I needed to ask for help this week. Did you?
I have a confession to make, I have found myself in a discouraging place – mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Even before social distancing was the new normal, I was already in a season of discouragement. Then, in what felt like a matter of a few hours, the city I love shut down. My favorite restaurants closed, my go-to coffee shop was now only to-go and six feet became the closest I could be to most of my friends.
I became disheartened. I was disheartened by the distance I now felt between my church, my friends, and my city. I was disheartened that gun stores across our nation were now as busy as the toilet paper aisles while so many were frantically purchasing the means to protect themselves from their neighbors, even if violently. I was disheartened to see so many Christians posting implications on social media that this virus was somehow some form of judgement passed on to humanity from God. Or others taking Old Testament verses far out of context and delivering false and naive promises of healing if we would return prayer to schools and become a “Christian nation” again (as if a nation can be “Christian” or as if we ever were). I was disheartened to see Christians, who should be among the first to surrender or give up their rights for the sake of others, complaining that their constitutional rights were being violated by the government forcing them to quarantine. But mostly, I became discouraged by the deaths of so many all around our world. God hates death, God is a God of light and life. God is deeply disturbed by death. I know that this current affliction humanity is enduring is not what He wants for us, I know He is hurting right now, too. (John 11:35-37; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26)
So I found myself discouraged and asking, along with the great 20th century Reformed preacher, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, “In this uncertain world, where we have already experienced two world wars within a quarter of a century, and where we may have to face yet another and things that are even worse, here is the question –How are you going to face it all, how can you meet it all?”
His answer was simple. Follow and practice the way of Paul when he says, “I am strong, I am able for anything that may happen to me, whether it be the kind of life I have known for so long or whether it be entirely different, I am ready for it. For I am able for all things through the One who is constantly infusing strength into me.” (His interpretation of Philippians 4:10-13)
“I can therefore summarize the teaching like this,” Martin Lloyd-Jones went on to say, “the secret of this power is to discover what is possible for us in Jesus. What I have to do is go to Jesus. I must spend time with Him, I must get to know Him.” That was after all, the entire purpose of Paul’s life, the source of His strength, the fulfillment of His hope, the cultivation of his peace – to know Jesus (Philippians 3:10).
But knowing Jesus and spending time with Him in His presence can feel difficult, even intimidating or confusing. So how do we know Him, so that we, like Paul, are able to face any type of uncertainty with strength? Let me tell you how it happened for me just yesterday.
As a pastor, I believe the primary role of my job is to protect my own spiritual health and to continuously foster my own intimacy with my Jesus. I cannot beckon others to a place I have not been myself. Yet in this season, I found myself turning towards other things to deal with the uneasiness in my heart – alcohol, or lust or Netflix. As the weeks went by I felt my heart sinking deeper and deeper into an unhealthy, lonely place.
Then something happened.
I Facetimed a friend Sunday night, and I asked for help. I confessed that I had been feeling very discouraged, alone, and isolated. I admitted that I had been neglecting my own intimacy with Jesus for lesser things. He listened with compassion. He thanked me for being vulnerable with him.
We hung up. Then I experienced something I did not expect – closeness and intimacy with Jesus. I spent time with Him. I went to sleep that night feeling very near to the One who made me and loves me. As I drifted to sleep, I had a sense of peace for the first time in weeks. I wondered if it was really this simple. Could experiencing the presence of Jesus and His love for me be as simple as letting a Christian friend in on how I was struggling?
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that a Christian who has other Christian friends they trust, that they can be vulnerable with, that they can confess to, and ask for help from, “will never be alone again, anywhere.” Not only that, but our Christian friends can “break the cycle of darkness. When we confess our sin and brokenness in the presence of Christians, we know we are no longer by ourselves; we experience the presence of God in the reality of the other person.”
One of the primary ways we can know Him is through the love of our friends. Do you want to know Him? Getting to really know Jesus, to spend time with Him, to fall in love with Him, may actually start for you with a simple question to a friend – “Can I tell you what has really been going on with me? Can I let you in on how I’ve been struggling?” The presence of Jesus may be closer than you think. And with His presence comes power; power to face uncertainty.