Have you hit your low point yet? Last week, I shared my personal story of hitting my low point and going on an inner journey with Jesus. I will share some of that story here, add more to it, and ultimately talk about how God takes our pain and uses it to grow us closer to Him–emerging stronger than ever before. This is the journey Jesus Himself modeled for us, as well as the apostles and the heroes of faith. This is the journey that we take with Jesus, supporting each other along the way.
When it was first announced that we had to shelter in place, I wasn’t discouraged because there was so much work to do. After about two weeks, I started to feel some anxiety about the future; including a tightness in my chest. I ignored it because I had work to do. But one day I heard some bad news on TV, and I hit a low point. It was very discouraging and dark. When I hit my low point, I could feel an invitation from God’s Spirit to the inner journey. Questions and self-doubt flooded my mind. Why was I so downcast? Why was this news affecting me so much? Why couldn’t I focus on the good things? The Holy Spirit didn’t answer my questions but invited me deeper, and He walked with me every step of the way. I allowed myself feel down for a few days, and I was constantly in prayer and in God’s word. I talked with other people, but I mainly talked with God.
My discouragement low point was not over in a couple of hours. It took a few days. For many people it takes much longer. I cried out to God, I struggled, I was mad at myself, and I just wanted it to be over. But on this inner journey, I was invited to look at the dark areas of my soul. I couldn’t hide any longer. With God’s help I realized that, especially in times of high stress or crisis, I try to over-control the situation. Unfortunately, sometimes this works. But generally this is not the right thing to do, and it leads to me being frustrated, impatient, and overly-critical of anyone who cannot keep up with me. God didn’t want to just take away the bad feelings; those feelings were an invitation to a deeper darkness that He wants to remove from my life.
After a few days, I could sense God Spirit inviting me to a new time. A time of planning and dreaming about the future. God’s timing is often inconvenient for our plans, and this time was no exception. I had to clear a lot of work, but I was desperate for God’s hope. I spent three hours praying, journaling, dreaming, planning, and understanding how God was moving. I can’t control everyone, but I have been given influence, and the Lord wants me to use that to bless the world. Our King is in control, and He is calling me and our church to move forward through this pandemic and into a stronger future. Hope it is about the future, and God has a brighter future for us. I needed to go through the low moments so I could be a better leader. And I need to respond to God‘s invitation and take practical action steps.
The journey I describe above, as hard as it was, is part of deeper discipleship. Unfortunately, for many Christians, discipleship has nothing to do with real life, or at least nothing to do with the dark times of life. Yet true discipleship has everything to do with the struggles of life. Discipleship means becoming like Jesus, and Jesus knows what it is like to go through hard times and struggles. He understand suffering, betrayal, and pain. Discipleship is more than just words or things we learn, it is putting what we learned into practice. Jesus offers us living power to overcome the pain and problems of life. He doesn’t take all of the struggles away but gives us Himself. I have to know Jesus if I’m going to become like Him. I need help from others, but others can’t replace the love of Christ.
Real discipleship happens when we learn, when we live it out, and when we have someone who loves us enough to hold us accountable. Discipleship always happens with other disciples. And it is always centered on Jesus. Here are some simple ingredients that can make discipleship powerful in a person’s life:
The written word is so important because it is unchanging. We can’t easily manipulate it to fit our current culture or selfish desires. Whenever I read God‘s word, I feel so much better. I feel God‘s peace, even when He is challenging me. If watching the news made me anxious, why did I watch it three times a day? I eventually started reading God‘s word three times a day and limiting my time with the news. That made a big difference in my life. Gods word is truth, and it brings His peace. I can’t control what is going to happen, but I can control spending time in God’s word and letting His truth soak into my soul.
God’s word is living, and it needs to be lived out. Action activates its power in our lives. Relationships are not academic, and our relationship with God has to be lived out if it is real. For too many of Christians, discipleship is merely knowledge. One of the best tools to help move a person into action is a Journal. It helps because you write down how you are planning to live out what you have learned. This can be done with daily devotions, sermons, Life Groups, or anything else. Most people don’t take action on what they learn. Yet once I started using a Journal, I found myself becoming more humble because it’s a lot harder to live out God’s word than just having the right answers! I also found my respect grew in people’s eyes when I lived out God’s word. My life was being transformed.
Actions will never happen unless we have someone else who will ask us about those actions. We have to be brave enough to ask others to hold us accountable; they won’t do it on their own. And they have to love us enough to follow through consistently. Accountability can’t work without consistency. Accountability is not meant to be legalism but love. Once I started having brothers in Christ hold me accountable, my whole mindset changed. Once I realized they were going to ask me about my devotions, my mind paid a lot more attention to my devotion times. Once I knew they were going to ask me about my areas of sin, I had a greater motivation to stop sinning. I still have accountability partners in my life, it helps me become more like Jesus.
Fight for the Future
I don’t think God sent this pandemic, but I know God is working in this pandemic to draw people closer to Himself. I don’t believe God‘s highest goal for shelter in place is that we watch 35 hours of TV per week. I think He is inviting us to be closer to Himself and discover a peace that is beyond understanding. I think He’s inviting us into the dark areas of our souls so He can transform us on a much deeper level.
Our church did such a great job, when the pandemic first started, making so many calls, getting people in the Life Groups, and even delivering care packages. We are not going to stop these things, but we are going to press into the inner journey and Christ’s call to discipleship. We have put up daily devotions for 11 years, and we are working through the Bible for the third time in our church’s history. More and more people are joining in, and that is encouraging. We are asking our Ministry Team Leaders, many who do not have a ministry “task” right now, to start (or continue) discipleship conversations with the people on their Teams. For us, ministry was never about the tasks but about the teams–each person’s walk with Jesus. God is using this hard time to transform His church, grow us deeper, and prepare us to impact the world in a much bigger way. It all begins with responding to his invitation.
I hope if you are reading this, you are already on the inner journey. I pray that you are growing deeper habits into place–habits that can stay into place even after shelter-in-place is over. And I hope that you will take action on what the Spirit of God is revealing to you.
If you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to share them. I would love to talk more.