When the Journey Is Wild

Credit to V-Nom (http://v-nom.deviantart.com/art/Journey-380667105)

Credit to V-Nom

Spring break.

Those two words are so pleasant to the ear of a stressed student.  Those words also mean that this girl finally feels guiltless in sitting down for an hour or two to meditate on Scripture, comprise a few meaningful thoughts, and craft a little message about life, without the urgent call to work through a mountain of homework.

I can safely say that this has been the most stressful semester I’ve yet experienced.  I know it could be much, much wilder, but the busyness has still had some significant effects.

I don’t need to go into every detail, especially because I’m not that busy, but here are a few of the things that have added to the craziness of this semester:

  • Sixteen hours of college courses (six of those for honors students, four for a Spanish course I’ve seriously considered dropping, and the other six for English undergrads);
  • A now year-plus internship for a local Christian student ministry;
  • A twice-daily, thirty-minute commute with a kind, but talkative carpooling mate;
  • The conviction as a believer to spend time with and to disciple younger Christians around me;
  • And the continuation of living at home with a large family, calling for my responsibility to help with chores and to hang out with younger siblings who yearn to do so.

Now, I should add two postscripts for the list above.  One, everything in that list is good.  I love the impact that college has had on me, the growth and knowledge I have gained from my internship, the relational training I have earned from my carpooling experience, the joy I gain from helping younger believers to grow, and the family with whom I am blessed to live.  All of these things together have been used for my good in transforming me into a more zealous woman for the glory of God (Rom. 8:28).

I should also add the fact that this list is nothing compared to that of so many other people in my life.  I’ve never had to pay for housing on my own (besides paying for my portion of the bills, as I do now), nor serve as the primary model in child-rearing and care-taking in a family, nor hold a full-time career; and I can’t imagine the stress of those things and more.  It makes me glad to not have those things on my list—at least, not yet.

Even so, my small list of responsibilities is taking a toll.  But I have no right to complain.  I know what I ought to do to alleviate this stress as I walk on this wild journey of life and academia, internships and human relations.

I need to have daily communion with the Ultimate Guide on this journey.

Credit to Sawuinhaff (http://sawuinhaff.deviantart.com/art/Journey-294938480)

Credit to Sawuinhaff

This communion is precisely what I need, and it is what I have not been doing as often or as intimately as I would like.  It seems that every evening (my preferred time for communion), there is either a paper to write or an assigned text to read, and so I place my time of focused prayer and meditative Scripture-reading on the back-burner.  And the following morning, when I could catch up on communion, I am either so tired that I press the snooze button or so busy that I work on more homework before heading to school.

But most often, I skip this quiet time because I lack the motivation to do so or because I feel guilty for having missed so many days already.  And even on the days when I do have communion with Christ, I am rushed and thinking of other things to do, the meant-to-be sweet and rejuvenating moments of reflection thus tainted by a tangled mind.  When this occurs, I am left feeling more tired and stressed than before, regretful of having attempted at all when my time of meditation was paltry and paper-thin.

This trend of either skipping or rushing through a quiet time with Jesus is an unwise one for me to have implemented.  Rather than moping about it, however, I want to change.  I want to consider how to become more disciplined in this area of my life and, in doing so, to rely on the power of God, rather than my own.

I have to rely on God’s power in this.  If I tried to rely on my own abilities in my drive for sanctification, I would be completely lost and helpless, living as a gasping trout on a bustling sidewalk in the city, a flower wilting on a mussy, wooden table, a dove in the church with two white, broken wings—unable to support others when I myself am unsupported and evaporating under the frailty of my own fruitless human independence.  I cannot walk this journey on my own, and I cannot find the motivation to daily dwell with Christ by my own means, but I can be like a child holding the hand of the guide on the path toward a higher home.

Let’s consider these ideas.  I’d like to reflect on my own experience, but also on the importance of communion with Christ and the journey to sanctification for all believers.  As we consider this, I’d like to back up my thoughts with two references: Psalm 43 and a video game called Journey.

First: this journey is a blessing, not a curse.

Credit to Sawuinhaff (http://sawuinhaff.deviantart.com/art/Journey-294938480)

Credit to Sawuinhaff

Life may feel crazy right now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  In fact, it is often through these crazy and difficult times that God teaches us to rely on Him and to trust Him with our future.  If life always felt smooth and steady and easy to handle, we would never learn to draw our strength and sustenance from the sovereign, immutable God who has everything under control and in place for His glory.  Therefore, it is in these times that we learn to say, “You are God my stronghold” (Ps. 43:2), and to humbly admit that we need a Helper—a Helper who is constantly present, ready, and willing to vindicate and to rescue (Ps. 43:1).

