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When Depression Drove Me Away From God

Written By Ruth, Singapore

I have been struggling with depression all my life, but recently, I hit a breaking point. I was furious at the Lord, questioning why He had not taken this illness away.

In an attempt to spite God for leaving me with the burden of depression, I chose to intentionally sin against Him. I went on dates with men I met online and spent a lot of time with them instead of my church mates, friends, and family. I also began to indulge in alcohol, which seemed like a good form of distraction from thinking about God or my actions. I would often drink till my heart’s content, letting myself be filled with feelings of indifference and “bliss”.

I was seeking temporary relief and anything that could numb the stinging feeling of misery in my heart. But despite my attempts, every single morning when I woke up, I would find that the pain did not go away and my heart was still as empty.

Throughout this season, I still attended church, albeit with a cold heart. I also continued meeting some Christian friends. Looking back now, I know that all these were actually part of His plans to reveal Himself to me in small and clear ways.

 

God’s persistent pursuit of me

What left a huge impact on me during this period was how my Christian friends responded to my actions. Instead of putting on a “holier than thou” front and demanding that I stop sinning, they stood by me and showed me God’s love and grace. They gave me time to think about things, and space to wrestle with God.

One friend in particular prayed for me daily. Every single day, she texted me to ask about my progress and how I was feeling. She also took time to understand me and was available whenever I needed her. Above all, she prayed and trusted in the Lord. Till today, she is stil­l praying for me.

Even in my rebellion, I knew that the love, faithfulness, and immense patience I experienced through my friends was from God. I could sense that He was pursuing me, even when I tried to distance myself from Him and others around me.

Eventually, I could not deny His presence or ignore His pursuit of me anymore. I had learned that the life I was running to was unfulfilling. It would never bring me the freedom I longed for. Nothing, apart from Him, could bring me freedom or joy. I decided that even if I still struggled with depression and other sins, even if I’d probably fail Him time and time again, God will never forsake me, and He is worthy of my trust.

 

The problem with coming back to Christ

However, even after I made up my mind to turn back to Him, it still took months before I gained the courage to call upon the name of Jesus again.

The turning point came when I heard a sermon on the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The message got me thinking: Was I actually afraid to turn back to God because I thought that He may not receive me with open arms anymore? I reasoned that God knows my sin against Him on an even deeper level than my friends, family, or anyone I could hide things from. How could He really want me?

When I considered the depth and weight of my sin, it was so excruciating that I found it difficult to even lift my head in front of our Holy God. But this story in Luke reminded me of God’s willingness to receive me. I’m now slowly starting to grasp the truth that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is enough to cover my sin, and I stopped doubting God’s forgiveness and the sacrifice Jesus made for me on the Cross.

 

What my journey means for me now

Today, I know that nothing—even depression—can take me away from God’s love and forgiveness (Romans 8:38-39). Turning back to God gave me a sense of peace and hope that both alcohol and men could not provide.

Although sometimes I feel like I am still at the bottom of a dark well, I hold fast to the promises of God. Just as God promised Joshua, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)”, I know that the Lord is with me even in this deep well.

He brings light into my darkness, and this light allows me to see who God truly is—love. I am also assured that because of Christ, I am no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:17-18). Although I may still succumb to the weakness of my flesh, I am no longer turning my back on God, but asking Him for an obedient heart to do what pleases Him.

If you’ve been running from God or struggling like I was (and still am sometimes), I pray that you can find strength to turn to the Maker and Comforter of your soul! If you feel lost or distant from God, remember this: God loves you. God chose you. God died and bled for you so that you could be forgiven and His grace for you is sufficient! Hear this verse as a personal call to you:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, ESV).

If you have a friend who has left the body of Christ, I want to assure you that what your friend needs is all of the love, grace, support, and time he or she can get. Your friend may need months, or even years, before they come back to the faith. Keep showing them God’s love in the meantime, and be faithful in prayer, remembering that everything will work out—not in our timing, not in your friend’s, but in God’s perfect timing.

Am I Responsible for My Friend’s Salvation?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I remember the moment l entered a relationship with Jesus as though it were yesterday.

It happened 10 years ago, on a chilly January evening. My friend Hannah led me in prayer and confession while we were seated in her car, parked outside a supermarket. In a declaration of faith, l accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

The change was immediate: l felt clean and light, as if all my past mistakes and bad decisions had been erased. More importantly, l felt loved and accepted for who l was, despite my failures and flaws; a love which could only have come from God.

