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Remedies are often a process, not a magic pill

I’ll never forget standing outside our little church building in Chrisman, IL after I was baptized into Christ. I was nine-years old, and my friend asked me, “Do you feel any different?” I don’t know if he expected me to have a halo hanging over my head, but I actually did feel different. I had a joy in my heart and a lightness in my step.

Fast forward. Nine years later, the joy was gone. And then I rededicated my life to Jesus, and joy returned . . . for a while. Since then, over the past thirty-plus years, my life can be characterized as a cycle of joy and struggle.

Is this the lot of the Christian life—trapped in an endless cycle of the ups and downs and peaks and valleys of spiritual joy and struggle? All Christians experience moments of spiritual joy and sadness. None is exempt from seasonal and even daily highs and lows.

We try to be “good Christians,” thinking that if we just read the Bible more, stay away from the really “bad” sins, and attend church more frequently, the darkness will go away. But our formulaic remedies fail us, and we’re left with fewer answers.

Francois Fenelon once wrote, “To just read the Bible, attend church, and avoid “big” sins—is this passionate, wholehearted love for God?” (The Seeking Heart).

The good news is there is hope for those of us who long for more than checklist Christianity. Like most solutions to problems that ail us, the remedy is a process, not a magic pill. Here are some helpful stepping stones to guide us through our search for enduring joy.

First, find your traveling companions. You need two-three people with whom you can be completely transparent and vulnerable. Jesus had his companions, and you need yours.

Second, desire more of Jesus not more religion. Duty and obligation only take you so far in spiritual transformation. Jesus is the only one who ultimately transforms the human heart. When you seek him, you will have your eyes focused in his direction away from the things that pull you back into the valley below.

Third, engage in daily spiritual practices. Commit to the way of Jesus not through rules to follow but disciplines to shape your soul and mend your heart. Prayer, scripture memorization, contemplation, fasting—these should not be practices for the spiritually “elite,” but for all sojourners bored with what American Christianity offers.

Fourth, be honest with yourself. This soul journey will have ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Jesus said, “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). But this is why we come to Jesus, because He gives us the strength and grace to take our next step. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Why don’t you pause right now and pray that Jesus will give you the strength you need to take your next step with him?

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

Finding Water in the Desert

I had lunch a while back with a man facing a great hardship. A desert. A tunnel with no end in sight. It reminded me of times I’ve walked the desert of uncertainty, or as St. John of the Cross called it, “The dark night of the soul.” Most likely, you’ve been there, too, and maybe you’re there now.

I’ve never completely understood why God allows us to go through deserts, and why at times it seems like He has abandoned us to our lonely wanderings.

What I have been discovering, however, is that the desert can either be a harsh place of oppressive heat where little grows, or a place of new life where the slightest morning dew brings hope. I prefer lush fields and lakes of plenty. But I appreciate water far greater in the desert.

Someone told me the other day, “I grew up in a home that didn’t need God, because all of our financial needs were met.” Financial blessings have the allure of a desert-free existence, but in reality, they don’t take away the desert called “cancer,” “divorce,” or “death.” Not until we enter the desert do we discover our need for dependence. The desert becomes a training ground for our dependence upon God.

Desert training prepares us for soul fighting in those dark nights, and it leads to God forging our character out of the crucible of pain. Who you are becoming while you are in the desert is far more important than the desert itself. This is a difficult challenge, but your response to hardship has a greater impact on your future than the hardship alone.

When someone wrongly fired allows bitterness to spread in his soul, the resulting character of an angry, acerbic man is far worse than the cause of his bitterness. Whatever your desert may be, your dependence on God will determine who you become more than what you are forced to endure.

As Jeff Manion once wrote, “Our daily responses determine what people we will be twenty years from now. Each time I get hurt, burned or betrayed, I am deciding—through my response—what kind of old person I will become” (The Land Between, 46). What kind of person will you become as a result of your daily decisions in the desert?

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8). How is it possible not only to survive but to thrive when you walk the desert valley? By “the surpassing power [that] belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

That, my friends, is water in the desert, shade from the blistering sun, and a cool breeze that refreshes the soul.  

Posted by Rick Grover, Lead Pastor with

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