I need to share honestly… and I know I’m not alone or unusual. My last five years have been full of struggle and discouragements, tragic loss, and setbacks. I’ve felt the harshness of life and the ridiculously hard path of what I thought was a simple existence.
It seemed that everything and everyone was resisting me constantly, and the weariness from the exhaustion that comes from trying again and again to get back up…is impossible to describe without going through it yourself.
The accumulated years of seemingly pointless sacrifices take their toll on our hearts. Sometimes they get so grim they choke out much of our optimism and left us more empty and numb than alive inside.
As we ponder our lives, we have to wrestle with the point to our endless parade of difficulties and stress. We wonder, am I doing something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why doesn’t my life seem to be ‘working’?
If you’re finding yourself in a similar diminished state, weary of the struggles that never seem to be conquered… read on! I get it. I understand as much as any other human can.
Here are some hard won truths from my own private journal. Some are from podcasts I’ve listened to, some from daily devotionals, but most are from hours alone with God and His word.
Reminder #1: All difficult circumstances are not ‘God’s’ making. He doesn’t create and force disaster upon us, but when it comes… He is offering to be ‘in it’ with us. He will redeem whatever we’re facing, irregardless of whether we deserve it or not.
Reminder #2: The places we go for comfort in our difficult days are only temporary substitutes for the true solace we long for. Sex, Drugs, Alcohol, and Ambition can only numb us to the pain we feel inside. The deeper pain never goes away with external medications.
Reminder #3: The struggle allowed or endured is used by the Holy Spirit to remove the gunk in us and free up fresh real-estate in our soul for God’s presence to settle in and restore. Our hearts need made whole and that’s a inner work that takes time.
Reminder #4: God is good. His ways are odd to us, the solutions He prescribes seem to take the long way to our desired outcomes, but they are always the best possible route and a specific answer to each and every prayer we voice.
Reminder #5: The inner work of stillness is the mature work of a settled soul. God longs for us to shrug off our external distractions and focus on just being satisfied in Him. The bible calls this ‘abiding’ in Christ. It is the deep and permanent work of the Holy Spirit to settle a soul.
These are truths we must recall in the dark night of the soul. Those days and weeks, months and even years that we feel abandoned by God and alone in our struggle. We are not alone, it’s a lie, and the truth can be so hard to remember when our world seems to never change.
Be strong dear one, God is working… and whatever new and awesome assignment that’s right around the corner, you can bet it requires us to go through whatever we’re currently wrestling with. God never wastes our pain or suffering, He uses it to prepare us for the greater influence and responsibility sure to come our way.
The temptation is to simply find ‘the’ solution to our angst, but in the end I’ve found the discipline of ‘stillness’ is the surest course to find Peace and a settled soul.
As believers in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, we have been invited into an Epic adventure.
Like the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have pledged ourselves to a “fellowship” of heroes and saints. We are well beyond the honeymoon phase of our adventure and the sunshine has faded and the mud and muck of our journey has obscured the brilliant beauty of our surroundings. The shine is off the metal and we are wondering what we were thinking…
Our youth was full of clarity and confidence, we knew what we knew and mortality was a distant storm, we would go where we would, fearless and free of the bonds of fallibility.
Decades later…Life isn’t what we imagined it would be. Our world isn’t what we hoped it would become. Our faith isn’t as strong or as sturdy as we once believed… God seems distant and remote, far away from our struggles and pain.
Yet, we are still here. Still wrestling with our world, still standing up to the punishment of our past choices and hopeful for validation. We want it all to have meaning, for our time to have significance and our blood, sweat, and tears to matter.
This is the pilgrim’s path of ascent.
We remain despite our defeats; we believe despite our doubts. God is still a sacred heartbeat within our aging hopes and dreams, we long for more and pray it will one day be.
Be encouraged dear one. Be refreshed today in the truth of God. Soak In the gospel and allow its endless power to redeem and restore. You will be – all you dreamed and more, God will win.
The path ahead may seem impossible, impassable, and steep, but God has made a way. The path will grow bright as you step in faith forward.
He will not be denied. You will not be left behind and all that was promised will be.
The work has already been done. We simply walk into the works of God already established for us… I love this elegant passage from the Anglican Traditional Altar Service;
“And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen”
The prayer above echos our hearts yearning, as we age… the disciplines of our devotion never stop pulling at our hearts, we are forever affected, forever in need. Only His presence can soothe our aches, only His words can still our storms. Only Him.
This fellowship is for those who cannot forget, for those who cannot begin to comprehend the mystery and the marvel of Him. Its truth resonates deep within, flowing full and free from a source too deep to see and too bright to dim.
This fellowship never ends.
Take comfort dear one, your faith in Christ is well placed.