So what do we do from here?  We have established that when life feels crazy, we feel needy, and we must shift our neediness to open dependence on God.  But how does this relate to communion with Christ?  Well, one way to admit our need for and dependence on God is to come to Him and to draw what we need from His Word and from conversation with Him.  It is good for us to have this time at least once a day so that our hearts and minds will be focused on things above (Col. 3:1-2) and so that we can anchor ourselves in truth in preparation for the wild and uncertain hours ahead.  This needs not happen only once in the course of the day’s events, of course, but at least once is good.  I, for one, am able to note a radical difference in my mind, heart, and stress levels when I have focused communion with God, as opposed to the days when I do not.

It should also be noted that while the journey to sanctification is difficult, it is so worthwhile.  To preface the reasons for it being so, I need to explain the source from which the pictures above have been taken: a video game called Journey.

Credit to Spyders (http://spyders.deviantart.com/art/Journey-292263844)

Credit to Spyders

In each of these pictures, you may see one or two red characters with long red scarves who are looking toward a looming mountain, a large distance separating themselves from the geographical feature.  In Journey, this mountain is the characters’ destination.  It is not revealed exactly why they are traveling to this mountain, but from several murals shown along the way, it is made clear that they are the last of their kind to go on this pilgrimage.  They are traveling on the same path as those who came before to reach their final destination—their last and perfect home.

These characters face many obstacles along the way.  Monsters, fierce elements of nature, and physical weariness are just a few, and the game does a stupendous job of making the player feel the strain and exhaustion of this journey.  Yet the game exudes the stunning worth of the journey, as well, depicted through the joy of fellowship between the two red characters and the beauty of the scenery around them.  It is a journey of strife, yes, but it is also a journey of great growth and awe.  It is a multifaceted experience, one which the characters will smile upon when the mountain is beneath their travel-worn and tired feet.

Journey, then, can be taken as an analogy for the slow, arduous, and beautiful trip which you and I are taking toward sanctification today.  And the journey is certainly worth all our effort.

Second: it is necessary to rely on God as we walk this path.

The white-cloaked angelic creature (source: gophoto.us)

Credit to moth-eatn

I have a choice in this.  I could mope about my lack of discipline in communing with Christ.  I could stay in a place of regret and say over and over along with the psalmist, “Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” (Ps. 43:2).  It would be easy for me to stay in this place, and it is where I have dwelt for far too long.

But no more!  No more moping or whining or grief or regret.  It is time for pursuit.  It is time for me to move on and to ask God for His aid—for me to ask Him to grant me motivation and development in time management skills.  So I choose to present my weakness to the Father and to ask in humility, “Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell” (Ps. 43:3).  I choose to admit that I cannot do this on my own.

This is key, I think, for every Christian to come to admit.  If we cannot admit that we desperately need help, we will definitely not experience full and lasting satisfaction.  There is real peace that comes in recognizing one’s incapability and Christ’s complete power, in understanding our utter weakness and His omnipotent strength.  God is our Helper on this journey to the mountain (Psalm 121), and we must come to realize that we cannot reach the mountain by our own means, but by His grace alone.

This element of recognizing our need for help and guidance from God is present in Journey.  For example, in the picture above, it is obvious that the two creatures are different.  One is red, and the other white, and the white creature is taller than the red.  These white, angelic beings appear numerous times to the characters in red, most often when the red creatures reach various temples and sit down before stone altars.  When the red characters sit, the white creatures appear and impart visions, sharing important pieces of the red creatures’ history, explaining what happened to their people and hinting as to why they are now being called to travel to the mountain.  These visions are presented as murals, as seen below:

The act of the creatures’ sitting down at the altar to gain help, advice, and guidance for the journey ahead points to our need as Christians to do the same.  We, too, ought to “go to the altar of God, to God, [our] joy and [our] delight” (Ps. 43:4) if we are to find the strength we need.  Reliance upon our Heavenly Helper is key to moving forward with passion and purpose on this journey.

Third: it is good to form ties with those traveling to the same destination.

Credit to Ailovc (http://ailovc.deviantart.com/art/Journey-340727318)

Credit to Ailovc

Not only do we need to rely on God for sustenance and support, but we should also teach, rely on, and learn from fellow travelers who are likewise walking (or have walked) on the path to the mountain ahead.  Let’s focus on these varying kinds of travelers.

