A humorous, but extremely straight-talking pastor recently explained how the church as a whole could benefit from each of us becoming more like the apostle Paul. To me, that seemed more than a tad overwhelming until I reminded myself to appreciate how far God had brought me rather than focusing on how much further I still needed to go.
When writing to various churches, especially the one in Corinth, Paul boldly mustered an army of believers to storm the gates of hell with God’s truth. In the pastor’s words, “Paul was in hell-whipping mode.” Realizing he’d spent too long fighting for the wrong general convicted him to turn around and go after General Satan with everything he had. Paul became foot-stomping, fit-pitching mad at what he’d seen that conniving commander do to believers, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore!
That’s where I find myself now – in hell-whipping mode. It’s taken 60 years to get me here, but I’m not taking it anymore! What about you? I know you’ve seen it too. You’ve watched the faithful turn fearful. The courageous become timid. Hopeful hearts doused with doubt. Maybe it’s you who’s felt the strong hold of rejection jerk you away from relationships God intended for your good. You’ve let pride hide the real you. Perhaps, insecurity slowly wrapped around your courage like an Anaconda with an ever-increasing squeeze. Or, maybe a lack of confidence kept your dreams simmering on the back burner. Wherever you find yourself today, I’d like you to join me in this new attitude.
I know! I know! You’ve heard words of encouragement in your hard times. “Be strong! You can do it! Just pray more. Read more. Talk more. Smile more.” The list goes on and on. Getting up and moving on sounds good, but when it comes right down to developing an overcoming attitude, even good little church girls and boys can feel overwhelmed.
That’s why I go back to Elijah. Rather than first comparing myself to Paul, the man who wrote over half the New Testament, I found comfort sitting with the mighty man of God who wanted to die underneath a broom tree. (1 Kings 19) After his showdown with 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), Elijah’s victory party became short-lived. Queen Jezebel swore she’d have his life by the next day. So, Elijah did exactly what I used to do when things got too hot to handle; he ran! Rather than trusting God to bring about another victory, he ran to the familiarity of the wilderness. There, loneliness, fatigue, and depression replaced trust, faith, and hope.
Finding freedom from legalism and writing Freedom for the Good Little Church Girl felt like a huge victory. Surely, it must have been since Satan placed me directly in his crosshairs. He knew me well enough to know I was too stubborn to let just one or two things get me down. So, this time he sent a flurry of hailstones my way, with the biggest ones landing on top of me one by one. I caved from the weight. What I wanted was a broom tree to slither underneath so I could just feel sorry for myself for a while. What I needed was time with Jesus. Can you identify with that?
What revived Elijah became the same thing that brought me back to life. The presence of God came and ministered to him by encouraging him to eat, drink, and rest. Taking time out for revival strengthened Elijah enough to travel to the mountain of God where he heard God’s still soft voice. God told him to go back the way he had come to the wilderness. Those words from God motivated Elijah and me to do a difficult thing.
“Go back the way you came” were the words that haunted me. Do you have the courage to do that? To go back through those hurtful moments and reframe your pain? It will most likely be the most gut-wrenching thing you’ll ever do! My heart is pounding while I’m typing this because I know the freedom you’ll experience if you will muster the desire and courage to do it!
First, go back to your beginning and find your first hurtful memory. (If you’ve suffered abuse or severe trauma you will definitely want to do this with a professional counselor.) Next, travel down the timeline of your life pinpointing the painful memories you’ve tried not to think about. Once you’ve identified those moments (I had 8 of them), write them down. In the past, I’d always tried replacing painful memories with happy ones. Today, I understand that I was merely pushing those hurts further down instead of allowing them space to heal.
Now, close your eyes and picture each scene. No doubt, the unpleasant feelings you had back then will return. However, this time is different. This time, picture Jesus beside you feeling every emotion you felt and encouraging you with His presence. The events don’t change, but the perspective sure does!
I won’t tell you all my scenes, but just to give you an example I will tell you the one easiest for me to share. In 12 years I went to 12 different schools. Besides those awkward moments of being introduced to a new class, it was lunch time that gave me the biggest problem. No one to sit with. No one to talk to. No one to call a friend. I soon figured it was best not to get too close to anyone because I’d just be moving on. Now, when I look at that lunch table scene I see Jesus setting his tray down across from me. He’s smiling and laughing. He lets me know that He’s come to talk with me! He says He’s the friend who will move with me wherever I go. He will never leave me. Now, instead of feeling sad, that scene causes a big smile to spread across my face whenever I recall it.
The Holy Spirit even recently helped me discover the good that came from those moments. You see, as a schoolteacher, kids who arrived in my class in the middle of the year were a big deal to me. I always made sure they had someone to sit with at lunch and to show them around. They got extra time and attention. I may have gone a little overboard now that I think about it, but I’ve since learned why. I’d much rather be guilty of loving someone wholeheartedly than allowing my hurts to keep me from loving them enough. Hurt people don’t always have to hurt people. Sometimes, hurt people help people. Jesus had been hurt a lot. Picturing Him sitting with me at lunch helped me learn to keep an eye out for hurting people.
After allowing Jesus to comfort your hurtful moments, ask Him to reveal how each of those moments can be used for something good. This will give you the courage and confidence to then invite Him into your sinful moments. Those times you know you were disobedient and downright rebellious. When I think of those times, I picture myself like a toddler pitching a fit. Jesus picks me up and wraps both strong arms around me, holding me close while I wail and kick. He keeps a firm hold on me until I finally calm down. That’s when I look up, see the tears in His eyes, and hear Him whisper, “I still love you.” Is that what you need to hear? Let Jesus whisper words of love straight from the heart of God. Experience the grace He offers, and enjoy the friendship of the Holy Spirit.
I believe now more than ever it’s time for the fearful to become faithful, the timid to rise up courageous, and the doubters to swell with hope. Your greatest desire might be to become a hell-whipper like Paul; but first, find a broom tree, and sit with Jesus for a while. Let Him reframe your pain.
This week’s question:
What strategies have worked for you in overcoming painful memories?
Or, if you don’t want to answer that one:
What struck you most as you read about Elijah?