DAZE OF OUR LIVES
Ishmael Paranoia - How to Boost Faith - Praise-Fest
great reading for Elijahs who are just resting under the
God's saints accomplish
great things while staggering around in dazed
bewilderment. 'By faith,' says Scripture, 'Abraham, ...
went out, not knowing whither he went.' (Hebrews 11:8 )
'I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem,' said Paul, 'not
knowing the things that shall befall me there.' (Acts
20:22) The disciples were frequently stunned or
mystified by Christ's words and behavior. The psalmists
were forever asking, 'Why?' (Eg. Psalm 10:1; 22:1; 42:9;
43:2; 44:23; 74:1; 88:14) And in the midst of his
suffering, Job didn't have a clue what was going on.
The curtains are often drawn in God's waiting room. It's
exciting to gaze ahead, but faith grows best in the
dark. Life in the sunshine is so exhilarating that we
seldom notice our faith beginning to droop. It's when
things are dim, that spiritual life mushrooms.
Dark mysteries bring great blessings. At the close of
the year that saw the death of his newborn son and then
the death of his wife and then assaults on his own
health, Hudson Taylor wrote, 'This was the most
sorrowful and most blessed year of my life.' When it's
sunny we want to run off and play. It's when it's
darkest that we hold Father's hand the tightest.
In the gloom, qualities like faith, grit, and
dedication, are stretched to limits we have never before
reached. Yet life seems so oppressive we are oblivious
to our triumphs.
In pristine conditions eyes of faith can see forever.
When storms close in, it is a mammoth task for those
same eyes to even slightly pierce the swirling murk. It
is the conditions, not you, that have deteriorated.
Contrary to every feeling, you are not regressing.
Though offered with the best intentions, much
sentimental waffle is sometimes uttered about returning
to one's 'first love', as if the starry-eyed euphoria of
new Christians is greater than the mature depths of your
average older Christian. Poppycock! Most spiritual
honeymooners are radiant primarily because they think
they have entered a blissful world of near-perfect
Christians, instant answers to selfish prayers and a
life forever free from pain, heartache and trials.
Theirs is most likely mere puppy love, relative to the
ardor moving you to tough it out.
Never confuse devotion with emotion. Though I'm all for
emotional exuberance, the Bible measures love, not in
tingles per second, but in putting one's life on the
line. (1 John 3:16-18) It's pain endured in the valley,
not gooey feelings in the afterglow of mountaintop
ecstasy, that validates love. By all means, passionately
seek the face of God, but don't assume that emotional
deadness - a normal phase of anyone's spiritual life -
implies spiritual deadness. We march by faith, not by
An athlete, in the midst of a record-breaking run, has
never in his life been so fit and strong. Yet his
pain-racked body may have never felt so weak. Likewise,
in the midst of a spiritual trial, it is not uncommon to
be stronger and yet feel weaker than ever before. And to
fellow Christians you might seem hopeless. An
ultra-marathon champion staggering up the final hill
looks pathetic. A child could do better. Anyone not
understanding what this man has gone through would
shrink from him in disgust. Only someone with all the
facts would be awed by his stamina as he stumbles on.
You've hit so many brick walls, it's no wonder your nose
is out of joint. Life seems hopeless. Every day it feels
you've slumped another notch. To maintain even a glimmer
of faith in such darkness is a spectacular victory. It
may take everything you've got just to hold on. But do
it. You are pumping spiritual iron.
If your blossom is dying, it's so that the fruit can
grow. Remember the cripple at the temple gate: he hoped
for alms and got legs. (Acts 3:1-3) Creator God loves
surprises. And he loves you.
Earth sees us flattened
on the wrestling ring canvas in faith's fight. Heaven
sees us forming on the canvas of the Great Artist.
Half-completed works of art look ugly.
All that matters,
however, is the finished masterpiece. Forget
appearances. Yield to the Artist. The result will be
William Carey's relentless succession of achievements in
the face of oppression suggests he was no more deterred
by tragedies than a locomotive by butterflies. I was
stunned to learn that this amazing missionary pioneer
sometimes suffered what one biographer called 'sheer
C. H. Spurgeon, revered as last century's greatest
Baptist preacher, was so plagued by discouragement,
depression, fatigue and illness that he tendered his
resignation thirty-two times in thirty-nine years.