There are those who walk behind.  These are younger believers in the position for you to teach, perhaps being new in faith, lacking in maturity or discipline, or in need of a mentor.  You can build relationships with these Christians in order to help them to grow and to become the strong men and women they need to be.  God employs us as examples and heralds in these relationships, using us to encourage these ripening travelers to keep walking ahead and to show them that the journey is possible and that discipline is good.  You can show the fruit of communion to these walkers, and you can put what you’ve gained from this communion to good use.  You can share what you’ve learned on the portions of road they have yet to travel.

There are those who walk beside.  These are the believers who walk alongside you and can be relied upon, possibly being in similar situations in life, sharing similar levels of maturity, or in need of an accountability partner.  You can form ties with these Christians so as to draw joy and strength from fellowship as you both move forward to greater maturity, bringing each other to more intimate communion with God and walking along together to sanctification.

This is best exemplified in Journey, as the two red characters journey together to the mountain.  As a result of a function of the gameplay, these characters are forced to stick together, and if one falls back, the other must turn around to help.  In addition, one character can “feed” on the energy offered by the other, so as to be able to run and jump more quickly.  And lastly, the characters often communicate with each other through cheery chirps, seeming to encourage each other and to say, “Come on, let’s keep moving.”

Credit to Shattered-Earth

Credit to Shattered-Earth

This ability for the red characters to turn back to help their companion, to offer energizing support, and to encourage through communication is a wonderful model of a functional and God-glorifying relationship between believers.  This kind of mutual believer-to-believer relationship is one that is good for Christians to have with at least one other person in life, helping to ensure that they will have the diligence and zeal to press on for Christ.

And finally, there are those who walk ahead.  These are more mature believers from whom you can learn, who will likely be older, more mature, or maybe even deceased.  These are the people who can teach you helpful lessons from their experience on the road ahead and are those who will serve as mentors for you, teaching through either living conversation or through words shared from the past (via text, song, or other, more contemporary means).  These are the people who will remind you to look to Christ and to rely on Him for your own personal growth.

This is not to say that you cannot learn from those walking behind or alongside you.  However, I think it is crucial to form ties with all three sets of these believers as you travel, as these ties will provide necessary fellowship, accountability, friendship, and support.  These are the ties that will season you into a more capable traveler.

Fourth: communion is primarily a heart matter.

Credit to Shattered-Earth (http://shattered-earth.deviantart.com/art/Journey-347236785)

Credit to Shattered-Earth

This is important to note because it is often forgotten: our communion with Christ is primarily a matter of the heart, not of time or content or comparison to others.  Yes, how long we spend and what we study in the presence of God is important, and we can certainly learn from the habits of others’ communion, but as I’ve touched on above, what truly matters is the nature of our attitude.  We may be studying the most interesting aspects of theology, the most crucial characteristics of God, or the most enlightening parts of Scripture—and we may be doing this for hours at a time every day—but if we are not coming to God in humility, can we really expect to grow?

When you have a quiet time with Jesus, consider your attitude as you enter His presence.  Come to the altar with the intention to beg for His help and to “praise [Him] with the lyre” (Ps. 43:4).  Come to Christ knowing that you are nothing, that He is everything, and that only He can guide you on the journey to sanctification.

Fifth: we can look forward to the destination.

Credit to Oune (http://oune.deviantart.com/art/My-Journey-300958961)

Credit to Oune

I’ve said it before, but this journey is definitely worth it.  It is a trying and difficult experience, and it’s a little hard to me to believe right now that there are good things ahead, what with the craziness of life at this point.  But I can look at Scripture, and I can see that God is good and powerful and willing to help.  I can see that He loves me, a speck of dust, and that He is working for my growth and sanctification, as well as yours.  I can look at history, too, and see that God has supported every one of His chosen travelers—those who have traveled in the past, those who are currently walking, and those who will soon begin their journey to the mountain.

God is our Ultimate Guide, and the destination draws ever nearer.  So, “[w]hy, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 43:5).  Let’s you and I put our hope in Christ and praise Him together as we walk along.

By the way, the red characters made it to the mountain in Journey.  And you know, I think we’re going to make it, too.


P.S.  Want to read more about communing with Christ when life feels crazy?  Check out the article “Communing with Christ on a Crazy Day” from Desiring God, one of my favorite Christ-centric websites.

