4 Truths to Light Up Your Darkest Moments

Written By Jade Mazarin, USA

Jade Mazarin is a board certified Christian counselor in Vero Beach FL, offering sessions locally and long distance. She is the author of the book, The Heart’s Journey toward Freedom: Releasing Attachment and Finding Yourself. Her website is www.jademazarin.net

I began graduate school for counseling, excited for a wonderful new life season. I’m glad I didn’t know what was actually coming.

That winter, I became very sick with an illness that doctors couldn’t diagnose. While battling flu-like symptoms and intense dizziness, I ached for my old friends and family who were states away. It took several months to gradually improve, though certain symptoms lingered and depression from loneliness began to appear.

As time passed and friends continued to be absent, the pain in my heart deepened. Soon afterward, strange and intense anxiety came into the picture, and all I knew was that I was walking through the darkest wilderness I’d ever encountered.

My God, whom I had always loved and trusted, seemed silent and unresponsive for the first time since I had known Him. I remember gut-wrenching tears as I prayed, begging Him for help and the ability to at least feel His company. I felt so alone, far from all loved ones. While I knew He was with me, I couldn’t feel Him at all.

Yet, I knew from past experience and from Scripture that God loved me, so I continued to seek Him. Slowly, He began revealing things to me—important truths, like lamp posts to guide my heart a step at a time through my journey in the wilderness. Here are the truths that helped me:

 

1. God remains in charge

I knew that the daily lies I battled, and the crippling fear that consumed me, were evidence of a spiritual battle. But as I focused on the dark forces at work, I found myself doing worse. Instead of leaving me to dwell in this dark place, God put this message on my heart: “I AM in charge of this time.” I felt God lead me to focus on Christ’s victory over any challenge this world can offer (John 16:33).

The Lord of all is present. Jesus has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). When we walk through chaotic times, God only embraces us more tightly. Whether we feel it or not, He protects us more than we know. Nothing can happen apart from His perfect will.

 

2. God empathizes deeply with us

Scripture calls God the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Jesus displays this tender heart of God when He sees that Lazarus has died—surrounded by Lazarus’ mourning family, Jesus wept (John 11:35).  Jesus didn’t simply feel sorrow, He actually sobbed. And consider this: He wept even knowing that Lazarus was about to be raised from the dead.

God is fully present in every moment with us. Even when He knows things will turn around soon, He feels for our current experience with all His heart.

 

3. There is a purpose to our pain

God has a purpose for what He allows, though it rarely makes sense to us in the moment. We are instructed not to “lean on our own understanding,” but to “trust in Him with all our hearts” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Since God cannot be anything but good, there must be reasons for our circumstances that our limited minds can’t grasp; and we know there is an ever faithful love undergirding all we experience.

God impressed upon my heart that He would use this time for good (Romans 8:28). But how could this dark, scary, wearisome situation actually be beneficial? I didn’t know exactly. Yet because I knew God’s character, I dared to consider it. I often voiced this prayer: “Lord, use this time. Bring fruit out of it. Don’t let me go through this for nothing.” Faith makes the assumption that because of God’s unchanging goodness, He will not allow us to cry in vain. He must use everything for good.

 

4. The suffering is temporary

I relied on the belief that my situation was temporary. God continually encouraged me that “weeping may remain for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). I clung to the idea that this pitch-black tunnel—though it felt continuous—had a light at the end that I was destined to reach, even if I had no idea when. It doesn’t matter that we can’t imagine it. He does more than we can imagine (Ephesians 3:16).

God continually urges us to have hope. Even if our circumstances don’t change in the way we desire, God can give us unexpected gifts in the waiting—a newly refined soul that is more inclined to His peace and joy, surprising blessings that come in various forms, and a depth of intimacy with Him that is the greatest jewel of all.

 

Coming Out of the Wilderness

Since I had no one to rely on and no inner strength to hold me up, I had nothing but God. I poured the depths of my heart at His feet. I read and prayed for peace and contentment without ceasing, with child-like honesty and hope. I sat and just considered His heart toward me.

After several months of this seeking, I began to feel my best friend. The more I sought, the more I experienced Him. It was a gentle, intimate, secure Presence around me. I felt His own delight in our communing. His attentive love graced me, as if I were the only thing on His mind that day.

It took three years in total, but God finally brought healing, as well as the deep friendships my heart longed for. These people exceeded my hopes and were like family to me. But interestingly, there were times when I longed to be with God over them. I found an even deeper closeness with the One who created me, who could understand and even feel the emotions of my heart, without me saying a word. That was a closeness I knew I could share with no one else.

