Living With a Sense of Urgency

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

I asked my dear friend Caren Austen to write about the life-upending diagnosis that, in a single moment of time, changed absolutely everything about her life.

Cerebral atrophy.

That was the diagnosis resulting from a recent MRI. Deterioration of the brain.

After judiciously researching the diagnosis, a consultation with a friend in the medical field confirmed the most likely cause that my brain is shrinking: Alzheimer’s. A singular moment with horrific implications.

Caren AustenAt 66, I was stung as the future I had anticipated seemed to be snatched away. The time I likely would not have with my children and grandchildren. I didn’t feel frightened as much as sad. I know that God is Lord of my past, present, and future, so I was secure in His will and His care.

Still, I had looked forward to more time on playgrounds, more snuggles with my youngest grandchild, my only grandson, Liam, who is, at eight, now my only snuggle bug. I had anticipated more time. Time reading books by flashlight in tents made of blankets strung over tables. More tea parties with Katrin, my tomboy who, at 11, still loves to set up fancy teas for her “Glamma.” I longed to continue sending and receiving just-home-from-school and late-night texts about their days. I wanted to cook again with my budding chef, Brigid, and see how she, now a teenager, grows – where her talents and interests take her. I wanted to hang out again with Murren, riding around in the old rusty farm truck she loves. I wanted to hear more of her music video analyses. I wanted to see this young woman on the cusp of adulthood mature and launch into the world on her own. I wanted to be fully present for proms, graduations, weddings, and more babies.

I had begun two books and had fallen into the writers’ bane of procrastination. Now, I wondered if I would have time, if I would still remember all I needed to complete them. Suddenly, I craved time. I wanted more. I was frustrated by the mundane necessities that took me away from the activities that screamed for my time now.

I had only recently experienced God’s miraculous healing after decades of dealing with a debilitating mental illness that had stolen so much time. Now, with my newfound peace, freedom, and joy, I wanted to live. I wanted to walk in that freedom. I longed to wake up with delight at each new morning. I wanted to share my freedom and my healing. Now, I wondered: would there be time?

I began to live with a sense of urgency. My life became laser focused. Not on a bucket list of places to go or experiences to enjoy. Instead, I felt driven to create a legacy for my children, my grandchildren, and for my friends and others who had lived through some of the same struggles I had. Thoughts and ideas of just how to do that occupied my mind during the day when I was not at work, in the evening when I sat alone at home, and at night when I lay in bed and sleep would not come.

My priorities changed. I didn’t want to spend my money or my time on material objects or activity that would not have a lasting impact for the people I loved. I wanted to conserve my time, energy, and resources for those activities that would leave an eternal imprint on those I cared for. I began to spend even more time in prayer for those I love, especially my children and grandchildren. I began to formulate in my mind the letters I would write to each one. I began to search the Scriptures for the verses that would offer them guidance, as well as those that were precious to me, so they could get to know me better even when my mind could no longer communicate my heart.

I spent time rededicating my two daughters to God and praying my own dedication of my children’s children to Him. I told God over and over, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” longing for assurance that even when my mind was gone, I had done all I could to leave behind a legacy that would point them to the Lord I love. A legacy that would ensure we would all be reunited one day in a world that shines with the light of the glory of God when my renewed mind would know and recognize them.

I didn’t worry too much about what my own surroundings would be as I declined. I thought I would most likely be squirreled away in a nursing home that took in those with few resources. Separated by hundreds of miles from my family, I knew my local friends would come to check on me. I felt sorrow at the thought of loneliness, isolation, and limited activities, and I wondered how it would feel to live the confusion of time and place I had witnessed with my mother. I reflected on the occasions she talked to me about me, as though I were a stranger. I grieved for the time that would come when I would not recognize my own daughters whom I love, the precious gifts of God I had carried, given birth to, and reared. I wept at the thought of losing the sweet memories of mothering them and the joys that were shared only between the three of us.

