Understanding Your Needs

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This morning, when I read Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble,” I understood it in a whole new light.

Whiplash

Starting in verse 25, Jesus tells us reasons to not be anxious about our lives, what we’ll eat, drink, wear, etc., and points to the birds and flowers and how God feeds and clothes them (and are we not more valuable than them). I’ve always understood those verses to mean God is faithful and will provide everything we need. So you’d think that would mean we’d always be comfortable and safe from harm or pain. But this is not so, because I then think of Christians persecuted, raped, beaten, tortured, starving, and dying around the world. Also, for those of us who are sick, who’ve experienced loss, who are striving for something and can’t seem to get anywhere, who can’t seem to “catch a break,” who can’t afford to meet rent or buy groceries, etc. What about us/them? Is this an empty promise? Is He a cruel, unfeeling, unfair and unjust God? No. God never contradicts Himself. Indeed, He promised us that if they killed him they would kill us, too (Matt. 24:9). And Paul says (paraphrased) who can separate us from the love of God? Death, famine, plague, etc.? (Romans 8:35-39)

Quick detour. Think of it this way (I don’t claim originality with this analogy; I reference Matt Chandler, lead paster at The Village Church). Imagine you’re a parent (maybe you are), and your two-year-old wants a whole can of Coca-Cola (or your dog wants your slice of chocolate cake). Would you give it to them? No. Why not? Well, you don’t want them to get sick. Do they see it that way? Of course not. You’re the mean, bad person. We all know how this goes down. The pouty lip, whiny begging and then wailing as if you’d committed the worse crime to them. They see the treat as the best thing in the world for/to them. Are you being unfair and cruel or loving and merciful? You’re giving your child (or pet) what they need.

The revelation

Back to the passage. Here’s the beautiful part. If you look back to the beginning of verse 33, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” there’s where the answer is! God promises to gives us everything we need in order to serve and glorify Him…to further His kingdom. “…and all these things will be added to you.” So, whatever it takes, He will make sure you have it. What a glorious hope and assurance.

Isn’t that just AWESOME?!

The part of this that makes me quake is that it’s so easy to proclaim it and let type up these truths, and much harder to believe when the tribulation comes. I know how cowardly and pathetic my own heart is and how often I fail at the little tests.

Will we be able to say in those shaky, scary times, “It is well with my soul”?

Humility = Heroism

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Humility is often viewed as negative or weak in our society. It’s all about the big “You” – standing up for yourself, using people to get to the next rung in your path to power and success, exploiting others’ weaknesses to reach your goals, doing things when they only promote your good, and even only going out of your way to help someone when it’s convenient for you.

Do you really think people in positions of great power are the happiest and most secure? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying people who are in positions of authority or power aren’t humble. There are some great leaders.

As Ken Blanchard says:

Humility doesn’t mean you think less of yourself. It means you think of yourself less.

Have you ever stopped to think about how humble of some of your favorite heroes/heroines in history – even comic book heroes? They laid down their lives for others and put their needs ahead of their own personal gain. Yet, there was a joy there. You admire them, even seek to be like them.

Humility is beautiful. It calls us to heroism. Not a heroism that puffs up or purposely calls attention to itself. It’s full of grace and thanksgiving. For Christians, it’s a recognition of what God in Christ has done for us “while we were yet sinners.” From that realization, it’s a heart full of love and obedience in living out what we’ve been called to do – to love God and love others (1 John 4:21, Mark 12:30-31). *As my friend, Billy, pointed out and summed up what I was getting at:

All heroes are a shadow of Christ.

Humility stems from love. And love makes you go out of your way for the other person. It’s grace given to you that leaves you shaking your head in glorious astonishment. I’ve seen it again and again in my own life and relationships, from my boyfriend, family and friends. It never ceases to blow my mind and riddle me with great joy.

This thought, and now post, actually stemmed from the movie “Emma” (from the book written by Jane Austen), when Mr. Knightly is proposing to Emma. They’ve been best friends for years, but a set of circumstances drives both of them to realize they love each other, but the other doesn’t know how the other feels. But just this scene, and what he did to “win” her, just evoked that strong imagery of how humility is heroic, romantic and beautiful, especially in relationships. It’s the heart and action behind the words that give the words that much more intimacy and power. Such grace.

Emma: But I feel so full of error, so mistaken in my make up to deserve you.

Mr. Knightley: And what of my flaws? I’ve humbled you, and I’ve lectured you, and you have born as no one could have born it. Perhaps it is our imperfections that makes us so perfect for one another.

