Ann Spangler

Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and speaker.

His Help Will Surely Come

A red life-preserver hanging on a white brick wallI once had the privilege of attending a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous with a family member who needed help. In that small circle of broken, honest people, I felt the tangible presence of God. These men and women had come to the end of themselves and the beginning of faith, so desperate for help that they were willing to admit the truth about themselves.

It struck me then that this was a model for my own life—to present myself to God as I truly am, broken and desperate for his grace. The truth is, no matter how much God heals and restores us, none of us can survive for even a moment without his help.

But it is easy to forget this, to fool ourselves into thinking we are in charge of our lives and we can handle our problems our way. So we build strategies, consciously or unconsciously, for handling life’s challenges in ways that depend more on us than they do on God. Perhaps the strategies work well enough on small problems, but what happens when we encounter something bigger—a real disaster or tragedy? What then? Do we try and try and try, beating our heads against a wall, or do we come to realize anew, to use the language of Alcoholics Anonymous, that our lives have “become unmanageable” and that only a “Power greater than ourselves” can help us?

If you are feeling powerless in the midst of life’s difficulties, don’t give in to discouragement. Your weakness, faced with honesty and hope, can be the very pathway God will use to display his strength. Wait for his help, which will surely come.

Healing Presence

A sign for a hospital under a glowing streetlightI am afraid many of us have succumbed to what I call Christian phobias. We’ve developed unnatural fears about things that are meant to characterize the Christian life. I’m thinking of things like prayer, evangelism, and healing. Yes, we know prayer is important, but many of us are afraid of the empty space between God and us. Even if we manage to carve out the time to pray, how will we fill up that space? So we read books about prayer rather than actually spending time in prayer. And when it comes to sharing our faith, many of us run for the hills. We’re too afraid of offending someone. And then there’s the problem of healing, which we would much rather leave to the professionals.

Pastor Jim Cymbala speaks of the church as being a “Holy Ghost Hospital.” I like that metaphor because it reminds us that "God’s Spirit, living within us, is in the business of healing and restoration." As God’s people, we are to be a healing community, a place where sick people get well.

Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist, poses an important question: “Could it be that training in counseling has become so necessary and valued because few Christians know what it means to release the energy of Christ from within them into the souls of others?” He goes on to ask, “If the battle is against soul disease, and if the real disease is disconnection caused by sin that leaves the person starving for life, isn’t it our calling to supply life to one another, at least a taste of it that drives us to run to the source?”(1)

I am not knocking professional therapists and psychiatrists. I have great respect for what they do, and some situations call for professional intervention. But we also, as Crabb says, “need folks who can talk to us wisely and sensitively and meaningfully about our deepest battles, our most painful memories, and our secret sins.” Let’s ask Christ to fill us with his energy so we can continue to touch others with his healing presence.

(1). Larry Crabb, Connecting (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 175.

In the Desert

A desert valley with wildflowers in the foregroundRemember when Adam and Eve got shoved out of the Garden of Eden after taking that fatal bite of fruit? In the Bible, the opposite of this garden paradise is the wilderness, the desert. A harsh place without the ability to sustain life, the desert is described in Deuteronomy 8:15 as a “great and terrifying wilderness.” It’s a waterless place filled with venomous snakes and scorpions. So it seems an odd spot for a loving God to send his people or to send his beloved Son, which he did prior to his public ministry.

As the opposite of Eden, the desert is a harsh place where human beings are forced to face the effects of sin, which has withered and destroyed the peace of the whole world. It’s where Jesus battled Satan, conquering the temptations that plague us all. But the desert is also portrayed as a place of opportunity—a place to meet with God and learn to trust him as he cares for us in Earth’s most inhospitable place. In the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land and Jesus’ journey to his public ministry, Scripture portrays the desert as a bridge to something far better. Get through the desert with your faith intact, and you will know how great God is and how greatly he wants to bless and use you.

As human beings whose hearts are roiled with the strife that sin brings, we no longer live in Eden, where perfect peace reigns. Thrust into the wilderness, we are not abandoned there but led by the Spirit to learn the lessons that only the desert can teach us. Today, let us remember that Jesus has led the way both into and out of the wilderness, beckoning us to endure such times with faith, believing that as we do, he will help us grow in trust and fruitfulness.

When Church is the Problem

Man holding a sign that says "No"Sometimes, sad to say, our lack of peace comes from going to church. For many of us, church is our most important source of community. It’s a place where our spiritual lives are invigorated and our relationships strengthened. Being part of a healthy church enables us to grow as Christians. But what if church is contributing to our lack of peace?

For plenty of people, it’s extremely difficult to utter a certain two-letter word, no, especially when someone at church asks for their help. So they say yes to every committee, every good cause, every Bible study, every opportunity to serve. While some have taken on the heart of Christ in their service, others have just plain worn themselves out. If you recognize yourself in the latter category, ask God to help you know when to say yes and when to say no. Put a little distance between the request and your answer, giving yourself time to take the matter to Christ, expecting him to guide you.

Church can also deplete our peace if the community of Christians we belong to is characterized by legalism. All variety of churches have been guilty of morphing the gospel into a religion that depends primarily on effort rather than grace. Of course, it takes effort to live as Christians, but if we find little joy and peace in doing so, it may be that we are living a distorted form of Christianity.

What’s the best way to deal with legalism in a church community? The place to begin is in your own heart. Recognize it as a serious distortion of the gospel, admitting to yourself and to God your continued desperate need for grace. Live that prayer daily, and you will find your faith becoming more passionate and your life becoming more peaceful.

(Image courtesy of pakorn at freedigitalphotos.net)

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