P.P.S. One more thing about Journey: there is no dialogue in the entirety of this game.  The only words spoken are the lyrics for “I Was Born for This,” a beautifully lulling song played during the end credits.

Credit to Keikilani (http://keikilani.deviantart.com/art/Journey-293660967)

Credit to Keikilani

This song features gorgeous bits of game play and translated lyrics (as the song is a collection of foreign quotes and poetry), reflecting on the idea of being born for a purpose, walking through the journey of life, and pushing forward in difficult times.  I’d say it’s certainly worth five minutes of your time, but I’ll leave that up to you.  ^~^  Click HERE to watch the video.

Not Special, Not Unloved, and Not the Point

IMG_7588.JPG

On Tuesday, I celebrated my twenty-first birthday. But for the latter part of the day, I’d more likely say that I pushed through it rather than celebrated it.

Granted, it was a really great day. I gave a presentation in one of my classes at Texas State University in San Marcos, was picked up from school by my parents to grab lunch, turned in a research paper, and was let out of my second class after only fifteen minutes. Afterward, I went home knowing that I had absolutely no homework to do because I had finished it all beforehand in order to relax on my birthday. So I watched some gaming videos on YouTube, ate tasty turkey dumplings made by my mom, opened presents, ate some delicious applesauce cake (as made by my eldest brother*), and watched more YouTube videos. But at some point during those evening activities, I realized I was feeling pretty low.

Why was I even sad? It was my birthday, for crying out loud! I had a loving and kind family with whom to celebrate and had experienced a good day at school. Yet, still, there was something that pulled me down, and it was this: a feeling of failure.

“I’m twenty-one,” I thought. “At least a quarter of my life is over. What have I done with it? What haven’t I done? What in the world am I doing here?” And then I started to compare myself to everyone from the past who had done great things when they were younger than me. At the age of twenty, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein… Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice… Elizabeth Barrett Browning published her first collection of poetry… Plato became a disciple of Socrates… Sir Isaac Newton started developing CALCULUS…

So yeah. I guess I had my first existential crisis.

I moped around until my dad asked if I wanted to watch a movie or a television show with him, and I mumbled something that implied that I wasn’t really sure. Knowing me better than I know myself, Dad asked what was wrong, and I said, “I’d feel so guilty if I watched a movie…” and divulged my guilt that I wasn’t nearly as accomplished as all the people I mentioned a moment ago. “I’m already twenty-one,” I said, “and there are tons of people who had already converted masses to Christianity, written books, and figured out all these huge things by the time they were my age.” It wasn’t even primarily that which bothered me. It was also that I recognized that I don’t know what I’m good at yet. Like Hiccup from the animated film How to Train Your Dragon, I don’t really know who or what I am at this point in my life. I haven’t discovered my true potential and abilities yet, and on Tuesday night, that was making me really sad.

When I told this to my dad, he said, “Kelly, you can’t do that to yourself. You aren’t those people, and that was a different time.” My mom, who was sitting nearby, said, “And you just turned in a research paper, and you’re going to college on a full scholarship!” I knew they were right. I was still a little disappointed with myself and what I hadn’t done in life, but I decided to watch a few episodes of Bones with my dad anyway and, later, went to bed.

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that the feeling of failure had stayed with me through the night, so I decided to stay in bed for a while and try to think things through. I started praying. “I just don’t feel like I’m doing much or have much worth. I’m just one more human being on this planet—one more person out of billions that will soon perish and fade from memory. I’m just like everyone else, and I’m going to die just like everyone who already has and soon will. I’m not that special, am I?…”

I chewed on that for a while. It was kind of a sad thing to think about. I mean, we’d all like to think we’re special—that we are distinguished or exceptional or extraordinary—but while we each have unique personalities, fingerprints, eyes, voices, and creative abilities, every human is essentially similar in their physical and mental and emotional capabilities. And, not to be too morbid, but each of us has an expiration date. In sum, we are not God, and we are not special.

But we are not unloved. I came to this conclusion almost immediately after the “not that special” train of thought had passed through my mind, and I don’t know if it was something from the Spirit, but, gee, was it helpful. “No,” I thought, “you’re not special. But God is. He loves and created you, and you have worth to Him. He will not abandon you or let you burn when you pass through the fire or allow you to drown when you pass through the waters. Your God is special, and He especially likes you.”

