“Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be sorry: for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10
“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved their lives unto the death.” Revelations 12:11
Our weekly Christian devotional
My hands tremble slightly as I settle down to write this; there is deep wrestling in my spirit. Part of me feels compelled to share some deeply personal truths and another part wants to ensure that there are no casualties because of my candidness.
It’s important to be open, because I believe there’s such rich value in sharing our struggles and the lessons we learn. The more honest our stories, the better chance we have to help prevent someone else from going through a similar pain. Or perhaps, the shared experience will merely give some much needed comfort…
One simple question compelled me to delve deeply into introspection: “Jules, why did it take you so long to become a Christian?”
I thought hard…
I vividly recall my parents dutifully packing all five of us kids in our rusty old Chevy wagon. This was for our thrice-weekly visits to a Southern Baptist church forty-five minutes away. But, that inconvenience never prevented our family from attending; we were faithfully present every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.
So, how come I didn’t have a true salvation experience until I was thirty-three years old? How did I manage to slip though the cracks of the Fundamental Baptist pressure cooker? I festered in it for the first nineteen years of my life. Why did decades pass before I enjoyed a relationship with God?
The truth was—I knew God was real. I prayed to Him and felt His tangible presence in my life at a very early age. As a young child I always felt the unconditional love of God whenever I opened my heart in prayer or song.
My struggle was never in the belief of His actual existence, but in actually believing the words of the Bible and taking them at face value.
You see, at our church and school, I was inundated with the Ten Commandments, not to mention a plethora of additional rules and regulations. Our private Christian School seemed to treat these ‘extras’ as if they were somehow smudged off of Moses’ original stone tablets.
After attending daily chapel services, I began to doubt the goodness of God. From the way the ‘experts’ seemed to present Him, God was more like a taskmaster that would never be satisfied with my pathetic efforts at ‘being’ good. Today, my heart still sputters with anxiety whenever I hear a traditional hymn or smell a moldy scent that reminds me of a hymnal book. Both automatically make me think that God is intently watching me—and waiting for my next sin, of course!
My mother attempted to live as close to her convictions as a person who wasn’t Mother Theresa possibly could. To this day, I laud her consistency and tenacity.
But, the part about God that created the most confusion for me was this: “If God was love, then why was my mom and many of her church friends always so depressed? Where was the power of God? Where was the joy?”
My mom is a good woman, a God-fearing one. She never claimed to be perfect. And I honestly can’t remember a time when she didn’t work hard—even (and especially) at her ‘goodness’.
I recall her friends dropping by our home. My curious ears would catch them sharing fears and tears over day old Sarah Lee coffee cake. They gossiped in hushed tones with wide eyes; as if they were and hoping God would intervene on their current life circumstances. I never witnessed them fervently pressing in with prayer. (Of course, I can’t really say what happened privately when both parties parted ways.)
Seeing such doubt and turmoil on a consistent basis led me to wonder: Was God was really the solution to life’s issues like our pastor preached on Sundays? If so, then why wasn’t He trusted with my mother’s and her friend’s troubles? Was turning to God in a crisis a problem because church was forty-five minutes away? Or was praying with a party of two simply not enough to even bother?
That heavy faded smile of my mother’s… the one lacking hope, conviction or passion is what fueled my struggle with fully accepting God into my life. I began fearing a personal relationship with Him.
My mother wasn’t the only one who wore this sad, hopeless expression. Those same church friends who visited had their own versions—some would add a pious twist to their Sunday smirks; others, a condemning shoulder-slump. But, the common denominator was always this: The Christian life seemed devoid of genuine happiness. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 Felt as if it was written for everyone but Christians–at least the ones that I knew.
If loving God was that much work, if doing His will was that hard, if praying to Him didn’t involve actually trusting Him and if living for God gave no lasting joy or satisfaction, then really…what was the point? Why in the world would anyone want to trust Christ if Christians themselves can’t bring themselves to?
I started to wonder: “Was God really so cruel to create human beings, give them salvation from hell and yet allow them to struggle miserably while they tolerated the rest of their earthly existence?”
Only one person comes to mind that didn’t quite seem to fit into my dismal ‘home’ away from home. She was a young pastor’s wife, barely out of teaching school. In my pessimism, I figured she was probably happy because she was too fresh to be considered an ‘experienced’ Christian. It would only be a matter of time when that bright smile would fade into one that resembled the rest of the walking dead roaming around our church campus. How could she possibly escape the inevitable branding? No one else seemed to.
Aside from my mother’s love, I don’t recall a time of feeling unconditionally loved or accepted by ‘His’ people. As soon as I broke a rule, or got into trouble, I was treated as if I suffered from some kind of incurable disease. My life became fodder for juicy gossip; my ‘icky’ presence was to be avoided like a modern day plague. Never once did anyone lovingly pull me aside to see if there was something they could help me with. I had a very real fear of never being able to achieve ‘good enough’.
And although I wasn’t wise in the worldly sense of the word, I wasn’t exactly stupid either. You simply can’t explain love or joy by just reading words out of the Bible. There must be an actual experience of it. The church had plenty of nice words to say, but not enough action to convince me. I couldn’t imagine wasting my life on such hopelessness. I wasn’t ready to succumb to an existence built on hypocrisy, not if there was something genuine to live for!
Thankfully, I’ve survived life long enough to realize this truth: God’s people are just people. And, sometimes, they’re simply people who trade their sin of heathendom for the more ‘acceptable’ sins of self-righteousness.
I wish I could wrap my twisted and complex church experiences up with a pretty bow and say that I’m now totally and completely healed. Oh, what I would give to be comfortable walking into a church building and connecting easily with the members…
In honor of my mother’s tenacity, I vow to continue walking through church doors, praising God for His mercy and goodness, opening up His word with expectations of following it’s wisdom and continually attempting to build genuine and loving relationships with other imperfect Believers.
Despite extreme awkwardness and discomfort, I’ve committed to doing this. Not out of any religious duty, but because I truly believe that my personal joy in the Lord is the kind of testimony that speaks the loudest.
As Revelations 12:11 so clearly states, when we focus on the goodness of God not only we are encouraging our brothers and sisters in the faith, but we remind the enemy of our souls that God has a good plan and we actually trust it–and Him.
From the depths of my heart, I’m convinced that a life not attempting to fervently hold onto our joy and share it with others is insulting to a God who sacrificed His world for ours.
“Dear Heavenly Father,
I bow my head in repentance. I have judged others harshly. I have shunned searching for you because I grew weary of being hurt by your people.
Lord, heal the wounds of my heart. I want to experience all that you have for me. I know that I won’t unless you break these walls of stone I have built up. In doing this, I was trying to protect myself from being hurt again.
Lord, I give you permission to tear down those walls. I realize that doing this will leave me vulnerable. The enemy of my soul will try to attack in this very area. But, knowing that the attack is coming will help me guard against his damage.
Lord, you are my healer. Give me discernment to avoid unnecessary pain. And, I will take every pain that happens as a lesson that needs to be learned. I will not hold any lesson I need against you.
The lack of love in the church is the main reason for my pain. So, please help me to be a source of pure love to all that know me…not just in my church building; but also in every corner of my life.
In the name of Jesus, baptize me in the kind of love that will give me the supernatural joy of the Lord. I need to be strong, Lord. I need your joy and your love bubbling up from the inside of me, spilling out into this cold world.
In Jesus’ name, bless me. I receive it and I will share it. Amen.”
Thank you for reading our weekly Christian devotional on verses: Nehemiah 8:10 and Revelations 12:11
Please check back and see what we have for you next week!
Author: Julia Shalom Jordan