I write this to every bleeding heart called to the tall order of redemption.
Blessed are the poor in spirit …
To live in spiritual poverty. To live on scraps. To continually hunger and thirst. To have no prestige and little dignity. To depend on the benevolence of others.
… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven?
Today, as I stand at the dimly-lit altar at the end of yet another church service, my poorness of spirit does not come across as particularly blessed. Today it’s especially painful.
I often feel that I’m most in need of prayer, because while I’m supposed to pray for others, I might be depressed. A strange thing to say, perhaps? Hypocrisy, inadequacy, and an apparent lack of Sabbath commingled in a messy package. Unfit for service by the world’s standards.
I gave my all. I knew the tricks, strategies. I had faith … or so I thought. Ironically, I totally saw it coming.
That thick grey fog had been looming in the distance for months – anxiety, insomnia, spiritual dryness, numbness. Sometimes I adjusted my sails, hoping the wind would blow me to safety. I kept my eyes on the task at hand. If this was the path to redemption, I was all in.
I wanted to bash through it head-on. I was so blind. Now I see.
LITTLE MOUNTAINS, DEEP VALLEYS
I think back to when I was young and full of faith. Fresh out of Bible school and ready to change the world, I had it all planned. I was energetic, passionate and willing. Romans 8:31 was my clarion call: If God is for me, what can stand against me?
Audacity was my badge of honour, but I must’ve lost it to the waves. The deepest ocean trenches dwarf the highest mountain ranges.
First the headaches came. Then insomnia. Then anguish.
I think back to when I was young and full of faith. Audacity was my badge of honour, but I must’ve lost it to the waves.
I learnt to self-medicate not with the usual heathen debauchery, but with the armour of God (Eph 6:10-18): Prayer, books, community. And constantly repeating the optimist’s mantra: I am okay, this is normal, it’s expected.
But the darkness did not subside. Instead, it spread. Like a venom, it pulled me in, engulfed everything I knew, filled every space. Soon, every breath was agony.
I did the same things, but instead of leading the charge, I found myself crawling. Hope had abandoned ship, and with it went some of my trusted friends.
COUNTING THE COST, EVERY SLEEPLESS NIGHT
It’s not my first brush with spiritual dryness, but something had died inside. The seas no longer excite me. Stillness does not restore my soul. My heavy heart barely floats above the waves. Life goes on, but little voices tell me to give it up.
The gradual road to ruin is subtle, but its destination is unmistakable. The usual culprits are identified.
The zeal of the flesh (Gal 6:12) when “fear of men” supersedes “fear of God”. Impure motives – the trappings of empty religiosity and performance (Matthew 23). Or when we walk the road of pride (Psalm 10:4), believing in our ministerial indispensability amidst inept, half-hearted brethren.
We adopt saviour mentalities and, by faith alone, crucify everything, especially our health (physical, mental, and spiritual). We burn out.
A great mystery presents itself when we consider a kingdom fulfilled but not yet complete. Our darkness is put into perspective when we look to Calvary.
Perhaps you’ve counted the cost (Luke 14:28-29). We’re supposed to give up everything, possess nothing (Luke 18:22). You laid everything at the altar – but promised blessedness seemed lacking.
Maybe we romanticised everything. But when arms grow weary from pulling up empty nets and fellow sailors are lost to the waves, tell me honestly: Do you look back to shore with regret?
I confess: All the time.
We’re not yet pillars of salt (Gen 19:26), but often feel like one, especially on those cursed mornings when even getting out of bed is a trial of faith. Our accuser seizes every opportunity to sow seeds of death into our inner man through accusation and deception (John 10:10, 1 Peter 5:8).
As we wrestle through extended darkness, it is no longer enough to know in our heads that suffering is inevitable. I could prescribe my broken condition as inevitable, expected or even beneficial (Galatians 6:7-9, Hebrews 12:6, Matthew 5:10, 1 Peter 3:14). But as I wring my heart for drops of conviction, I can only manage a weak echo of Jesus’ first Beatitude.
YOURS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
A great mystery presents itself when we consider a kingdom fulfilled (Luke 17:20-21, Matthew 12:28) but not yet complete (Luke 19:11). Until that completion, redeemed hearts and minds will always remain stretched between now and eternity.
Our darkness is put into perspective when we look to Calvary (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus went through unfathomable darkness to fulfil the will of the Father (Ephesians 4:8-10, Matthew 27:46). We read only of His earthly life and death, but His eternal mission must have been far more extensive. All of time is laid before Him like a tapestry. He moves through all and in all, weaving a timeless grand design.
While for now all I see are dimly-lit mirrors, one day I know will see Him face-to-face and know Him as I am perfectly known.
As we yoke ourselves to Jesus, God holds us through the darkest valleys of our kingdom-ward quest. Every tear that falls from your eye does not go unnoticed by your Heavenly Father (Psalm 56:8).
While for now all I see are dimly-lit mirrors (1 Corinthians 13:9-12), one day I know will see Him face-to-face and know Him as I am perfectly known.
BACK TO REALITY
I shake away the tormented reveries and the inner darkness subsides.
It’s been an especially rough week. Heart’s heavy. Soul’s a wreck. Mind is distant.
I look to the other leaders beside me. Thank God for them. But in all honesty, is it a facade? Do kind eyes and warm smiles hide tortured souls too? Do they feel blessed?
I’m supposed to pray for people, but my mind only knows my hypocrisy. I hope nobody approaches me.
Then a bespectacled boy steps out of the sea of bodies. He glances left, right, then looks down, before walking slowly to me with hands in his pockets.
I put on my warmest smile and hold his shoulder. “Hi there young man, how can I pray for you?” Part of me already scoffing at the expected request about exams, his latest crush, or some petty dispute with teachers.
He adjusts his spectacles and looks up with tired eyes that must’ve seen more than a child ought to see. A disembodied, shaky voice barely escapes.
“Erm… this sounds stupid.” He clears his throat. “You know that guy who’s thinking of suicide? That’s me.”
Let there be light. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I paused for a second. I struggled to hold back the tears. “Tell me all about it.”
It’s been forever since I felt Him holding me. But the great mystery was my privilege to hold another. I took a deep breath, and as I prayed the same words I prayed through every sleepless night, the first Beatitude seared itself onto my heart.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.