When I watch the news and read persecution stories, I’m bombarded with images of injustice and pain around the world. I likely don’t have to convince you evil exists because we see it all around us, but why? If God is real and He is always good, why do bad things happen? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer and injustice to reign?
As I thought about this topic, I was reminded it is deeply personal and based on experiences. I want to be sensitive to your experiences and not be flippant or over simplify this discussion. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are some thoughts I hope will bring you comfort.
If God exists, did He create evil? After all, He created everything, right? This question frequently surfaces in discussions about God and why some people believe a basic flaw exists in the Christian faith. Although this question seems to bring attention to a paradox, I believe it can be answered. My thoughts: God didn’t create evil. Evil and our imperfect world result from our poor choices and a fallen world. I realize this is a highly controversial statement, but let me explain.
In the story of Adam and Eve, we learn God created mankind in His image and gave them the option to maintain a perfect existence without suffering or death; however, He also gave mankind free will. Free will means we have the ability to choose between right and wrong. Just as we can choose love, peace, joy, patience, kindness and other good things, we can choose the opposite. We can choose to reject. We can choose to hate. We can choose to do the unspeakable: destroy, murder and hurt others. Free will exists in full range of good and bad choices from the seemingly insignificant to the most extreme; and there are consequences that result from every decision we make.
In discussions I’ve had with others, I’ve been asked the question, “Why would God even give us the ability to do bad things? Why not just make us perfect?” This idea sounds great on the surface, but would we really be free to be who we are? Would God truly have created us to have a loving relationship with Him if we were forced to love Him back or to make the right choice? Would we be robots? It seems our free will is deeply interwoven with our humanity and who we are individually.
One of my friends likes to use a wonderful analogy about free will. When you choose to have a relationship with another person; but they don’t want to love you back, it is his or her choice to leave. No matter how painful it is to let the person go, if you really love your significant other, you let them go — even if that means your beloved ends up with someone else. You wouldn’t force him or her to stay because you want that person to love you. If you imagine why God gave us free will in this analogy, it seems we were created out of absolute love: given the ability to completely reject the One who created us even as He knew it would cause Him tremendous pain to watch us walk away.
Life and Our Freedom to Choose
Yes, terror and tragedy at the hands of another are terrible things. We are never promised life will be easy; many times it isn’t. We are only promised He will walk alongside us, sharing our burdens and our sorrows; and we know this life isn’t the end of the story. Evil reigns temporarily, but it doesn’t have the final say. Also, we may have no ability to change what others have done to hurt us; but we have free will to make our own decisions about how we will affect others. If you feel paralyzed by the immensity of suffering in this world, remember Jesus’s example. Be the difference. Do what is right. Show mercy and love even when it is hard. Pray. Always do your best to choose to what is right.
This blog post was written by my better half. May it bless you and remind you of God’s promises, love and mercy. – The In-Place Missionary
One thing I will never understand is how much God loves us. I cannot begin to comprehend the depths of His love displayed by sending His son, Jesus, to earth to die for us. He is God. He didn’t have to do that. We definitely didn’t do anything to deserve that love, grace, and mercy.
I have been reading through the Bible starting from the beginning, Genesis, on forward. As I have made my way through the Old Testament, I am struck by God’s love and mercy. He could have given up on man after Adam and Eve sinned. He could have destroyed mankind with the great flood, but he chose to spare us through Noah and his family.
He made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, but they constantly rebelled against Him. They constantly whined while traveling from Egypt, where God rescued them from slavery. When Moses went up the mountain to get God’s commandments, the people made an idol. When they got to the promised land and settled, they constantly worshipped other gods and idols. God always brought them back to Himself.
This brings us back to the cross. The place where God made a way for all who would believe in Him to have a relationship with the creator of the universe. After we make that decision to repent and give our lives to Jesus, we still sin. We still turn from God. But just like in the Old Testament, God is faithful. He still loves us and wants a relationship with us. It is a beautiful thing, this relationship. I cannot begin to describe it. I just hope you believe and experience it for yourself. Then you will know true love, joy, and freedom.
Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark ( Genesis 6:5-9:17) sometimes conjure thoughts of an angry God fatally sweeping away humanity and life in a torrent of water. Sound familiar? Although the logistics of the story of Noah’s Ark are hard to imagine, it seems the impossible task of gathering pairs of animals and cramming them into a large boat is not the number one issue that bothers people. Instead, the most difficult piece of the story seems to be the not-so-obvious answers to perplexing questions about our Divine Creator: “Why does God seem to oscillate between two extremes — the angry, jealous God of judgment of the Old Testament and the loving, merciful Father of the New Testament?”, “Did God change His mind about humanity and decide we weren’t worth the grief we caused Him?”, “Does God hate humanity?”, and “What signs and symbols of mercy, if any, exist in stories like the one about Noah?”
Hollywood movies and the mainstream media sometimes typecast God inaccurately as a tyrannical master who can’t wait for humanity to slip up so He can wipe them off the face of the earth; but I encourage you to consider how Old Testament stories like Noah’s Ark reveal God’s grace and mercy and can be paralleled with Christ’s death and resurrection (like many other Old Testament stories believe it or not!).
God does not enjoy the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). As the ultimate loving Father, He always provides hope and a way out of judgment. If you read closely enough, you will realize the Biblical account of Noah is a wonderful story filled with signs and symbols of a gracious and merciful God. As the Divine Creator, God could have chosen to wipe mankind from the earth, especially since the Bible says our wickedness was so great it caused an outcry from the heavens. The Scriptures say it deeply grieved God that His creation had become so morally bankrupt that no one except Noah was found to be righteous. How great is our God that He allowed man’s legacy to continue through Noah’s family line (Genesis 6:5-8)? Why would He do this? Although man’s wickedness grieved God, He loves us and promised to repair our broken relationship with Him (Isaiah 53:5-12).
Symbols of Grace – The Ark
Although God promised the flood would come, He also promised Noah a way to escape destruction onboard the Ark. The Ark provided complete protection from the flood in the same way the blood of Jesus covers us and provides grace over judgment. God invited Noah and His family into the Ark and sealed them inside to secure their protection (Genesis 6:9-7:24).
Symbols of Grace – The Raven
After several days of floating around on the flood waters, Noah released a raven. The Bible says the raven flew back and forth in the sky continuously until the Ark found its resting place in the mountains of Ararat. When I first read this statement, I was somewhat perplexed. In modern times, the raven is often used to symbolize death. I suppose it could be said the raven could not perch on anything because the earth was covered in water which symbolized death while the waters existed. Also, ravens were considered to be unclean birds because they feed on the dead (“Genesis 8 – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible”, Bible Gateway).
Is it also possible there is a dual meaning to why the raven was sent out? In my research about Noah’s raven, I found several websites that indicated the bird is often used as a symbol of provision (see “1 Kings 17 – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible”, Bible Gateway, “Vincent of Saragossa”, Wikipedia, and Luke 12:24). I have to wonder if the raven is meant to symbolize God’s provision for Noah, his family, and all the living creatures on the Ark while there was only death everywhere else upon the earth.
Symbols of Grace – The Dove and the Olive Branch
The dove shows up in many different passages of the Bible to symbolize the Holy Spirit, purity, peace, and new life. In the story of Noah’s Ark, the dove was sent out three separate times to find dry land. The first time the dove was sent out, it flew back to Noah because there was nowhere to land (death upon the land). The second time the Noah released the dove, it returned with an olive branch, symbolizing peace. When the dove was released a third time, it did not return, symbolizing freedom and deliverance after the world’s submersion). Just as Noah’s Ark is often compared to the finished work of Christ, the dove can be compared to a believer’s baptism after salvation, signifying the Holy Spirit being with a follower of Jesus (“Why is the dove often used as a Symbol for the Holy Spirit?”, Got Questions.Org).
One could also argue that the dove is, in this particular case, a symbol of deliverance. The dove as a symbol of the love of God appeared, telling us that, as with the Flood, the storm of sin is not powerful enough to keep us permanently separated from the Father. Our planet is now connected with heaven through Christ. In accepting His Son, God signifies to us that we are also accepted in the Beloved through faith in the provision He made on our behalf.
If you are interested in the meanings and symbolism of the colors of the rainbow, I would highly recommend the article found on Bible Study.Org titled “What does a rainbow mean in the Bible?”. There are multiple layers of meanings and so many interesting things to study on this topic that it would be easy to make a whole other blog post about it (and I just might!).