*Added in later to original post.

The Man Behind the Curtain

Those of us who claim Christ would automatically agree that lust is an evil thing. We also might be quick to say that we don’t struggle with lust. This is because we often put lust in one or two big categories like pornography or sex or power (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life). I’d encourage you to pray the Lord will reveal to you the secret sins and sinful desires of your heart, so that you can allow him to kill those lusts. Lusts are idols – anything we don’t think we can let go of – things we feel enslaved to; some of us realize it and some of us are under the illusion that we’re perfectly free.

Lust can be disguised as something magical, beautiful and powerful. Think of the Wizard of Oz. He seemed all-powerful and how otherworldly powers to offer, when in fact he was just a mere man working tricks behind a curtain.

I love literature and classics, and C.S. Lewis happens to be one of my favorite writers. Love his style and verve. Here’s an excerpt from one of his books that powerfully nails the issue of lust in just a poetically moving way.

“Off so soon?” said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard on his shoulder), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating…

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

“May I kill it?”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it?”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“…If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me—before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying…

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.

“I know it will kill me.”

“It won’t. But supposing it did?”

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

“Then I may?”

“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialized while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man—an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinnying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning…

“Do ye understand all this, my Son?” said my Teacher.

“I don’t know about all, Sir,” said I. “Am I right in thinking that the lizard really did turn into a Horse?”

“Aye. But it was killed first. Ye’ll not forget that part of the story?”

“I’ll try not to, Sir. But does it mean that everything—everything—that is in us can go to the Mountains?”

“Nothing, even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. Flesh and blood cannot come to the Mountains. Not because they are too rank, but because they are too weak. What is a Lizard compared to a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering, whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.”

Excerpted from The Great Divorce (1946), New York: The Macmillan Company, pp. 98-106.

Storming the Castle

“This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” – 2 Timothy 2:11-18

With blogs, websites and social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) so prevalent, one can easily get engulfed in meaningless conversation or even what appears to be “critical thinking” and  worthwhile “ponderings,” especially when it comes to so-called Christian examinations of life’s happenings/dilemmas/etc. There’s begun to be this seemingly prevalent theme of “relationships,” singleness vs. marriage, men vs. women, and who can outshine and “one-up” each other when it comes to our knowledge of Scripture. We talk, and talk, and talk some more. I do want to point out, and don’t miss this, that building each other up with our words filtered through His words and through the lens of Scripture is a godly thing. But like everything beautiful in this fallen world, there’s a dark, dangerous side to it. We’re in danger of becoming all about sounding intellectual and philosophical, building our white castles, and in danger of forgetting the One who gave us that intellect, who has enlightened our eyes to His truths. We can forget He is the main point and not our own image and intellect.

This all reminds me of a passage from John Bunyan‘s, The Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian enters the house of Interpreter and is shown analogies of a pilgrim’s life as a way of warning and edification:

Then the Interpreter took him, and led him up towards the door of the palace; and behold, at the door stood a great company of men, as desirous to go in, but durst not. There also sat a man at a little distance from the door, at a table-side, with a book and his inkhorn before him, to take the names of them that should enter therein; he saw also that in the doorway stood many men in armor to keep it, being resolved to do to the men that would enter, what hurt and mischief they could. Christian observed two men jousting, practicing to storm through the armed men. One spoke to the other, “Age before beauty you know.” To which the other replied, “On the contrary, tis fools rush in!” Now was Christian somewhat in amaze and despaired that none would go in. At last, when every man started back for fear of the armed men, Christian saw a man of a very stout countenance come up to the man that sat there to write, saying, “Set down my name, sir;” the which when he had done, he saw the man draw his sword, and put a helmet on his head, and rush towards the door upon the armed men, who laid upon him with deadly force; but the man, not at all discouraged, fell to cutting and hacking most fiercely. So after he had received and given many wounds to those that attempted to keep him out, Matt. 11:12; Acts 14:22; he cut his way through them all, and pressed forward into the palace; at which there was a pleasant voice heard from those that were within, even of those that walked upon the top of the palace, saying,

“Come in, come in, Eternal glory thou shalt win.”

I fear much of the church is in grave danger of becoming like the two pilgrims debating and talking about “high-minded” spiritual things while jousting with each other, but never taking the castle by force. Those two pilgrims “appear” to be serious about entering into glory, but they’re hiding behind their pride, fears, and intellect.

