Sunday, February 1, 2015

New Believer Advice (NBA) #1: Emotional Highs

            In December 2014, I posted a piece called “What to Expect When You’re a New Believer.”  In the next bunch of posts, I want to go deeper into the advice that I wrote for new believers and see if there is anything we “old” believers can take from it.  There is always something new we can learn and take to heart.  These are all lessons taken from my life, my journey with the Lord over the last 30-ish years, or things others have taught me while on their journey with the Lord.  So let’s start from the beginning.  (The parts taken from the original post will be in black and the new stuff will be in dark blue.)

New Believer Advice #1:  New believers may be on an emotional high at first. 
            This is normal.  In the beginning, there is a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for all things Christian.  Enjoy this time.  Enjoy seeing God for the first time through eyes of faith.  Get in touch with His love and His goodness and His grace.  Let it fill your heart, heal old wounds, build you up inside, and change your life and outlook. 
            But just know that it is normal for this enthusiasm to wane over time.  You will come down off of that high, land back on earth, and realize that life still goes on as normal.  (You’ll just be seeing it with new eyes!  And that never gets old!)  But this does not mean that you love God any less or that He loves you any less.  Nor does it mean you are losing faith or that God is letting you down or that you are failing in your Christian walk in any way.  You are just entering the next step of maturity in the Christian faith, learning to live your faith in real life.  And it is a journey full of ups and downs, mountaintops and valleys, pain and joy.  Your emotions and enthusiasm will fluctuate and waiver, but God never does.

