Breaking the cycle
It seems we are inclined to follow this same cycle we see in the Book of Judges.
- To live in denial that such a cycle might exist.
- Or that it only exists in others.
- Or that we can live above it by our great will power.
- Or follow the way of religion, which puts a shiny veneer over it (and pretends everything is okay).
- Or resign to living for the good times and medicating the bad ones.
The only path to freedom is the way of Jesus, and that can actually be the hardest path…
Just to encounter Jesus gives hope that we can be free. And interestingly, freedom can become our possession in ways we least expect.
Jeff was a guy who worked hard, never got in anybody’s business, and loved to have a good time. But Jeff had a dark side…, something very few people saw. He struggled with depression and with alcohol. And because of those struggles most of his relationships were doomed to fail from the start.
One day the lights came on. Jeff knew that this stuff about Jesus was more than words and a crutch for weak people. He felt something change. His outlook changed. The desire to escape lessened. New friendships developed. He started talking to God, being honest, and trying to follow Jesus.
But Jeff had a persistent nagging thought – am I really changed?
When a big disappointment hit, the old feelings came rushing back in. How could he be changed when he felt the same junk he’d felt before??
But after a couple bouts with depression, he ran into an old friend who talked to him about this different way of following Jesus. Hmmmm. He said it was normal to have those feelings. But that didn’t mean Jesus was any less present or any less powerful.
It was like blinders came off.
Just knowing Jesus was close…, and that old feelings didn’t mean he was destined to jump back into old patterns…, it was like a shaft of light had broken into his soul.
What Jeff learned was the first encounter with Jesus wasn’t the end but just the beginning. And he desperately needed daily encounters with Jesus. Sometimes it came when praying or reading the Bible. Sometimes in worship services with other followers of Jesus. Sometimes while driving. Sometimes listening to worship music. Sometimes right before he went to sleep an overwhelming sense of well being swept over him.
But some encounters with Jesus were not accompanied by feelings of happiness. Some experiences were like standing on a lonely road, seeing dim headlights in the distance, or not seeing anything. It was learning to reach out and believe in the dark times.
It was in those darkest times that Jeff began to know he was getting free from the old cycles. He learned “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me…”
In the dark times the old feelings seemed to have their greatest power. And he felt weakest. But his faith was growing stronger than ever.
Jeff still had struggles but the cycle wasn’t the same. The old feelings had lost their familiarity. He was walking with other guys and encouraging them just like his old friend had walked with him.
He had gradually changed and didn’t even recognize it.
It seems this is also the way of Jesus.
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. 1 Peter 4:12-13 Message Version