In the passage from 2 Timothy I posted at the top of this post, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy in verse 14 to remind his people of the message of verses 11 – 13 AND to charge them not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearer. Then, he says that Timothy should be diligent about rightly dividing the word of God, etc. Notice the connection – sandwiched in between his instructions concerning the correct handling of the word of God is a warning that both Timothy and his hearers should avoid useless arguments about words or phrases, which Paul says are not profitable and are ruinous to those listening in on such useless wranglings. The main point in the warning seems to be that there is a way of hearing and handling the word of God that misses the central message of the glory of God in the gospel and leads people into irrelevancies, endless disputings and ultimately ruinous beliefs and practices.

Some people seem to endlessly debate for no real purpose, making judgement calls, asking certain questions in such a way that “stirs the pot.” Sometimes they use all this “chatter” as a way of holding onto doubts, unbelief, or to make themselves feel secure in their own knowledge. At times it is a form of gossip, to “stir up the pot”, I suppose, since they have no direct responsibility or impact in this area. Oftentimes it fits in the category of useless wrangling over words. I would caution you and myself to avoid these discussions with these sorts of people, as it presents a risk to you in accordance with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Engage in edifying, purposeful, biblical discussions whose end is to bring glory to God in the gospel. Like I said it’s a fine line, which I’ve seen being crossed more and more. A cynical person will never stop arguing and will never seem able to come to the knowledge of the truth. These speculative debates are no more than an opportunity to display one’s intellectual pride or arrogance. Plus, such arguments embroil a person in controversy and stir up passions unnecessarily. Life is hard enough without making it more so.

Concerning “handling” of God’s word. Again, Paul is writing to Timothy to instruct him how to deal with with men who are teaching “strange doctrines.” Paul then tells Timothy what the purpose and goal of his own teaching/preaching ministry is: “…the goal of our [the apostles’] instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” This is what Paul aimed at in the lives of people when he taught them. This is what he aimed at in his own study of God’s word. This is what we should aim at in our own study of God’s word. And, when we venture to teach another, formally or informally, this should be our goal: to promote in them through God’s word “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” The goal of teaching, preaching, study, is love. Divine love flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. There is then a practical emphasis on godliness, not a speculative, intellectual emphasis in our handling of God’s word. You see how mere intellectual debate that is a forum for doubt or cynicism or pride is antithetical to the purpose and goal of biblical instruction. The goal is transformation and conformity to the image of Christ, not cleverness, word-craft or erudition.

There is so much more to say. But this is long enough. Strive to live a quiet and peaceable life in Christ. There is much joy in it.

(Note: A special dedication and thanks to a wise, godly man in my life who is both my counselor and father, for his contributions/insights for this post. I love you, Daddy.)

Shalom,

Rachel B. Duke

Whose Mark are You Leaving?

I’m sure many of you have heard the expression in Christian circles, “Be in the world, but not of the world.” It’s another one of those bottom-line, semi-vague sayings that has a lot of meaning packed into one short statement; C.S. Lewis-style you could say.

“Yeah, yeah Rachel, I get it, understand it and heard it a million times before,” you might be thinking to yourself. In talking with others I find that many (myself included) often struggle with this “disconnect” between having the head knowledge versus it penetrating our hearts and what it looks like to live out that knowledge in our day to day lives. Putting “actions” (by the grace of the Holy Spirit) to our “words” (knowledge). We all like people who live intentionally, with integrity, who have “meat” to their words.

I’m sure many of you are thinking of Facebook in particular: friends who blow you away with their seeming zeal in quoting theologians and Scripture and yet you see no application in how they live during the week. I’m not implying what they’re saying is futile. The words are still just as true and can still be used to convict and edify others. We also have to guard our hearts in not doing the same thing because we too fail; it’s all too easy to despise. Instead we should love, have compassion for, and pray for them being humbled by the own condition of our hearts.

All this being said, I’ve noticed in my own experience that themes, trends, and philosophies in this culture can so easily take over the way we think and the things we pursue.  I would like to point out two things: 1) these “things/values” might indeed be morally upright and sound appealing to our “appetites” 2) it’s subtle in taking a hold of your heart.

For instance, I’ll point out one of my own struggles as a young person in their 20’s (although I don’t think what I have to say next is limited to a certain age group), is that “I want to change the world”, “leave MY mark”, and maybe even be semi-famous. At times it causes me to build up this discontentment because my life doesn’t look like the vision I have for how my life should be right now. A lot of these ideas of “love” and “greatness for the good of others” come from popular songs, books and movies. Let me again point out that these aren’t necessarily “bad” things.

