Thursday, September 06, 2012

What to do when you are in the wilderness or the midst of trial?

Adversities do not make a man frail. They show what sort of man he is.

Thomas a Kempis

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above. 

Come thou Fount, Robert Robinson

Everyone has difficult times in life. One of my favourite quotes is the first line of M Scott Peck's 'The Road Less Travelled' which starts 'Life is difficult'. For those of us following Jesus we all have seasons of doubt, rebellion, dryness, suffering, trial and difficulty. It's what we signed up for. The other day I noticed something I'd never seen before reading the parable of the sower. In the good soil part Jesus says if we want to produce good fruit we can only do this 'by persevering' (Luke 8:15).

Here are just a few things that have helped me down the years during the tough seasons and some habits that I have formed to help me from wandering which, as the hymn says, we are so prone to do (at least I am).

1. Tell a friend or your Pastor (if you are the Pastor then you tell a friend): A few friends gathered recently and one of them confessed to being in a tough spot spiritually. There is something very releasing about being honest and real about where you are with God. Simply voicing it is the start of the process of change and it allows others in to walk the season with you.

2. Obedience: A few years ago I was sitting in a Sainsbury's car park in Hampton listening to Eugene Peterson being interviewed on a tape. He was asked what to do if you feel distant from God. He replied 'Find a scriptural command or promise and be obedient to it'. For example, we are told to 'love the poor' and actually doing that in a practical way he said will move you closer to God than where you are right now. It made a lot of sense to me. Reading or listening to 'A long obedience in the same direction' is a great thing to do.

3. Pray the Psalms: Again, Peterson's Answering God helped me see the power of praying the Psalms out loud. Very often, when we are in a tough spot we don't have the words and the Bible's prayer book gives them to us. Recently, I recommended to someone as a discipline to pray Psalm 84 out loud every morning for a week.

4. One verse: Sometimes we make a huge religious meal of following Jesus. Evangelical Christian's particularly can be so weighed down by all the things they are meant to be doing but aren't. This usually gathers around the burden of not having a 'quiet time'. Now don't mishear me, time alone with God is so important but for so many it goes on a list together with collecting the dry cleaning and answering your emails. That is why sometimes one verse can be a much better sustainer for you and be meditated upon far more fruitfully than half an hour of boring duty. The other day I spotted 1 Cor 13:8 and it completely blew me away (as an aside trying reading this famous passage replacing the word 'Love' with Jesus)  I am still chewing on verse 8 ten days later.

5. Let others carry and pray for you: Sometimes we need others to hold our arms up as Aaron and Hur did for Moses (Exodus 17:8-16). You then just need to plant your bum on the rock and let God do the rest. This may include intentionally choosing to go up for prayer ministry at the end of your worship service and humbling yourself by letting another pray for you. My life adage is 'Never turn down a bit of prayer' which has thus far served me fairly well. Here's another bit of advice. If you are in the habit of saying 'I'll pray for you' you so often don't. My practice is to do the praying there and then if I am on a bus, in the street or wherever  .I sometimes lay on hands (Hebrews 6:2) -even with people who are not yet Christians. The more you pray for the sick the more you are likely to see them healed was Wimber's wisdom and experience (The way in is the way on).

6. Pray in Tongues: A dear elderly friend and mentor always asks me when I see her if I have been using my prayer language. When I was at Vicar factory she wrote me a long letter checking up and urging me to use this wonderful gift. (So often Vicar factory sucks the spiritual life out of people leaving them theologically clever but with little passion or power). 1 Cor 14 tells us we are 'edified' as we use this gift and I have found it wonderfully strengthening down the years. If you desire this gift a start is to ask for it and ask someone who already has it to pray that you might receive it. The Father gives good gifts to his children.

7. Listen to teaching:  Someone told me yesterday that they had become addicted to the preaching of Martyn Lloyd Jones since I recommended it on the blog and told you that all his sermons are now free. There are worse things to be addicted to! As readers will know, I listen to stuff all the time and recently bought myself some trendy headphones that my nephew tells me are 'well cool'.  I listen to this talk once every six months or so and this one is good if you are feeling like quitting and 'In whom I am well pleased' to be reminded you're loved. I am currently listening to the excellent and tub thumping preaching of Dr Johnny Hunt who is simply brilliant.

8. Read a biography: There is nothing better than discovering that the great saints and missionaries had tough times, doubts and struggles. Mother Teresa struggled for much of her life with all sorts of doubts and difficulties. Read about the lives of Jim Elliot, Hudson Taylor, Whitfield, Corrie ten Boom and James O' Fraser.

9. Seek out some power: Charismatic Christian's particularly are very good at intentionally seeking out wells to drink from. The power pilgrimage of which Bethel is for many a key destination currently. I flew from Moscow to Toronto in 1992 when I was in a very dry spot as a new Christian but that is a post for another day. You don't have to fly around the world as there are all sorts of places, conferences and people who are blessed with the ability of encouraging others. Last Sunday, I went to listen to Randy Clarke (the talk was 1 hr 7 mins and will for some readers get their doctrine-o-meter's spinning but he tells some incredible Holy Ghost stories) He was speaking at St Paul's Hammersmith and even though I confess to being a teeny bit unsure about some parts, nonetheless I was blessed by an incredible empowering encounter and blessing during the ministry time. The Holy Spirit generally wins even when I don't think the talk was quite on the money or the doctrine is a bit off centre :) Pretty providential timing given I am planting a church in two weeks. The title of the talk was 'There is More'. If you haven't read this do so.

10. Thanksgiving and a Journal: If you are in a fix write it down. I have written a journal for years and one of my habits is to write a thanks list. Just start with 1. and keep writing down things you are grateful for.

11. Give some money/stuff away: It is better to give said Jesus but we are all of us not that good at it. The 'better' life will probably come a bit more easily if we were all a tad more generous. There is something freeing and good about crazy generosity towards others. I read a Penty book called 'The Blessed Life' recommended by Craig Groschel and it gave me lots to think about my giving.

12. Break break: Sometimes all you can muster in the wilderness is sticking out your hands. Do that- especially when you are feeling dry. The wonderful thing about the sacraments is you can't give them to yourself. You just receive and remember grace.

Anyway a few thoughts and hope some are a help.

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