As the months went by, l embraced the chance to start my life afresh with God, with fervent gratitude and a heart that burned to know my Savior more and more. Hannah became one of my mentors, and she taught me about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)—how God calls us to spread the good news of the Bible.

My thoughts went immediately to my closest friends who didn’t know Jesus. I realized that the struggles and pain my friends experienced were often a reflection of their search for purpose in life, for identity. This broke my heart.

l wanted to help my friends know the same freedom, peace, and love from a merciful Father that l did. Additionally, l was concerned about the possibility of my friends’ eternal separation from God if they did not enter a relationship with Him. Therefore, l made up my mind to “help” my friends along the path to salvation, which led to an awkward incident between them and myself.

It happened one fateful weekend when my friends and l were visiting Amsterdam. On Saturday night, a few members of our group wanted to visit the red light district, where tourists flock in droves to look at sex workers behind red-lit glass doors. This did not sit well with me. While my friends thought that the experience would be a harmless act of cheeky window-watching, I thought of the desperate circumstances that pushed these women to such a place. l felt for them.

I told my friends that God intended our bodies to be holy and acceptable to Him (Romans 12:1), and that as a Christian, l would not pursue the things of this world. Instead, l would pursue God and so should they. Well, as we British say, that went down like a lead balloon. Some of my friends told me straight out that it wasn’t my place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do, and most of all, what they should believe.

I wanted my friends to know the love of Jesus, but that setback helped me see that l wasn’t responsible for their salvation—they were. God desires each of us to willingly choose a relationship with Him, and I could not force anyone to a choice—whether through shame or other methods. However, l do have an obligation to share the Gospel. Since that awkward incident, l have been learning to minister to my friends in different ways, in the hopes that it would draw them to the light of Christ.

Here are four ways that I’ve learned to reach out to my non-Christian friends:

 

1. Let Our Faith Shine Through Our Lives

l can be a good spokesperson for Christ when my friends see the way l live my life as a Christian. I love the words of Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

One big change that happened after I became a Christian was that I no longer used swear words. Not only did my friends notice this change, but now they actually apologize to me if they accidentally swear in my presence!

Instead of speaking negatively, l now try to use my words to encourage and uplift those around me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I try to show my friends God’s love by being patient, kind and empathetic with them, just as Jesus is with us.

 

2. Share Testimonies

God is constantly working in our lives, and we get to share it with our friends. When my husband and l were struggling financially, God came through and provided us with income from sources such as friends, an unexpected payment in our account, and even a scholarship for my husband! Not only do my friends get to witness how God has changed my life around, but they also get to learn more about God through what occurs in my life.

I have noticed that my friends are more receptive to hearing about God when they can see a tangible working of His role as a living God and loving Father. Some of my friends have even started attributing good things in their lives to God’s blessings, instead of the result of their hard work or simply luck or fate.

 

3. Create A Safe Space of Mutual Respect

My friends and l have created a safe space in our relationship, where we mutually respect one another, and each person is free to be themselves. We accept each other’s weaknesses and forgive each other when we make mistakes.

I do talk about God with my friends, but l now use discernment and weigh each situation carefully before sharing my opinions, instead of bombarding them with verses from the Bible.

Because of our safe space, my friends feel comfortable in approaching me when they do have questions about God, because they know l will neither judge them nor be sanctimonious towards them.

 

4. Pray for Our Friends’ Salvation

Have you seen the movie War Room? The elderly woman in the movie had a special closet—which she calls her “war room”—set aside for regular, passionate, dedicated prayer on behalf of people around her.

I pray for my friends’ salvation a lot. l have written down a list of people l hope will one day come into a relationship with Christ, and hung this list up in my spare room—my own “war room.” During my quiet time with God, l pray over this list and intercede for my friends and loved ones.

 

My friends may one day choose Christ, or they may not. Either way, l will continue to be friends with them and love them with the love that Christ has shown me.

Having said that, l will not give up hope that, one day, my friends will accept Jesus into their hearts. Until that day comes, l will continue to have faith, believe in God’s mercy, and pray.

What If My Closest Friends Are Not Christians?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

At the moment, I find forming friendships in church quite challenging. Moving to a new city, as well as health issues, is probably part of the reason. I also have trouble connecting deeply with people at church, even though I join small groups, volunteer for service, and participate in church events.

