It’s impossible to be around people and not brush up against someone’s pain.
Who among us has never been weighted down by chains of pain, wrapped around us, dragging heavily?
There are times of depression when it seems impossible that others can’t see the heavy, ugly things that drag at my arms and legs and tie my tongue, that no one can hear the ugly creak and clank, as I drag myself and my burden across the floor. Sometimes I see how my chains bump others, keep them from getting too close; I see how they bump and bruise my children.
Coming up out of the crushing weight of deep depression, I can see the effect my bondage has on others. But I’m left tender-skinned, and I bruise when I bump into others’ pain…
I stumble and fall back into doubt.
If there is a God, a good God, then why so much pain, so much brokenness?
Your pain, in the frailty of suffering and recovering from my own pain, overwhelms my senses and obscures God, obscures Truth.
I lack the strength to carry my own burdens. I feel too weak and spent to help you bear yours.
How many of us feel like this? How many of us feel so overwhelmed by our own heaviness that we can’t effectively help our brothers and sisters in Christ bear their burdens. How often does it stop us from reaching out to love the lost?
It’s a problem.
A problem that hobbles the Church as it hobbles me.
Stumbling after Jesus
Jesus never held Himself back when people sought Him for relief from their pain. In the Gospels, we can read of a time when Jesus and His disciples needed some peace and quiet. They deserved a break and set sail for a secluded place. But the people, who figured out where they were headed, ran there before the boat landed.
If I were Jesus, my response would have been something along the line of “Are you KIDDING me?!? SERIOUSLY?!? Can I not have FIVE MINUTES to MYSELF, PEOPLE?!”
I am so not Jesus.
His response? Compassion.
Matthew tells us how He healed those who were sick; Mark tells us that He taught them all. Luke goes so far as to tell us Jesus “welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing” (verse 11, emphasis added).
I don’t think my reaction would have been any better if I’d been one of the apostles who’d just left a crowded place so busy we couldn’t eat, let alone discuss what we’d just experienced in our time out ministering. The resentment would have built in me all day.
“You call this REST?!? You’ve spent all day doing what you ALWAYS do. Now we’re stuck here with a bunch of hungry people, and no food!“
Face to face with Jesus in the flesh, I probably wouldn’t have said it out loud, but…
I fall far short of Christ, into whose Image I am meant to be transformed.
Jesus never put up walls to protect Himself from being bruised by others’ pain. When it came down to it, He chose to bruised, battered, and broken beyond our comprehension for our healing.
He gave of Himself but was never left depleted.
The Bible never mentions Him being rushed or feeling inadequate.
But it does repeatedly mention Him taking time to be alone in a quiet place with His Father. We can even read how He dealt with stress so painful, completely overwhelming, that He sweat blood: He cried out to His Father.
Relying on our Father is where I fail. To those of you I have encouraged to be in the Word, to find what you need there, I’ve had to admit to not taking my own advice.
And living the consequences.
When I neglect time with God, I can’t reach out to you when you need me. When I’ve been recovering from a bout of depression and choosing to just drift and not seek our Father’s strength, it is then, more than ever, that I recoil from your pain. I know that the best I have to offer you is Christ, but I let myself get empty. I am broken and empty and I hide from you.
It is impossible to give and keep giving from our lack.
So, what can we do? What we MUST do.
PRAY. Prayer isn’t only sitting down and taking time to actively focus on lifting requests to God and staying still to listen. It isn’t just the times we are driven to pour our our hearts to Him in desperation. It’s moment-by-moment awareness of His Presence. An ongoing dialogue. Sharing our needs as we go, and believing He is there providing guidance.
Read the Word. Every day. How do we expect to maintain spiritual health if we’re not feeding our souls on God’s Word? As important as food is to our physical health, Jesus made it clear that God’s Word is more important. As we need it to sustain us, we also need it to guide us. See below for some helpful Bible-reading resources.
Meditate on and Memorize the Word. To meditate on Scripture is to think about it. Not just read a passage and then get up and go about our day. Take it with you in whatever way works for you. Mull over your morning Bible reading. Set reminders on your phone. Tape or Post-it verses to your mirror, dash, desk, wall… Find an app (see below).
