I hardly feel qualified to speak on this subject, seeing as how I’m in the middle of my own crisis. But since nothing else is coming to mind today, maybe I can say something that will bring encouragement or insight to someone.
There are ministers out there who will say that true believers never waver in their faith. That if, in fact, you are wavering in your faith or going through a tough time spiritually, it’s a sign that (1) you aren’t really saved or (2) you aren’t where you need to be in your relationship with God. Honestly, I struggle to take seriously anyone who says they feel 100% joyful and confident in their faith at all times. I simply don’t believe it’s true. Everyone gets knocked to their knees at some point. Even Jesus went through tough times. Garden of Gathsemane ring a bell? How about his temptation in the desert? Angels had to minister to him afterward. You don’t need ministering unto unless the fight has taken something out of you. And I don’t think anyone could accuse Jesus of being out of line in his relationship with God.
My crisis began a few years ago when a pastor I trusted divided my home church. I had concerns prior to that about some things I had observed in my church’s youth ministry, but it wasn’t until that moment of betrayal that I felt I couldn’t trust everything I had been taught about faith. The experience shook me. Badly. So badly that I nearly gave up Christianity altogether. I had to go back to basics–figure out what I knew to be true and find a way forward. I believe I started just short of God’s existence.
I’ve come quite a distance in a short time and feel fairly confident in my faith now. The problem is, I’m now walking in uncharted territory. I feel the pain of God stripping away all of my religiosity and preconceived notions of what it means to live for Him–notions that were instilled in me from the time I could sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I feel the heavy weight of Christ’s cross on my shoulders. I hear a voice saying, “Faith is not a destination. Even after I bring you into my plans, you will never ‘arrive’. You must keep walking.” I feel myself growing farther and farther away from that comfortable mindset of living for God by simply attending church and following the ‘correct’ doctrinal script. Even just reading over the posts I’ve made to this blog since October reveals how much my perceptive is changing. I’ve gone from getting Christ into my life to getting myself into Christ’s life. And it really does feel like dying.
Sometimes, we Christians talk about being in the desert. It’s a theme that presents itself often in scripture. Jesus went into the desert to be tempted. John the Baptist went into the desert to preach the gospel. Elijah stayed in the desert while waiting for God’s direction, then fled there again when his revival on Mt. Carmel didn’t turn out as planned. The desert is a place of harsh reality. It’s where fortitude gets tested. It’s where you will decide whether you will continue to follow God or give up. There aren’t many rivers or wild celebrations in the desert. If you come out with your faith intact, you’ll have less baggage and a renewed perspective, but also a whole new set of challenges.
Since I’m convinced I’ve spent more time in the desert than Wile E. Coyote at this point, here’s what I’ve learned:
Things that Send Christians into the Desert
1. Discouragement. Obeying God didn’t turn out the way we were expecting. We think God has let us down. We fail to recognize the spiritual victory our obedience wrought for God and others.
2. A Need for Healing or Deliverance. Sometimes, certain wounds, habitual sins or bad theology needs to go out the window before we can grow in Christ. The desert has a way of revealing our deepest shortcomings and motivating us to deal with them.
3. Instruction. It can be hard to hear God’s voice when the praise band is constantly playing in the background of our minds. Sometimes, we get so caught up in spiritual highs–or just the noise of everyday life–that we forget to nurture our faith with prayer and study. Sometimes God needs to bring us to a quiet place of desperation in order to seek His face and hear His voice again.
4. Preparation. I can’t think of a single time in scripture when someone came out of the desert alive without a new assignment from the Almighty. If it seems like nothing is happening and you can’t move forward, it may be that God is getting ready to launch you into a new purpose.
How to Deal with the Crisis
1. Pray. Prayer will nurture your faith. Even if it doesn’t get you out of the desert faster, it will open a dialogue with God to where you can hear His voice. It will also get you focused on your spiritual needs.
2. Fast. Personally, I’m terrible at fasting. All I can think about while fasting is how hungry I am. But for some people, fasting motivates them to seek God.
3. Study. Being in the desert is a great time to examine your beliefs and attitudes in the light of God’s Word. Don’t waste this opportunity to expand your scriptural knowledge or uncover a new truth. That may be why you’re in the desert in the first place.
4. Meditate. The desert is a great place to mull over your life, your relationship with God, and deep or troubling scripture–or just quiet your mind. As the adage goes, God can’t fill you if you’re already full…of other things.
5. Continue in Good Works. It’s tempting while in the desert to slack off on ministering to others. Only do that if you need the extra time to focus on your spiritual health or if God commands it. Otherwise, keep at it. You never know when your struggle might speak to someone, or when you’ll encounter someone who has words of encouragement.
6. Connect with Someone Who Has Walked this Road. When you’re in the desert, the last thing you need is some self-righteous Pharisee rambling about how he has never doubted God a day in his life. That will only worsen your crisis. Find someone who has experienced a similar struggle and survived it with their faith stronger on the other end. Allow them to encourage and mentor you.
7. Accept the Inevitable Change. You don’t exit the desert as the same believer who went in. Something is going to change. It may be a minor change or a big ole’ radical change. It may be a change in you, your theology, or your life. Said change may put you at odds with your family, your friends, or your church. But it’s gonna happen. Get ready.
Thank you for allowing me to preach to myself today. I hope someone else finds this teaching useful. Have you experienced a crisis of faith? What did you learn? How did it turn out?
I have been going through frightening waves of doubt and they are generally either Jesus being the only way to heaven (what about all the rest of the world.) and the Father as a bloodthirsty God.
I end up saying “I don’t understand but I will hang onto the idea that God is a loving God, I don’t understand things perfectly, and I can’t do any more.
I have tried in my pitiful attempts to touch on some of these issues. One resource that has helped me tremendously, though, is the blog of Rebecca Trotter @ http://theupsidedownworld.com/ She has done a series on hell and Jesus as the only way (and what that means). Right now, she’s doing a series on Adam and Eve and the fall of humanity. Really radical, enlightening stuff you won’t hear in your typical church. Her blog has been such an encouragement to me, even though I don’t fully agree with all of her theology. If you haven’t been over there yet, I highly recommend visiting.
Rebecca Trotter is a friend and her writing is, indeed very helpful.
My pastor has been giving a series of messages on the topic in preparation for Easter and it’s triggering for me. Thanks for responding to my comment.
The past few months have been challenging to say the least and I seem to have company.
I have triggers, too. Coming out of fundamentalism, or any kind of hardline church, is hard. Hang in there, friend. We’ll get through this.
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