Right now, this is one of my favorite “feel good” songs. “I Was Here” by Lady Antebellum:

“I wanna do something that matters, say something different
Something that sets the whole world on its ear
I wanna do something better with the time I’ve been given
I wanna try to touch a few hearts in this life
And leave nothing less than something that says, ‘I was here'”

….sweetly and compelling Lady Antebellum crones. I found myself thinking on the way to work this morning, “Yeah I want to do more than ‘just pass through this life’ and want to leave my mark.” I mean, come on, everyone gets pumped up about those “from rags to riches” stories; people of extraordinary valor, talent and heroism.

As that desire sunk itself into my heart and mind, the Holy Spirit gently chided me. I realized my desires, though right, were focused on the wrong person. I was thinking all about MY glory the impact I could leave; selfishness, forgetting in my moment of pride that I can do nothing apart from Him. I was reminded of Matthew 6:24, “No on can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” My desire instead should be to make an impact of Him, a desire to be like Christ, to live for His glory, and to leave His mark.

It’s hard in this culture with it’s emphasis for instant gratification and comfort to view everything through the lens of eternity. Which will you choose? To leave perhaps a temporary great name for yourself or to make great His everlasting name? To leave YOUR mark or to leave HIS?

Shalom (meaning the presence of joy and how things ought to be),

Rachel B. Duke

Remember and Rejoice: The Gospel Rhythm of Habakkuk

You know those moments you look back on part(s) of your life, whether it be a few years or a few months ago, where you both grimace in remembering the pain and guilt but where you see the beautiful, awesome, faithfulness and grace of the Spirit working in you and through that time?

I don’t know about you, but those are the moments that both humble me (because I see the Trinity at its strongest when I am at my weakest) and cause me to rejoice.

Reminds me of when God gives Paul a “thorn in the flesh.” After begging the Lord three times to remove it, He gently tells Paul that He is disciplining him and inflicting this pain on him because He loves him THAT much – He is keen to have Paul near to him. We lean most heavily on Christ when we realize how weak and inadequate we are in ourselves. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For the sake of Christ then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

WOW! Ok, how many of us can honestly say we’ve got that mindset perfected? Yeah, thought so. Our hardships are microscopic compared to his. We live in America, people. We’re not even persecuted. I feel more than a little pathetic right now.

The Apostle Paul blows my mind all the time. He is this incredible, Spirit-filled, untouchable man. No matter what came at him, he never wavered. Think about it. He was thrown in jail and he just sang praises to God loudly and converted the whole place. Paul was shipwrecked and after surviving the shipwreck was bitten by a snake while preaching to a crowd of people. He had to be like, “COME ON! Seriously, God?!”

But don’t you see how Christ is made much of and glorified as He is shaping us by our pain and hurt for our eternal good?! How great is His love towards undeserving wretches like you and me.

Yet I marvel and am repulsed at my own heart when in the midst of a dark time of hurt when all shreds of hope seem bleak that I once again doubt or am tempted to doubt the sovereignty of Christ. Those are the moments where I have to look back and remember and rejoice. He is my Rock and Fortress (Psalm 16 – read it!). His Word (Truth) is my solid foundation and sword. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, not things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

Ok, so that was just me leading up to telling you that all of what I shared above was prompted by Matt Chandler’s message on Habakkuk 3:4-16 this past Saturday night. These are also thoughts that have been rolling about and festering in my mind and heart.

Side note: I would strongly encourage you to listen to his Habakkuk series.

As a writer, you quickly realize writing is not only an art form but that words have rhythm. Sorry, music, you’re not THAT special.

Which is why, when Chandler mentioned how the book of Habakkuk had a gospel rhythm to it, a Shakespearean moment happened where I felt totally attuned and the text was made even richer because this was my lingo. I gained a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for the text. I got giddy as I praised God for revealing this to my heart.

Yes, ok, I know you’re not truly following me because you have no idea where I’m going with this – ok – bringing it home here – random Rachel moment. Bear with me.

The gospel rhythm of Habakkuk is REMEMBER and REJOICE in all circumstances. Three components of that are remember and rejoice that:

1)   God saved you. (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 2:4-9)

2)   God is sovereign over all things.

3)   God started this and He will most definitely finish it. (Phil. 1:6)

You really have to read all of Habakkuk to truly appreciate the message and to get the proper context. Earlier in Habakkuk, God told him that He was going to discipline the Israelites but pour out His wrath on the Chaldeans; two different things entirely. Habakkuk was singing and rejoicing and remembering God’s faithfulness to His people from Moses to Joshua to Gideon to David. How God was made much of and His glory made manifest.

