Spiritual stability is an invaluable possession. It’s impossible to really cherish it unless there has been a season you haven’t had it. I’d venture to say that most of us, at various points in our journey with the Lord, have trudged wearily through seasons where the violent waves of this hellish life have not (in the famous words of C. H. Spurgeon) “slammed me into the Rock of Ages”, but have slammed us into deeper and darker turmoil. There have been days, weeks, or years that spiritual depression, fear, doubt, and our own sins have run us absolutely ragged.
The first year and a half of my relationship with him was a fluid and effortless experience. God’s manifest presence never seemed to diminish. Turning from sin seemed such an easy task. I felt “charged up” by God’s Spirit 24/7. But in January 2012, my inward environment started to change. For the entire following year and the first quarter of 2013, my soul was in a constant state of chaos. I clung to Christ, but only by the very tip of my pinkie finger. My “spiritual charge” was depleted. God didn’t feel as near as he had before. Temptations to sin launched an all out assault on my mind.
Doubt concerning the validity of my profession of faith consumed me. I began to experience all sorts of terrifying questionings about the things I said I believed. How do I really know the Bible is God’s Word? How do I really know that the Jesus it speaks of really resurrected from the dead? And even if these things are true, how do I know that I’ve really come to know him? Surely a true believer wouldn’t have these kinds of thoughts I’m having.
This turmoil only intensified when I sinned. Every time I committed a sin, I spiraled further downward into fear and anxiety. How could a real Christian sin like this? People who have really been born again shouldn’t struggle to this degree. True believers aren’t supposed to have ongoing sin in their lives.
This Christian life was no longer an easy thing. God felt light-years away. “Blessed assurance” was basically inexistent. The peace of Christ, which is to rule believers’ hearts, felt like a promise for everyone else but me.
My Christian life was now a war . . . and for about a year, I was a pretty crappy solider.
Though I was unaware of it at the time, I believe God, in his grace, removed my “spiritual floaties” so that I would learn to chase after him and experience more of him. Yet for about a year, I did anything but chase. Instead of letting the attacks of the devil and the manifestations of my flesh propel me into God’s empowering embrace, I raised my white flag with a trembling arm. Dejected and hopeless, I plopped down in the darkness of my doubts and let them eat me up. Every once in a while I’d have a good day where I felt I was united to Christ and secure in his love. But most days my doubts, fears, and temptations to sin would assail me relentlessly. I didn’t fight. I didn’t push back. I cowered. And I was miserable because of it. This season came to its climax in early 2013 when I knew I couldn’t continue on in this state. I reached my breaking point; either something had to give, or else I was going to totally throw off Christianity and live my life independently of Jesus.
Thankfully, at just the right time, the Lord graciously brought people into my life that not only locked arms with me and prayed for me but also exhorted me to actively wage war against every thought or inclination that opposed itself to Christ. They encouraged me to seek after Christ by immersing myself in the Word and prayer. This was the wisdom I needed. Had I been reading the Bible and praying over the past year? Sure. Every morning I’d open up God’s Word to a random spot and spend a few minutes reading and thinking. And throughout the day I’d “talk with God.” Truth be told, though, I didn’t take either one of these things – these means of grace – very seriously. I treated them more as optional activities than weapons of war. My spiritual life had all but disintegrated because of it.
Then, by God’s grace, and with the direction and help of my more mature Christian friends, I began to actively engage in the war that the devil and my flesh had declared on my soul. I began to devour the Word. No more dilly-dallying around with a verse here or a verse there. I would read big chunks, sometimes an entire book, in one sitting. I wasn’t skimming it. I was wading through God’s Word slowly, chewing on every glorious truth and reality it communicated. Within a few months I’d read the entire Old Testament once and the New Testament two or three times. At this point I was working a regular, 40 hour a week job. So I obviously spent most of my spare time reading . . . and praying. My prayer life went from halfway attentive, casual “talks” with God to set times where I focused on nothing but seeking his face. Every morning I’d drop to the floor and plead with God to open my eyes, soften my heart, and give me faith to believe his every Word. I would do the same in the evenings. During the day I’d maintain the “talks” with the Lord I’d always done, but they weren’t the foundation of my prayer life. The foundation of my prayer life took place on the floor of my bedroom every morning and evening.
It didn’t take long before my spiritual life was not only stable, but totally revolutionized. I began to experience joy and peace in Christ that I hadn’t tasted of even in the ease of my first year of walking with him. My doubts didn’t disappear and my struggles with sin were still present, but overshadowing those realities was a more profound and manifest Reality: Christ! I began to develop a robust vision of Jesus Christ in my heart that was transforming the way I thought and felt. As the image of Jesus stayed at the forefront of my mind, I found strength to cast down the thoughts of my flesh and the devil that longed for me to wander from him. As I saw him with enhancing clarity and my love for him grew, I accessed power to deny the lusts of my flesh with increasing frequency. When I did fall into sin, my vision of Jesus and his bloody, sacrificial love for me gave me the strength to not wallow in hopelessness, but to get up and confess, repent, and keep on pursuing him. As I chased after Jesus day in and day out, my doubts, fears, struggles, and sins no longer paralyzed me.
My life totally changed that year, from the inside out.
When people ask me today, “What’s different now than before 2013?” all I can do is simply reply (I think sometimes to their disappointment), “I seek daily to see Christ.” I don’t always seek to the degree that I should; actually, I probably never really seek to the degree that I should. But though some days I couldn’t be more distracted while I’m in the Word, and some nights I go to bed feeling my time of prayer was empty and shallow, the transformation in my devotional life that occurred in 2013 has stuck with me. I consistently hit the floor every morning and evening, spend at least an hour a day in the Word, and supplement by Bible reading with other theological books – not because I believe these things (my “works”) give me life, but because these things place me before the One who is Life. My imperfect yet active chasing after Jesus, fueled by his marvelous grace, is the only reason I am able to experience stability and growth in my faith.
I don’t share my devotional practices with you guys to give the appearance of spirituality. I tell people all the time, “I am so weak that if I didn’t pursue Christ as I do, I would be a prince among the two-fold sons of hell.” My flesh is tirelessly longing to corrupt my soul, squash my faith, and defame the name of Jesus. I feel it gnawing at me every day. I do not have the strength to resist it and live stably or faithfully unless I continually seek to be close to Christ.
Brother or sister, if you’re feeling as lost in your own soul as I was feeling a few years ago, my one word of encouragement to you would be this: fight! Fight with all of your might, however small it may be, to break out from under the seemingly impenetrable fog of doubt and fear, and fight to develop a vision of Jesus in your heart. I learned the hard way that peace and stability in the Christian life aren’t found in sitting idly and waiting on a mystical rescue from heaven. Don’t do as I did! Don’t wait until you’re in as pitiful a state as I was before you jump into an active pursuit of Christ. By God’s grace, throw your white flag of surrender into the fiery pit of hell, grab your Bible, and get on your knees. Seek to see Jesus more vividly than you see everything else. It will not be easy. It will take resolve and consistency. And honestly, more days than not you’ll feel as if you’ve made no progress. But take God at his word. Have faith that you will reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7) and that those who seek the Lord with all their heart will surely find him (Jeremiah 29:13). Be persistent. Continuously place yourself in front of the Truth that renews (John 17:17), and keep on knocking at the door of Heaven (Matthew 7:7). God is faithful and he will answer you.