Parallels to Christ’s Work on the Cross
The parallels to Christ’s work are incredibly rich and detailed, and I would encourage you to explore the web and study it on your own. You won’t be disappointed. Here are a couple of interesting sites I found while I was doing some research:
A good friend of mine has been struggling with some negative emotions related to the word “evangelist.” It makes him picture sidewalk preachers who hold signs saying “Repent!” and shout words of judgment about sins and how wicked people are living. It makes him angry, and I can see why he feels that way. Christians who evangelize by yelling at people and trying to convert through fear make me uncomfortable too, especially as a Christian. I can’t imagine how nonbelievers must feel.
I believe evangelists and Christians in general must demonstrate the love and mercy of Jesus to be an effectively evangelist. It can be as simple as talking to someone as a friend, meeting a stranger’s physical needs (like assisting with food, water, shelter, etc.), or looking into someone’s eyes and telling them “Jesus loves you.” The eyes are the window to the soul, and people can see the love of Jesus shine through your eyes even if you never mention you are a Christian. No matter how you talk to someone about Jesus, it is important to always approach people with love and without an agenda.
In the book Do What Jesus Did, Robby Dawkins tells a story about his experiences evangelizing on a university campus. He ministered to people about Jesus by walking around campus and praying for people he’d encounter. In one of his stories, he walked over to a man standing at a bus stop and asked if he can pray with him. The man said he was an atheist but agreed to let Robby pray with him if he could answer one question first. When Robby agreed, the man asked Robby, “If I were to rape, torture, and murder little girls, what would God say to me when I die?” The man was trying to get Robby to condemn him and say he would go to Hell; but Robby, a smart guy who loves debate, felt led to lower himself and ask the man again if he could pray for him instead of getting into a defensive argument. “You know, I can see that you’re really, really smart – way smarter than I am. I probably couldn’t answer all your arguments,” Robby began. “But sir, I am just a simple man, and if you would be so kind as to let me, I would still like to pray for you and bless you.” The man reluctantly agreed, probably just to get the religious guy to move along. Robby prayed over him that God would show the man how much He loved him. When Robby finished praying the man looked at Robby and then burst into tears, weeping for quite a while. What Robby didn’t realize at the time was that the man he prayed for was the head of an atheist group at the university who often spoke out heatedly against Christianity.
Many times, we as Christians try to rely on our own intellect and our own means when evangelizing. Instead, we should humble ourselves and get of the way so that God can work through us to reach people. Talk to people, listen to them, listen for anything the Holy Spirit might reveal to you about the person, and pray for them. There is so much power in prayer. Even if nothing happens, people will usually just be happy that you cared enough to minister to them.
The biggest problem with the street evangelists who hold up the signs and shout judgment is that they are seeing people through their own eyes. We need to pray and ask God, “Father, how do you see this person? What are you saying to this one whom you love?” God loves every person so much and that is what we should be portraying. Jesus said in John 12:47, “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
When I think of evangelism, I often think about a famous magician, Penn Jillette, who is an outspoken atheist. After one of his shows, a man walked over to Penn and complimented him on the show and handed him a Gideon’s New Testament Bible. I thought this would have rubbed Penn the wrong way with him being an atheist, but there is a YouTube video where he says doesn’t respect Christians who don’t evangelize. “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you; and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Many times, evangelism refers to ministering to strangers; however, evangelism means also ministering to those around you – friends, coworkers, and students. It may involve discussions about Jesus, but it’s possible to evangelize effectively without saying a word about Jesus. You just have to live a life submitted to Jesus; others will take notice.
I will end with a quote my friend always loves to use: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.”
I hope you enjoy this heartfelt post by a dear friend about his view of the world from an atheist’s eyes. – The In-Place Missionary
Faith, Evangelism, and the Non-Believer by Eternally Grateful
A friend and I were talking one day about life prior to my recent conversion. For most of my adult life, I would have said I was an atheist. For people who have been raised in church, with God being part of their life ever since they could remember, it is probably difficult to understand the atheist’s perspective. After all, how could anyone reject something so important as God? My friend and I found ourselves agreeing it would be interesting to attempt to articulate the view of the non-believer from the perspective of someone who, until very recently, used to be one.