It’s been a few years now since God brought me out of that wilderness. Yes, God was lovingly in charge during that dark time. Yes, the suffering was temporary. And yes, He used it for good. But I had to be willing to listen, embrace truths, and keep seeking Him along the way.

Remember this: You will in fact pass through this time, with good things you didn’t see coming. A new season is on its way.

God is faithful to His beloved children. He couldn’t even imagine being anything less.

How Do I Know If I’m Reading the Bible Correctly?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

When I was applying to colleges years ago, I remember waiting to get my acceptance letter. One day, I sorted through stacks of junk mail to find an envelope with a college logo at the top. I tore open the letter and read it carefully. Unlike the other mail, this wasn’t some marketing ad to sell me more stuff I didn’t want. No, this letter was important—it would determine my future.

Isn’t that the way things go? We are barraged with messages through every sort of medium imaginable, but some messages are just more important than others.

The Bible is the most important thing we will ever read. What makes it so important? It’s like a long-distance love letter where God shares His love, His heart and desires with us. Reading it allows us to grow closer to Him and to understand how to love Him until the day that we can be with Him. So, with great anticipation, Christians should be not just looking over the words, but really trying to study and understand what God is saying to us through them.

Even so, reading the Bible can still feel like a daunting task. How do I know I’m reading it correctly? What if I twist God’s words to mean something He isn’t saying? It’s no surprise that many Christians don’t read their Bible regularly because they don’t have the right tools to help them make sense of it. But reading the Bible doesn’t have to be scary.

Here are a few simple tools that can help us fairly and accurately understand what God is saying.

 

Two Rules for Reading the Bible

Rule number one: What is the author’s intended meaning?

Have you ever said something that got taken the wrong way? Like telling a girl, “You look nice today.” But she responds, “Today? Like I don’t look nice most of the time?”

All communication requires interpretation. The listener needs to understand what the speaker is trying to say. This applies to all communication. Don’t just look at it—think about what the author is trying to communicate and why!

Rule number two: Context is king

If we do not consider the information’s context, we are prone to misunderstand it. When we read a passage, the first step is to look at what comes before it, and what comes after it. This can give us a better idea of what God is saying.

Let’s be careful not to take biblical passages out of their historical context. After all, the Bible wasn’t written to us—it was preserved for us. Every book of the Bible had an original audience, real people who lived long before our great-grandparents were even born. To understand what the Bible is saying, to apply God’s truths properly in our modern-day lives, we should first understand what the author was saying to his original audience.

The other day I was sitting next to my wife when she got a call. I didn’t see who it was, but I was curious. I listened. My wife’s tone said it was her mother, and she started talking about baby stuff. Hearing just one half of the conversation, I was able to piece together the context. The only thing I didn’t know was what her mother said. Even that, I could figure out partially based on my wife’s responses.

That’s what we do with Scripture. We fill in the gaps responsibly. There are some great tools that help with that: study Bibles, commentaries, biblical dictionaries. These tools give us a better understanding of the other side of the conversation.

 

Applying the Rules to Philippians 4:13

Let’s look at an example:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

This verse makes for a great motivational poster. I used to quote this to try and pass tests I didn’t want to study for. But it doesn’t really mean what I thought it means. After all, if I went to the gym and loaded 500lbs onto the bench, then quoted this verse, would I suddenly be able to lift 500lbs? No! That weight is going to come crashing down on me, hard. But why? Shouldn’t lifting 500lbs fall under the umbrella of “all things”?

Did I not have enough faith? Did Jesus fail me? . . . or perhaps, did I misunderstand the text?

If we apply our two rules and go back to read the verses leading up to Philippians 4:13, the picture gets a little clearer.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10-13, ESV).

In context, Paul is talking about plenty, hunger, abundance and need—the modern day equivalent to finances (Philippians 4:12, ESV). The earlier verses tell us that Paul has learned to be content in all things. Whether rich and comfortable or poor and hungry, he can endure the hardships and challenges of this life for the sake of the gospel because Jesus gives him the strength to be content regardless of his circumstances. Paul is showing us how to do something incredible. Philippians 4:13 isn’t about turning us into superman. It’s about contentment.

 

Getting to Know God Better

When we don’t read the Word of God in context, we can easily (and sometimes unconsciously) make promises for God that God didn’t make. When those promises don’t come true, we’re tempted to doubt God instead of really seeing who He is. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). All that we live for, hope for, desire, and pursue in the Christian life should be built on the foundation of our relationship with God.

I’ve learned that when I’m faithful in searching for context and intent, reading the Bible actually helps me know God better because I’m not just hearing His Word, I’m continually learning to understand it. The amazing thing is, the more we know God, the more we recognize His love for us and appreciate the grace He has given us.

So, as challenging as it can be to read the Bible, the best thing we can do is to open that love letter from God, and just start reading what He says to us!

