Hope In The Darkness

November 17th. On this evening a dark weight fell on my shoulders. Anxiety gripped my mind. Despair gripped my heart. It was unexplainable. I chalk it up to spiritual warfare. For weeks after that night, I felt like my life was emptied of joy. I was going through the motions at work and in my family, but light was hard for me to see. I had no appetite and no energy. For a stretch it was painful to eat. When the enemy has me weakened, he brings his A-game. This year it was being stuck at home for Thanksgiving, stuck at home for my birthday. Nothing but days on end of me and my thoughts. I kept circling deeper and deeper into the spiritual darkness. I needed help. I told Jamie just that after I couldn’t control my breathing in the kitchen on one particularly difficult afternoon.

This has happened one other time in my life. Spring of 2017. I was living in Phoenix and a darkness came attacking. I did nothing to fight it. I didn’t get into the Word often, nor did I pray often. I laid in bed. I avoided people. I neglected responsibilities.

This time I purposed to do things differently (I was by no means perfect, and sin wasn’t absent in my processing of this pain).

I journaled like crazy (that thing needs to be burned, but I’ll hold onto it for the next spiritual attack). I did my best to get into the Word every single day. I prayed. I kept going to work. I talked to a pastor friend. I talked to a counselor. I kept staying near Gracie and Jamie. I brought in trusted friends into the depths of what I was feeling. One drove forty-five minutes just to sit with me in my living room. I felt like God was destroying me. Taking me down. Stealing from me. Hurting me. (It’s okay to be this honest. Read the Psalms if you don’t believe me).

Doing all of those things didn’t lessen the blows I felt from the enemy.

Spiritual warfare is real.

I still felt like I was going through the ringer.

I still broke down in tears at church when a friend asked how I was doing at the conclusion of the service.

I still woke up each day struggling to find the joy of the Lord, feeling empty instead.

Food didn’t taste good still.

Laughter was far from me.

But I kept hoping.

Hoping God would show me what He was doing.

Hoping God would take away my pain.

Hoping God would defend me from the attacks of the enemy.

Hoping God would provide clarity.

Hoping God would provide direction.

Hope is powerful. Hope is what keeps people moving forward. Hope in Christ is what kept me moving forward. Now, I may not have been able to articulate it in a way that is clear, but the only thing helping me pursue the spiritual disciplines was the hope that Christ would speak and move through them.

We recall, in the presence of our God and Father, your work produced by faith, your labor motivated by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 1:3

The church in Thessalonica was facing persecution for their faith. Spiritual warfare had spread from the mental and ethereal to the physical and dangerous. And yet, the people of God in Thessalonica persevered. They endured. Because they hoped in Christ. No matter what happened to them on earth, their future was secured. So they kept loving others in their labor, kept working out their faith. Hope is a quality that is considered to be something unseen. But hope shows itself in endurance.

The greatest encouragement to me outside of Scripture during the weeks of darkness was the pastor mentor of mine who is decades older than me. He told me over the phone that he had been through similar seasons. And now he was on the other side of them. He endured. He persevered. Because he hoped in Jesus.

So I kept trying to do just that. Some days I would see the light start to break through. Other days I felt like my life was devoid of all good. It was a war. But I kept moving forward.

Last Saturday morning, December 11th, Jamie’s parents were in town. While they made breakfast, I took some time to pray and journal in my room. As suddenly as it had come, the darkness left. No circumstances changed. No insane act of God took place in the physical realm. But God was no less at work. For the first time in four weeks, I laughed and loved and didn’t dread. He answered my prayers.

Although I’m above the darkness now, I can still sense the powers of evil near, trying to draw me back down into the pit of anxiety and despair. I want to win against them and I want to endure. Today I read Romans 5 in my quiet time.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

I suffered this past month.

But it produced a little more endurance in me.

And that endurance brought a little more character.

And that character brought a little more hope.

And that hope is what will move me forward the next time the waves hit.

Where is my hope?

In the One who loved me so much He died for me.

Where is my proof of His love?

The cross in the past and the Spirit in the present.

I don’t know where you find yourself today. Maybe what I described is something you can’t conceptualize. Or maybe you’re in such a season right now.

My prayer is that you would stay tethered to your anchor in the storm.

My prayer is that you would have hope.

It’s a beautiful thing.

In His Name,

Nate Roach

Gentle Light

Fluorescent lights are the worst. I used to not think this way, but after a year of dating my girlfriend Jamie who despises them, I’ve come to see things from her point of view. Just about every time we FaceTime, she is in her room with just the light from the window and a lamp. Again, it used to bug me, but after a while I came to discover they’re just obnoxious and overbearing. I’d much rather go from a dark room to the gentle light of a lamp, rather than having my eyes assaulted by the behemoth fluorescent lights on the ceiling. flourescent light

Now before you check out, this blog is not about lighting preferences. I wanted to illustrate that there is gentle light, and obnoxious light.