Interestingly, he gradually discovered that such lows
always seemed to precede new times of empowering for
A modern preacher, world-famous for his emphasis on
possibility thinking, sat dejected on a building site
and pronounced the death-sentence on his pet project.
'You can't give up,' gasped his advisers, 'the whole
world is looking at you!'
'If only I could have a good old-fashioned heart attack
and fail with dignity,' was his pathetic reply.
Such grim anecdotes charge me with hope. If past heroes
and modern champions of positive thinking can have such
bouts, I need not let the Accuser belittle me just
because I am appallingly negative at times. For
twenty-four-year-old David Brainerd, thrilling
experiences in God's presence were regularly
interspersed with deep bouts of melancholy in which he
despaired of ever achieving anything in God's service.
Three years later, an unprecedented outpouring of the
Spirit upon American Indians erupted after his
preaching. This move coincided with a time when the
clammy clouds of dejection were so thick that he was
seriously contemplating ending his missionary endeavors.
A. B. Simpson - that highly respected missionary
statesman, exceptional preacher, and founder of the
Christian and Missionary Alliance - was yet another
great achiever who 'was always susceptible to periods of
despair.' Though his highs soared to supernatural
visions, they did not prevent his lows.
I don't make excuses. Having the disposition of a
professional prune taster is nothing to boast about.
Depression usually marks lost faith in the One with whom
I have entrusted my future. It dishonors the One who
floods my life with endless love and manipulates for
good everything that touches me. When I'm low, however,
the last thing I need is despondency about my
despondency. Though we slide on a downer, that does not
make us losers. A horde of spiritual giants have been on
the slide before us and lived to excel.
Take heart from the man exalted as Scripture's prime
example of faith. (Romans 4; Galatians 3:6-9; Hebrew
11:8-19; James 2:21-23) In an early chapter of Genesis,
God tells Abraham on two separate occasions that he will
give him the land and descendants. (Genesis 12:2,7) Just
four verses later we find Abraham humiliating Sarah,
denying that she is his wife. In cowardly deceit, he
stands dumbly by as Pharaoh marries Sarah and takes her
into his harem. (Genesis 12:10-16) Next chapter, God yet
again details the promise of land and descendants.
(Genesis 13:14-17) Nevertheless, two chapters on, we
find Abraham expecting to die childless. For a fourth
time God insists he will give Abraham descendants. At
last the old fossil believes. The Lord, thrilled with
Abraham's refound faith, repeats his vow to give him the
land. In disbelief, Abraham asks for a sign. (Genesis
15:2-8) With divine patience God dramatically shows the
mighty man of faith not only his future descendants, but
what will happen to them.
In the next chapter we
find our faith model throwing away any hope of a miracle
from God. He resorts to dubious natural means to
forcibly accomplish what God seems unwilling to do. He
bypasses his wife and turns to her maid for a baby.
(Genesis 16:1-3) Years later, the Lord yet again
reaffirms his promise to Abraham and declares that Sarah
would conceive. Abraham laughs. He is sure his wife has
more potential as an Egyptian mummy than as a Hebrew
one. 'She's too old. Just bless Ishmael,' is the crux of
his reply. (Genesis 17:17-18) Yet the Lord persists. One
more time our hero gropes for that slippery fish called
faith. Before long, he is again passing off Sarah as his
sister, showing more faith in his powers of deception
than in God's integrity. This time it is King Abimelech
who almost has a go at impregnating Sarah. (Genesis
20:2-3) Just weeks later, (Assuming Genesis 18:10 to
21:2 are in chronological order.) she conceived
Faith is not a non-stop
flight above reality; it's a fight. What distinguishes
people of faith is not how rarely they hit the dirt, but
how often they get up again. To be perpetually positive
is impossible. The mere attempt embroils us in prayer
battles and Abrahamic effort. The enemy often flees to
his corner, only to prepare for the next round. You
might even have climbed out of the ring, but the reward
for getting back in exceeds anything anyone could offer.