As I grieved the future I thought I would not see, I began to concentrate more on what I could leave behind. As I only shared this preliminary diagnosis with a few of my closest confidants, they helped me brainstorm ideas on how to share my legacy: passages of Scripture, poetry, music, videos, letters, photo albums, etc. would be the means I would use to reach out into the future to continue influencing those God had entrusted me with and whom I would leave behind. I experienced relief, pleasure, and even hope at each new idea that would allow me to continue to have influence and share my love and myself even when the part of me that is “me” was gone.

That was how I began living a life of urgency. I awoke daily with a purpose of doing something specific to leave a legacy, a trail those I loved could follow behind me to a growing and loving relationship with God.

Then, in another singularly memorable moment, my life shifted again.

A knowledgeable neurologist examined my MRI. In view of my heart-wrenching diagnosis he seemed crazily nonplussed. But he said that, while the MRI did show evidence of mild cerebral atrophy, it was exactly what he would expect of someone who was 66 years old, and it was certainly nothing of concern. What??!!! In one moment he erased my fears and sent me into near spasms of joy.

Since that sweet reprieve, I must admit, I have slipped a bit in my sense of urgency. The desire to sort through stacks of books that clutter my new apartment, the necessity of making a living, the need for rest after a day or work, and countless everyday nuisances crowd my life and scream for attention. However, the experience has changed me. I no longer take my days, my hours for granted. My desire to leave a legacy of worth has changed the way I pray and spend my time. I continue to plan ways to ensure that my faith will live beyond me. I pray that God will show Himself through me in my little sphere of influence. I have not lessened the prayers for my family, especially my daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. God put me, with all my flaws, talents, life experiences, joys, sorrows, and foibles onto this earth for a reason—a purpose that He designed me to fulfill. I seek to savor each moment God gives me to love and live for Him. That is my sense of urgency. It is my prayer every morning before my feet hit the floor that this day my life will not be spent in my own pursuits but will be only a conduit for Him to touch those He places in my path.

 

This blog post originally appeared at
blogs.bible.org/living-with-a-sense-of-urgency/ on August 17, 2021.


What Does Trusting God Look Like?

When friends are frozen by fear and anxiety, I often suggest they recite Psalm 56:3 over and over: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

But what does it mean to trust God? What does it look like in real life? How do we understand how to trust Him?

I recently asked this question on Facebook and was deeply blessed by the wisdom and experience of friends who have learned how to trust God in the refining fires of life in a fallen world.

One scripture reference was cited again and again, probably the best go-to verse on trusting God, Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will direct your paths.

Verse 3 is a parallelism, a Hebrew form of idea rhyming, where two ideas are complementary sides of the same coin, so to speak. Trusting in the Lord with all your heart means not leaning on our own understanding. If we’re not leaning on our own understanding, that means leaning on God’s understanding—and His character, and His goodness, and His love. Acknowledging Him in all our ways means continually orienting ourselves toward Him the way a plant turns to the light. And choosing, DELIBERATELY choosing, to refuse to lean on our own understanding, leaning hard into Him instead.

So trust is a kind of leaning, transferring our weight onto someone or something else.

I get leaning.

30 years ago I started using a cane because my weak polio leg was only going to get weaker. It was amazing how much more instant stability I had. Which is what happens when we lean on God.

So trusting means CHOOSING.

We make one initial choice to lean into God instead of ourselves, especially when life doesn’t make sense, and then we continue to practice making that choice over and over.

I think there are three aspects of trusting God: Making the initial choice to trust Him, reminding ourselves of what is true, and continuing to choose to trust.

Choosing to Trust

Trust starts with a definitive, intentional decision to “step over the line” by turning from doing things our way, trusting in ourselves and our own understanding, to transfer our dependence to God. Here’s a word of wisdom concerning not relying on ourselves and our own understanding [read: manipulating]: “Trust is living without scheming.”

One wise friend shared, “Trust is the expectation of good based on the character of God. I remind myself in the middle of the muddle: ‘This story is not over yet.’”

Have you ever seen scared little children pressing hard into their parents? It’s what they do to their mommies and daddies because it’s the nature of emotionally healthy children to trust their parents, especially when they’re scared.

Pressing hard is a picture of trust.

Trusting happens when we realize, “I am not in control. I release my illusion of control and give the reins over to the Lord.”

