I’ve had a rough couple of days, and after talking with some of my other friends, they are having a rough time , too. For me, its been a general sense of irritation. For my friends, they feel beaten down, depressed, discouraged. It’s irritating how frustrating it feels to know you’re a Christian but you still feel “down in the mouth!” We have the added pressure of being the face of Christ, whether or not we feel irritated, depressed, discouraged or mad. Well-meaning Christians can often times pander to our emotional distress and regurgitate the banalities of “Good Christian-ese.” You know what I’m talking about. You’ve, no doubt been on the receiving end of the sweeping generalities. Think Job and his friends. You get told, “Just cheer up!” , “If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.” They even use scripture to tell you that your feelings are wrong – “Count it all joy….!” I have to confess, I’ve been guilty of this myself from time to time. But this can’t be right. It’s honest and human to experience a variety of emotions, including sadness, irritation, discouragement and anger. I’m not advocating that we just give in to our negative feelings and allow ourselves to languish in despair. That doesn’t do anyone any good. So what are we supposed to do? There’s gotta be a happy medium. It reminds me of an experience I had when I was at college in Samford University.
Today I’m on a safari of a different type, thousands of miles removed from the plains and wild-life of Africa. The jungle I now traverse is suburban. More urbane, certainly, but none-the-less hazardous. In the Bible, we are warned in 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV) to ” 8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Well, paint me with stripes and call me a ZEBRA, because I’ve been under the lion’s attack. He’s been stalking me for some time now. I just came from an oasis where I filled my belly with living water and the food of the Word, so I’m looking mighty appetizing to him. You may not be able to see the marks, but I feel the effects of his slashing claws. My hide remains intact, but my spirit bears the puncture marks from his constant, biting attacks.
So here I am today. I had a coworker make a comment that rubbed me the wrong way. (SLASH) I felt doubt about the choices I’m making for my future. (SWIPE) I allowed insecurity about my relationships to confuse me. (SNAP) Well, how is it possible that a person can feel so secure and close to the Lord one day, and feel separated and isolated the next. The reason is that we have an enemy. You may not be able to see him, but he’s out there – sizing you up. 1 Peter 5:8 in The Message says it this way; “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping.”
You get a little comfortable in your Christianity. You get the slightest bit complacent in your calling. You let your guard down just a little. Those are the opportunities that the enemy uses to sneak up on you and attack. He strikes when and where you are most vulnerable. If you’re in the buisness of encouraging others, then you’ll be attacked to feel discouraged. If you are a leader, you might be racked by insecurity. But what are we supposed to do about all of this?
Do we take the pat answers of the well-meaning, but usually ill-informed? I say emphatically, “NO!” We have to recognize that we are made in the image of God. Jesus himself experienced a full range of emotions and he was not considered weak or ungodly because of them. If we are, in fact, created in His image (and we are) then we should be allowed to experience the same range of emotions. It’s OK to be discouraged. If discouragement was an emotion that was unfamiliar to God, then we would not have the abundance of references to it and how to get over it contained in the scriptures. In Genesis 32:24ff, we have the great story of Jacob wrestling with God.
“However tried or discouraged, we shall prevail; and prevailing with Him in prayer, we shall prevail against all enemies that strive with us.”
Notice that being discouraged is not cast in a negative light, it just is. By the same token, we cannot allow ourselves to wallow in the emotion. . .because we are immediately reminded that WE WILL PREVAIL! We’re gonna get through it. Again, we are reminded of a battle and in each battle, there is an enemy. We would do well to remember that.
Once more in Genesis, we find Abraham in a discussion with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. There is an exchange between them that goes on for some time – they are dickering the number of decent people required to save the cities. God starts high, and Abraham is nickel and dime-ing to get the numbers down (he’s been to the city and knows the odds). At one point Abraham says to God (Gen. 18:30),
” Master, don’t be irritated with me, but what if only thirty are found?”
Did you catch that? Abraham is saying it’s possible for God to be irritated! So, if God can be irritated, then why do we beat ourselves up when we feel that way? Or is it just me? In Romans 12:8ff, we are warned about the potential to become irritated in the midst of helping others whom we are encouraging. In 1 Corinthians 9:8, Paul says,
“I’m not just sounding off because I’m irritated. This is all written in the scriptural law.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not quoting all of these scriptures to defend my right to be unpleasant, rude, angry and irritated. On the contrary, I find these scriptures to be encouraging. If the great heroes of the Bible dealt with the same feelings I encounter, then there is hope for me. Unlike the “Don’t worry, be Happy-ism” mentality of the modern day church, the people I read about in the Bible are real. They don’t pretend that they feel great when they’re having a bad day. They don’t lie about being mad, sad, tired, discouraged, irritated, lonely or afraid. So why do we?
I point again to the ENEMY! We are at battle! The enemy would like nothing better than for you to remain in a state of discouragement, irritation and fear. That’s what happens when we don’t deal with an issue face-on. I can be all painted up like a Zebra and ignore the fact that a hungry lion is stalking me. I can tell myself, in my zebra voice – “Just count it all joy…” and hope the lion will go away. But that’s not very realistic. If I’m not aware that I’m being stalked, I’ll be lion-chow before I can finish one chorus of “This is the Day that the Lord has made!”
Take a cue from our animal friends. Be alert! Be vigilant! Be prepared! You ARE going to be attacked at some point. The animals that survive are the ones who are prepared. When a lion goes after a water buffalo, the buffalo will run for a time, but when an attack is imminent, the buffalo turns to face the claws and jaws of his pursuer. This so disarms the hunter, that more often than not, the buffalo is spared. So prepare yourself for an attack. When you feel the enemy stalking you, don’t ignore it. . . Confront it. The lion’s instincts to attack are activated when the prey begins to run. The Bible tells us to flee from sin, but we are told time and time again that we have been given authority over the enemy. Let’s exercise that authority and tell the devil to go back to Hell. Know that you are not alone in your emotional struggles. Know that you can take on the safari and come out the victor. Now will someone help me out of this Zebra suit???