3 Tips for Those Struggling to Delight in God

Written By Jacob Ng, Singapore

Jacob is husband to Yvonne, dad (and playmate) to Jed and Justus, and a pastor of Redemption Hill Church, Singapore. He still wakes up amazed and grateful that God would consider him worthy of all these roles. He strives to make much of God by enjoying and giving thanks for the daily grace of life in the mundane and ordinary.

A set of tiny Bluetooth earphones has greatly helped my physical fitness. Let me explain.

Growing up, I was never really into physical activities. I learned to run regularly in my twenties because I needed it—I had a decreasing metabolism, and needed to pass my annual physical fitness test as a national serviceman. But since I never loved running to begin with, the practice was the first to give way in the face of various life changes over the past few years.

This is where the Bluetooth earphones come in. I rediscovered the discipline of running through the love of listening to good music on my Spotify playlist. A top-quality set of earphones made the experience more pleasurable. Over time, my routine of running with my earphones blasting has grown to become a duty that I delight in. In the end, I find myself doing more often what I used to dread.

We often see duty and delight as two opposing forces—a constant battle between what we need to do and what we really want to do. But the Christian worldview does not portray a dichotomy between duty and delight. Our duty to God and our delight in Him are not two opposing forces. The writer of Psalm 84 exclaims to God that “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). He considers the sweetest and happiest delight of satisfaction to be found only in God’s presence. His utmost “Christian duty” is to pursue his “Christian delight.”

My earphones may have helped to make the duty of running more enjoyable, but it still does not cure my lack of love for running. This is where the analogy breaks down. God really wants you and I to love and delight in Him.

But why does our delight in Him matter so much to God and how can we get there?

 

Driven by Pleasure

In his book You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith asks, “What if, instead of starting from the assumption that human beings are thinking things, we started with the conviction that human beings are first and foremost lovers? What if you are defined not by what you know but by what you desire?” The main idea of this book is that our actions and choices are shaped more by what we love and find pleasure in, than by what we think or believe in.

I think about that tub of premium ice-cream in the fridge. While I know it is full of sugar and stuff that are bad for my health, I still succumb to the temptation. Why? Because it brings me sweet delight and pleasure. I simply love and enjoy that ice-cream.

In a similar way, we can have the soundest Christian doctrines and clearest understanding of the gospel, and yet fall to the gravest sins. We choose sins, simply because we derive more pleasure from what money, sex, and power promise us than what God promises us.

In other words, our problem is not just about making bad choices and behaviors. Our deepest problem is a lack of delight in who God is. Rules and effort cannot fix a heart that does not delight in God.

What we need is an external intervention from outside of our selves—a Savior who would enter the mess of our hearts, to save and transform us from the inside-out. A Savior who would leave the lovely dwelling place of heaven, far away from the courts of the Most High, to dwell among us and pursue our hearts by laying down His own life.

Do you know what made Jesus go to the Cross? Not simply duty, but “the joy set before him” (Hebrew 12:2). Jesus endured the cross out of love for the Father and His people. If we fully comprehend and receive this precious gift of love, how can our hearts not be moved to love Him?

But sometimes, even if we are doing all the right things for God, we still lack joy and delight.

How then can we learn to desire God? I recently read and reflected on the book The Dangerous Duty of Delight by John Piper, and there were three key steps that I took away and am seeking to implement in my own life.

 

1. Acknowledge our joylessness as a problem

The Bible clearly commands us to rejoice in all circumstances (Matthew 5:11–12, 1 Peter 4:13, Philippians 4:4, etc.). God desires not just our “right” behavior, but our affections. Instead of saying that it does not matter how we feel as long as we do the right things, let us acknowledge and confess the coldness of our hearts as a real and deep problem. Our feelings and affections matter, because they matter to God.

Over the past years, God has most gently and lovingly revealed to me that I often love and enjoy full-time ministry without loving and enjoying Him. I have experienced challenging seasons of duty without delight. The most challenging ones are when I do not even realize my own lack of delight. But God has been gracious to give me an awareness of my own misplaced affections. Only with that awareness can I begin to learn to delight in Him.

 

2. Remember how undeserving we are of God’s love, and give thanks to Him

Eleven of the psalms, including Psalm 84, were written by descendants of Korah—a man who led a rebellion against God and Moses in the wilderness. In these psalms, the sons of Korah are overflowing with humility and an almost constant sense of unworthiness, expressing the most heartfelt gratitude and sweetest worship.

Likewise, the more we remember how unworthy we are of God’s love, the more delight we will experience in His grace. As we come before God humbly, thankful for His gift of life and blessings to us, we can also ask Him for joy, trusting that it is His delight to grant us new hearts, that we may be satisfied in Him.

