At fifty I have to admit that I’m well into my mid-life crisis. Three kids, all grown, two beautiful grandchildren, one wife. All in all it’s been quite the mid-century moment to pause and reflect on. I’ve been blessed beyond measure and I’ve suffered along the way, just like you.
Life is sometimes spectacularly good and sometimes it is spectacularly hard. Both our gains and losses add up, they point us to something in-between satisfaction and shame. Family, career, and friends, all enter the equation and for most of us, things haven’t turned out quite the way we thought.
I bet you have a similar story. Different name, place, and circumstances, but a familiar pattern of highs and lows. It’s the great tapestry of our choices, the sum of our moments captured for our faulty memories to retain.
Why does it so often feel like ‘failure’? Why do we add it all up and find ourselves wondering what happened? What about our hopes and dreams? Where did the future go and how did we get so far from our objectives? Life isn’t turning out the way I thought.
For the Christian, it’s a struggle to resist the defeated sense of being ‘less than’ we should be. For the unbeliever it’s someone else’s fault, ever the victim of the ‘other’ person, thing, or group pitted against us.
Both feelings I believe to be correct. We are less than we should be and there is a strategic foe plotting our demise.
Where does our faith enter this equation? Are we just flawed in our understanding of it all? Are we missing the big picture of God’s providential plan… or is there just no plan for us?
Lots of hard questions that need answers. I’ve had a year to reflect on some of this stuff, twelve months to slow my mind and rest my heart. I can’t explain all I feel but here’s a start.
These nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the past twelve months in the great Northwoods of Maine. There are more details than I can share here, but these three reveal much about my journey, my process.
What about you? Have you allowed yourself to reflect and consider where you’ve been, where you’re at… where you’re headed? It takes courage and humility to face your own life.
Life can begin to feel pretty depressing if you lose you’re way. Life can feel more and more like failure if you forget where you’re going. If you forget that you don’t really belong here, its not our final destination. It’s essential for us to regain and retain our spiritual compass as we journey on, if we don’t, we’ll start to go in circles, lost, frustrated, angry, and ashamed.
God in His mercy provides the moments we need to recapture our first love. He knows what we need to recover our spiritual breath (ruach). He knows the air gets thinner the higher we go and He knows we need to remember the goal. We’re not meant to stay here, we’re not meant to make sense of the senseless things in life, He knows we were meant for more.
Dear Christian, don’t you dare stop climbing now. I’ve heard the view ahead is simply too spectacular to miss.
Learning to reject our ‘old’ identity and habits for our ‘new’ identity in Christ is an ongoing struggle for dominance in our Christian psyche.
Each heart that confesses the name of Christ and invites & submits to His presence as ‘Lord” and savior in our heart, has activated a soul transforming process catalyzed by the Holy Spirit.
No one can experience the presence of Christ within one’s heart and mind without being affected. It reorients and rearranges our spiritual DNA into something ‘new’ and ‘different’ than what was ‘us’ … before.
Speaking only for myself, and quoting directly from my own personal journal entry, the process looks and feels like this;
I can sense the old patterns of thought, behavior, self-condemnation, guilt, and shame are being slowly replaced with a new confidence in the power and presence of Christ within me. The ‘old’ brad is almost gone, the new ‘brad’ is slowly emerging from the shadows of my past life. The habits, tendencies, and temptations of two decades ago are no longer a constant, living, memory, within my heart and mind. New habits and affections have replaced the old. My soul, heart, and mind are coming into alignment and my sense of becoming ‘whole’ is growing inside of me. The more ‘wholeness’ I sense, the less restlessness remains. The transformation of my identity from old to new is reducing my wandering heart and diminishing my anxieties and fears.
The alignment of who I am in Christ with how I see myself, this is the new-growth of my current identity. I’m moving away from the ‘old’ man and actively leaning into the ‘new’ creation I was promised in scripture. This convergence of the internal and external man is what I mean by ‘wholeness’.
For me (and I believe for you too), the convergence of the promised and the present within, this is the hidden work of God’s Holy Spirit. He’s gently remaking me (us). We are works in progress, transitioning from being motivated by a restless and uncertain heart to a more grounded and comfortable one. A hidden transformation expanding from within. This growing sense of inner peace and contentment is firmly connected to my (our) growing understanding of who and whose I am.
The Christian life is more than a static existence, more than a series of devotions and disciplines, it is a transformational journey. A hidden supernatural work within that recreates our very identities and deepest passions.
God is re-writing His laws upon our hearts, as he repeatedly promised and prophesied. The presence of Christ within changes everything, and that my fellow believer, is the eternal power of the Gospel.
May the peace of Christ guard you’re ‘heart’ and mind.