And then some verses that I’ve used for teaching at a youth girls’ church event came to mind:

1 But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life…

10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.

11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.

12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.”

Isaiah 43:1-4, 10-12

No, I’m not that special. And I hate to break it to you, but you’re not, either. But our God is special. He alone is sovereign and infallible and pure and immutable. He is loving and forgiving, and He is capable of bringing you and I and all others through wind, fire, water, and storms. He wants to make us his privileged kids and to grow and discipline us so that we will look and live more like our Daddy—like our perfect and special and totally unique Abba Father. We are loved by God, and that means something. It means it’s not about us; it’s about Jesus.

I’m still disappointed that I haven’t done more with my life and that I’m not more Christ-like or Christ-loving at this point. I wish that I could identify my abilities and purpose, and I would love to know what I’m supposed to do with my life. And, quite selfishly, I wish I didn’t have to be forgotten like so many other human beings have been already. But I’ve got to be okay with that. I have to start praying that I would understand that I’m not the point and that I would be both content with and passionate about God being the only One worth glorifying, worshipping, and remembering.

With that being said, I want this blog to be more focused on Jesus than on what we need to do to be more like Him. Being like Christ and loving Him is important, but will that ever happen if we fail to focus on He who “fill[s] us with joy in [His] presence” (Psalm 16:11)?

As I write this, I am praying that you, brother or sister, will join David in saying what he did in Psalm 16: “Jesus, apart from you I have no good thing. You alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.”

I am also praying that if you, like me, feel that you have wasted portions of your life thus far, you will recognize that you still have today and hopefully many more days ahead of you to focus on Christ and to glorify Him. Maybe you and I could have done more at this point, but that is over. The past is gone. What matters now is that we “[f]orget the former things [and] do not dwell on the past. See, [God is] doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19a). He is sanctifying us to be like Him, and He has blessed us with a little more time to worship Him.

So praise be to God! He is special and worth pursuing. I am His kid and His witness, and I will always be, even on the days when I am uncertain of my purpose. I am Christ’s, and because of His grace, I am growing and becoming more inclined to pursue His goodness. Yes, praise be to God for that and more.

 

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*I haven’t mentioned this in a while, but I should note that I am the oldest of nine children. There’s me (21), my sister Rachel (18), six boys (17, 15, 13, 11, 9, and 7), and my younger sister (5). So now you know!

 

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(Cover image found at http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CAYQjB0&url=http%3A%2F%2Fadsoftheworld.com%2Fmedia%2Fprint%2Fpetits_gateaux_cupcake_boutique_ring&ei=dGeDVMWaL42XyQS_gYKQBQ&bvm=bv.80642063,d.aWw&psig=AFQjCNGM70SriW5vIDQIJ3mRks-nvZQVcQ&ust=1417984140717366)

When You’re Fighting to Walk

Lee and Clementine from the video game "The Walking Dead" (Season One)

Lee and Clementine from the video game “The Walking Dead” (Season One)

A/N: This post contains major spoilers on season one of the video game “The Walking Dead”.  Also, it contains some of my personal testimony, so…bear with me.  My hope is that you’ll get something good out of it.  :)

—–

Trials stink.  They really, really do, but you know, I think they’re worth it.  I’d like to tell you why, and I want to shed some light on what to do when you’re fighting to walk through them.

At the end of 2013 and the start of this year, I struggled with depression for about six months.  It wasn’t clinical and I was never suicidal, but it was really hard.  I would lay on my bed for hours with dark thoughts running through my mind, having no desire to stand up.  I had little interest in doing my homework, going to church, being around people…and this sounds weird, but I could feel something like a black hole in my chest.  It sucked away at everything and, although I never considered ending my life, I just didn’t feel like living.  I didn’t see any reason for it.  I was just kind of there, desperate to get out of the cycle and refusing to seek help from Christ.

I now consider those months to have been a trial, one that God put me through for my ultimate good (Rom. 8:28), but I was very different then.  I hated God.  I hated Him for what I thought was His abandonment.  I couldn’t feel Him anymore and I was so angry for that, so I refused to have any contact with Him.  I hoped instead that someone other than God would see the phony smile that I wore in public for what it was, but I don’t think anyone but Him ever did.  Even still, I wanted nothing to do with Christ.

And, yet, I wanted all of Him.  Having been a Christian for almost ten years, I recognized the constant conviction that I felt to resume that contact with God and my need for that.  I knew that I needed to get help from a believer I trusted because I saw that I would never get any better on my own.  So, I did.  I started to get counseling from a minister in my church who has a degree in Christian counseling and, only by the utter grace of Christ, I emerged from that period of depression after many weeks—not unscathed, but definitely refined.