Peace out, Fr. Brad Mathias
References for study: (all scriptures are in the ESV translation unless otherwise noted)
biblehub.com – Gill Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:4-9: “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, The author of this blessing of confirmation is not the Lord Jesus Christ, though he is mentioned in the latter part of 1 Corinthians 1:7; and seems to be the antecedent to the relative “who” in this, but is not, for this confirmation is made in him; see 2 Corinthians 1:21; and besides, it is in order that the saints might be blameless in the day of Christ, and so must design some other person distinct from him, which is God the Father,
1 Corinthians 1:4, to whom the apostle gives thanks, and continues to do so unto this verse; in which he assures the saints of confirmation in grace by God, the author and giver of all grace: and which may be understood of their confirmation in the love and favour of God, from which there can be no separation; and of their establishment in the person of Christ, and in the doctrines of grace; and of the permanency of the grace of the Spirit in them, and of their perseverance in faith and holiness unto the end: that is, of their days; even until the day of Christ, when the good work begun in them shall be performed and finished; that is, “forever”,
as the Ethiopic version reads it; “for the love of God to his people always continues; their interest in Christ can never be lost; grace in them is an immortal seed; nor shall they be ever finally and totally moved away from the hope of the Gospel: that ye may be blameless; not in themselves, for no man is without his faults; none of God’s children are without their failings and infirmities; they have whereof to blame themselves, and may be blamed by God too in a providential way; but they are so in Christ their head, being justified by his righteousness, and washed in his blood; and so in the sight of God, as considered in Christ; and will appear such in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, when he shall descend from heaven, and take his saints to him, and present them to himself a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
—————- References —————
Jude: 24 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
1 Corinthians 1:4-9 “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord”
2 Timothy 1:12 “..which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,”
Ephesians 1:13-14 ”In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory”.
Recommended Reading: Epic by John Eldredge.
These notes and thoughts are from Father Brad’s sermon preparation for St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, in Conway NH.
“Preserving our Faith, one church, one family, one generation at a time”
There are a variety of secular forces at work in our society that seek to undermine the Christian faith. Specifically, these voices criticize the authenticity and authority of Scripture as well as the incarnation / resurrection claims of Christ.
Educated voices are claiming the bible is full of antiquated teachings and inaccurate texts. Our biblical beliefs are being generally discarded as fables and myth instead of being respected and revered as actual historical and spiritual events.
These forces are effectively disrupting thousands of years of church history and orthodoxy in only a few generations. Those impacted most include the 2 latest named generations. (Millennial’s and GenZ) – the erosion of faith is becoming clearly evident in the habits and beliefs / values of families with young children. (*stats from Barna Research, Huffington post, and the Orange Group.)
50-75% of students raised in the “church” leave for college and never return.
Over 65% of families are either blended or single parent – there are very few traditional, same parent homes left.
Approximately 50% of Millennial’s raised in the church believe the Bible is a irrelevant, inaccurate, and an outdated text, no different than the Koran or any another religious historical text.
The stories of heroic faith and miraculous phenomena described in scripture are disregarded by today’s young adults as myth and exaggeration.
The deity of Christ is directly damaged by the erosion of scripture as the divinely inspired history of God and mankind. The virgin birth and resurrection tradition become invalidated if the scripture can be undermined as inaccurate and unreliable. Additionally, we see culture discarding the moral codes dictated to Moses (The 10 commandments) and St. Paul (Romans) as they transcribed Gods laws to hold mankind accountable to a higher standard of divine justice and holiness.
When we as a society disregard scripture as a moral authority, we allow ourselves to become our own “gods” – which gives us the presumptive powers to re-write” the moral rules to fit our own preferences. That is EXACTLY what we are seeing today. The original – divine – blueprint for life and human purpose has been literally rejected, erased, and rewritten according to our own personal opinions and reinvented “truth”.
The overwhelming rejection of all things “Christ-ian” has permeated the public sphere and is directly affecting our laws and social behaviors. The church finds itself in full retreat and assuming a defensive posture. This is due in part because of the rapid social transformation external to us as well as the growing publicity of our own internal moral failures of our leaders.
The net – net is this, we face a time of growing hostility to the church and its closely guarded and previously sacred beliefs. The church is seen as a compromised and hypocritical voice with no moral authority to speak to our modern culture.
The light we were meant to bring to the darkness has been greatly diminished – the darkness is growing and gaining momentum and widespread influence in our time. (Romans 1-2) Not a new phenomenon, something Paul was facing in the first century church as it engaged with Pagan Greeks and Romans and later St. Augustine faced with the widespread corruption of the church in the 4-5th centuries as it sought to offset the ways of the pagan culture it existed in and among.
It is and always has been the role of the church and the faithful believer to endure and remain steadfast, immovable, always prepared to give a reason for the hope within us. We are not going to change the world in a decade, but over time the “testimony” of faithful men and women that speaks louder and stronger than any media messages or false claims of truth.
