Detox Your Soul

[Originally published HERE at www.DesiringGod.com]

When times become turbulent, it’s easy to lose focus. We may feel like the disciples in Matthew 14 on a ship in the middle of the sea, tossed by angry waves and battered by contrary winds. We fear disaster, we question the trajectory of the ship, we forget to row, we overlook how our own sin or faith impacts the storm, we cry out in fear instead of truth, or maybe we fail to look to the one who can calm the sea.

Storms can be consuming and so easily distract us from the state of our hearts, the gaze of our eyes, the words of our mouths, and the actions we should be taking. Before we know it, we are likely in serious need of a spiritual detox — a cleansing, purging, recalibrating, invigorating soul treatment.

While there are many places in scripture we could go, my favorite tends to be Psalms. Something about the way it covers so many ranges of seasons and emotions compels me turn to its pages when I’m not exactly sure where to go. It is raw, relatable, deep, convicting, beautiful, thought-provoking and heart-provoking. There are so many truths to meditate on, prayers to borrow, promises to declare, words to memorize — it can be just the place to begin a detox on four key areas of my spiritual life:

  1. My Heart:

This is where I begin, as my heart is always the first thing in desperate need of a detox. We can’t effectively fight the Lord’s battles if we neglect the war in our own hearts. Countless times I have tried, advancing in haste or self-righteousness before realizing it’s my own battle I’m fighting, and I must go to my knees to stop, repent, and reset. When times are tumultuous and emotions are high we must be particularly vigilant about sin creeping in. The enemy knows when there is much at stake.

The way the psalmist pours out his soul, encourages me to do the same, as I search my heart before the Lord.

“Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2). Ask the Lord to examine, prove, and try our hearts and our minds, as if testing a metal to determine value and genuineness. We are prone to be partial to ourselves and make allowances where we should not. Lord, determine the deep motives of my heart and actions, for only you can correct them.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (Psalm 19:12-13). Our greatest temptations come not from about, but from within — from the secret sins that begin in our hearts and give birth to almost every evil deed. They are so easily disguised from ourselves and from others — pride as conviction, self-sufficiency as diligence, fear as attentiveness, skepticism as discernment, timidity as humility, gossiping as caring, lukewarm-ness as temperance, vengeance as justice, selfishness as self-care, laziness as patience, self-righteousness as righteousness. Lord, forgive my secret sins and help me be diligent in identifying  and cleansing them before they enslave my heart, because they will apart from you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  The state of our heart is not something that can merely be mended — it is corrupted and we need a new one, a clean and pure one. We are justified once, but sanctified continually. We should desire that purification with persistence. Every day. Every hour. It frees us to experience his joy. Lord, give me a spirit that is constant, steady and determined, no longer bound and disgraced by my sinfulness. I need your word to speak into it, your Spirit to move upon it, and your Son’s blood to wash over it.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). Ask that the Lord instruct our steps, for without his teaching we will go astray. Ask that we will live and act in accordance to God’s truth and pursue his will, not our own truth or our own will. Ask that God would join all the purposes, resolutions, and affections of our hearts into a singular purpose to worship, obey, and honor him, because that is our end-game. This is a prayer that should be on the tongue of every Christian. Lord, direct my steps and give me an undivided heart, for if that is wanting, all will be wrong.

2. My Eyes:

There are a million things we can look to, but the psalmist reminds us where to set our gaze. Like a compass in need of recalibration, we will be prone to wander if our eyes are set on the wrong things.

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37). There are so many things likely to lead us astray from what is real and true, and our incessant prayer should be that God would make our eyes pass quickly over them. In the words of Albert Barnes, a nineteenth century theologian, “Make my eyes to pass rapidly from such objects, that I may not look at them, may not contemplate them, may not dwell upon them. There is danger in looking on sin steadily; in surveying its features; in returning to contemplate it.” Lord, every day and every minute, graciously turn my eyes from anything that could block my view of you, for you alone lead to life.