One friend wrote, “There’s usually a point where you have to admit you no longer have the reins. For me, I can recall specific instances where I have said, ‘Lord, whatever will bring You the most glory . . . [do it.]’ It’s like something in the spiritual realm is released when we allow God to be God in our lives.”

I love that she used the word “released.” That is such a powerful concept. I’m taken to Matthew 11:28-30—“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Releasing the weariness and burden of trying to run our own lives in our own strength onto Jesus is how we enter His rest, which we only get on the other side of trusting.

Along the same lines, trusting God looks like relinquishing worries and anxieties, rolling them over into Jesus’ more-than-capable hands, and then choosing to leave them there. (“No, I’m not going to worry about that, I gave it to Jesus on Tuesday at 3:14 p.m.”)

One of my fellow Bible study leaders shared this gem:

“I learned to swing dance about a year before becoming a believer and one of the ways my partner and I would practice was for me to be blindfolded. I had a tendency to anticipate the moves that he would lead as opposed to letting him lead me and I was unintentionally hijacking his lead–very often. The blind fold made me wait, listen, and not anticipate. He was able to lead me through combinations I would have never been able to imagine (he was a much more experienced dancer than me). In my early walk, as I disciplined myself to walk with the Lord, I would reflect on my experience with dancing blindfolded and it gave me great courage to trust Him through things unseen.”

So trusting means choosing with the heart and mind, “I will follow YOU, Lord!”

One more picture of what trusting God looks like. Several friends responding to my Facebook post invoked the idea of clinging to Him, “even when it’s scary and life doesn’t appear to make sense. Knowing that, even in the hard times, He is working to perfect us, to grow us, to give us hope, and to bring glory, through us, to Himself. It means the assurance that He has the big picture of His plan in sight and everything He allows/ordains for me is a piece of that.”

Maybe nobody understands the concept of “clinging” like the tourist who discovered his harness wasn’t attached to the frame of his hang glider. He literally had to hang on to the frame for dear life for his harrowing two-minute flight.

Hang glider clinging to life

What a picture of trust as clinging!

Trust is a lovely “holy stubbornness” in clinging to God’s goodness and sovereignty no matter how we feel, just as the hang glider stubbornly clung to the frame of his glider.

Reminding Ourselves of What is True

Once we’ve made the choice to trust God, we need to keep on trusting. The way we build our trust is to remind ourselves, over and over and over, of trustworthy truths about God:

• God is good.
• He will never leave us.
• He loves us.
• He is in control.
• He never makes mistakes.
• He can be trusted.

The continual process of trusting God is not only speaking the truth to ourselves, but reminding ourselves of His faithfulness in the past. That’s why it’s good to keep a journal—one friend keeps what she calls her “brag book” about God. I call mine a “God Sightings Book.” We can also build an “altar” (something physical that serves as a reminder of what God did, such as planting a tree).

I love what one friend said: “Trusting God means that I actively, willfully refuse to worry and instead I fix my gaze on Christ and recite to myself Who Scripture reveals Him to be, His promises, and everything He has already done.”

Another friend has been faithfully slogging through a long period of not seeing what God is doing: “Trusting God means trying to keep a posture of ‘open hands, eyes up’ and a curiosity that has us constantly wondering aloud, ‘What are you up to, God? We can’t wait to see.’”

I love how she and her husband live out their trust: OK, Lord, we can trust You or we can freak out and make things happen on our own. That would be stupid. So let’s go back to thanking You for the details of how You are proving Yourself faithful day after day. We trust You by NOT taking matters into our own hands. We trust You by continuing to wait.

Another friend drew on two different ways for her husband and her to make it through a particularly tough challenge: “One was to say out loud and mean it: ‘Lord, we choose to trust in You through this.’” They would also repeat 2 Chronicles 20:12—”Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”

Continuing to Choose to Trust

So trust starts out as a choice to lean into God instead of ourselves, and it continues as we remind ourselves of WHAT is true, and that HE is true.

