Spiritual Therapy

My husband Aaron has had back trouble on and off for years.  The pain is growing un-ignorable, the kind that begins to affect his daily life.  He finally went to see a doctor and then a physical therapist a few weeks back.

© Copyright Frank Olsen and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Frank Olsen and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

The physical therapist pinpointed his problem exactly.  She explained that it wasn’t the hurting muscles that were the problem.  Instead, those aching muscles were working extra hard to cover for a different, smaller, weaker, undeveloped muscle.  The pain came from the body adapting to the weak muscle’s inactivity.  A pattern set in, and over the years, the other muscles are strained.

The cure isn’t to relax those overworked muscles.  It’s to strengthen the weak muscle.  As the weak muscle’s capacity grows, the other muscles will relax and the body will begin to work properly again.

I was thankful for Aaron’s sake that these exercises might reduce his pain, and as I began to consider the underlying problem, I began to see the relevance for my own life.

In so many areas, it’s the symptoms of brokenness and sin that capture my attention.  The anxiety or fatigue, the surprising anger or fear that explode into daily interactions, upsetting me and those around me.  I don’t like it.  I want to fix it and root out the problem that’s causing such unpleasantness.

I try to manage my anxiety or rest more so I won’t be so fatigued.  I work to rightly express my emotions or fill-in-the-blank with whatever behavior I’m trying to counteract.  But Aaron’s physical therapy lesson brought new insight.

Ridding myself of the bad won’t necessarily strengthen the good.

Counteracting those negative emotional patterns may bring some short-term improvement, but it doesn’t get at the underlying problem.  My emotional being won’t function properly until the weak underdeveloped muscles can be brought into wholeness.

© Copyright Simon Eugster and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Simon Eugster and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

What does it mean to strengthen the good?  Scripture is full of this kind of theology.  It’s not just the “putting off” of the old, but the “putting on”of the new.  In fact the putting on of the new often forces out the old.  Clothing myself with Christ strips off the old tattered rags while simultaneously giving me His life.

I think about this in my struggle with fear.  If you’ve ever battled any sort of emotion, you know it’s not enough to tell yourself it isn’t rational or to try and not respond in that way anymore.  I can’t make myself unafraid.

I’m already learning that the primary offensive strategy is to act out of truth rather than emotional response.  To act according to what I know to be true without giving way to fear – to act in the face of it.  But I think this physical therapy approach gives me another angle on it.

 When I feed on the goodness of God, when I abide in the truth of his love, I am strengthening the muscle that enables me to trust him.  As that muscle grows, it undoes the damage done by the cramping fearful self-preserving muscles.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Oh, Lord, may it be so.

© Copyright Dirk Beyer  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Dirk Beyer and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Fighting for Faith

“How long will this people despise me?  And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”  Numbers 14:11

I like to think that I would have unshakeable faith if I could only see God’s goodness with my eyes.  How could the Israelites still not believe when time after time they experienced first hand God’s miraculous, mind-boggling deliverance?

© Copyright Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

They witness the shocking clarity of the Plagues, the way God’s people were spared while the rest of the land despaired.  Their feet carry them through the impossible crossing of the Red Sea, an astounding triumph of dead-end deliverance.  They, a ragtag band of slaves, plunder Egypt, the most powerful empire on earth.

And what was it like to see a fiery column blazing through the nighttime darkness and a mysterious cloud leading the community by day?  How could one deny God’s presence with that daily reminder hovering overhead? Every morning, they tasted the manna, food that rained down from heaven and filled their every need.  Despite all this, with each new challenge, they waver in fear, wishing they could go back to Egypt.

Joshua and Caleb didn’t understand either.  “The Lord will give us this good land,” they told the people.  “Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us.  Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

But the people don’t believe Joshua and Caleb.  They choose unbelief.  Unbelief in the face of the Lord’s goodness.  Unbelief despite of all he had said and done to show his special care for them.  Unbelief with the miraculous hovering overhead.

I would believe, I tell myself.  If I had seen what they had seen, experienced what they experienced, I would believe.  But I’m lying to myself.

Haven’t I seen and tasted even more?  Haven’t I witnessed the fullness of the Gospel, God’s ultimate triumph over all the powers of darkness, his defeat of death itself?  Don’t I live on this side of Calvary, a place where Christians know with confidence that nothing can separate us from the love God?  That there is no condemnation, no crippling judgment, no barrier between my Creator and me?  Haven’t I learned to call him Father?  Don’t I receive the daily, living bread, sent from heaven to satisfy my every need?