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). What is continually before our eyes is of the utmost importance because it shapes us. If we lock our gaze upon our Lord amidst the struggle, the pain, and the change — we will be anchored and not disturbed by fear. Lord, help me act and regard myself whether night or day, in private or in public, as always in your presence. You are my anchor, may my eyes never wander from you.

“You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). In the words of Augustine, “Lord, show me the road I must travel that I may see you.” God’s hand will provide us with not simply pleasure but *eternal* pleasure, and not merely joy but *full* joy. Lord, may I look to you to continually reveal the path that leads to life, for you are the author of joy and pleasure and you alone can provide them fully and eternally.

3. My Words:

The psalmist knew the power of words. He used them to create beautiful poems of praise, to poignantly pierce the soul, to paint glorious pictures of God’s character. Words have the power to build or break, to decimate or make — choose them with wisdom. They flow out of our heart, so if they are a continual struggle go back to number one.

“May these words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). May our lips speak nothing that is not true, kind, and profitable. Meditate on what is pleasing to the Lord, because he is the fountain and origin of them, and that’s what should overflow. These sorts of words carry power when offered in the strength of our redeemer, as opposed to our own efforts. Lord, help every word that comes out of my mouth be pleasing to you, and draw others to your strength and your loving salvation.

 “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalms 78:4). Let us be a generation that is faithful in speaking the truths we have been entrusted with, handing them off to the future generations. Not corrupting the truths or using them to fulfill our own agendas, but speaking them in order to draw attention to and advance the works of the Lord so that he might be praised. Not for our own glory, but for his. Lord, may the great things you have done, ever be on my lips!

“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.'” (Psalms 16:2). God is our good, all of it. Apart from him we have none and we can’t add to his goodness in any way. The entirety of our sin and death can be exchanged for the entirety of his goodness and life, and though our flesh will fight against this daily while we’re here, our redeemed soul can rest in his complete goodness from here until eternity. God, you are the Lord of my life, and every good thing I have is because of you. Help me rest in you as my portion, my hope, and my stay.

4. My Actions

When the world is weighing heavily on my soul, my first instinct is often to retreat. To pull away from the heaviness and stop rowing — forgetting that God’s way is not necessarily ending the storm but giving me the strength to row in my weariness. *He* is our rock and our strength, we needn’t be paralyzed.

Let his love and truth lead to action. Not that we must never rest, but while the world tells us to spend our days caring for ourselves so we’ll have the strength to fight our own battles, God flips that on its head. He tells us to give up our own battles, rest in Christ, and use his strength to fight for and serve others so they can enjoy the rest and peace that we’ve been given. So many are in need of healing and help at this moment and when we purge our pride and our sin, our actions that follow have the potential to bring great glory to God.

 “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:4). Act intentionally in ways that decline and shun the evil that is near in this fallen world, and at the same time, search out good to be done as directed or suggested by God’s word,  in faith and love for the glory of God, and in the strength and grace of Christ. Lord, help me do good for others in ways that will have eternal impact, and seek ways to live peaceably with all — as something worthy to be pursued, not just when it’s offered but when it’s difficult. 

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3). Over and over throughout the psalms, we are reminded that we are the natural protectors under God of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed because they often have no one to defend them. Lord, may I always see that right is done to those who need an advocate. At all times and for all peoples.

“Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me” (Psalm 119:133). As we act, my not just our life but our *daily* life, not just our paths but our *steps* be habitually obedient to God’s will. It’s in these small, seemingly mundane spaces that we can often reflect God’s glory the brightest as we walk with him step-by-step through this life into the next. We have no hope of properly arranging them for his utmost glory, apart from him. Lord, order my steps and kill my sin. May you alone be my ruler.