But trust sinks its roots down deep into our hearts and souls as we continue to choose dependence on the Lord instead of ourselves. There has to be an “on-goingness” to real trust, because it’s not a one-time decision, but an ongoing position built by continual choices to keep on trusting.

One mama friend was shocked and rocked to learn her baby would be born with Down Syndrome. She wrote,

“Since having [my daughter], God has grown my trust in Him immensely. For me, trusting God means to really know His heart, His goodness, His love for me and my children, and knowing He has a perfect plan . . .  even when He doesn’t swoop in and make things easier. Trusting God is a daily relationship talking, listening, and praying with Him. Even when circumstances don’t change and life is and will be difficult. Even when you see your child suffer—trusting Him looks like having an eternal focus, not an earthly one.

“Trusting Him looks like your 6-month old having heart surgery and meditating on worship music to remind you of His goodness and love. It’s choosing him over and over again no matter if His plan aligns with yours.”

I responded to her, “My takeaway from your absolutely precious post is that trust can look like a kind of ‘holy stubbornness’ of choosing, over and over, to lash ourselves to a good and loving God who has proven His faithfulness over and over. Despite circumstances which only tend to obscure, not define, ultimate reality.” I love to see evidences of that “holy stubbornness” in people!

Another friend pointed out that wavering trust can mean going off-track into the weeds of feelings. (Which are valuable as indicators of what’s going on in our hearts, but are terrible indicators of truth! Feelings are like the warning lights on the dashboards of our cars, but they make awful compasses…)

“When my trust in God wavers even the least little bit, I have a tendency to lean toward my emotions. Not that emotions aren’t valid and valuable, but when they begin to lead my thoughts, it can throw everything haywire. I start believing lies. The only antidote is seeking and speaking His Truth over every feeling—I suppose it’s what the Scripture calls “taking every thought captive.” I love the vivid language there: I can picture this tall strong person (the statement of Truth) coming up to one of my gone-wild feelings with a pair of handcuffs and shouting, ‘You’re under arrest!’ I’m a visual person and sometimes this is what grappling in prayer looks like for me.”

There is no passivity in trusting God. It’s a very active way of choosing to think and remember and maintain our position of dependence on Him. In the book Surrender to Love, David Benner writes about teaching a group of non-swimmers how to snorkel. Because they had learned to trust him as a spiritual teacher, and they had learned the spiritual principle of surrender, they were willing to enter the water and let go of the side of the boat. They trusted him when he told them they would float. They trusted him when he told them they could breathe through the snorkel without having to lift their heads out of the water.

Trusting God is like getting out of the boat, donning the snorkel, and trusting that the water will hold you up while you breathe with your face in the water.

It’s leaning,

It’s clinging.

It’s releasing and relinquishing into God’s hands.

And, at its core, trusting God is saying, “Thy will be done.” Enjoy.

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/what_does_trusting_god_look_like on November 19, 2019.


From Fears to Tears

crying woman

In a previous blog post, I’m Scared, Lord, I wrote about my apprehensions concerning my upcoming hip replacement surgery. My doctor was cheerfully confident that I would not experience the post-operative pain I was afraid of, but I was all-too-aware of my potential complications. As a polio survivor, I’m twice as sensitive to pain as those whose brains were not infected by the poliovirus. On top of that, I was extremely aware of the fact that my severely arthritic hips had become basically frozen, leaving me with a limited range of motion. I knew that the surgeon and her team would be moving my legs in all kinds of unnatural (to me) contortions during the surgery, and I was extremely concerned about how my muscles and ligaments might scream in protest once I woke up from surgery. So I was scared.

But when I shared my fears with God’s people, hundreds of them graciously prayed for me, and the Lord swept away my fears like blowing away smoke. Suddenly the fear was gone and I was graced with a very matter-of-fact willingness to just get ‘er done. It was amazing. I was held in my Father’s gentle and loving cuddle, and I walked in peace the remaining days until the surgery. Metaphorically walked, that is. I hadn’t physically walked for well over a year because of pain and weakness.