Atheists, Agnostics, and the Hard Numbers
It was difficult to decide how to approach writing this article due to the many misconceptions about atheism. So, I decided to start with the basics and take a look a couple of definitions. Most dictionaries or encyclopedias define “atheism” as a lack of belief in a deity of any kind. Whereas an “agnostic” is often defined as someone who “neither believes or disbelieves” or someone who believes there is just not enough information to determine whether there is a supreme being or not. Atheists and agnostics are a rather small, disjointed group according to a Pew research poll (Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey) conducted in 2007). The poll asked Americans about their religious beliefs and reported 1.6% of Americans said they were atheist; while 2.4% were agnostic. Another 6.3% of Americans claim to be secular unaffiliated. If I were to sum up the numbers, about 10% of Americans do not believe in God. I can confirm the statistics are basically right because I lived it for almost 40 years.
Some people would have you believe the country is over-run with atheists and secular humanists. Obviously, there are a few small groups who make attempts to draw attention to themselves or injustices they see. Some groups are even attempting to ‘evangelize’ using methods normally attributed to an aggrandizing televangelist; however, the number of atheists and agnostics is relatively small by my standards.
What Does It Mean to be an Atheist?
In the end, the term “atheist” is just a label. Like all labels, it just makes it easier for us to categorize things; however, when one looks deeper, things are not as they appear nor do they always fit nicely inside a box. Just like Christians, the atheists I’ve met were a diverse group, and they came from all walks of life. Some had religion in their childhood, some did not. Some were liberal while some were conservative. Some were highly educated, some not. Some believed in spirits or other forces that come to play occasionally in the realms of man. Others did not.
For me personally, being atheist meant:
There is no all-knowing, all-powerful being who was creator of the universe.
I walk alone, and I was good with that.
I don’t care (apathy) regarding the human condition. It is what it is.
I don’t matter. In a universe that is billions of years old and populated with an uncountable number of galaxies where each is populated by an uncountable number of stars, my 50 plus years of existence on this rather smallish planet is really quite insignificant.
My Negative Perceptions about Christianity
As an atheist, I felt religion was not the basis of morality or justice, but was based on a social contract between individuals. I saw Christians lie, cheat, and steal just like everyone else, so what was so special about them? Experiences throughout my life furthered my negative perceptions about Christianity when it became apparent that at least some had hidden agendas. The Christians I encountered were often judgmental and hypocritical and tried to “convert” others to their specific brand of Christianity instead of genuinely loving people without any strings attached.
Public prayers during secular sporting events, public meetings, etc. were extremely uncomfortable for me. I always felt like it created an expectation to “go along” with it even if I didn’t agree. If I didn’t participate, I was “bad.” The “moment of silence” made me feel even worse because I viewed it as an attempt by Christians to get other religious groups to gang up on us non-believers. To this day, even as a born again Christian, I still cringe sometimes when there are secular events with public prayers because I don’t want unbelievers to feel excluded or forced like I did.
It would be easy to blame others for chasing me away from God; but, in the end, it was my decision. At the time, I just didn’t see or feel the way Christians said they did. I didn’t feel the Spirit, and I didn’t want to pretend about what I felt just to fit in.
Looking in the Mirror
I was speaking to a friend of mine recently who lives in the UK. In talking to him, I realized he and I had been going in opposite directions. While I had recently embraced the Message and become born again, he had been slowly drifting away from the Church. He said he was “living the lie” by the motions without truly believing. Although he is a secular humanist, he still takes his 86 year old father to church.
As we were chatting, it became obvious he was trying to steer me away from my new path. In effect, he was evangelizing me! My friend cited Christopher Hitchens as an influence and suggested I read his books or at least view his many Youtube videos with the idea that we would talk again on the issue. I was unfamiliar with the name; but after our conversation, as I had promised, I googled his name and watched some videos.
Mr. Hitchens is a rather well-spoken author known for negative views regarding religion. As I watched the first interview, I could see he was a thoughtful, well-educated man. I could also see a very sick man in the last stages of a battle with terminal cancer. Hitchens passed away in 2011. In all honesty, I would have to say I agreed with about 95% of what he said in the interview about man, human society, and religion. I’m willing to bet most believers would agree with a lot of his comments as well. I haven’t read his books or seen all of his public commentary, so it’s possible there are a few inflammatory statements associated with him; however, I’m sure there have been more than a few unkind words thrown in his direction by believers as well. All unkind words and inflammatory statements aside, I am reminded we are still all God’s children.
