I eat oatmeal for breakfast every day.
If I’m being honest, I really don’t like the taste of oatmeal. I mean, I put some local honey in it, somewhat to sweeten it and somewhat for allergy purposes. By the way, local honey is a good way to combat allergies if you didn’t know.
I eat oatmeal every day not because it’s tasty or sexy. I eat oatmeal every day because it is a good way to get needed carbohydrates without bread or pastries or junk. And doctors say it’s good for your heart and cholesterol.
I don’t know if that’s true or not but it seems to have worked for a long time for a lot of people. But it ain’t sexy or new. I’m not really into new things so much. Don’t get me wrong; having a new car is nice (which I don’t have). Every now and again, I buy something new but I don’t get too carried away with it.
New isn’t always better.
I’m sure you’ve all heard this before but we live in a culture that is obsessed with the new and the “relevant.” It’s all over advertising, the news (think “this is breaking news,” in other words new) etc. My kids have been infected with this disease. If it’s new, they want it. It’s not their fault. It is what the culture is right now.
But it’s not like it hasn’t always been this way. We have always been a race (the human race) who feels like we need to constantly re-vamp everything; update. Heck, our phones automatically do this: “An update is available.”
We have done this in the Church also. We’ve gotten sucked into the cultural idea that new is better. We are, especially in the Protestant world, obsessed with this stuff. Even my “Reformed” brethren are worried about being “relevant” and new. We’re in a time where even church planters are worried about “branding.” When I was a Protestant church planter, I can’t tell you how many times someone told me I needed to be concerned with “branding” and how we were going to advertise.
Side note: This is not a post on bashing Protestants.
A few years ago (about 4 now), I began a journey. I began a journey into the historic Church. I was reading the Scriptures and wondering what some passages meant. So I decided to do something that has brought some “trouble” for me. I decided to see what the early Christians thought about Jesus. I wanted to know how they lived out their faith in the Christ. I wanted to know how they interpreted Holy Scripture.
I have found something surprising and wonderful. I have found and stepped into a very deep well of Christian experience unlike anything I had experienced as a Protestant. Now, just to be clear, the early Church wasn’t perfect; they had their problems as well. My point is not to proclaim that we need to “go back” to the way it was. I mean, I’m cool with wearing robes and such…
My point is this. Christians have been living out their faith in certain ways, worshipping in certain ways for a very long time. It ain’t sexy or new or culturally cool. It’s kinda like oatmeal in that way. Seems bland on the surface and we’re tempted to add sugar or milk or something to make it taste better. But the benefits of eating oatmeal are not found in the moment. Rather, the benefits are realized over time.
I feel like walking the ancient road of Christianity is like that also. Some of the benefits are found in the moment. But, over time, what we come to realize is that we are walking together in that great communion of the saints, day by day, Sunday by Sunday, Eucharist by Eucharist.
Our souls will thank us in the long run.
Over the last several months there have been some constants in my life. Amidst all the upheaval and emotional turmoil and uncertainty, there have been three things that have been always there. Those things are depression, discouragement and the love of God.
Now I know that sounds strange. It’s a little weird at first glance that I would put those three things together in the same sentence, in the same breath. So let me explain a little if I can. Almost every day for the last 8 or so months, I have fought depression and discouragement. Most days I don’t even want to get out of bed because I dread another day of this battle.
Even guys like me get tired of the battle.
I don’t say that to sound like I’m cool or some kind of badass or something. I say that simply because I am not a quitter. I hate quitters. I would rather die than quit. But there have been many days recently, for the first time in my life, that I have said out loud to God, “I give up.”
I never thought I’d see the day when I cried ‘uncle.’
