My soul is searing. Not from the burning wrath of God but from the fiery grace of Christ.
The past month has been the most challenging one I can remember over the past decade.
I spent 3 weeks in a dungeon of despair, lost in a thick haze of hopeless regret over perceived personal failings that left me feeling irredeemable.
Then, around midnight 11 days ago the fog lifted; my dry bones were enfleshed with spiritual sinews. I walked unweary. I flew like an eagle full of promise and purpose.
The psychological diagnosis for this is bipolar disorder. The spiritual diagnosis I’m coming to discern is being tested by the Lord; or, tempted by Satan. Or could it be both?
Reflecting on an emotional meltdown 24 hours ago, I’ve come to relate intimately with the baptism of Jesus followed immediately by his desert temptation by the Accuser.
Jesus understood his relationship to the Father when he freaked out his earthly parents by playing theological hide-and-seek in the Jerusalem temple. But there is no indication of a call to ministry until we see him step into the River Jordan where sin that was not his own is washed away by a reluctant John the Baptizer. The Holy Spirit appears as a descending dove and the voice of the Father in heaven confirms his identity as God’s unique beloved Son. Then, a bizarre thing happens. Instead of heading over the local country club for a blow out baptismal celebration, he is led into the barren desert wilderness where for 40 days where he is tempted with luxury to escape God’s all-consuming mission. The temptation was greater than any of us have ever known. Yet he remained true. For our sake. At his own expense.
I don’t pretend to have experienced the temptations of Christ, but he has experienced mine and, in doing so, shows me the armor of God which protects us from Enemy attack. Satan fills my mind with self-doubt about my identity as a beloved child of God and clouds with selfish desires and false visions about my mission. I am tempted with selfish desires that dangerously distract me.
I’ve slept very little the past 10 days. I go to bed at a reasonable hour, but I wake up repeatedly with awful nightmares. The details of these disturbing dreams vary, but the theme is the same. I am a worthless soul, unfit for service, better to have been aborted.
I often struggle to engage regularly in spiritual exercises. I abandon morning devotional time in favor of Burger King drive-thru. I scroll Facebook unceasingly rather than pray without ceasing. I neglect the fellowship of believers, laying in bed rather participating in worship. I withhold my first and best, falling behind on giving my time, talent, and money for the work of the Lord.
All of these things make me extremely vulnerable. When the Enemy attacks, I am ill-prepared. My emotions run over and I lose control of my emotions. My ability to receive and share God’s grace is severely limited if not cut off altogether.
So what do I do? I feel overwhelmed by how out of spiritually out of shape I am. How can I run the race with my eyes on the glory of God if I am bent over wheezing after 3 steps?
I spoke with my pastor about this and he suggested I start by making a list. If I don’t know what I need to do it is not likely I will just randomly do it. As a former athlete, I know the importance of an exercise regiment to promote growth. Spiritually, what can I do to best prepare for a rigorous contest that requires I be at my best in every respect.
Each week I hope to plan then review my activities and note as well how my functioning may be impacting my moods. I’m then going to seek out 2 accountability partners, like spiritual life coaches to challenge me to press on and encourage me with the hope of God’s strength in my weakness.
I don’t anticipate this will miraculously cure my mood swings. My medical condition has a debilitating impact on how much I do and how well I can do it. Spiritual discipline does not give us superhuman strength, but it does draw us closer to the One who strengthens us to do all things we need to do for the glory of God.