That, I think, is the worth in trials.  We are refined as we are tested “in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10) and we can share about God’s grace in our life to others, as I aim to do now, so that Christ receives all the “praise, glory and honor” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Anyway, enough about me!  I think it’s time that I get to the point that I want to make in this post.  What are we supposed to do in the midst of trials?  How did I emerge from that dark, binding depression that held me for months?  How do we force ourselves to walk through depression, death, loss, humiliation, and everything else that is so, so hard?

Allow me to make one of my traditional references to something nerdy (and I’ll try to be more concise than I was in my last post).  In the vast world of entertainment, there are, as far as I know, three primary forms of the popular “The Walking Dead”—the television show, the video game, and the comic books.  I’d like to briefly discuss the video game, which, in its first season, tells the story of Lee, Clementine, and the group that fought to survive with them in the wake of a zombie apocalypse.

Clementine (left) and Lee (right) have a conversation

Here’s some background information:

  • Lee is a thirty-seven-year-old man who, at the start of the game, gets into a car accident in a forest.
  • Clementine (or Clem for short) is an eight-year-old girl who lives near that forest and whose vacationing parents have left her at home with a babysitter.
  • Though being in poor shape after the accident, Lee manages to escape from some zombies by heading to Clem’s house, where he finds Clem and realizes that her babysitter had recently “turned” (into a zombie).
  • Lee and Clem soon leave her house to attempt to find her parents in a far away town—Savannah, Georgia.  Along the way, they meet several people who travel with them on their way to Savannah.

Okay, that should suffice.  Just don’t ask me how the apocalypse started.  That was never really explained, but I’m okay with that because the game is otherwise fantastic.  It fits very well with our topic, too, because it’s all about a shared trial (a.k.a. trying not to get eaten by zombies) and the many ways the survivors deal with that as they fight to survive together.  The game can be pretty dark at times, as some turn to murder, cannibalism, and mental instability, but it is also a story of hope, and a great example of the way that we as Christians can handle trials.

I’ll share two quick ways that the survivors dealt with trials in “The Walking Dead” game.  In one instance, a married couple named Kenny and Katjaa discovered that their young son had been bitten by a zombie and would “turn” in the next few hours.  I truly can’t imagine how awful it would be to know that your only child would be gone so soon.  So, how did they cope?  Sadly, Katjaa chose to commit suicide.

Katjaa and her son, "Duck"

Katjaa and her recently bitten son, “Duck”

Suicide has been a big topic lately, what with the death of Robin Williams, and it is something that has affected my family personally, since my uncle passed away at his own hands last winter.  It’s a horrible thing, and I may write about it another day, but I’ll just say this for now—there is another option.  We can fight to walk by leaning on Christ.

Lee and Clem are a wonderful example of this.  Lee, a man who has never been a father, chose to help Clem find her parents because he recognized that she was alone and needed help.  And Clem, a girl who was at first suspicious of Lee, grew to trust, respect, and rely on him as they traveled together.  Lee taught Clem how to keep herself alive in a dangerous world—how to shoot, hide, run, and protect herself.  He showed her how to make every effort to keep a group together and how to sacrifice for those you care for.  At one point, he selflessly sought to rescue her when she had been kidnapped in Savannah, even after he had been bitten and would soon “turn”.  Clem would never have survived without Lee, the man who grew to love her as a daughter.

Lee and Clementine hug

Lee and Clementine share a hug

Sound familiar?  Does this remind you of the way God rescued, loves, and teaches us?  We need God just as Clem needed Lee, and we, like her, have to lean on the support and wisdom of one who is vastly more experienced than us.  This is how we can handle the trials in our life.  We lean on Jesus, we learn from His example, and we rely on His infinite strength because sometimes, that’s all we can do.

Check out these passages of Scripture.

[Jesus said,] ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

Matt. 11: 28-30

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Phil. 4:12-13

I said it before, and I’ll say it again.  It was only by God’s grace that I am no longer struggling with depression.  He changed my heart from one of anger and bitterness to one that yearned for Him, not me.  It was by His works that I finally came back into His yoke and into His arms, not by mine.  He does all the hard work.   I’m just here, living for Him and hoping to encourage you.