© Copyright Daniel Dauria and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Daniel Dauria and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I wonder: were the Israelites really foolish or were they just unable to make the connection?  Perhaps they wrote off as coincidence God’s intervention in their lives.  Or perhaps their terror was so great it drowned out the memory of past goodness.

Or maybe we really are that broken that no matter what we see with our eyes or experience with our lives, we still believe the serpent’s accusation that God is not good, that he will fail us.

For isn’t unbelief at the root of all sin?  Isn’t doubt of God’s goodness at the core of every act of rebellion? 

This unbelief creeps in when I worry over what might happen, over what Bad Thing could come.

It blinds me to the gift of the present moment with a repeating loop of past mistakes and the wearisome anxiety of future what-ifs.

It smothers the planted Word of God when I think about the good I could do and then yawn and return to my established habits of mindless entertainment.

It occupies me with sin management rather than love for God and others.

It keeps me in the wilderness when God has called me to the Promised Land. 

And it riles me up to scorn and despise any person who might challenge my unbelief by calling me to faith in God’s goodness.

I stand with the Israelites, rock in hand, ready to stone Joshua and Caleb for their faith-filled words.  How dare they suggest God delights in overcoming impossible odds?  How can they call me to risk my life, to base all on a promise from God?  Isn’t it folly to hold my life so loosely, to cast all hope on something he might fail to deliver?

© Copyright Hansueli Krapf and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Hansueli Krapf and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

The serpent’s words echo down through the ages: Has God really said? God might be withholding something.  His ways might not really be good. What God really means is that you get what seems best to you.  And the insidious seed of unbelief takes root.

How can we fight for faith when we are so inclined to doubt?  How do we find faith when our eyes are so darkened by the size of the enemy in front of us?  When everything looks dark and grim and full of giants?  We stand in the desert and look at the carnage in front of us, opting for scarcity instead of risking faith in his promise of security and abundance.

I think we fight for faith every time we pronounce the opposite of the tempter’s words.  We fight for faith by calling to mind what God has really said.

God has said that he loves me.  That he delights in my well-being.  That he is not blind to the groaning of the world.  That he will work good even out of the darkest moments. That in the end, all will come right, that all of this will have been a momentary blink, not worth the weight of glory to come.  That we will rejoice with him at the eternal feast.  Like Joshua and Caleb, we declare back the promises of God, and we encourage our hearts with the truth: God is good.  Whether I’m able to recognize it or not, he is good.

We fight for faith by reading the Scripture, by replaying the countless ways he’s helped his people.  We read church history, witnessing anew his ongoing presence and activity in our world.  We recall our own personal Ebenezers, the moments where we say: Thus far has the Lord helped me.

We fight for faith by waving our tiny fists in the face of a fallen cosmos, holding on to the belief that this is our Father’s world, even when all around us declare it to be worthless.  In the face of bleak circumstances we join our voices with all of creation and proclaim the goodness of God.  We shout it to the heavens, leaving no room for tendrils of fear and uncertainty to choke us.

© Copyright nheyob and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright nheyob and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

We fight for faith by recalibrating our idea of goodness.  We set aside the safe bet, what seems good to us, what we’d design as a world-plan or plan for our lives.  Because, really, what do we know anyway?  Looking to him in faith, even when everything around suggests otherwise, is the story of the Scriptures.  It is God’s way.

It’s David gathering stones in the presence of Goliath, it’s Gideon sneaking into the enemy camp quavering in fear, it’s Hezekiah spreading the accusations of his enemies before the Lord.

It’s too-old Abraham and laughable Sarah having a child, it’s a young woman becoming queen and saving her people from genocide.

It’s Joash the boy-king and Moses the murderer-turned-leader and Elijah with his water-drenched altar.  It’s God turning everything topsy-turvy and taking the humble and small and ridiculous to work inexpressible triumph.  It’s a teenage virgin believing an angel and uneducated fishermen teaching millions through the generations.

It’s a persecutor becoming an advocate, unclean Gentiles receiving the Spirit, and the last, the little, and the least inheriting the kingdom.  It’s God himself becoming a helpless baby, and the torturer’s cross becoming the hope of the world. It’s the Christian story.  It’s your story.   

Renounce unbelief.  Take the stones you would hurl in fear and anger and instead build an altar of remembrance.  Cast aside the things that feed doubt and call to mind the clear evidence of the Lord’s presence in and with you.  In the darkness of suffering and loss, sing of his goodness.  Raise your tiny fist in the air and defy the brokenness of our world.

© Copyright Michael Saludo  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Michael Saludo and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Say it loud: God has really spoken.  His eternal Word came forth and reconciled all things to himself.  He spoke his Word, and I am saved.  Say it through the ages: My God is good.