Spiritual Detox Leads to Life

In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“Come divine Spirit, and exercise Your cleansing power upon us according to Your promise. … Oh, that everything might help us toward purity, for we crave it. We attend the things of the Spirit, and there is groaning within us to be utterly delivered from the things of the flesh, so that we may be a cleansed temple in spirit, soul, and body, fit for the indwelling of the Holy One of Israel. Lord, help us, we pray, in our daily lives, to be as Christ was. … In all ways, may we seek the good of our fellowmen and the glory of our God.”

While our flesh will never fully stop battling against our redeemed souls in this broken world, the more we live as ones aware of this contention — diligently ready to identify and confess our vices — the more God can use us for his purposes in his glorious battles that always lead to life. A spiritual detox, though potentially difficult at the time, enables us to more clearly hear the Spirit’s voice and see our Savior’s face. Whether in the loud storms, the drenching rains, or those contrary winds, we are able to press on for the prize with Christ in view and excitement in our hearts — pursuing things unseen as we walk in the way of life and our Lord.

 

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Lord, Help My Daily Unbelief

Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

I once sat in a hospital room and watched my incoherent eight-year-old boy battle a life-threatening intracranial blood clot. I was oddly calm. I clung to the goodness of God and did my best to trust that he held my son in his hands — at that point it was essentially my only option. There were no more decisions to make, no actions I could take, and nothing I could control.

It’s easy to look back at times of seemingly big faith, where I “let go” of things I never really had, and foolishly pat myself on the back a little and think, “Hey, I got this. I was faithful. It worked!” only to be blindsided as I fall apart during much smaller trials — the ones that require me to make decisions, solve problems, or actually do things based on my beliefs.

Now, not even a year later, I’m losing my temper with that now nine-year-old boy as he fights with his brother, or makes one of his little sisters cry. I’m weary from a hard move that’s not finished. Worried about a house that needs to sell so we can join my husband in a different state at a new job. Stressed about finances and the future. Losing my cool over a leaking washing machine and a kitchen being taken over by ants. Concerned that my offspring are planning a coup d’etat in response to my obvious weakness and lack of leadership.

I feel far from God. My quiet times, when they happen, seem rote and shallow. My prayers feel weak. I’m stripped of my usual security, and home, and church community, and ministry, and my support system. And what’s left isn’t pretty. My soul is at war.

Betraying Our Theology by Unbelief

Here I am, collapsing under the pressure of a move and ants and some immediate uncertainty. Why? Is the God I placed my trust in at the moment of my salvation any less good when I’m navigating my second hour in line at the DMV with weeping children? Even though I’d still vehemently defend God’s absolute sovereignty, my actions often reveal an unbelief that speaks louder than my words.

When my mind is consumed with my bank account, I’m believing that money provides my security rather than my Savior. When I yell at my children for leaving a mess I need to clean, I’m believing that my comfort comes from an orderly house rather than from the God of all comfort. When I become despondent over an uncertain future and lack of stability, I’m failing to believe that I am merely a pilgrim and this is not my home.

Every hour that goes by that I fail to pray and cry out to God is an hour that I’m telling him, “It’s okay, I got this.” And then I hypocritically wonder how I got here.

“Help Me If You Can”

This became evident to me as I wearily stumbled over Mark 9. A father desperately seeks healing for his son with an evil spirit. He’s tried everything in his own power, he’s tried the church, he’s even tried the disciples, until at last, when everything else has failed, it’s just him and Jesus. There’s nothing left but a feeble, “Help me if you can” (see Mark 9:22).

My prayers sound like that far too often. I exhaust all options before sheepishly coming to the one who has power over all, and then I pray as if I’m not totally sure he can even help. Or at least I don’t expect him to. But Jesus responds to him with such power and authority that the boy’s father immediately saw in this man something far more glorious and powerful than the darkness that tormented his poor son for years. And at that moment he believed.

But the mere presence of belief does not completely eradicate unbelief. He immediately and honestly beseeches Jesus to fill that gap. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Such a perfect and simple response. Raw faith combined with the confession that he needed Christ to attain the far more perfect faith he craved. And Jesus answered him with a wonderful miracle, because miracles are born of faith.