(New stuff for this post) 
            As older believers, we know well the ups and downs.  We may have spent more time in the valleys than on the mountaintops.  We may have had our heart and spirit squashed over and over again.  Yet hopefully we have learned to stick it out, because we have learned that this world really holds nothing for us.  We are living for eternity.  We have our sights set on eternity, not on the trials and delights of this world.  Our joy is in the Lord.  Not in anything this world can give us or do for us.  And this is a good thing.
            I think as we grow in our walk, we have learned to not put our faith in our feelings.  We know that emotional highs are great, but they do not last.  And they do not necessarily indicate how strong our faith is or the quality of our relationship with God.  Emotional highs come and go, but our faith remains strongly rooted in God.  In His Truth.  In His goodness.  In His love.
            However, as I look back, I realize that getting that “strong-rooted faith” is the hardest part of the journey because it usually means first going through a lot of storms to test our faith.  A deep trust in God does not usually come without a lot of heartache, dying to self, and testing.
            Usually it is journey through a refining furnace (painful trials) that purifies our faith, our priorities, our motives, our humility, etc.  These trials – these fires – cause us to choose: Cling to ourselves or cling to God.  Self-confidence or confidence in God.  Trying to remain lord of our own life or letting God be God! 
            These are painful tests.  Fire burns.  But fire also purifies, getting rid of all the pollutants and the things which compromise the integrity of something.  And in the end – even if the process hurts - fire makes it stronger. 
            This is how it is with our faith.  If we do not run from the fire! 
            And many people do!  Many Christians give up when it gets too hot or too hard or when the wait is too long.  They turn their backs on God because they feel that He cannot be trusted.  They do not hang in there long enough to see Him come through for them, to see the purifying, strengthening effect that the fiery trial would have had.  And that is their loss!  And a loss for Kingdom of God! 
            The trials will always be there.  There will always be pain.  But if you are wise, you will choose to grow through the trial, to cling to God, to let it purify and strengthen your faith.  Never waste a trial.  Never let all that pain amount to nothing but emptiness in the end.  Let it propel you into the arms of God. 
            Let it bring forward all the fears, doubts, sins, brokenness, misconceptions, and assumptions that you have about life, yourself, others, and God.  Present those to God in prayer and ask Him to purify them, to help you see things clearly.  Give Him the broken parts of your heart – in honest, humble transparency – and let Him heal them.  Ask for His strength when you have none of your own. 
            If you seek to grow through the trials and to let them teach you, they will lead to growth, to a stronger, purer faith and a greater trust in Him which will lead to more contentment, joy, and peace, no matter what life throws your way.  But none of this will happen if you run away when it gets too hot.
            I know for me, I can get so discouraged with this life that I want to check out emotionally.  But this should not be.  This life is not about having a “happy life,” about getting everything we want.  It is our chance to love God, to let Him love us, and to live Christ to others.  It is our one chance to be salt and light to those around us.  If we check out and curl up in a ball of discouragement or if we wash our hands of this whole exhausting world, who will be there to help the lost find their way to the Truth?
            I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the less “happy” this life is.  There is too much violence, uncertainty, heartache, brokenness, hatred, criticism, struggle, strife, cynicism, and conflict for us to really be happy.  So if we make happiness our goal, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  Because there will always be another heartbreaking trial, another interpersonal conflict, another toy that we don’t have but want, and a lack of resources to get all that we want.
            We cannot set our hearts and sights on being “happy” in this life.  We need to set our sights on Christ and on finding peace, joy, and contentment in Him, even in the hard times.  Especially in the hard times.  And we need to learn to be faithful, obedient, God-glorifying soldiers in the valleys and hard times, instead of searching for the next mountaintop experience, trying to fabricate the kind of spiritual, emotional high that we had when our faith was young.   
            Faith – a relationship with God - is kind of like a good marriage.  In the beginning, it is new and exciting and emotionally electric.  But as time goes on, you lose that excitement and freshness.  The fireworks are few and far between.  Sometimes there are more frustrations than there are warm fuzzies.
            But that early emotional excitement is replaced with something better: a stable and secure relationship as you have grown to really know and to trust each other.  You have dealt with the conflicts and faced the problems, wrestling with each other over doubts, fears, and difference-of-opinions until you have sorted it out.  Because you know that it is better to do the hard thing and work it out than to sweep it under the rug, plaster on a smile, and let the wounds fester.  You have taken off the masks that we all wear and have really seen each other for who you are.  You know them and they know you.  Deeply.  Truly. 
            And as familiarity and trust grow, the relationship feels less like an exciting firework display and more like an old, comfortable, perfectly-fitting pair of jeans.  And you are just as happy to simply be in the same room with each other while doing nothing at all as you are to be out-and-about doing new and wild things.  And that kind of deep and comfortable trust, delight, and security is far more fulfilling than the emotional high you knew in the beginning. 
            If it’s been a long time since you have felt an emotional spiritual high, don’t be discouraged.  Because you are simply in the process of trading “emotional high” for “rock-solid stability.”  Trading a dazzling firework display for a trusty, comfortable pair of jeans.  So don’t try to fabricate spiritual excitement.  Just get in touch with God’s love and truth in the here-and-now.  And stop working for things that will burn up in the end.  Work for His glory and for eternity.  And you will find a deep peace, joy, and delight that will far surpass emotional highs.
            Emotional highs are great, but they get more rare the longer you walk with God.  The majority of our walk will not be spent on the mountaintops but in the valleys.  Trudging through each dull or difficult day, up to our knees in the muck and filth of life, wiping sweat off our brow with dirty hands as we struggle to put one foot in front of the other and “run the race” marked out for us.  
            But let’s not forget that God doesn’t wait for us at the mountaintops, in the exciting moments.  He is here and He is now.  He is not beckoning us from way up high.  He is reaching out His hand so that we can grab ahold of it, letting Him guide us and walk with us through the refining furnaces, the discouraging deserts, and the long valleys in our life. 

            “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  (Colossians 3:2) 

            “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:6-7) 

            “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)     

            “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it’s coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  (2 Peter 3:11-14) 

            “I have fought the good fight,  I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  (2 Tim 4:7-8)

            “ . . . ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.’”  (Matthew 25:21)