Personally, Jesus is no crutch

I’m not a fan of crutches – mental, that is. I figure I’ve a fairly good brain, my resilience is solid, and I’ve a good dose of personal insight. Yet there appears to be this odd misconception that faith is a weakness. By being head-over-heels with the Jesus fella, I am somehow abdicating my thought processes and, eek, am displaying to all and sundry that I am weak and need this to prop me up. Unknown

I don’t need. I choose. Want. Desire. Embrace. I’ve a magnificent supernatural God that the Bible shows me was there through plagues, wars, famine, floods, times of plenty, times of trouble – and consistently comes up with solid answers and solutions. Chapter after chapter, verse after verse, God proves over and over that, yes, He’s way better at this universal existence thing than I am. Through time and place.

Jesus said he was the light and the way. The son of God who I’ve already figured out is better at guiding, planning and sorting out both the big picture and fine detail than I.  So no matter what I else I do to train my brain, read a new book each week, study online with Linda and use all this new knowledge to add value, improve myself, my career path and justify that pay rise…. it’s still but a drop in the ocean compared to what I’ve learnt about GJ& the HS and what they can do in my life when I let them in and trust.

I don’t have to have all the answers – and neither do my children or my husband. I don’t have to be right all the time – because I trust God is. Not because of spiritual insubstantial fairy floss, but because that rather massive book called the Bible proves His hand can guide me far more magnificently than myself alone. Naturally. Him being God and me being 40-something Phil. Who’s only been around gathering wisdom for 40-something years while He’s been doing it, for, well, always and forever.

In Australia, anxiety is on the rise – it’s the most common mental health condition. On average, 1 in 4 people – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – will experience anxiety. One in six young Australians (aged 16–24) had experienced and anxiety disorder in 2016Up to 40 per cent of the population will experience a panic attack at some time in their life.

Isn’t that frightening? I attended a seminar on the topic recently and found myself talking to many, many women who confirmed they had this constant voice in their head telling them all sorts of anxiety-inducing material. They weren’t good enough. They wouldn’t get the dinner finished in time. That someone accidentally ignored them on the street and it sent them into a paralysis of wondering had they somehow offended them? Perhaps they didn’t like them? And what about their body, isn’t it unfit, overweight, underweight, too fit, too tall, too small, too thin, too broad? What if they miss their work deadline?

I was aghast. Still am. God may have wired me to operate and process at speed, yet He also blessed me with a quiet mind. Minimal chatter. It was both blessing and pain to realise I was in a minority.

“Jesus loves me this I know, because he gave me Lexipro,” is a line you may have heard. Depression and anti-anxiety medication absolutely has its place. I figure we live in a post-Fall world, so to think our brain chemistry and wiring is going to be perfect misses the whole impact of that pesky snake and the apple.

I also know brave, persistent individuals who have re-wired their brains and neurons away from anxiety, fight and flight responses, and into a more calm, manageable place. They also use medication to support them on this journey. Yet with all the research on neuroplasticity, the comfort and hope offered – with strategies and work, bloody hard work – that they could re-wire their anxious neural pathways means they persevere. As one Christian friend commented after the seminar, “it was a great reminder as to how far I’ve come.”

Strategies not crutches. Intelligent thinking not abdication of intellect. The Bible reminds her (and me, and anyone else who cares to take a read) that God can take her anxieties and calm them. That when she relentlessly and persistently challenges those voices, lays her worries at the Cross, they quieten.

Love Me with all your heart, God tells us. Be anxious about nothing. Pray and petition Me because I love you desperately – so desperately I gave you My son so I could be even closer to you – and I want to bless you, help you, guide you. Let me.

Climb into my lap and just be. Let me dry your tears when you are anxious. Help you laugh. I’ll even tease you gently about your fears so you keep them in perspective. Carry you along if you need it. Kick you in the butt if you need that too. My love has no fear. No anxiety. And because I am God, you are made utterly, beautifully perfect in your weakness, your fears, your anxieties. Why? Because I am God. So you have no need to be.

