of the gift of offering me encouragement and support.

But Jesus spoke the words He spoke to Peter into my heart: “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” If I made the choice, as Peter did, to turn back, Jesus would use this for good. It is a promise He has made, and He never goes back on His promises. But the choice was mine. And I made the choice to turn back. Since then, I have seen God use my story for good, and I have seen His hand working to redeem the darkness.

I am still in the midst of dealing with depression. Some days are better than others. I sometimes struggle to stay in the Word, to pray, and to share my story. My faith still falters and I continue to have to make the decision to turn back—actually I made that choice again today. But I have seen God use my experience to strengthen others as I have learned to share it. And I have experienced what a gift it is to be used by God to support others who are experiencing dark seasons in their lives.

Perhaps like me you are going through a battle. Perhaps you are struggling with your faith. Perhaps you find yourself turning away from God. I would encourage you to ask yourself two questions:

What does Satan want to stop you from doing?

How does God want to use you to strengthen your brothers and sisters when you turn back?

Remember, the God of the universe is praying for you. You can never fall so far that you are out of His reach. And He always, always has a plan for your redemption.

The Cracked Pot

Lessons from 2 Corinthians 4:7

God has created us to live in community, but when we go through dark seasons we often withdraw from community and/or find that our community does not understand our pain. It is my prayer that you find a safe community here, where you can be encouraged through God’s Word and through the words of those on similar journeys. I invite you to take a moment to first read and reflect on this week’s Scripture before reading the post. Throughout, I have posed questions that I hope will help you process God’s Word. At the end, there is a spot to leave a comment. I would love for you to share whatever is on your heart, and to read and respond to others.

Some people are savers. They save everything from meaningful mementos to three-year-old grocery store receipts. That’s not me. I’m a tosser. When something is broken or worn out, I throw it away. Perhaps replace it. But I definitely don’t save it. As I was taking a walk this morning and praying, I started to think about what this reveals about my spiritual life.

The last few weeks have been tough in my battle with depression; depression has worn me down, and truthfully, I haven’t been putting up much of a fight. And I haven’t been writing because it just feels so hypocritical. Who am I to think that anything I write can help anyone else when I can’t even help myself? So, like the neon pink Old Navy flip flops that are now the color of Pepto Bismol and deserving of being tossed in the trash, I have tossed my writing too. There’s a big difference though—God doesn’t seem to care much about the $1 flip flops, but He cares very much about my writing because, for me, it has a direct correlation to my relationship with Him. 

He reminded me of the cracked pots.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7, the apostle Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

What comes to mind when you think about a jar of clay?

What kind of treasure would you hide in it?

Jars of clay were common, ordinary earthenware in biblical days. They had little value and were quite fragile. Most only lasted a few years. These expendable jars were used to store and carry common household goods such as water, oil, and grain. But in this verse, Paul compares himself to earthenware—he is the jar of clay, and so are we. The treasure within it? That’s Jesus. This begs the question: Why would Jesus allow Himself, the most valuable treasure ever to be had, to be stored in common, easily broken, jar of clay?

Pete Briscoe, senior pastor of Bent Tree Church, gave a powerful message on this verse that has stayed with me and changed the way I view the cracks that inevitably appear in my jar of clay. Pastor Briscoe said, “Our experience of suffering must be linked to our theology so that we do not offer easy answers to the problem of pain.” In other words, we need to understand why God allows us to suffer so that we don’t end up belittling others by offering trite responses to their deep pain.

Has anyone tried to offer you an easy answer for your pain?

What did that feel like?

I have searched for easy answers myself, and have found them lacking. And, I have been offered easy answers, and found them hurtful. People will say that your sin must have caused your pain, or you just need to trust God more. These answers only serve to alienate people from God.

The only satisfying answer I have arrived at is that God uses these times of darkness as transformative experiences. And it is when we allow God to transform us that He can use us, cracks and all.

Have you seen any good come out of your own darkness and suffering?

During that sermon, Pastor Briscoe had a large clay pot on the stage and in that pot were deep cracks. He said that this verse contains two “characters”: the treasure and the jar of clay. Pastor Briscoe then posed this question: “Why would God put something as precious as Jesus in a cracked pot?” It is so that the light of Jesus can shine through our cracks. Pastor Briscoe concluded this illustration by dimming the sanctuary lighting so that lights within the pot could be seen shining beautifully through the cracks. Jesus is the treasure we have in our brokenness. When we allow Him to use our brokenness, He can shine through our cracks to illuminate the world.

Even cracked pots emit beauty when light shines through them because light is alluring, especially in darkness. In darkness, light captures the attention of the eye. This, then, is God’s plan for brokenness. When others are experiencing darkness, whatever the cause may be, they are looking for the light to break through. When we allow the one true Light to shine through our cracks, God can use us to draw hurting people to Him.