Father Brad Mathias
Elijah was a rock-star in the Old Testament. He was a prophet’s – prophet. No other prophetic life in the scriptures can compare to the astonishing events surrounding this man of deep faith. (see his story for yourself in 1 Kings 17 – 19 and 2 Kings 1-2)
He literally caused a three year drought, called fire from heaven, and never actually died on earth as he was taken up in a fiery chariot. This was a man of courage. Elijah, at the risk of his own life, called out a corrupted government and the sin of embracing openly pagan worship in defiance to God’s will and ways. (not too unlike the world we live in today)
Yet we know this astounding man of faith also struggled with despair, depression, and anxiety. He too felt the fatigue of spiritual burnout, he got tired of all the struggles, all of the burdens that came with representing God to a hostile culture. Much of his life he had to live on the run, a wanted man without the comfort and stability of a home or place to call his own. His life was filled with great turmoil and forced isolation.
YET… he needed to learn to hear God’s voice, just as we do.
Elijah is the guy who hid in the wilderness, was fed by ravens, and eventually faced his fate completely alone and seemingly abandoned by God. It was in this place of deep despair that he and God had a remarkable encounter.
“11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1 Kings 19:11-13)
It was in this whisper that God came to Elijah, in the middle of all his stress and anxiety, despair and chaos, God spoke quietly and calmly to Elijah. It wasn’t in the rush and hype of a busy work day or after a stellar worship service at church, it was one to one – alone – on the mountain of God.
If you find yourself like Elijah, overwhelmed, discouraged, and full of despair… it may be time to go to the mountain and get quiet. For some of you reading this, that may mean a literal place you need to go to. A quiet place of reflection and beauty, a place where God has spoken to you before. For others, this is a metaphor of life. It means setting apart some time to be alone in your day or week, to be silent. It will mean turning off the electronics, clearing your calendar and waiting for God to approach.
It seems that in the moments we need Him the most, God comes to us. But only after we quit trying to control the story we live in. It takes a posture of full surrender to be still, to get quiet enough to hear the ‘whisper’ of God.
The Peace of Christ be with you.
(for those of you with young children, this ‘waiting’ and listening is almost impossible in the normal chaos of your day to day. Ask for the Holy Spirit to provide you with opportunity, and then stick with the being ‘silent’ part until you ‘hear’ what God is whispering to you.)
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.
One of the greatest themes of the Old Testament is the ‘Exodus’. The focus on much of the first five books of the bible centers on a ‘transition with provision‘ as the people of God move from one place and season to another. (Egypt to the Promised Land)
The Torah lingers on the details of Israel’s release from the empire of Egypt. Significant details are shared about the journey of God’s chosen people from the land of Egypt across the Red Sea and into the wilderness, specific locations, events, and characters are recorded in intricate detail.
This “exodus’ is a major theme of the early scriptures and gives us a clue as to its importance in the bigger picture of history and the word of God. It tells us we can expect to face similar experiences and circumstance as we make our own personal journey from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’.
In the New Testament scripture we see a parallel journey for each believer as we leave the ‘old man’ behind and put on the ‘new’ man in Christ. The process of transition for each of us is unique, but the principles are the same. God always ‘provides’ for His people as they ‘transition’ from one stage of life to the next. The introduction of divine food (Manna) is realized on the Israelite’s journey through the desert. A remarkable and supernatural provision for their daily needs.
Change is almost always scary. When we leave the familiar behind we are taking a risk. God calls each of us to walk out of our old ways and lean into the new. These changes are transitions and can take many different forms. For some it’s the challenge of a health issue or Cancer diagnosis, for others it’s a lost job and new career path, but for ALL of us it’s a serious shift in our ‘normal’ way of doing and being.
Like the children of Israel, we face many stressful transitions in our life and like the children of Israel we too have a good and capable God who knows our needs and has already arranged for our provision. The scripture reminds us of God’s faithfulness to meet each and every need as we progress from one season to the next.
I love the way speaker and author Stasi Eldredge puts it in her book “Defiant Joy”. “In Christ your life is inextinguishable. Undefeatable. Victorious. Worry, fear, panic, and dread do not get to hold your heart hostage in their vise-like grip. Your heart is safely held in the hands of your faithful God who promises that a life of unending joy is your inheritance. It is coming.Jesus led the way. And though the way often includes disappointment, pain, betrayal, and sorrow, none of them get to have the final say.”
We can live with confidence no matter what we’re walking through or away from. God is going to keep up with you, He won’t leave you behind or let you go. Your safe, secure and intimately cared for, in fact you could not be in better hands.
Peace out, Father Brad.
PS – for a scripture reference to study, check out this passage from the Old Testament.
Exodus 16:14-18 (ESV) – ” 14 And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.15 When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” 17 And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat.”