Newsflash: Mother Truckin’ Devil steals Smart-Alec Pastor

imagesSatan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Diabolus, Prince of Darkness. Or, as I now call him after the weekend: Horned Mother Trucker.

According to a 2009 survey by the Barna Group, the majority of Christians do not believe that Satan or the devil actually exists.2 However, according to an AP-AOL news poll, up to 97% of evangelical Christians believe that angels exist.3

Now this is an irony, given that – contrary to the beliefs of many – Satan is not the opposite of God (an anti-god) but rather an angel who rebelled against God. So he’s an angel too. Without the harp and cream cheese.

Much as I’d like to dismiss him as some safe, Prada-wearing character, I have to own the Horned Mother Trucker is far bigger and scarier than that. How do I know? Well, scripture tells me on the one hand. Biblical descriptions of him include everything from an angel of light to a ravenous beast.

Both Christ and Paul were so aware of his influence that their teaching is filled with warnings and dangers (Matthew 24:24; II Corinthians 11:13-15; II Thessalonians 2:7-11; Galatians 1:8). Yet some theologians are persuaded he is non-existent – and therein lies the danger. If you don’t realise you have an enemy to fight, how can you be prepared for the war?

‘Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,’ (Eph. 6:11). Wiles have to do with cunning or skill. The Bible teaches the devil – as he works his craft against us – personifies wiles. He lies to us, wants to trap us, discourage us and snare us. He goes to work daily to produce discouragement, confusion, indifference and imbalance. He will steal our joy if we allow him.

This weekend past I allowed him. How do I know he exists? Because, outside what I have read in the scripture, this weekend my finger hovered over the delete button in my phone’s contacts list. I was set to erase The SAP. 

No, this isn’t some crazy cliff-hanging blog post where I randomly make up SAP storylines for creative adventures. In the here and now I was ready to make a deleting sweep through one of my most significant Christian touchstones. Whatever possessed me? Don’t answer that.

It started with the Suffer The Little Children blog. Readers told me it left them in tears. That it was ‘power-full’. Amongst the best I had ever written. And every compliment left me flayed raw. To know your writing evokes an emotional response is most probably the greatest gift for a writer. Yet on this topic? The compliments were bitter. Yes, I wanted readers to think. I wanted to examine Love Thy Neighbour. But by choosing to imagine how a mother would be with her child in those final, drowning moments was possibly an imagination too far and by the end it left me empty. With defences down.

So in the horned Mother Trucker crept. ‘What difference can you make?’ he whispered. ‘Where’s Jesus in all this? How does meek and mild and tuning the other cheek help that drowned boy? And what about your own sins? What if you get there and, despite grace, Jesus says he does not know you.  Because, what, you write a blog about Christianity referencing a smart-alec pastor? Ha, you reckon it’s about God, Jesus and Christianity. What about the SAP? Hasn’t the SAP been turned into some news hook, some story-writing character idolatry? How often do you check the readership numbers? The likes and shares and comments. Are you still sure it’s about God and Jesus?”

I was raw, tired, and despairing enough over small drowned boys in red t-shirts to listen. And wonder. I pressed play on ‘Clear The Stage’ and these lyrics tumbled at me like barbs:

Anything I put before my God is an idol. Anything I want with all my heart is an idol. Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol. Anything that I give all my love is an idol. 

So I did what all good introverts do when they are feeling flayed and bitter and despairing. I took cover. Dived deeper. Removed myself from Facebook. And tried to pray. Please let me warn you, if you ever hit this sort of low, Jimmy Needham’s ‘Clear The Stage’ is not the soundtrack with which to do it. It’s beautiful at any other time. But not when you’re already wrestling in the deep:

Take a break from all the plans that you have made
And sit at home alone and wait for god to whisper
Beg him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken

Trouble was, after writing that blog, my heart and soul were already stirred and rocked and broken. Shining light on those devilish whispers of ‘pride and lust and lies’ just added to my sense of anguish. There were tears. And stomping. Lots of, ‘well, why the hell would You deliver me a SAP, then, because You are omnipotent, so You knew already what would happen, so what am I meant to understand from this and I am TIRED. There are toddlers DROWNING. And I’m meant to get saved by MEEK and MILD Jesus?!’