If someone says they are not a believer, do we really need to criticize them for being honest? They are just telling you what they feel. They have no connection to God. Why attack the messenger, especially when they are telling the truth? If someone tells us it is raining, should we be critical of them because we would rather hear it is sunny outside?
Today, as I write this, I thank God for the opportunity to hear Mr. Hitchen’s words spoken so honestly and eloquently, as they reinvigorate me to find a way to reach those who need Him most. I also pray for mercy for Mr. Hitchens, as I do for my parents and other family members who may not have known our Savior. In my heart, I know I can do no less.
Reaching Out to Others
So, how does one reach an atheist or like-minded person with the message of salvation? That’s not an easy question to answer. I’ll tell you first what doesn’t work. Preaching “fire and brimstone” or trying to force the message on a non-believer does not only fail, but would likely be counter-productive. The harm done by this is incalculable, in my opinion, for the audience will often reject the message as well as the messenger.
I think it’s better to engage each person in a positive manner. Throughout my life, I have found the tone of dialogue changes as one person gets to know another. You don’t have to agree with someone to respect his or her point of view. Try to look at things from the other person’s point of view. Everyone has to deal with the pain of living. Let us not cause someone to close his or her mind to the message and thus the door to salvation.
Also, what do non-believers know about you and your faith? Are you modeling Christ or a persona with perfect hair and flashy charisma? In my experience, people tend to avoid the high pressure salesman; but they will listen and even enlist input from people they trust like close friends. If they see the way you live and the peace you have, they may at some point say, “Hey, I think I’d like to know more about that.” And if the time is right, at some point they may decide they want that too.
Through New Eyes
Less than a year ago, I became born again. I was conquered by love, not fear. One of the things that became almost an obsession with me from the start was to address what I see as a major problem with the Church as a whole. Specifically, we Christians need to do a better job of reaching out to
non-believers. We must live the gospel and reach out with love in our hearts. God loves all His children, and we must never forget that.
For those who have spent all or most of their life in the Church, let me say this: We must remember a nonbeliever does not know the joy we know through Him. We must also remember a non-believer may also bear scars from prior encounters from our fellow Christians. We must be inclusive and empathetic, open minded and thick-skinned, and most of all, we need to love on non-believers as we do believers. As I look at my lost brothers and sisters, I feel their pain and loneliness; however, because God loves ALL his children, I am forever grateful and hopeful.
Our time here on earth is all about relationships with other people, as well as, our relationship with God. It’s important to invest the lives of others and sincerely get to know them. We can say things as a friend we cannot say as a stranger. It is impossible to know someone’s needs until you get to know the person. Listen to the still, small voice and remember to use a still small voice in your relationships with others. Colossians 4:5-6 NLT:
Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.
I realize as I write this post how much I need to work on forgiveness. How can I expect God’s forgiveness yet not forgive others who hurt me when I was a non-believer? I know I’ve got a long way to go; but with God’s help, I will get there.
Two final thoughts:
The first is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words.” I love that saying! One must absolutely live the gospel first.
The second thought is inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 and came to me first through the gift of music (Proof of Your Love, by For King and Country):
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day,
and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you know my husband and I have seen our fair share of struggles over the past eight years; however, we’re probably not that different from you or someone you know. Let’s face it — sometimes life is hard. When we face difficult times, we have two choices. We can choose to give up and walk away from God, or choose to rely on Him for strength and believe the struggles do not define us, claim us, nor are they the end of the story.
As our family is facing another scary life situation, I am humbly reminded that I am not in control. Although anxiety no longer plagues me, I am still awake to visceral pain and anger I feel. I must acknowledge these feelings if I am honest with myself and others around me. It would be a lie to say I don’t battle myself and my humanity when facing problems; however, these emotions cannot be allowed to control me. The One who has control gives hope, and I’m called to remain hopeful and place all my cares upon Him.
Some people have suggested we should “give up and curse God” like Job’s wife once suggested to her husband because of all the struggles we’ve seen in our marriage, but why would I do that? God has always been faithful to deliver my husband and me from prior situations and has even positioned us mentally, physically, and circumstantially better than before the trouble started. Why would He change His promise now? The Bible promises His faithfulness is unwavering even though our lives shift like the sands with the tide, and my life can testify to this truth. He is my rock, my firm foundation, and my strong and mighty tower, shielding me from the storm. I am not promised a life without struggle, only that He will be there along the way to protect my heart, mind, and soul.