'Lord, increase our
faith,' pleaded the disciples.
'If you have faith the size of a mustard seed ...' came
the reply. (Luke 17:5-6)
Perhaps our greatest need is not huge faith, but to
fully use our small faith. Perhaps we miss out because
we devalue our faith, not using it to the fullest
because we wrongly imagine that tiny faith is too
insignificant to move the hand of God. If faith is more
valuable than gold, (1 Peter 1:7) the merest speck is
too precious to despise. Do not let feelings of
inadequacy strangle your faith. Just keep pressing on.
Past greats achieved much with floundering faith. So can
Like everyone, my faith levels fluctuate. Usually I am
aware that a few moments dwelling on faith-building
truths or squashing negative thoughts would boost my
faith a little, but I foolishly let myself remain at a
lower faith level than I know I am capable of. I have
failed to take faith as seriously as Scripture does. If
it is as valuable as Scripture affirms, then only a fool
would pass up an opportunity to slightly increase it. If
our Lord valued faith at a dollar, then a one percent
increase is not worth bothering about. What can you do
with a cent? If common faith is of immense value,
however, everything changes. On a million dollars, one
percent is $10,000 - well worth a little effort!
Among the lessons to be learnt through Abraham becoming
a father is not that we should do nothing and leave it
all to God. Had this been Abraham's attitude, the
miracle would never have happened. The key lay not in
doing nothing, but in doing the right thing - trying yet
again to fill a barren womb.
We can be so paranoid about conceiving an Ishmael, that
we fail to produce an Isaac. To stop trying for a child
through Sarah would have been just as devoid of faith as
using her maid.
Faith is leaving the security of inactivity and
deliberately exposing ourselves to the painful
possibility of defeat. It is Jonathan and his
armor-bearer going out to meet the enemy; not his
comrades hiding in holes hoping for a miracle. (1 Samuel
14:1-15) It's Peter saying, 'If that's you, Lord, bid me
come ... ,' and then stepping out of the boat. (Matthew
14:28-29) It's that same fisherman saying, 'Lord, we've
toiled all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless, at
your word ...' (Luke 5:5) It is Paul, once again facing
a hostile crowd. It is you, trying one more time.
Faith is fundamental to all Christian service. (Mark
11:24; John 14:12; Galatians 3:2-3; Hebrews 4:2; 11:6;
James 1:6-7; 1 John 5:4) Like a seedling, it should
constantly grow. (2 Corinthians 10:15; 2 Thessalonians
1:3) It is easier on ourselves if we start exercising
faith now, in minor things, than to expect to pluck out
of the air mountain-moving faith when it is critically
needed in ministry.
A delay either quickens your faith to rise to the
challenge, or it's a dead wait.
HOW TO BOOST FAITH
I can easily believe the atom-holding, earth-spinning,
galaxy-sustaining, life-giving Source of everything
wonderful can do whatever he likes. Even the devil
believes it. My difficulty is believing that his special
love for me makes him long to use that power on my
Few of us doubt that God can do amazing things. The weak
link in our faith is believing that he would do such
things for ordinary, inconsequential you and me. We
suspect that in the Almighty's eyes we are not
sufficiently special to warrant such attention. Oh yes,
'God loves everyone,' but we have a hunch that by the
time that love reaches us it has spread pretty thin. I'm
just one of millions. Why would God want to focus his
omnipotence on me?
If we could grasp the enormity of God's love for us, our
faith would sky-rocket. Pray for a revelation. (The
necessity of divine revelation is highlighted by Paul's
prayer that the Ephesians 'comprehend ... and know the
love of Christ which surpasses knowledge' (Ephesians
Awareness of how much we are loved is forever slipping
from our consciousness. Partially in sight for a few
days, it begins to fade again. The following suggestions
When we let God down - even if we really foul things up
- picture the proudest father the world has seen. The
baby screams, dribbles and soils itself, yet Dad still
glows with pride. God is like that.