Well, it has now been over a week since my surgery, and every day I stand amazed at the healing grace and pain-control grace of my gracious Lord. Not a metaphorical standing, either. For the first time in two years, I am able to stand upright and pain free. I try to maintain an awareness of the huge grace in which I stand, marveling at the privilege of being able to once more stand at the sink to wash my hands or brush my teeth. My recovery has gone exceptionally well. I’m able to walk with the aid of a walker and each day the distance I can walk grows longer. Soon I’ll be able to go home from the inpatient rehabilitation facility I’ve been in—once we figure out how to get me into our car.

But I was not prepared for what kept happening in the therapy gym: tears.

I was flummoxed by the unbidden tears that sprang to my eyes the first time a physical therapist asked me to exercise my polio leg in the same way I had just moved my surgery leg. I knew I couldn’t; I don’t have the strength, and never have. My left leg was originally paralyzed when I got polio as an infant, and it barely functions. But I also live with the mindset of trying to do what people ask me to do, and the clash of those two realities rose up in sadness and frustration that leaked out my eyes. It was rather embarrassing. I didn’t know what was going on, I just knew my heart was a storm of unhappy feelings.

When the therapist asked me to climb a two-inch step and I didn’t have enough pain meds in me for that, the stabbing pain in my surgery leg rose up through my body and exited through my eyes in tears again. It seemed that tears were just under the surface, ready to leak out at the slightest provocation, for two days.

I was so confused! What in the world was going on? Where were all these tears coming from?

It was my husband who provided the answer, and I thank the Lord for using Ray to bring clarity to my maelstrom of emotion. He texted me, “Honey, you have lived with decades of loss you have learned to manage. Now the loss is renewed and you now are reminded further of the loss in ways you haven’t dealt with for a lifetime. Polio sucks. I understand.”

That was it! The pain of loss is grief. I was grieving the impact of polio’s losses on my life yet again, this time with a freshly painful punch: polio is now interfering with my recovery from surgery. Other people can just use their other leg to support themselves and climb into a mini-van with its higher seats—no problem! I don’t have that choice. That’s a loss. When asked to do the same exercise with both legs, other people can do that, but I don’t have that choice. That’s another loss.

I manage to navigate the losses of polio for months and sometimes years at a time without having to actively think about it, allowing me the luxury of not having to face my grief every day. But that luxury has been taken away today and I want to be real and honest about where I am. I live in a fallen world where the evidence of sin’s destructive impact on our world is everywhere. My grief, the pain of my losses, is part of that fallen world. But what is also part of that fallen world is God’s promise that He would never leave me or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). He tells me He is “the LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

I remind myself of my new life verse that just seems to incredibly appropriate for one whose body is compromised:
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

I cried today. I let the tears fall as the grief flowed. But then I chose not to lose heart, because this momentary, light affliction is producing for me an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.

It’s gonna be okay.

 

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/from_fears_to_tears on June 26, 2018.


I’m Scared, Lord

My daughter-in-love recently sent me a video of my son introducing their new Golden Retriever puppy to a swimming pool in which he coaxes little Judah, “Don’t be scared! Bohlins don’t get scared!”

. . . While I’ve been working on this blog post about being scared. Well yeah, sometimes we do.

For four years I’ve been living with the pain of severe arthritis and the late effects of polio (muscle weakness, pain, and fatigue). In a few weeks, Lord willing, I will have hip replacement surgery. When my husband had his hip replaced, he was in excellent physical condition and his experience was as close to perfect as you can get.

But I’m in a different place physically. I haven’t walked in a year. I haven’t been able to stand up straight for a couple of years, and even lying flat in bed is extremely uncomfortable. My pelvis and hip joints have lost the flexibility that is a sign of good health, and I just don’t know how my post-polio will affect recovery from surgery.

On top of this, I’m a pain weenie. It turns out that the poliovirus affected everything in my body, including pain receptors, and we polio survivors are twice as sensitive to pain as everyone else. So . . . yeah, I’m scared of what I will wake up to after surgery.

My fear level kept rising. It didn’t help when people would ask, “Are you excited about your surgery? To get rid of the pain?” No! No, I’m not excited, I’m actually quite fearful of the post-op pain, and not knowing what to expect from physical rehab.