Every day the battle with depression and discouragement rages in my heart and mind. Every hour of every day it is a reality that I cannot ignore and I know my family sees. And I refuse to hide the pain from my wife and children. I mean, sometimes I try to act like a tough guy but my wife sees right through that. But she’s also super gracious and so kind and lets me go when I say that nothing is wrong. She knows that’s not true but she’s gentle in her pushback, and that’s a good thing. See, I don’t think I could handle too much “tough love” right now. I don’t think telling me to suck it up is going to do any good. I know this cause I keep saying it to myself and it’s not really helping much.
And then I take up the Bible and read. Here I find some comfort.
Here’s what I mean. Almost every single person that followed God, according to the Bible, had seasons of depression, discouragement, despair and pain. In fact, the constant witness of the Bible is that, if you are sold out to God, you are going to have problems in this life. The great prophets of the Old Testament cried out to God in their discouragement and pain. Elijah even went so far as to long for his own death. Job sat in the ashes of his life and wept, seeking answers. David cried out to God over and over again in the Psalms. Moses asked God to take the burden of leadership from him. And the list goes on….
And this brings me comfort. I am warmed by the fire of the testimony of the cries of those who followed God faithfully and paid the price for their passion. And with all their cries and tears, with all my cries and tears and despair and depression and discouragement, there has been another constant.
Jesus, the lover of my soul, my elder brother, my Lord and Saviour has been with me at all times. It hasn’t always felt that way. I’ve cried out to Him and still do every day to take this from me. But He hasn’t. Maybe He will and maybe He won’t. The Apostle Paul cried out to God that He would take from him a “thorn in the flesh.” But God’s response was not to take it away and give Paul a life of ease. No, He said what Paul probably didn’t want to hear and what I certainly don’t want to hear.
“My grace is sufficient.”
“I am enough.”
This is the constant testimony of those who cried out to God in Scripture. He showed them who He was. I find it compelling and instructive that God almost never answered any of the ‘whys’ of His servants. Rather than give them a reason, He simply showed them who He was. Jesus did the same thing when John the Baptist questioned. John sent his disciples to ask “Are you the One?” Jesus could have just said yes. But He didn’t. He said, “Go back and tell John what you have seen.” Go back, Jesus said, and tell John who I am.
Maybe you’re like me right now. Maybe you’re going through something that has you anxious or depressed or discouraged or whatever. May I offer three things that have helped me?
There have been so many days, moments when I haven’t known what to say to God and frankly haven’t even wanted to talk to Him. What has helped me has been the Book of Common Prayer. Every day, I pray the Daily Office. What I have found in this is that my prayer time has become more focused on who God is and less focused on what I want.
And that is a very good thing.
2. Bible reading
Most days I don’t feel like reading the Bible. I force myself to do it most times. Again, the Daily Office has been helpful for me here. I don’t have to wonder what I’m going to read or pick what I want to read, I simply follow the lectionary readings. I have been often amazed at how precisely appropriate the text was for me that very day.
Even when we don’t want to hear from God, we need to. In fact, I might even say that is the time you need to hear from Him most: when you don’t want to. Read His Word. Let Him speak to you in His Word. It will form you and mold and shape your heart over time and you may not even realize it.
That is also a very good thing.
3. Corporate worship
This may sound odd to you but I cannot overemphasize the importance of the corporate worship gathering of God’s people for you during a time of hardship. For me, the constant proclamation of God’s Word, praying together, singing together, kneeling and rising and affirming our faith in the Creeds of the Church have been weekly balm for an aching heart. But the thing about gathering with the Church that has been the most profound for me has been the Eucharist. The real presence of Jesus at the Table with His people has been of unspeakable comfort to me. Knowing the He is with us, with me when I come to His Table has been profoundly shaping and moving for me.
The gift of Jesus’ presence at the Eucharistic Table is a very very good thing.
I know this has been long so I’ll wrap it up. I want you to know if you’re going through a hard time that you are not alone. Jesus is with you. His Church is with you. Cry out to Him in prayer, seek Him in His Word and come humbly to His Table and you will find rest for your soul!
Soli Deo Gloria!