When you are fighting to walk through trials, climb into the yoke.  Find the rest you need in Christ.  Climb in, and you will find the strength to keep walking.

Tasked to Testify

Taiwanese Elantris cover

My sister, Rachel, and I are about as different as two people can be.  Rachel is very extroverted, recharged by her time spent with others and adept at handling small talk with exuberance and poise.  I, however, am immensely introverted, thrilled by the thought of a quiet, uninterrupted afternoon to write or read and naturally introspective.  Sometimes I wish things were the other way around, but in general, I’m thankful that Christ designed us in the way that he did.

Why am I thankful?  Well, although Rachel is two years younger than I am, I have looked up to her and learned from her example for several years.  It’s not that I don’t like who I am or am seeking to become exactly like her.  Rather, because Rachel and I are so different, we’re each able to examine and implement the godly qualities that the other exhibits.  And, usually, the qualities that we try to implement are not those that we naturally possess.  So, it’s a good thing we’re so different because, otherwise, we wouldn’t have nearly as many chances to grow.

For example, Rachel has told me that she admires the fact that I can speak truth, sharing my genuine opinion when I think it’s necessary.  She has admitted that she speaks too quickly, without thinking it through, and occasionally talks in a way that doesn’t describe her true feelings so she can avoid hurting others’ feelings.  I don’t think that’s always a bad thing, but it has gotten her into trouble a few times.  In the same way, though, I know I’ve offended some people when I’ve spoken too honestly.

I, on the other hand, admire Rachel’s tendency to share what God has been teaching her with passion.  Many times, she will send me a text message with a Bible verse and her thoughts on it, or will simply walk up to me and ask if we can discuss what she is learning from God through Scripture, everyday life, and other Christians.  Rachel even makes the effort to ask others about their walk with God—and she truly wants to know.  Seeing as she and I share a room, there are times when I wish she would wait to talk to me until the morning (which I’ve laughingly told her before), but our conversations often ignite a fire within me, leading me to greater affection for Christ, stronger respect for my sister, and a desire to know God in a deeper, more powerful way.

This quality that Rachel has of declaring God’s work in her life to other Christians is not one that comes naturally to me.  I usually journal about what I’m learning and keep it to myself, but now, after examining Rachel and her lifestyle, I’m learning that telling others about the evidence of God’s deeds and grace in my life is important—maybe even vital—for my growth, as well as for other believers.

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this, starting with a passage from the book of Psalms.

But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Psalm 73:28

And consider these verses from Acts, spoken by Paul when he discussed his future in Jerusalem.

[In] every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:23-24

Now, some might feel that these verses apply more to the subject of evangelism, specifically for the sake of others’ salvation in Christ.  In response to that, I should note that I’m primarily writing about Christian-to-Christian discussion in this post, but this is not to degrade the need for evangelism, for I know that every believer is called to spread the aroma of Christ, as I’ve written before.  Additionally, I would point to this passage from 1 Chronicles:

Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.  Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

1 Chronicles 16:23-24

By reading these verses, I do not believe that testifying to God’s deeds should stop with unbelievers.  It should also extend to Christians, for we, too, are living “among the nations” and are included in “all peoples” just as unbelievers are.  Plus, even we need a reminder of God’s goodness and perfection every once in a while, and, in my experience, those reminders often come from other Christians—from we who have experienced God’s grace most radically.  This can be seen in the Bible, as well, such as when Nathan came to David in 1 Samuel 12, reminding him of both God’s hatred for sin and his complete forgiveness.  And just take a look at Paul’s letters!  That guy was so wise, and he packed his many letters to churches with all kinds of reminders about Christ and his Body.  All in all, then, I would definitely say that testifying to God’s work is something that we as Christians should do for one another.

So how does sharing about God’s work in our lives (and, equally important, asking others to share) help us to grow?  To illustrate, allow me to introduce you to Prince Raoden.

Raoden

Raoden is a lead character in the book Elantris who is struck by the Shaod, or the Transformation.  The Shaod once transformed people into godlike figures called Elantrians, who possessed magical abilities and were sent to the elaborately beautiful city of Elantris to live in luxury.  Now, for reasons unknown, the Shaod transforms its victims into undead creatures who are shunned and balding, whose skin is patched and hideous, and who are declared dead by those who knew them.  Still, they are sent to Elantris, which is where Raoden discovers a city that is coated in sludge and filled with many hurting and hopeless citizens who either wander the streets or join one of several factions.  He also learns that he has no heartbeat, no body heat, and has lost the ability to heal, living in eternal pain from even such tiny wounds as a scratch until it proves too great, leading many Elantrians to insanity.  So, yeah.  Things are looking pretty bad for the former prince.