When you feel a tiny blob in the seething mass of
humanity, see the shepherd of a hundred sheep
frantically searching for one. If he can be personally
concerned for one, the omnipotent Shepherd of our souls
can love all humanity and still be devoted to you. In
the beautiful words of Isaiah, 'As the bridegroom
rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over
you.' (Isaiah 62:5)
When you feel you can do nothing right, picture a child,
paintbrush in hand, gleaming with excitement. Enveloping
her hand is the gentle hand of the world's greatest
artist. 'And what shall we put in this corner?' asks the
man, as his skill and the girl's imagination merge into
one. See the artist's smile and the child's delight as
together they create stunning beauty. Under God's
guiding hand, your possibilities are mind-boggling.
No matter how you feel, you are the focus of God's
attention; doted on as though you are the only friend
God has. If ever a man wanted to shower his bride with
love, or his son with gifts, God longs to lavish you
with his extravagance. Expect great things from God.
Anything less is an insult to your almighty Savior. With
your Lord impossibilities are playthings.
Let faith mushroom by seizing the fact that the
Omnipotent Lord is powerful enough to use you -
over-riding your every inadequacy - and loving enough to
want to. And believe that though he may lovingly delay
your mission, his timing is perfect. Everything God
touches is destined for glory. Even now, you are God's
'filthy rags to heavenly riches' success story.
The Kingdom needs prayer warriors, not prayer worriers.
No matter how much you cry, beg, and wish, you have not
moved from superstition to authentic Christian prayer
until you can thank God for the answer, knowing it is
yours before you hold it in your hand. Faith is not
thinking that God can; it is knowing that he will. (Mark
11:24; James 1:5-8)
You will see it when you believe it.
Paul's patience was at breaking point. Day after day,
wherever they went, the demonized slave-girl kept
shrieking that Paul and Silas were God's servants. Then,
in a moment of desperation, he did it. He expelled the
demon. And his greatest fears froze to excruciating
reality. (Acts 16:16-24)
They were arrested, tortured and thrown in prison.
Incarcerated like common criminals? No such luck. It was
the maximum security block for them. Everything pointed
to a painfully long stay.
Put ourselves in Paul's stocks and our thoughts might be
something like: 'What an ant-brain! I walked right into
Satan's trap! Things were going so well - converts were
being baptized, Lydia had opened her house to us - and
like a twit I blew it! Now I've been flogged. Poor Silas
is in agony. Both of us are in the slammer, no longer
free to preach the Gospel. All because of me! If only
I'd kept my cool ...'
I'd have been as miserable as an elephant with
Yet instead of berating himself or being bullied by
pain, the apostle sang praises. Almost instantly,
tragedy yielded potent ministry. Not only was the Lord
blessed and fellow prisoners touched, the jailer and all
his family were converted. Praise turned misery into
Praise snaps locks. If a door to ministry slams, praise
can burst open another.
If you think praise is hot air, you are right. It's the
hot air that makes faith balloon, lifting us to new
heights in God, while warming the Father's heart.
Praise is life-changing. I could extol it for pages, but
singing its praises is often easier than singing
praises. It takes enormous energy for a space vessel to
blast off from earth on its way to another world. At it
continues to leave earth's gravitational pull, however,
progress gets easier and easier until it is actually
pulled along by the heavenly body it is headed for. With
praise, too, it is the first part of the journey that is
so demanding. The wonders of the rest of the voyage,
however, makes the sometimes-huge initial effort so
The less we feel like praising, the more we need its
power. I suspect Paul used a couple of tricks to break
through despair into victorious praise.
Paul and Silas had so mingled worship with life's
humdrum that when things soured, their lips were still
warm with his praises. There was no groping for a
half-forgotten praise vocabulary; no brain-racking to
find something praiseworthy in God. Praise was not a
pill in their emergency kit; it was their way of life.
If one of their helps was habit, the second was song.
When praise is a struggle, melody and beautiful words
can bear us forward.
A third help was fellowship. They joined their praises.