One thing I’ve learned in life, though, is that if we’re focused on our fears and anxieties, it’s because we’re leaving God out of the equation. He gives no grace for “what ifs” and our vain imaginations of potential scenarios where any number of things could go wrong.

That’s why worrying is a sin.

And the Bible says “fear not” 365 times.

So what do I do with my “scaredness”? [Note: Microsoft Word really, really wants to keep flipping “scaredness” to “sacredness.” Not the same thing. Not by a long shot.]

I sensed the Lord nudging me to share it.

So I did.

And I discovered, once again, the power of prayer.

It started when I needed a CT scan for the robotic assistance of my surgery, but I couldn’t lie flat on the table. The pain was unbearable. So I rescheduled the procedure and asked the surgeon to prescribe me some heavy pain meds to be able to lie down. I posted a prayer request on Facebook, asking for “lying flat grace.” I was able to tell the CT tech that over a hundred people had said they were praying for me—and she could see with her own eyes the answer to their prayers as I was able to lie flat and remain still for the scan.

So I was doing my part, by confessing Psalm 56:3—”When I am afraid, I will trust in You,” and reminding myself of the power of Philippians 4:6-7—”Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

But, in obedience, I also shared with another large group of people that I was working daily on surrendering my fears of post-op pain and inviting the Lord into my concerns about what lies ahead. Just like with the CT scan. God blessed the others’ intercession for me. To my delight, after I shared my struggle with fear, it was evident that lots of people prayed—because the next day I realized that my fear had dissipated like letting air out of a balloon.

The bottom line of this “adventure with God” is that I am learning, yet again, the importance of trusting God and relying on the prayers of others to deal with my fears. The importance of not indulging in scary mental scenarios where pain is bigger than the presence of God Himself. And of choosing to throw myself wholly on the grace of God and keep speaking truth to myself:

It will be worth it.
This too shall pass.
God will help me and uphold me.
It’s going to be okay because God is good.

 

This blog post originally appeared at https://blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/im_scared_lord on May 29, 2018.


Free Indeed!

women prisoners

Recently I had the privilege of speaking in a women’s prison. I shared my story which I call, “How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can’t Change.” (How’s that for a topic of interest for incarcerated people?)

women prisonersBut then I was able to speak briefly about what we have in common, a situational loss of freedom. I have lost the ability—the freedom—to walk, and they have temporarily lost the ability—the freedom—to walk out of lockup. Still, even while imprisoned by our situations, Jesus offers true freedom that has nothing to do with our circumstances. He promised to His disciples, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He even said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:32, 36)

So what does THAT mean?

What was so crazy great about this opportunity to speak to and hug and love on the precious ladies in the women’s prison, was that the previous weekend I had given four messages on freedom at a women’s retreat at sea. (You can listen to the recordings here, if you like.) So many facets of freedom were already rolling around in my head as I thought about Jesus’ offer of freedom to women in prison.

• As we look at our past, Jesus can set us free from guilt when we confess our sins and receive His forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). He can set us free from shame, that feeling of not just making a mistake, but being a mistake, when we receive His gift of honor as He showers pleasure and acceptance on us.

Lie: I have to be perfect• As we look at our present, Jesus can set us free from the “tapes” of lies and misbeliefs that control our lives, as we replace the lies with His truths. For example, a number of the ladies at the retreat had lived in bondage to the lie that they had to be perfect in order to be acceptable. The weight of needing to be perfect is soul-killing because it’s impossible for imperfect people to be perfect! But we can be set free by embracing the truth that only God is perfect, so we can let go of the unrealistic expectation that we can ever live perfectly this side of heaven. God knows we will stumble, and He has promised to hold our hand when we do. And beyond that, He understands our longing for perfection is actually a longing for the perfect home of Eden, which we will get to experience on the New Earth we read about in the book of Revelation.

• We can walk in the breathtaking freedom from the soul-crushing imprisonment of unforgiveness by forgiving those who have hurt or offended us. The weight of others’ sins against us is bad enough, but Jesus said that if we refuse to forgive, we will be subject to tormentors—demonic torturers (Matthew 18:34-35). When we release our offenders over to Jesus for Him to deal with, we are set free—free indeed!