My old friends, however, are still like family to me. Most of them are former teaching colleagues, and a few I know from my former church. Our friendships span a period of 16 years. Though our bonds have been tested through many seasons—job changes, marriage, sickness and death—we remain dear friends. When it is time to rejoice, we dance; in times of sorrow, we hold to each other and cry. We have grown up together.

None of my friends attend my current church. Most of my friends aren’t even Christians: in fact, some of them are atheists. One of them has even embraced the goth lifestyle.

Does that make it okay then, that l am closer to them than people l know in church?

 

Who Did Jesus Befriend?

Some well-meaning Christians have suggested that I give up these friendships. While I certainly put time and effort into making friends at church, I definitely do not think it is necessary to give up my friends outside of church. After all, Jesus was diverse in his interactions with people as well. He not only spent time discipling the Twelve, but He associated Himself with children, tax collectors, lepers, as well as others considered socially inferior. He sought to draw them to the kingdom of God. Why then, should we limit ourselves to being involved only with people from church?

Just like Jesus tried to draw people from various backgrounds into His kingdom, so too, we can try to bring our friends into the church family. After all, the Great Commission commands that we share the gospel with our fellow man (Matthew 28:16-20).

For example, I invite my friends to church, and they enjoy themselves when they are there. l use discernment to determine the right moment to broach Christian-related subjects. It means stepping into unfamiliar territory for all of us and exploring deep-rooted issues, but l love how open-minded my friends are. More often than not, my friends talk about God of their own accord. I’ve also discovered that I can sometimes be a more effective ambassador for Christ through the way l live my life as a Christian, rather than through using my voice.

 

God Loved Us First

I cherish my friends. Our relationships have a realness to them—the kind of grit and spit that has survived the ugliness of hardship and seen the beauty in each other when we were at our weakest. We share a love which selflessly gives, genuinely wanting to contribute to the happiness of the other. We share a love that deepens through shared experiences and the revelation of life’s lessons. It is a love that does not leave anyone behind.

Our love for each other reminds me of God’s love for us—in His unconditional love, He gave up the life of His precious son Jesus to pay the bond price for our sins on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16). This is the love that breaks chains and sets people free.

I get to love my friends—though they are not all Christian—with the love that God has showered on me. I pray for them and hope that one day, they get to know God’s love for themselves as well.

 

Friendships in Church

While I am incredibly thankful for these friendships God has blessed me with, I am also aware of how important it is to have strong friendships within the church. The depth of my relationship with my closest friends encourages me to reach out and work to build meaningful relationships at church.

Instead of simply trying to get to know everybody, however, I am now focusing on getting to know a few specific people better. I try to keep in mind that we are all imperfect and ask God to help us understand each other.

There are a few women at church with whom I share a mutual sympathy, and we have a similar perspective on faith as well. We now stay in regular contact. We pray for each other and try to get to know each other over coffee. It’s taking time, but our efforts are bearing fruit, and we are opening up more to each other.

In a letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul lists his dearest friends: Jews, Gentiles, cellmates, a physician, and even a slave (Colossians 4:7-18). This extensive list encourages and inspires me to nurture Kingdom friendships with people from all walks of life, so that we might work together towards the glory of God, both within and outside the church.

 

Perhaps you have close friends outside of church as well? I thank God for the deep love you share with them. Do you pray for them? Have you ever considered inviting them to church or small group?  May you keep loving them the way God loves you and me.

When A Friend Leaves the Faith

When a close friend of mine shared with me through a text that she was no longer a Christian, I foolishly replied with three insensitive words: “Are you legit?”

She was someone I had grown up with in church, and we had served together in various ministries. Although younger than me, she spoke with much wisdom; I always saw her as someone who was more spiritually mature than me.

Naturally, her declaration that she was no longer a Christian came as a shock to me. I re-read the same text again and again, hoping that I had misunderstood her message. There was no ambiguity in her text. What was I to say now? Surely she wouldn’t want me to share with her the gospel that she no longer believed in?

As an introvert, I tend to stay within my tight-knit circle of friends in church, and not step out to minister to others. Because of my fear of rejection, I always assumed that the responsibility to reach out to those who leave the faith lies with those who were more extroverted and spiritually mature.