The world is searching harder than ever for answers. They desperately want to know why they exist, what life is all about, what comes next?
We actually have those answers available within the church and carefully secure within the history and stories of our past. Each generation of Christian families and their testimonies carry the gospel message forward. Millennial’s and GenZ adults are desperately seeking to discover more than the “moment” can offer them, “They long for meaning, for anchors to secure themselves and their lives to, something timeless and eternal”. (*Fr. Dan Scott Ph.D.)
This (current) aging generation of faithful Christians have carried their values and beliefs with them, and the treasure of those carefully preserved traditions and beliefs are not “outdated” or erroneous, they are in fact as valid as ever. The structure that has provided safe haven for those beliefs and values is the Church itself, just as Paul said it would be.
In the church we see our orthodox beliefs secured inside the traditions, liturgy, and common prayers of our historical creeds. These have been passed down reverently from one generation to the next for hundreds and thousands of years irregardless of the rise and fall of society and culture.
When we celebrate and remember the perfect work of Christ on Calvary each week, we are carrying those truths and traditions forward. The essentials of our faith are wrapped up in those familiar phrases, prayers, and declarations, and are carefully positioned in the history of our church liturgies to preserve and protect them from the whims of popular opinion and personal interpretation.
The vitality of the worship we share with each other during each Sunday is more than for our own personal edification, those moments serve our children and grandchildren as protectors and incubators of faith, safekeeping and extending the influence of the gospel with continuity from one generation to the next.
I believe the churches finest hour is yet to come, as the hour approaches so will the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit to His people.
Raised in the evangelical world of Christianity, my background provided me with a firm set of what church should be like and more than a few dogmatic beliefs.
Worship was a time to exuberantly worship and praise the Lord, thus each Sunday I was treated to a live worship band with hi-tech imaging, super amped energy, and a series of increasingly intense worship songs.
I loved it until I didn’t. For many years this weekly injection of faith, excitement, and spiritual energy were an essential part of my spiritual life and perspective as a parent and a Christian.
There came a time when I was disillusioned with it.
Don’t get me wrong, nothing was out of place. The pastor was still dynamic, his sermons full of the latest social media and cultural references and as relevant as possible. The worship band was still top notch, full of precision players and nearly perfect vocals, like an awesome concert, it’s energy still revved me up. But it wasn’t penetrating very far and faded fast…
Communion was overlooked most weeks, it seemed to be an afterthought. We celebrated the sacrament with a few moments of brief explanation, maybe once every four to six weeks with a mass passing of the plastic thimble cups and a wafer. The focus and attention for the Eucharist was far below that of the intense live worship, hip pastor, and dramatic presentations of the church to engage and entertain me.
I transitioned from the evangelical world to the Anglican in 2009. Not as a disgruntled and unhappy evangelical, but as a believer in search of something more than another awesome set of intense ‘goosebumps’.
I was struggling to find meaning in the emotional explosion of positive faith and ‘victorious’ living that my evangelical church had pushed so regularly. My life wasn’t growing in depth, I found myself stretched too thin, I felt ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. Superficial in my overall understanding of who God really was, and why things were so difficult in my life.
I found my spiritual health tied to my emotional status.
If I was ‘up’ and full of joy and hope… so was my perspective of God. If my world was stark and dark, so was my perspective on God’s will and character. I couldn’t engage the ‘joy-rah-rah’ of the hyperactive faith folks at church when my world was shattering. I found myself disturbed that it seemed no-one else was struggling with their faith, I felt alone and isolated in my doubts and discouragement.
The transition from an ‘evangelical’ church experience to a liturgical one was difficult. The Anglican way was slow, way less impressive on the surface and full of methodical readings, prayers that were scripted, and a weekly solemn celebration of the Eucharist. Very little excitement here, less spontaneity and personality showing in this service, but there was something deeper here. I could sense it.
The emphasis seemed to have shifted from the external to the internal, this was a more intimate act of worship. I wasn’t captivated by the amazing performances of the pastor and worship team, but I became more sensitive and aware of the words and meanings of the prayers, focused on the liturgical readings, and I was in awe of the reverence shown to the scripture.
I found myself longing to linger in this presence of Christ that I felt in the celebration of the Eucharist, a mystical and mysterious moment I hadn’t felt in my evangelical upbringing.
Next week.. we’ll discuss some of the reasons why many evangelicals are looking for a more liturgical experience in their church life.
Peace out, Pastor Brad.
PS – Disclaimer: This is “NOT” meant to demean evangelicals at all! I admire and appreciate my evangelical brothers and sisters, and I don’t believe any one denomination is superior to another, we are unique and different but not ‘better’. This post is meant to be a honest description of my own faith journey from the evangelical to liturgical, and how it has changed me forever.