I want to close merely by saying that I pray that you and I will remember and rejoice even when it appears all hope is lost or we don’t understand why God allows certain things to happen in our lives. Remember that being a Christian doesn’t mean you’re free from tribulations, storms or pain. No, instead you should rejoice and find hope in that because it means the Holy Spirit is at work in you and that He loves you. What parent who loves their child doesn’t disciplines them? As Matt Chandler is fond of saying: “Discipline is a vision for the future that enacts things today.”

This all ties into my blog on Time: So That Everything Doesn’t Happen at Once.

Love you all!

Peace out,

Rachel B. Duke

Doubting Castle and Giant Despair

In the past several weeks leading up to my graduation ceremony, I have often been tempted to despair, to doubt about what the Lord is doing in my life now, and what lies ahead as far as staying in Dallas and job possibilities. I have seen and have had many friends come to me in despair with this sort of “wailing and knashing of teeth” as if their world was falling apart. Questions have been thrust at me like angry fists: “Rachel, what is God doing with my life?!” or “Nobody would want me” or “I would screw up in this relationship anyway” or “I’ll just be alone and jobless for the rest of my life.”

Now some of those questions are asked in the emotion of the moment and are simply “words for the wind” as Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes. But there is often a deep-rooted heart issue. What happens when those words turn into a mindset and choke out any ounce of joy, causing us to harden our hearts towards God? The author of Hebrews tells us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”

Some of you might be thinking at this point, “What?! No way, Rachel! I believe in God. How dare you even think that a possibility in my life?!”

Well, the writer of Hebrews certainly saw this as a danger. Certainly the Holy Spirit thought it important enough to be put in His Word. I know it’s a danger in my life. It’s so easy to be caught up in the desires of this culture and define our life choices by it instead of our calling in Christ Jesus.

The trap of Despair

All the events happening in my life and in others around me have made me think of Giant Despair and Doubting Castle.

What the heck? Who and what?!

Come on. You have to know this. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress? If you’ve never read it, read it! It is considered the best book after the Bible. Anyway, Giant Despair and Doubting Castle are a part of the story where Christian and Hopeful want to rest their feet from the stony, dusty, hard, straight and narrow road (an analogy of the straight and narrow path of the Christian walk towards heaven). They hop over the fence next to the road to walk on the soft, luscious, green grass because Christian convinces Hopeful that it will be fine because it follows right alongside the narrow path. Well soon enough and oh so subtly (key word) it takes them away from the narrow path. They then get caught by Giant Despair and thrown into Doubting Castle.

After Giant Despair beat Christian and Hopeful to within an inch of their life, “he withdrew and left them, there to condole their misery, and to mourn under their distress…when morning was come, he goes to them in a surly manner…perceiving them to be very sore with the stripes that he had given them the day before, he told them, that since they were never like to come out of that place, their only way would be, forthwith to make an end to themselves, either with knife, halter, or poison.”

Christian: Brother, what shall we do? The life that we now live is miserable: for my part I know not whether is best, to live thus, or to die out of hand. ‘My soul chooseth strangling rather than life,’ and the grave is more easy for me than this dungeon: Shall we be ruled by the Giant?

Hopeful: …I was a fool that I did not try before; but however, my brother, let’s be patient, and endure a while…but let us not be our own murderers.

Power of Prayer

“Well, on Saturday about midnight they began to pray, and continued in prayer till almost break of day. Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out in this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”

Well good for them, Rachel. So happy they got out; I can now sleep peacefully at night. My situation is a lot different since I can’t physically see a way out.* How do I escape?

They began to pray. Wow. How often do we rely on ourselves to fix a bad situation? Or, if we do go to God, we pray selfishly for what WE want Him to do in OUR lives? What we should be praying for is for Him to do His will in our lives so that we might grow in our faith to become more like Christ. God is not the happiness guru. Everything He does and that we should do is for His glory alone. Only then can we experience true joy and freedom. As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thanksgiving helps you see the key of Promise

I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU – when you’re experiencing the shackles and darkness of Giant Despair’s Doubting Castle, to start reflecting on the PROMISES God has undeservingly blessed us with through His Son Jesus Christ and has revealed to us in Scripture. Think about what you have been given. Start giving thanks and marveling at it and I promise you with that mindset and heart change you will escape from all the locks in the dungeon of Doubting Castle.

Peace out,

Rachel B. Duke

*Note: Bunyan meant everything to be a spiritual analogy to the trials and warfare that a Christian experiences in their walk towards heaven.