But when my friend made that declaration to me, I knew I could not sit back and do nothing. As her friend, I had to act. But while it was clear as day to me that I had to do my part to reach out to her, I wasn’t clear about how or where to begin.

As I struggled to connect with my friend, these are five things that I wish someone had told me.

 

1. He/she is still your friend

After my friend’s sudden declaration, I struggled to view her as my same old friend that I could spend hours talking to. I couldn’t engage in the same conversations about the books and the silliest happenings in our lives without the nagging thought that our relationship was no longer the same. That said, she was probably having the same difficulty as well, wondering if her Christian friends would treat her any different now that she no longer believed in God, and would leave her because of her decision.

When our friends leave the faith, it can be a crushing blow to us. To me, it even felt a little like betrayal. But I do believe that God wants us to continue to be the same friend to them, treating them as we did before. God wants us to view them as His children and fellow sinners who need God’s love and care—like we all do (Romans 5:8).

Friends who leave the faith are not “new projects” for us to take on, they are still our friends with the same needs, desires, and hobbies.

 

2. Take the time to listen to them

What my friend needed at that moment was not someone persuading her to come back to Christianity. She didn’t need another comprehensive or engaging presentation of the gospel. What she needed was a friend to hear her out.

Spending time to understand why our friends leave the faith as well as the process leading up to that decision is important. We need to remember that many of them have thought through the painful process and would appreciate someone patient enough to listen, instead of someone eager to re-share the gospel with them as if they’ve not heard it before. This also shows respect for our friend, recognizing that they did not make the decision lightly, and that they are probably going through quite a bit emotionally.

When we seek first to understand them, we demonstrate God’s love, care, and concern for them. The act of listening also reassures them that the friendship is a safe space for them to share, and opens up more opportunities for them to be honest with their struggles.

 

3. Know the faith you proclaim

I’m ashamed to admit that this was my biggest struggle. I don’t think it’s about knowing how to answer every difficult apologetics question thrown at us, but at the very least, we must be clear about why we are Christians.

When my friend asked me over dinner one day why I’m a Christian, my mind went blank. I realized I hadn’t thought it through carefully or prepared an answer. In the end, I stammered through a lengthy and lame reply that even I myself wasn’t convinced of.

The reason for our conviction is a common question from non-Christians, and the Bible exhorts us to “always be ready to explain” the reason for the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15, NLT). When we are ill-equipped to share with confidence, we are losing a precious opportunity from God to share our personal testimony with others and what our faith means to us on a personal level. By not thinking through our own reasons, we also lose the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the person on a topic close to both our hearts.

 

4. Reflect on how we might have influenced the decision

Though the decision to leave the faith ultimately rests with the individual and each one of us is accountable for our own actions before God, there could have been a string of contributing factors that finally tipped the balance.

In my friend’s case, I—along with other friends—had wrongly assumed that just because she was actively serving, her relationship with God was in a good state, so we neglected ministering to her. We spent a much larger proportion of our time with others who reluctantly came to church or didn’t feel connected to the church, forgetting that the one next to us needed the same kind of attention.

Perhaps, it might have been the little things that caused them to feel far away from God. We may not have ignored or excluded them in church, refusing to be the community we are called to be; but could we have been slow to listen to their struggles, or had focused on loving and spending time with others?

What did we do (or not do) that caused them to feel distant and doubt God? Are there things that we could have done better to point them to God? What practical steps could we have taken to improve the way we behave? In other words, how could we have been better friends? How could we have been more sensitive to their needs?

Recognizing hard truths help us to be better friends and better testimonies of Christ to those around us.

 

5. Recognize that God’s heart breaks more than ours.

If our friends are precious to us, what more to their Creator? If we, as sinners, can love our friends, how much more the perfect God?

If we want our friends to be reconciled with God, what more God, who sent His only Son to do that (John 3:16)? We can be assured that God’s personal heart is for all sinners to come back to Him in repentance (Ezekiel 18:23). Just as God is patient and will never give up on His children (2 Peter 3:9), may we learn to never give up praying and interceding for our friends.

Let us learn to trust in God, not doubting His faithfulness and His goodness, and cling onto His promises in the Bible that God will finish the good work that He has begun in every single one of us (Philippians 1:6).

 

I hope that my friend will come back to Christ one day. And till then, I will keep praying that God will turn her heart back to Him, trusting and submitting to His sovereign will.