The reality is, there are men and women, children and youth, who are sitting in our churches in darkness. They are discouraged, depressed, weak, unsure, hopeless. The list goes on and on. There are real needs in these dark situations of grief and pain, suffering and trials. These brothers and sisters in Christ need light. They need to see the light of the gospel in the darkness of their days. 1 Thessalonians tells us in 5:14 that we are to comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

How then do we speak into their lives, how do we share the light of the gospel without being obnoxious or inconsiderate?

In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, I believe that we are given the direction we need in order to bring this light. We are called to be the light via compassion, instruction, exhortation, and intersession (this outline is not my own).

The church at Thessalonica was under heavy persecution, and the community of believers were reeling as a result. They were nervous, unsure of their hope, scared. They had bought the lie that the ‘day of the Lord’ had arrived, and that they were left behind to suffer alongside the wicked. False teachers had entered their midst, convincing them that they were in fact in the last days. In the darkness of persecution and hopelessness, Paul wrote to them a letter of encouragement. These were professing believers who had bought lies about God’s character, God’s nature, and God’s plan for their lives. There are many today who fall into believing lies as well (me included) and need to be reminded of the truth. So how does Paul do it? How does Paul strengthen and not shame these believers? How should we do it? How should we be interacting with those of our brothers and sisters who have lost hope? How do we strengthen them rather than shame them?

Compassion 

Paul tells them in this section of his letter that they are beloved by the Lord (2:13). There is no shaming here. Paul leads by compassionately and gently reminding them of their identity in Christ.

In the thick of this darkness, Paul doesn’t barge in, throw open the windows, pull back their sheets, and drag them outside. He lights a single candle of hope, a solitary but brilliant flame of compassion. – Charles Swindoll

We are to care for the discouraged and strengthen the weak among us. Our church communities would truly overflow with Christ-like love and amazing hope if we treated the discouraged and weak among us in this way. Not shaming them and making them feel bad for feeling bad, questioning the level of their faith, but rather compassionately speaking hope into their dark hearts. Paul definitely had his moments of aggressive exhortation and frustration, but here we see him model compassion that leads to life. However, he definitely wasn’t merely compassionate to the Thessalonians.

Instruction 

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14

Paul encouraged the dark souls of the Thessalonian believers with instruction in gospel truth. Theology and doctrine can go a long way to mend not only the mind, but the heart of broken believers. When there are weak and discouraged members of our spiritual family among us, we should be consistently instructing them in the truths of the gospel. Again, not in a flourescently obnoxious manner, but by gentle reminders of what is true. Jamie does this for me better than anyone, constantly calling out lies in my mind for what they are, and reminding me of truth. We should speak into darkness with compassion and instruction.

Exhortation

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. – 2 Thessalonians 2:15

Here’s where Paul takes a stark turn that we should pay attention to. He’s compassionately shared truth of the gospel, but now he exhorts the believers in Thessalonica to stand firm. We are to encourage the depressed or discouraged among us to keep fighting, to be on the assault, on the attack. The fight for faith is just that, a fight. I have been so passive too many times in my life, not taking the fight to the enemy. Paul reminds the discouraged Thessalonian believers to hold firm to the truth.

In times of pain, anguish, mourning, depression, or doubt, nothing is more stabilizing than the truth of Scripture – nothing. – Charles Swindoll 

We should exhort the weak and discouraged among us to stand firm and hold to the truths of God in Scripture (remember this should be done compassionately).

Intercession 

Paul concludes this section with a prayer (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). Pray, pray, pray. When you are aware of a brother or sister suffering in the darkness, pray for them. Prayer has power. Even the knowledge that others are praying for me can go a long way to bring a little bit more light into my life.

Paul in this passage doesn’t pray for the suffering of the Thessalonians to end, for their dark days to suddenly be complete. Rather, he prays that God would comfort them by reminding them of who they are and what they have in Christ. When we suffer, we want immediate rescue. Paul understood that suffering leads to greater faith.

If you have a member of your faith community whose hope is shrouded in darkness, reach out to them. Be compassionate, instruct them, exhort them, and don’t forget to intercede for them.

If you are in a dark season, remember Scripture, remember truth, and remember that the Lord is for you and not against you.