But Raoden is an optimistic man, one with the natural ability to lead and inspire those around him, and he slowly starts to reshape the hopelessness found in the city, sharing his vision of a more cheerful and unified Elantris.  Even Galladon—his closest, most pessimistic, and usually grumpy Elantrian friend—begins to look on the bright side of things as Raoden speaks of hope and rebuilds the community both mentally and physically by creating a new, cleaner part of town: New Elantris.  Sadly, Raoden and his companions are often faced with strife, such as when Raoden nearly gets his friends killed and grows discouraged after unfruitful negotiation efforts with a faction leader.  But check out this development in Galladon here, found about halfway through the book:

“I’ve failed [our friends],” he said quietly.

Galladon shook his head.  “We can’t always get what we want on the first try.  Kolo [agreed]?  You’ll find a way—I would never have thought you’d get this far.”*

And here, soon after, when Raoden and Galladon walk through the now uninhabited streets of New Elantris after events take a turn for the worse:

“Sad.  Kolo?”  Galladon regarded the now clean, but empty, houses.

“Yes,” Raoden said.  “It had potential, if only for a week.”

“We’ll get there again, sule [friend],” Galladon said.*

Did you catch that?  In both cases, Galladon is unconsciously optimistic because of the influence Raoden has had on him.  And I think this is exactly what sharing about God’s work in our lives will do for us and the people with whom we share.  You see, just as with Raoden and his consistent reminders of hope, our declarations of the evidence of Christ’s grace may very well bring others to notice the same in their own lives, as Galladon noticed the hope in his.  Pointing out the hope and grace in life leads others to notice it where they never had before.

Testifying to God’s work in our lives does much more than that, however.  These are a few more of the changes that I have noticed in my heart when I testify and ask others.

  • It points my heart to Christ, giving me a sense of awe.  It leads me to think, “Wow, God does so much for his children”, and it reminds me that he is the one who does everything—growth, blessings, trials, and whatever else is best for us (Romans 5:8).  He’s the one who is totally in charge, and I am utterly dependent upon him.
  • It makes me more thankful.  God is really gracious to work in our waning hearts and mold us to be more like him.  We definitely don’t deserve that (seeing as we can be very stubborn), so it’s seriously awesome that he takes the time to teach us.
  • It gives me a sense of unity with fellow Christians, reminding me that we are all in this together.  It leads me that to realize that we need to lovingly keep each other accountable in order to point each other to Christ and better avoid Satan’s pitfalls, because it can be pretty hard to do that on our own.
  • It reminds me of God’s glory and the lack of my own.  Just as it teaches me that God is totally in charge, it shows me that he’s the only one who deserves to be—and that that’s a good thing.
  • It wells up in me a desire for Jesus.  All of this makes me to want to know more about Christ and to know him more deeply (which I think is very important indeed).

I could probably have listed many more changes, but I’ll stop here so I can add one last thing.  I’m not saying that you have to testify about God’s work in your life verbally.  There are many other ways for you to share, such as through texting (as Rachel has done many times), social media, or even blogging, obviously!  However, I do think there is something superbly rich in sharing face-to-face with another Christian.  Ever since I’ve started trying to do so more often—even though it’s been uncomfortable for me at times—I’ve definitely noticed growth in my life.

Either way, no matter how and when you choose to testify about God’s work in your life, or whether or not you try to ask others, I want to leave you with this:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9

I love this verse.  It brings so much to mind, like the fact that you and I, brother, are radically blessed—that you and I, sister, have so much for which we can praise God.  We have been brought from the worst of scenarios into the wonderful light of Christ, and that’s reason enough to shout out some declarations, for both our sake and others’.

So let’s go!  Let’s go and declare the praises of God, remembering who we are—chosen, special, royal—and what we are called to do.  And above all else, may our words bring glory to he who saved us, to the God who is so good to bring us into his work—to the gracious King who has tasked us to testify.

 

 

*Sanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tor, 2006. 308-40. Print.

Note: Cover image found at http://brandonsanderson.com/books/elantris/elantris/elantris-cover-gallery/, and Raoden image found at http://www.deviantart.com/art/Raoden-Elantris-286544265 as drawn by CrisMarVaz (http://crismarvaz.deviantart.com/)