Where possible, do the same.
My next suggestion, like the others, is far from
original. Multitudes have found that it works. Don't try
to start at the top; just find a few reasons to be
grateful. Things could be worse. Thank God they're not.
Thank him that things have not always been as dire as
they now seem. Lean heavily on tiny blessings. As they
multiply in your head, they will provide a rich array of
You can even turn negative tendencies into an asset. We
all need reminders to praise throughout the day. If your
mind regularly clogs with negative thoughts, train
yourself to use each recurrence of doubt or fear or
gloom as a reminder to praise God. Each negative thought
is packed with potential praise material. If, for
instance, you are hounded by the thought that you are
getting older, let it nudge you to thank God for the
years he has given you. Praise him that your times are
in his hands. Take comfort that at least someone is
older than you - God - and revel in the knowledge that
he will never fall for modern society's infatuation with
youth. Every time you feel old, rejoice that Jacob was
in his nineties when he had his all-night wrestling
match with an angel. (Joseph was 30 when he began
serving Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46). When Jacob arrived in
Egypt about nine years later (Genesis 41:48,53,54;
45:11), Joseph was 130 (Genesis 47:9). Jacob was
therefore about 91 years older than Joseph, and the time
between Joseph's birth and Jacob's wrestle was long
enough for him to engage in an extensive animal breeding
program (Genesis 30:25-28,31-32; 31:7-9).) Exalt the One
who empowered eighty-five-year-old Caleb to conquer the
enemies' mountain strongholds, (Joshua 14:10-15;
15:13-15) gave Job his greatest blessings in his latter
years, (Job 42:12) and bypassed millions to show the
Christ child to elderly Anna. (Luke 2:36-38)
Yet if being filled with the joy of the Lord were as
easy as flicking a switch, there are still times when we
would prefer to sulk. Forgetting that it is faith, not
tears, that most moves our Lord, we secretly hope that
if we are sufficiently miserable, he will have pity on
us. That's like trying to scale a mountain by digging a
hole. Praise achieves things self-pity or
self-recrimination could never do.
'I will give you all my praise,' I sang in a
congregational song. Suddenly I realized I had lied.
Every time I grumble I am praising the devil. Every
complaint is an insult to God.
For balance, however, listen to Psalm 13. This dirge
opens with, 'How long will you forget me, Lord?
Forever?' With similar moans in the next few verses, the
ancient blues singer continues his sob story. Then, just
when we know where he is heading, he suddenly slams his
song into reverse and declares, 'I will sing unto the
Lord, for he has dealt bountifully with me.' The tail
end of that little psalm looks as out of place as a fan
of peacock feathers on the end of a pig. Yet no matter
how odd it seems, psalm after psalm confirms that we can
mingle praise with our pain. These inspired prayers
prove that our Lord wants us to vent on him our grief
and frustration. He wants honesty, not denial, and still
he wants our praise.
Try hard enough and in every circumstance we can find
reason to complain and reason to rejoice. To praise is
to feast on the goodness of God. To complain is to
languish in the squalor of self.
It's your choice to
Or to blame and complain.
To sing a refrain
Or refrain to sing
Is to gain new ground,
Or go round and round.
Raise your praise
Or weep in defeat;
Make the gain
Or remain the same.
Curse and be worse;
Praise and be raised.
It's you who choose
To win or lose.
To praise is to party. It
is cutting the cords to earthly burdens and heading for
heaven's joys. It infuriates the devil because it not
only plucks us out of the misery he had meticulously
planned, it lets us sneak into the victory celebration
ahead of time. To praise is to cheat the devil, laugh in
his face and step into God's time machine.
Praise magnifies God. The alternative magnifies the
problem. The last thing we need is a 'small' God and
large problems! What will we choose to exalt: the
mighty, eternal God, or the puny, temporary problem?
Praise pricks bloated problems by empowering us to
glimpse the enormity of God.
Build muscle on your faith by constantly praising God,
delighting in his answer ahead of time. It takes the
wait off your mind.
The Lord bless you, dear friend!