 

3. Believe that the “doing” of duty will kindle delight in God’s time

Though our joy may not immediately come, let us still continue doing what is right and good, trusting that over time, God will set our hearts aflame with delight. This is different from simply pressing on in duty with no regard for our feelings and affections. Instead, this means fighting for our feelings and affections, actively waiting for the sweet union of duty and delight.

 

Final Thoughts

Truth be told, none of us is able to say we love and delight in God perfectly. There are seasons of simply joyless duty, and there are seasons when we even throw duty out of the window.

When I am confronted by my lack of both duty and delight in God, I take comfort in the truth that God does not require us to be perfect in order for us to be perfectly loved. Someone else has accomplished perfection for us. His work in our lives is ongoing and not yet done. We know a Savior who went to the Cross and defeated sin, so that our affections and hearts may be restored to love and learn to enjoy Him. He is shepherding our hearts so that we may make it our utmost duty to delight in him.

 

Are You Afraid of Halloween?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

God has made us all in His image. And since all of us are His marvelously unique designs, we often see a difference in opinions—even among Christians. That can be a challenge, since the Bible does not clearly express how we should act in every situation. Instead, the Bible is focused on presenting the gospel. It gives us principles for how to live, but how we apply some of those principles may vary. Things get tricky when Christians come to different, often passionate, conclusions. Take for example, Halloween.

Halloween is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in America. People dress up in costumes, go to parties, and talk to neighbors they’d otherwise ignore. Kids run up to houses chanting “trick or treat,” expecting to receive plenty of candy.

But Halloween is often controversial in Christian circles because of its pagan origins. Should we embrace it or boycott it?

The truth is, many Christians come to totally different conclusions, and that’s why Halloween can actually be an opportunity for Christians—it challenges us to learn how to deal with disagreements.

Let’s turn to Romans 14:13-19 as a guide:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Some Christians want to celebrate the holiday and use it as a time to witness, share, connect, and build relationships with other people to create opportunity for sharing the gospel. That’s great. Others feel a strong conviction that they should not participate because they don’t feel right doing so. That’s great too. Hear this: neither choice is wrong.

What we get wrong is how we respond to the person who makes a different choice from us. Those of us who celebrate Halloween are wrong when we accuse those who abstain of being mindlessly legalistic, and those of us abstaining are in the wrong if we criticize those who celebrate without bothering to understand their intent.

Too often, we are quick to judge and slow to seek understanding. Jesus was the opposite. He calls us to be the opposite. If we don’t agree with what another Christian is doing, we have help. These five checks have helped me navigate, not just through the Halloween debate, but other disagreements with Christians also:

1. Examine Scripture. Before anything else, I should make sure my reason is supported by God’s Word and not just some tradition I grew up with.

2. Examine Scripture again. This time, I’m not looking at it from my angle, but from the other person’s. Does their behavior go against Scripture, or are there verses that support what they are doing, too?

3. Approach people gently, humbly, and in love. I don’t, as a Christian, have the right to make judgments in my mind about another person if I’m not willing to talk with them. If I don’t like or agree with what someone is doing, I need to talk to the person about it. Ask questions. Try to understand it from their point of view.

4. Examine Scripture again. Now that I know the other person’s perspective, I re-examine God’s Word to see if there was something I previously missed or didn’t understand.

5. Go to them again, in love. At this point, I might gently and humbly share with them my view, the Scripture that I’ve found which gives direction, and why I think they should consider changing their behavior.

Notice that sharing my opinion is the last step. Until I’ve really gone through the first four steps, I have no right to do step five. If I skip to it, I’m likely handling things with a judgmental attitude.

What’s important is that we shouldn’t become so wrapped up in debates that we fail to see the gospel opportunities in front of us. Halloween can be one such opportunity, both for ministering to strangers, as well as in how we, as Christians, treat one another.

If we do choose to celebrate Halloween, let us use this opportunity to focus on building relationships and connecting with other people. We can reach those whom Jesus loves, but who are currently outside of His Kingdom, and initiate conversations with people we normally wouldn’t.

Every day we have opportunities to do what God has called us to do. As the people of God, let’s be open to see every part of our lives as an opportunity to glorify God by sharing His gospel with the world. Isn’t that the summation of our mission? To draw all men to the kingdom of God?

But even as we plan our celebrations, we should also be sensitive to the convictions of other Christians who might not feel comfortable with the idea, and be careful not to judge people for their choice (Romans 14). Ultimately, whether or not we participate in Halloween is a personal decision, and whichever side you are on concerning Halloween (or any other issue), let’s prioritize unity in the body of Christ, and be open to engaging with each other and learning more about how we can love each other.