So I arrived at the conclusion that I should cease all blogs because it HURT. And if there was some weird idolatry shit going down over readership spikes and SAP story lines, then I’d have to rip out my eye, suck it up and go it alone. No temptation here, no siree. Open contacts. Search The SAP. Finger hovers to press delete.

Trouble is, I couldn’t do it. Which made me wonder if I was being a bad and unfaithful servant, which led me straight back to the whole “I won’t know you” scenario. But another voice was whispering this didn’t make sense. God doesn’t pull the rug from under us.

The Horned Mother Trucker had cleverly made it all about me. Me, my self and I. Am I really proud about my writing? Is it all about the shares and comments? Honestly, no. But then – then, in the dark and feeling miserable about humanity – it was a wily reverse psychology.

James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” Until then, I’d not been resisting. I’d allowed myself to be sucked down the rabbit hole where the echoes of doubts became louder and louder. I didn’t have it in me to resist, to take any action. But I could submit.

So I knelt down on the floor next to the bed, put my forehead on the mattress, and said, “Ok. I’m not strong enough to delete this number. The SAP’s a good guy. I value him. So if I need to sort out pride and readership in connection to this and the SAP, You are going to have to fry my phone or something. You take over. I can’t.”

No lightning strikes. But I was well into self-flagellation by that point. So bruised, battered and bewildered – at the very lowest point in all my Christian journey to date when the SAP would have been yelling, “Pick up the phone and call me!” – I said: “OK, God, I’m admitting I’m not strong enough to delete it. So I’ll stop writing. And I won’t call and get his opinion. That’ll sort out the bad and unfaithful bit, right?”

Again, God was strangely quiet. I grieved for the next two days for a toddler in a red t-shirt and a SAP.

Until 2am today. Shoved awake. With a ridiculous urge to download the last in the SAP’s recent sermon series on Daniel. I tossed and turned and ignored it. And it kept shoving. Was this Mother Trucker temptation or God trying to tell me something?

I grabbed my phone and plugged in my headphones. “Screw idolatry, God. You’d better not be messing with me,” I muttered.

Not messing at all. God did one better. Daniel 7. With cross reference to Revelation 19: 11-16. That so grabbed me at 2am I had to replay it over a few times, before opening the Bible and digging into Revelation some more.

No meek and mild Jesus there. No turning the other cheek. Instead there was the warrior Lord ‘dressed in a robe dipped in blood’ with ‘king of kings and lord of lords’ tattooed on his thigh. That was who I sought. Treading the ‘winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty’ was the warrior I wanted to sweep up and defend that drowned, refugee child.

Was I instantly revived and healed? I wish. But it gave me some fantastic lessons. And as the horned Mother Trucker whispered that I’d got away with it, no need to mention this to anyone, I smiled fiercely. Because I’m not the only one who struggles. Who gets sucked into wily, hurtful, joy-stealing temptation.

Which is why I write this blog. Which is why, taking a deep breath, I admitted to the SAP I’d almost deleted him from my phone. Because by mentioning it to everyone, rather than being ashamed about it, I shine a light on my darkest corners and shove that Mother Trucker out.

Mother Trucker almost made an absolute mockery of my testimony. And that just pisses me off. Did he think that my God and my freakin’ warrior Lord Jesus would be so evil as to deliver a miracle at the end of the phone in order that I be properly introduced to them and then tell me all that hilarious, honest, joyful adventure was false?

No siree. Get behind me you Mother Trucker. I am stealing back my joy, smiling fiercely and telling you to watch your back.  My warrior Lord is on the throne.