Archive for January, 2010

I was reading 2 Corinthians earlier, and it reminded me that it’s important to monitor our spiritual temperature. I know, you can’t remember where that thermometer is, right? Me either. That’s no problem, because taking our spiritual temperature doesn’t require any special equipment, just a willingness to be honest. Here’s the passage from 2 Corinthians 5:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:14-18)

How does this fit in with taking our spiritual temperature? The answer lies in the first few words: “For Christ’s love compels us”. How compelled are you to share the good news of God’s grace with lost people? Would you respond to God’s voice with “not my will but yours, Lord”, or would you ignore Him if He’s asking you to do something difficult or inconvenient?

Christ’s love compels us to reach out to the lost, to be His “ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (v. 20) I hate to admit it, but my spiritual temperature has been rather lukewarm lately. I’ve allowed the devil to use my emotional struggles to discourage, distract and disarm me. My focus has shifted away from God and onto myself, my feelings, my pain, my heartache.

There is a time to focus on ourselves. Introspection is an important part of letting God’s light shine on our brokenness, so that He can heal us. However, if we’re not careful, the devil will take what God means for our good and distort it for his purpose, namely, our harm.

Here are some indicators to watch for if you sense that your spiritual temperature isn’t quite what it should be:

  • “that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them…” Who are you living for? Is God on the throne in every area of your life? Living for ourselves is a dead-end street. Joy and peace cannot be found in the cul-de-sac of self-absorption.
  • “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Once we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit enables us to see people through God’s eyes. His vantage point is not superficial or worldly. Rather, He sees our need for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. When we get a revelation about the depth of our own brokenness and God’s love, we will develop a “fervour fever”, burning to share what God has done.
  • “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” Are you bored with your Christian walk? Wish you had a high-profile ministry position? Change your vantage point. God has given all of us the most significant ministry going – the ministry of reconciliation. It’s our “raison d’être” as Christians.

So, how’s your temperature? If you’ve allowed the enemy to distract, discourage and disarm you, don’t give him the extra ammunition of guilt and shame. Remember who you are in Christ: Totally forgiven, reconciled to the Father, deeply loved, and significant. And remember His promise: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)


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I know this isn’t an original topic, but since I’m having struggles in this area like never before, I figured I might as well put it “out there.” You never know who God might reach if you’re willing to let Him use all of you, even the parts you don’t particularly want exposed.

As Christians, we have this treasure in jars of clay. I know that when I was born again, the old Sandy was crucified with Christ, and she no longer lives. The “new me”, spiritually redeemed and free, is still housed in a cracked pot. Of late that has become glaringly obvious.

The past few months have been an agony of deep despair, hopelessness, mental confusion and emotional pain. I’ve always tended towards the melancholy – it’s just my personality – but this has been different. My sense of worth and value has crashed down around me. Most of my days have been spent alone, looking forward to sleep, dreading the morning. I have thought about suicide repeatedly. I could see no other way out of what has felt like a bottomless pit of pain and despair.

I’m not writing this to elicit pity – I’m truly not. Actually, this morning was the first time in months that I’ve woken up feeling somewhat hopeful. It was such a relief, and I thank God for it. But the past months have challenged my own assumptions and prejudices about what mental illness is – and what mental health is.

Assuming I’m fairly average in this area, I would venture to say that there’s still quite a bit of stigma surrounding mental illness. That’s surprising considering the record numbers of people who are apparently being treated for depression, bipolar disorder, and so on. I think there’s often an extra dimension to the stigma in Christian circles.

There was a time when I vowed I would never take antidepressants, because I was a woman of faith, familiar with the scripture from Isaiah 53 – “by His stripes we are healed.” I’ve heard people at church voice this attitude recently. One woman told me about how she was depressed and her doctor prescribed Paxil, but she refused to take it – and God healed her. On the one hand, I think it’s awesome when God heals someone of their illness, mental or otherwise. On the other, there can be a subtle pride underlying this attitude. It’s not so much an expression of faith in God, as it’s faith in our faith in God.

I’ve come to realize that mental illness and mental health are not so much polar opposites as they are gradations on a continuum. None of us can claim that our thoughts are completely healthy. But most of us are able to tell the difference between thoughts that are rational and can/should be acted upon, and those that aren’t. So, here are some of the things I’ve gleaned from my experience so far:

  • Thinking that killing oneself is a reasonable, viable (no pun intended) solution is a good sign that your mental state is not healthy, and you need help. I needed help, badly. Thankfully help is available, and I have had the support needed to access it.
  • Mental health and isolation are never found together, at least not for long. It’s a conundrum, because the worse I felt about myself, the more I wanted to be alone. This is typical in depression.
  • It’s probably a good idea not to disparage psychiatric drugs or counselling in Christian circles, because chances are, someone within earshot is availing themselves of one or both.
  • Similarly, don’t think that because you’ve had a few rough patches, you understand what clinical depression is. I really didn’t understand until recently. As well-meaning as your suggestions might be, telling a depressed person to pray & read the scriptures more can just add to their sense of shame, failure and aloneness.

Next time, I’ll explore how the church can help people who struggle with mental illness. Hint: Churches who are “real” from the top down foster mental, emotional and spiritual health.

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We are scavengers hungry for meaning,
sorting through the broken shards of our lives.
We try to make sense of pain and sorrow,
hoping it might somehow make them easier to bear.

Yet we have this treasure in jars of clay,
to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
God silences my feeble attempts to understand,
saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

We are grains of sand on the seashore.
My New Year’s Resolution is to scavenge less.
I lift a shell to my ear, hoping for clarity.
It roars with indifference.

(Inspired by a poem called “Picking Up” by Richard Fisher. “We are scavengers hungry for meaning” is taken from his poem.)

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