I have been asked before, “How can you believe in a God who is supposedly good who allows suffering, pain, and evil in this world?” My response is simple: He gives us free will, and the struggles we face are not the end of the story. As promised in Scripture, great suffering is equivalent to great blessings. Also, encouragement, love, and mercy are stronger than ever in the face of adversity. How many terrible events have you witnessed personally or seen in the news only to have stories of heroism, compassion, and love overshadow the negative outcome? Good will always prevail, and God is always for His people. Our personal testimonies of enduring and overcoming situations break the shackles that bind other people who are going through the same struggles. Our testimonies are hope and freedom.
Although the evil forces likely delight in causing or participating in the chaos that surrounds my husband and me, they cannot possibly fathom the depth of immeasurable goodness that has resulted with each trial. Our marriage is stronger than ever because God is at the center and binds us tightly together. Our personal fortitude endures because He sustains our strength. Our foundations cannot be shaken even as our lives shatter around us because He is steadfast and stable. If at the end of the day, all we have is the almighty God, we have all we could ever need.
If you find yourself in a rough situation in life, remember: rejoice in the testimony God will give you to bring hope to others around you! Your struggle is not the end of the story, and God will never let you see the battle withut first giving you the victory.
I have had a difficult time over the last two years articulating to other people why my encounter with the God of Love has radically changed me forever. The physical experience reinforced my faith that God is real, awesomely powerful, and able to divinely intervene on our behalf no matter the circumstance or our beliefs about Him. However, it wasn’t the physical experience that change my life (read the blog post My Encounter with the God of Love to read about my encounter with God). Emotional and physical experiences are great, but memories fade. The emotions become less passionate, and the intensity of the physical experience dulls, but the revelation of who God is and how I interpret my relationship with Him remains.
I went to my first Passover dinner this year. It was a unifying experience to see brothers and sisters from different churches worshipping God together and celebrating the Passover story, the Passover feast, and how the elements of the meal contrast to Christ’s work on the cross. It also allowed me to make new friends with two older ladies who sat at our dinner table.
One of the ladies, whom I’ll call “Joy” for the purpose of this blog post to protect her privacy, explained to us that the work of Christ on the cross isn’t the only reason to love God. As an effort to help us understand what she meant, Joy bittersweetly interwove her testimony about the painful loss two years ago of her husband who had been terminally ill. On his final night, as his last moments drew near and his body was failing, she called for Hospice to take him with the hope his last hours would be as peaceful; but he never made it to the ambulance. Joy choked on her words, as did we, as she recalled crawling back into her bed and pulling the covers over her after her husband’s body was taken away. She stayed in the bed for several minutes, lying in the fetal position, sobbing, and asking God to take her.
“My best friend was gone; but that’s when everything changed,” Joy explained. Jesus’s presence engulfed her. Her pain became His peace. Her emptiness became His fullness. She said she physically felt Jesus hold her tightly, heard Him reassure her everything would be okay, and the promise the void left by her husband’s passing would not leave her empty because He would be everything she needed.
“At that moment, I understood what it meant to truly love Jesus beyond being my salvation.” Joy informed us softly. “If He died on the cross and rose again for us and nothing more, that would be enough; but how great is our Savior that He is not satisfied with salvation being the only part of our story with Him? He is our friend, our brother, and the lover of our souls. I miss my husband, but I don’t feel empty or lonely because He fills me. Now, I truly understand what people mean when they say they have a relationship with God. I’m so in love with Him, and He is so much more loving than we can ever imagine. He desperately wants a relationship with us.”
As I sat listening to Joy’s story, I was instantly taken back to the day when God radically changed my life and understood why that day was so important. It was a day of revelation. My soul was awakened to my desperate need to know God at a deeper level than simply the one who saved my soul. He confirmed how much he deeply loves me as my Father, my Protector, the One Who Cries with Me, the One Who Lifts Me Up, and the Prince of Peace. I was overwhelmed by the crushing weight of His love. All of the anger, bitterness, and anxiety could not withstand His tremendous force.