Do you see the beauty in your cracks?

How does God want to use those cracks?

There is an important distinction to be made between simply having cracks and having cracks that emit light. Cracks without light just ooze whatever contents are inside the jar—anger, bitterness, resentment, worry, fear. These jars are not oozing treasure. But, when the cracks emit light, our pain is used for God’s glory and the good of others. I must admit, the last few weeks I have been oozing. My depression as seeped out in anger, impatience, disinterest, and sadness. But, if I allow God to work, Jesus will shine through. That does not mean I will just stop being depressed. What it does mean is that I will use my pain in transformative ways.

So, are you oozing or shining?

As I watched Pastor Briscoe’s sermon on the cracked pot, I was reminded of the Japanese art of kintsugi. Rather than disposing of pots that have been broken, the Japanese mend the cracks with liquid gold. Kintsugi teaches that broken objects are not something to hide or throw away but to display with pride. We too can practice the art of kintsugi in our own pain.

If we want to use our clay pots to their fullest potential, we need to seal up the cracks—heal and mend our brokenness. God mends our cracks with precious metal, refines us, and gives us a new lease on life. Now, instead of cracks that emit light, we have scars made of gold. These scars are evidence of God’s grace and healing in our lives. We ought to display the scars with pride rather than hiding them away. Our scars are what make us able to be relational and relatable. Our scars show others that they are not alone, and that God loves them just as they are.

Do you have cracks that God has transformed into scars?

No one wants cracks or wounds, and no one wants to experience pain. Yet, it is in these dark places that God shapes us and refines us, and it is through these difficulties that we become more relatable to others. It is important to let people into the broken places of our lives. As believers, we need to recognize that the world is looking for authenticity. They know we are not perfect, and we don’t need to pretend that we are. God can do much more with us in our brokenness and with our scars than He can with wounds we keep hidden.

Have you experienced a healing touch from someone else’s crack or scar?

Are you willing to let your own cracks and scars show?

Phillip Yancey says, “As is so often His pattern, God uses very ordinary people to bring about healing.” I have experienced the healing touch of ordinary, broken people, and I am an ordinary broken person. God can use me in my brokenness. He can use you too.

We are all cracked pots. If we take away the mask of perfectionism and let others see the brokenness within us, we show others that it is okay not be okay—that God wants us with our cracks and scars just as we are.

Hope Anchors the Soul

Lessons from Hebrews 6:19

We all experience stormy seasons in our lives. For the past two years, I have been walking through the storm of depression. Often, it has felt as if God has been absent, but it would be more accurate to say that the storm has obscured my ability to see Him. If I believe that God is good, and if I believe that God is love, then it follows that I must believe that He is with me even when I cannot sense His presence.

One of the verses that God has impressed upon my heart to guide my life through this storm is Hebrews 6:19, and since it’s tattooed on my foot (much to my mother’s horror) and its on various signage all over my house, it seems only right that this is the verse that I first blog about.

Hebrews 6:19 reads, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

It’s often paraphrased, “Hope anchors the soul.”

For the first century Christians, the anchor was a symbol of faith, which has always fascinated me. It makes so much sense as a symbol of faith.  While we wear the cross, first century Christians had the anchor. To them, wearing a cross would be like us wearing an electric chair—it wouldn’t have made sense to them because the cross represented utter humiliation. But the anchor as a symbol is so applicable—then and now.

The early church faced tremendous persecution and often had to practice its faith in secret. The anchor helped to unify them. Christian singer Michael Card said,

“The first century symbol wasn’t the cross; it was the anchor. If I’m a first century Christian and I’m hiding in the catacombs and three of my best friends have just been thrown to the lions or burned at the stake or crucified and set ablaze as torches at one of Nero’s garden parties, the symbol that most encourages me in my faith is the anchor. When I see it, I’m reminded that Jesus is my anchor.”

The tombs of believers as far back as the first century often displayed anchors. The anchor as a faith symbol faded from use during the third century, most likely because the government went from persecuting the church to supporting it, so Christians no longer needed a secret symbol.

But, when we think about it, the anchor is the perfect symbol of our faith.

To “anchor” means to “fix or secure to a particular place.”

In boating, when an anchor is dropped overboard, it secures the ship to the bottom of the ocean floor. During a storm, the anchor stabilizes the boat by increasing the drag through turbulent waters. As a symbol, the anchor is something we can visualize; we can see it attaching to the ocean floor, digging in, stabilizing the boat, and we can visualize how this applies to our faith and our souls.

Boats need anchors to make it though rough waters. Our souls need also need anchors to make it through rough waters.

The author of Hebrews understood this well when he wrote, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” He was writing to believers facing intense persecution and encouraging them to remember the One to whom their souls were tethered.