Study the Word. Reading God’s Word daily is a good thing, a necessary thing. But to get the most out of the wisdom and revelation of Himself He has provided us, we need to study it. We can run into trouble when we focus on a particular passage and build our theology around it without understanding its context. See below for some helpful Bible-study resources.
Give thanks. At the end of a long day, what did Jesus do? He fed the people. After thanking God for the paltry five loaves and two fish, He broke them – and had far more than enough to fill the bellies of thousands.
John tells us that Philip and Andrew saw the situation as most of us would. They knew there was no way they could hope to pay for enough food to feed the people, and believed what little they had would not go anywhere near far enough to make a difference.
What I have is a broken brain. It can make life extremely difficult. Helping others can feel impossible. But God will use what He’s given me, and spread needed grace to others if I let Him do it through me.
I can’t fix anyone. I can’t save anyone. Only God can. Isn’t it wonderful that He can use both what we have and what we don’t have to bless the lives of others?
Here are some resources I’ve found helpful.
Learning to Listen
If you want to learn more about how you can recognize God’s voice and have a two-way conversation every day – while praying, reading Scripture, and listening – I encourage you to read Marilyn Hontz’s Listening for God: How an Ordinary Person Can Learn to Hear God Speak. It’s one of my favorites, and will be one I review as I have time.
Daily Bible Reading
One way to read the Bible every day is a One-Year Bible. Typically set up with daily readings from the Old and New Testament, there are also those set up chronologically. The one I’ve read through several times is the chronological older version of the NLT.
If you prefer digital, Bible Gateway offers reading plans you can subscribe to. You can read through the Bible in a year, or choose smaller bites. The link is to the NIV, but you can choose from many other versions, including several in languages other than English.
I don’t read through the Bible every year. A wonderful method for daily devotional reading I borrow from Evelyn Christenson: Read until He speaks. You know how when you’re reading your Bible and something just stops you in your tracks? That! Wait for that every day. It may be a chapter or more, or as quickly as part of a verse. When you hear it, stop. Here’s a quote from an interview she did for Revive Our Hearts Radio:
This is what I believe in my devotional reading. I only read until He speaks. The very first thing He says. I pray it through or confess, ask Him for it, whatever it might be in my devotional reading. Then I apply it.
I learned about Evelyn’s read-until-He-speaks devotional reading, how she studies the Bibles, and so much more in her book, Lord, Change Me. I highly recommend it.
Wow, there is no shortage of Bible study material out there. One option is a study Bible; just be sure you use the study resources. There are also more Bible study books than I could hope to count. These can be about a particular section of the Bible, the book of John, for example; or topical, considering what the Bible has to say about a particular subject, like prayer. Ask your pastor or other trusted, mature Christian for suggestions. If you’re not yet, get involved with a Bible study small group. Be aware that sometimes group “Bible studies” can be more about what authors have to say about the Bible than about learning from the Bible itself; be aware of that, too, when looking for personal study guidance.
Though I use an NLT Bible for daily devotional reading, I don’t typically use it for study. It can be a little subjective in its design to interpret what was meant in a passage, with less emphasis on the actual words than a more literal translation. A great resource is a comparative, or parallel, Bible, with multiple translations side-by-side.
Another tool I love is the Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament. If I want to know the Greek from which a passage was translated, I can access it online, any time, for free on Bible Gateway. You can, too! Just type in the passage you want, choose Mounce as the version, and there it is – in English with the Greek words beneath. Just to be clear, I DON’T KNOW GREEK, BUT any Greek word I click on is defined for me. Check out John 3:16 here. If you click on agapaō, for example, there it is. Even cooler, click on “See everywhere agapaō appears in the New Testament via BillMounce.com“ and YUP!! Wanting to know what the New Testament has to say on a subject, there you go! Love it!
Since I stepped into 21st century technology last September with a smart phone, I have enjoyed, and found very helpful, the FREE Android app, Bible Memory, Remember Me.
This list obviously isn’t exhaustive. One of these days I’ll take what’s here, beef it up, and keep adding to it under my Resources page. I hope you’ve found something useful!
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