Although several months have passed since that day, I am reminded of His love. I had a vision several weeks ago of a painful morning I spent crying in my SUV, unable to join my husband for Sunday worship because I was so angry with God. I saw myself from a third person view, huddled with my knees to my face, and bitterly crying out to God to save me from my circumstances. Just as I was remembering the tremendous pain and wondering why I was reliving the moment, I saw Jesus holding me, crying with me. The image of His presence wrecks me even now. I don’t honestly know whether I was imagining the moment, or if it was truly God giving me a glimpse into a time when I felt alone but wasn’t. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because it reminds me of the loving characteristics of God.
My challenge to you — if you don’t feel the need to ask God who He truly is, you will likely never realize you are missing anything. After all, you don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had it, right? But if you want to know His heart and love for you, I would encourage you to ask God to reveal Himself to you. He never disappoints when we honestly seek His heart. Although He doesn’t need a relationship with man, He still wants one with you. In the same way we cherish our families, our children, and our friends at the deepest levels of love we can possibly imagine, He cherishes you; and He desperately wants you to know how much He loves you.
“Man’s greatest power is his ability to influence others.” – Leslie Hardin
Sometimes we think we’re powerless because we’re “ordinary” or don’t have the ability or access to influence the masses like a president, the Pope, or a CEO of a highly successful company; but even the least of us have the ability to influence others. Want proof? Look at the apostles. Some of the apostles were fishermen and one was likely a tax collector (See “Who were the Twelve Disciples?” on Bibleinfo.com). Fishermen were considered by many people of the day to be lowly and ordinary, and tax collectors were loathed by their communities. Status, fame, and fortune are not necessary ingredients for impacting people. You have the power to not only impact the people in your immediate circles, but you can also impact people around the world thanks to technology like blogs, other forms of social media, etc.
Below are a couple of personal stories to illustrate the power of “ordinary” positive and negative influence:
Story 1 –
I’ve wanted to be a missionary since I was twelve years old, and I remember allowing someone else to snuff out the burning desire to fulfill such a calling. His words were harsh and left an impression on me. “You can’t be a missionary. Only men can fulfill that role,” he said firmly. I outwardly disagreed with him, but I lost interest in pursuing my dream for several years because the passion of his words stung.
When I think upon that memory, I realize something even more profound than what was right or wrong with the man’s statement — I subconsciously allowed him to influenced my decisions. Now that I’m older, his words remind me to think about the words I speak to other people. Am I encouraging or discouraging someone who trusts my opinions? Am I speaking truth? Is there a hidden motive when I provide council to others?
Story 2 –
Recently, a good friend of mine watched in horror as a little boy on his bicycle slid sharply down a hill and plowed into a hedge, scraping his feet and legs. When it was obvious no one else in the neighborhood would help, my friend intervened, scooped him up, and carried him back to his house.
After helping the child, she realized the importance of caring for the neighborhood kids and releasing compassion and love on the people living around her. The boy’s accident opened her eyes to the need to build a community and turn strangers into friends. As a result, she plans to hold block parties to learn about her neighbors. She also plans to meet the boy’s mother and be involved in the child’s life if she allows it.
My greatest hope is the little boy will never forget the kind-hearted woman who showed compassion and carried him home when no one else came to his rescue. Perhaps one day when he grows up, he’ll show similar compassion to someone in need. After all, there’s no greater influencer than someone who is willing to experience inconvenience, personal sacrifice, or suffer for the sincere desire to serve others. My friend may have considered her gesture insignificant, but sometimes we never truly know the depth of imprints we leave on other people’s hearts.
Over and over again, I’m reminded of the power we have to influence people. The words we speak and the actions we take can encourage, empower, and bring truth, love, or mercy; however, we can also bring condemnation, lies, hate, and judgment. It’s our choice on how we choose to release words over people and show the love of Christ. How will you influence others?
We all struggle with things we’ve told ourselves we can’t escape. In some ways, what we’ve told ourselves is true because we give a self-fulfilling prophecy: “I have an issue (doubt, anger, hopelessness, a sense of worthlessness, etc.). It’s just the way it is, and I can’t escape it.” And guess what? You won’t escape because you’ve fulfilled what you’ve declared to be a truth in your life, but the whole truth is you do have power over your struggle.