So, let’s look at the verse more closely.

First, what does it mean to hope? There’s a big difference between earthly hope and Godly hope. I hope for good weather.  I hope to get a pool. I hope whoever collects the money at work for Mega Millions doesn’t forget me, because I’m terrified they’ll win and I’ll be the only one to show up at work the next day. But none of this represents Godly hope.

Earthly hope is wishful thinking; Godly hope is resting in the assurance that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do.

Do you have earthly hopes on which you are placing too much emphasis?

Do you have Godly hopes that you have given up on?

Secondly, the writer of Hebrews uses the anchor as a symbol of Christian stability in the storms of life. Because of the persecution they were facing, the storms they were experiencing, some of these early Christians were considering abandoning the faith. It was just so hard. 

What keeps your faith stable when you are walking through a storm?

Thirdly, the author of Hebrews says that our hope is anchored to something “firm and secure.” The anchor represents stability. It is firm-which means it is certain and true. It is secure—which means that it is reliable and stable. The only hope that our anchor can be tethered to that is unfailing is Jesus’ finished work upon the cross.

My hope is anchored to Jesus. My hope is in my salvation, which no one can take away. It is firm, and it is secure. Your hope is anchored to Jesus. Your hope is in your salvation, which no one can take away. It is firm, and it is secure.

How does embracing this hope change how we live?

But, when do we most need an anchor? During a storm. The rougher the weather, the more important is your anchor.

  • Anchors are needed to hold the ship firmly and keep it from being wrecked.
    • The anchor keeps our faith from being shipwrecked.
      • In the storm, what part of your faith takes the biggest beating?
  • Anchors are needed to stabilize the ship for those on board.
    • There are people in our lives who look to us for stability.
      • Who has God placed in your life for whom you are to be a stabilizing influence? How does your anchor help you to do this?
  • Anchors are needed to allow the ship to maintain the progress it has made.
    • You may not being moving forward, but your anchor keeps you from moving backward.
      • When you’re in a storm, do you beat yourself up for not moving forward instead of seeing that you’re holding steady?

Let’s remember that the anchor has a strong grip to the ocean floor, but if it isn’t attached to the ship, it’s of no use. That anchor needs to be attached to our souls. We need to take hold of it and hold on tight.

And, let’s remember that when the anchor is working the hardest, it’s invisible. As Charles Spurgeon said,

“Our anchor is like every other; when it is of any use, it is out of sight. When a man sees an anchor it is doing nothing…when the anchor is of use it is gone: there it went overboard with a splash; far down there, all among the fish, lies the iron, holding fast, quite out of sight. Where is your hope brother? Do you believe because you can see? That is not believing at all.”

We need a foundation in our faith for hope to take root, to anchor in. God asks us to walk by faith not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). (My second tattoo if my mother ever recovers from the first.)  Without this anchoring hope, though, we will not be able to walk by faith.

How do we establish a foundation in our faith that allows us to walk by faith and trust that the anchor, invisible to us in the storm, is holding us firmly and securely?

Hope has been a struggle for me, but more in the temporal sense. I struggle to maintain hope that this depression will pass, that some of my long held dreams will come true, that things will be okay this side of Heaven. But, it is eternal hope that has seen me through. No matter what comes at me in this life, I know that my soul is anchored to the only One who can save, the only One who is worthy of trust when the storms come and rob my earthly peace and joy.

When I started seminary and was hit with this wave of depression, I couldn’t understand why God would allow this to happen. I was walking in blind faith, having no idea why God was calling me to seminary, and to be hit with severe depression…well, Why?  I am doing what He asked me to do, trusting that He knows what He’s doing, which is hard for me because I like to be in complete control over every aspect of life.  For me, walking by faith is so much easier when I can walk by sight at the same time!

But God showed me Peter. Jesus said to Peter, just before Peter betrayed Him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). God used this verse to impress upon my heart that Satan knows he cannot have my soul, but he will do whatever he can to destroy my walk, my witness, my ministry. It is up to me to make the decision to turn back when I turn away and strengthen my brothers and sisters. And I have seen God use my story to encourage others as I have learned to share it.

Just like us, Peter’s hope was anchored to Jesus. Just like us, he faced storms. Just like us, he didn’t walk through those storms with perfect faith. Just like us, God used him anyway. If you are willing to give the storm to God, he will sustain you and use it for His glory. He is our anchor; He will sustain us through the storms. And we know that our souls are tethered to Him by a firm and secure rope line.

As I was writing, and had gotten to that last sentence, I thought I was done. But then God said, “If you know I’m your anchor, why do you keep trying to steer the ship?” I’m still working through that one, but I wonder…

Are you allowing that anchor to do its job? Or, like me, to you find yourself still trying to steer the ship even though the anchor has been cast?

A song to encourage you