“I feel like faith is destroying my life.” Someone said this to me as they sat weeping in my office. This was a person who had previously grasped her faith with both hands. Six-months prior to this she had experienced a dramatic conversion that had completely changed her life. New to the faith, and new to the church, she approached all things enthusiastically. She signed up for every ministry, she volunteered at every dinner. Every single church event saw her in attendance. She rejoiced in her new life.
Until the day when she didn’t.
Somewhere along the way all the stuff that she was doing began to crowd out the presence of Jesus. Activities and ministries that had begun as expressions of loving devotion slowly turned into routines she could not put down; they were duties she could not escape. She felt trapped, alone, and spiritually exhausted.
Spiritual discouragement can be related to a season of hardship or struggle, but it can also appear out of the blue. When this is the case, our feelings of spiritual dis-ease leaves us feeling confused and frustrated. We feel that we have done something wrong, or that the call of faith demands more than we can give. Words cannot aptly express the discontent felt when we believe that our faith has worked against us.
The good news is this is normal. This may not seem like good news, but it is. Countless Christians before you have undergone the exact experience. So common is this that John Bunyan depicted this scenario in his classic book “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” Moments into his spiritual journey, Pilgrim falls into a thick and miry bog named the “Slough of Despond.” Bunyan describes this mud-pit as a place a place of fear, doubt, and discouraging apprehension. The Slough of Despond stops us in our tracks because it makes us believe that there is no possible way forward, and that our faith is not as strong as we would like.
As tough as the Slough of Despond is, however, this isn’t the whole journey. In fact, the miry bog becomes the very place where Pilgrim learns to rely on the promises of God. Bunyan describes how the promises of God are the very steps upon which we can stand. The slough may appear aggressive and frightening, but there is a way forward. The “promise steps,” placed deep in the bog itself, provide the pathway forward.
The parishioner mentioned above, for example, needed to stand upon the promise of grace. For her, she needed to know that the love of Christ enfolded her, regardless of how she preformed. She needed to know that she did not to earn God’s affection or blessing, and that Jesus’ love was promised to her. Others may need to stand on the promise of forgiveness. Some may need to hear (and rehear) the promise that the sins of the past are dead and gone, crucified in the sacrifice of Jesus.
God’s promises are spoken precisely for those moments when we need them. They hold us up when our faith feels shaky and unsupported. They provide strength and hope for our Christian walk. The times of discouragement, therefore, are not a denial of our faith; they are but the moments wherein we learn the strength of God’s eternal word, and the constancy of God’s presence.
What promises do you need to stand upon? God’s promises are sprinkled throughout the entirety of the scriptures and extend over every area of our lives. If you don’t know where to turn, download this list of 15 promises to rest upon. Find the one that speaks to you and hold that verse in your heart. Speak it over yourself or write it on a note and post it where you will see it. The parishioner mentioned above took God’s promise and made it the screen saver of her phone. In whatever way as is most beneficial for you, keep God’s promise before you. You may just find that, after a while, the path through your personal despond will begin to become clear, and you will begin to walk with Christ in freedom.