As I walk through my valley, I am struck by how easy it is to be blinded by unbelief. My problem goes far deeper than my present hardships. Understanding that unbelief is often the hidden root underneath a variety of different sins is an important part in being able to weed them out of our souls.

War Against the Glory-Thief

Belief and unbelief can exist side by side. In fact, in this fallen world where uncertainty and doubt find their home, there will always be a war raging between these opposing elements. This shouldn’t feel comfortable. If for the sake of ease, you try to pacify and accept the enemy of unbelief in your soul, you’ll only get more unrest by housing a ruthless enemy in your heart. Never become complacent with unbelief. The ease and comfort we seek in complacency is a weak and pale prize in comparison to purer belief.

“Unbelief robs God of his glory in every way,” said Charles Spurgeon. Just because there will always be a war between the two doesn’t mean we accept the presence of unbelief. Darkness thrives on unbelief, often leading us into sin. While doubting isn’t necessarily a sin in itself, the sin begins when our doubts lead to action. When we enthrone unbelief over belief and actively serve that falsehood, we are exchanging a truth for a lie.

We can’t pretend to know God’s ways, and the righteous will not escape hardship, but there are times when I truly believe my trials are lengthened or even repeated due to deeply-rooted habits of unbelief. I’m robbing God of the glory that comes from believing the truth of his sovereignty, even down to the frustrating little details of my day.

Pray in Faith

Prayer is medicine for unbelief. When belief and unbelief collide, let us turn to the one our belief comes from, the source and object of our faith. Personal contact with Jesus our Savior is how we drive away unbelief. Seek his face. Pray desperately and expectantly — the belief we do have is the only means of vanquishing the enemies of our peace. Let your weak faith cling to our mighty God. Repent and pray for deliverance from unbelief even before praying for deliverance from your circumstances.

Lord, forgive me for not believing that your truth permeates every single layer of my life. Fan my tiny smoldering little spark of faith into a burning and consuming fire that will bring you glory and drive out darkness. But don’t ever let me think it is strong enough or that I have any hope of stoking it and keeping it alive apart from you. I believe; help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

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“Christians must have strong shoulders and mighty bones”

Heaviness.

http://www.loudountimes.com/news/article/leesburg_father_of_golf_star_dead_of_self_inflicted_gunshot_wound898

There are many things I don’t know or understand. But some things I do. We are all just one decision or one second away from so many things. But by the grace of God, we are still here, and still climbing, and still on this side of that dark valley that separates us from the place we don’t deserve, and the place I know I’d be if I was left to my own devices. And I’ve seen firsthand lately, what I’m like when I let that happen. Just ask my kids, it is not pretty.

Oh Lord, I need you every hour, every SECOND. Or else things get ugly. …This life is kicking my butt.

And another thing I know. While we’re here on this side of eternity, we are meant to bear one another’s burdens. And this guy, Bill Hurley, was a bearer of burdens. He was the Missions Director at my church. Over the years, he has beared the burdens of hundreds of missionaries, including some of my dearest, who happen to be part of my family. It wasn’t a job it was personal. He served on Missions Boards that dealt with some really hard things. Things heavier than I could lift. He was a police officer for decades and saw things I know I never could, and made decisions I never would have had the integrity to make. He preached on hard things I am still trying to learn. He lived a life I so admire, and I still do. God used him in SO many ways.

I don’t know the details, I don’t understand, but for whatever reason, the burdens he carried got to be too heavy.

My prayer tonight, is not for answers, but for the strength and willingness to carry other people’s burdens, and lift heavy loads when their arms get tired. For the wisdom to see other’s weariness. For the strength and willingness to ask for help when mine are too heavy to carry alone. Because that’s really hard. But we aren’t meant to do it alone. We are not able to.

“Christians must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, that they may bear…the weakness of their brethren.” Martin Luther

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