Identify the lies and choose not to believe them. The Devil, our enemy, will lie and twist truths to convince you that you’re a slave. You may feel you’re not worthy, it’s something you can’t change, or you’re a victim. Those thoughts are lies. Don’t listen to them. In addition, we are good at lying to ourselves by making self-defeating statements like, “That’s just the way it is”, “But I’ve always struggled with that”, “That’s just something I can’t change”, or “I’m working on getting over that issue, but I guess it’s just going to take a while.” The enemy knows if you allow yourself to be enslaved, you will be distracted, paralyzed by your circumstances, and useless to the call the Father has put on your life. You have a choice to let enemy control you. You also have a choice to evict the thoughts, feelings, or negative emotions before they take root and darken your mind.
Confess the sin to the Father. Ask the Father to forgive you for the mental thing to which you’ve allowed yourself to be bound. For example, if you’ve struggled with bitterness over a situation that happened to you and you’ve used that as an excuse to become a hopeless or angry, confess those things to the Father and ask Him to forgive you. If you’re not sure where to look for inspiration about how to confess and talk with the Father for the issue you’re battling, here’s a great blog post from a fellow Christian blogger that may help: http://revivedlife.com/blog/prayer-to-release-anger/. There’s no magic formula or prayer template, but if you are sincere in confession and forgiveness, the Father is always faithful to forgive.
Make declarations over the situation. Know that you have power over the enemy because Jesus has given you that authority. Just as Jesus spoke directly to demons and disease to cast them out and bring healing, you can do the same thing. You can make declarations by stating something like the following: “In Jesus name, anger (or whatever it is you’re battling), be gone! You have no power over me. I chose to set my eyes on things that are good and righteous because they please the Lord. I cast out feelings and emotions that are not of God. I have been purchased by the blood of the Savior, and He is worthy to purchase my freedom.”
Troubles may come and go. Life happens, but you choose whether or not to allow your circumstances to open doorways to negative feelings, thoughts, and emotions. As soon as a new negative thought tries to enter your mind, immediately offer it up to God and choose not to allow it to take root. As a trusted friend once told me (and he was right) when I was swimming in self-pity and doubt, “You are a strong soldier of God. Now start acting like one!”
Believe and trust that God has freed you and move on. The keys to your chains have already been purchased. Live free. 🙂
I suffered from an anxiety disorder most of my life. In addition to this disorder, I felt shame and unworthy of God’s love and grace even though I had been a Christian for almost 20 years. But now, I can’t deny I’m loved.
In September 2012, I found myself sitting in a prayer service thanks to the strong urging
of a good friend. I remember listening to the live praise music and other Christians around me worshiping God with a love and adoration I didn’t yet understand. I felt nothing. After months of crying and begging God to pull me out of a desperate situation that had only deepened my anxiety and depression, I was completely drained.
“I know you’re real and powerful God, but where are you?” I remember thinking.
The prayer service message that night was all about oppression, mental and physical bondage and how our spirits are affected by these things. As the prayer director spoke, I realized I was the person who needed to hear the message.
“What an odd coincidence,” I remember thinking. But now I know it was a divine appointment.
When the message concluded, there was an opportunity for prayer and worship before we were dismissed. That’s when I felt a tug on my heart as if God was saying, “Go ask for prayer” – so I went to the alter. As the prayer director began to pray over me, she motioned for an intercessor to join us. The girl who assisted didn’t know my story, but immediately said words I’ll never forget, “God wants you to know He hears your cries. You think He’s not listening; but He hears you, and He loves you. He calls you His precious daughter.”
After the young intercessor spoke, the prayer director placed her hand on my forehead and prayed for God to break the hold of spiritual oppression and restore my joy. Suddenly, I was overcome with an immediate feeling of immense love and joy. It struck me so hard and so fast that I felt like I might stagger backwards during the prayer, and that’s when the surprise giggles started — and I could stop, but I didn’t want it to end. During prayer, joy and happiness overpowered me, and the silly giggles increased into laughter. I felt the love of the Father completely engulf me, sweeping away the pain and the darkness I suffered for so many years.
When the prayer ended, I realized I was a different person. My anxiety disorder was gone and peace had replaced it. I undeniably know God loves me. I will never question His love for me again. For the first time in my life, I have learned to trust with my whole heart.
Thank you for reading my story, and I hope it has encouraged you.