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. – 2 Thessalonians 3:3 

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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Grey-Colored Glasses

We’re all familiar with the idea of ‘rose-colored glasses’. In our teenage days we all were likely infatuated with someone who really wasn’t all that great, but we had convinced ourselves that they were the epitome of spouse material as we viewed all they did with rose-colored glasses. Shortcomings and faults were disregarded, glaring character flaws were seen in an entirely different light. glasses

In a similar way, we can see all of our life through grey-colored glasses. This terminology certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue like its lingual ancestor, but I think it describes the effects of depression and hopelessness on a person. When in the throes of discouragement and depression, we can see all of life as dark and dim. We can view everything: our surroundings, our job, our circumstances, our family, our friends, our relationships, through the grey-colored glasses that depression and hopelessness put upon our eyes.

I want to offer some advice, and some hope, for those of us who fight this in different seasons and to different degrees. The advice is not my own, and come to think of it neither is the hope. Yet I do want to relay both to you today.

Here’s some advice for the discouraged among us:

1) Focus On The Facts, Not Your Feelings

I’m the champion of this. I’m prone to listen to what my feelings and emotions are telling me about any aspect of my life. To fight back against the seeds of depression and discouragement, proclaim the facts of any aspect of your life that you are seeing with grey-colored glasses. Let this be founded in truth from Scripture. Memorize the promises and heart of God in the Word of God, and use these Scriptures to fight back against what your emotions are telling you. Don’t allow the lies that our hearts believe take up root in your soul.

2) Get Some Sun

Depression and discouragement can make us want to lay in bed all day long, scrolling through social media or binge-watching some television. It takes discipline and commitment, it takes going on the offensive, but I strongly encourage you to fight this tendency. Go for a walk, go to the gym, play a little basketball. Get outside and soak in the sun. There’s something life-bringing about simply communing with God via nature. Also, being active tremendously helps the broken soul. When I work-out with a friend, I am relieved of a lot of the inner turmoil.

3) Tell Someone

I just alluded to it, but have brothers and sisters in Christ encouraging you and walking you through the darkness. We were not designed to be isolated. Satan would love nothing else than to have droves of Christians walking in the darkness of depression, bound to it because they aren’t bringing it into the light. We have made depression and discouragement taboo struggles for the follower of Christ. If you are goofy and extroverted like me, it may be extra difficult for you to admit that sometimes you’re not okay. There is freedom to be found in admitting your need for support. Have friends walking you through, able to call out your feelings and proclaim the truths of Scripture.

I hope these words of advice are as helpful for you as they were for me. I want to spend the latter half of this post giving you some hope. This is hope found in the Word of God. This is hope built upon the promises of God.

Recently I’ve been drawn to Ephesians. There’s something about the first fourteen verses that keeps drawing me back, deeper and deeper. Paul was in prison for preaching the gospel, the good news that breaks through the grey-colored glasses and shines the beautiful light of Christ into every aspect of our lives. In the onset of this letter from prison, Paul shares a twelve verse sentence (1:3-14) of praise to God. There is so much in this eulogy that can’t be covered in just one blog post, but I do want to make known to you 3 simple truths that are abounding in hope.

YOU ARE CHOSEN BY GOD

If you are a follower of Christ, having surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, then let me remind you that YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN BY GOD.

For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him. – Ephesians 1:4

You have been chosen by God. There’s something awesome, something joy-inducing, something that fills our hearts with happiness whenever we are chosen for something. Whether that be a sports team, a school, a relationship, or even the Mr. Bison Pageant. This should do exponentially more to remove the darkness when we meditate on the fact that the Lord of all has chosen us to be His!

You are chosen.

YOU ARE SAVED BY CHRIST 

You have been chosen by God, and this plays itself out via the redemption and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Ephesians 1:7

We have been redeemed. You and I have been forgiven of all of our trespasses, every single one, through the riches of God’s grace poured out onto us through Jesus.

Grace > __________

You could list any sin you’ve committed and the equation would still be correct. You have been fully forgiven and completely redeemed.

YOU HAVE BEEN FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

God gave us a helper, a companion, someone to walk through this life with. That is the Holy Spirit of God.

In him you also – when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you also believed – were sealed in him with the promised Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 1:13

We have been filled with the Holy Spirit.

Honestly I see this as one of the biggest ways to combat the darkness of depression. Remember, meditate upon, and utilize the fact that we have the very Spirit of God residing in us to help us live for him in any season.l Rely on the Spirit and seek the Spirit’s guidance.

Brother or sister in Christ, if you struggle with depression, bring it into the light. Get outside. Tell your community of faith. Last, but certainly not least, claim and proclaim the promises of Scripture. Be filled with hope!

There will be days where you and I see all of life through grey-colored glasses.

When those days come, remember the wonder of the gospel.

You have been chosen, saved, and filled.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

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