• As we think about the future, there is glorious freedom when we trust God instead of being controlled by fear. So often, we are in bondage to fear because we want to be in control. We forget that we are not God, wanting to manage not only our own lives but the lives of others. There is freedom in trusting God instead of trying to control others.

• Proverbs 29:25 assures us that fear of man is a snare. This isn’t talking about being afraid of people like some are afraid of heights, or the dark, or spiders. Fear of man is about working for other people’s approval and fearing their disapproval. When we look to Jesus, though, we see how He modelled living for “an audience of One,” caring only about pleasing His Father (John 8:29). When we follow Christ’s example, living to please the Father instead of fickle people, there is freedom! I can personally attest to this. Because of my stubborn attachment to a biblical sexual ethic, I have been slimed online by people who despise God’s standards. The slime slides off, though, when I keep my focus on the Lord and, like Jesus in Hebrews 12:2, I can “despise the shame” by refusing to accept it. That’s what freedom feels like!

• There is true freedom in accepting God’s choices for our lives: personality and temperament, introversion or extroversion, health limitations, even capacity. (Some people naturally have a “gallon” energy tank, while others naturally have a cup.) Resenting and fighting God’s choices—even gender!—leads to expending mental and emotional energy that is restricting and costly. But embracing God’s right to make these decisions for our design and our lives, laying down our non-existent “right” to define ourselves the way WE want, brings us freedom.

Lie: I am responsible for others' choices• One of my dear friends discovered, in the process of working through the challenges of parenting a prodigal adult child, that there is freedom in owning 100% of our own part and 0% of other people’s choices and behaviors. There’s no point in taking on guilt or responsibility for someone else’s choices; they are completely responsible for their part.

• And finally (though definitely not exhaustively), we are free to choose our attitudes. We can decide to either live in bondage to an attitude of entitlement or a continual expectation of the negative, or live in freedom by developing an attitude of gratitude. I love Dr. Charles Swindoll’s poem on Attitude:

The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.
It is more important than the past,
than education, than money,
than circumstances, than failure, than successes,
than what other people think or say or do.
It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.
It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice
everyday regarding the attitude
we will embrace for that day.
We cannot change our past . . .
we cannot change the fact that people
will act in a certain way.
We cannot change the inevitable.
The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have,
and that is our attitude.
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me
and 90% of how I react to it.
And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our Attitudes.

It’s possible to be “free indeed.” Regardless of your circumstances. Choose the freedom Jesus offers!

 

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/engage/sue_bohlin/free_indeed on July 25, 2017.


Knowing the End of the Story

Nov. 8, 2011

The other day, on a friend’s recommendation, I started watching So You Think You Can Dance, which is like Dancing With the Stars only with people who actually can dance. I found it on a cable station, and watched several episodes. Then I discovered that I was watching last season’s shows, so I googled the program and found out who won.

Knowing the outcome changes the way I view the competition. A judge’s critical assessment of a performance is just a bump on the road when I know the dancer will eventually win in the end.

That’s one of the many reasons for reading and studying the Bible. When we know how the story is going to end, it helps us process the meaning and impact of the slings and arrows of living in a fallen world, and we don’t have to be undone by them.

We know that in the end, God will set everything right.

In the end, He will see that good triumphs over evil.

In the end, Jesus will be crowned King over all, and He will reign in His kingdom here on earth, and those who have been faithful will be rewarded with opportunities to reign with Him, to serve in His kingdom. (For a mind-blowing explanation of the difference between the kingdom and heaven, check out Curtis Tucker’s new book Majestic Destiny.)

It is faithfulness that qualifies us for a place in the kingdom (which is different from receiving eternal life, which is a free gift with no strings attached). And faithfulness is proven by our responses to the challenges and tests of this life. It’s about choosing to trust in the goodness and love of a sovereign God instead of resorting to our own methods of making life work. It’s about resisting temptation to conform to the world’s mold. It’s about waiting on the Lord’s timing instead of taking matters into our own hands when He doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough for us.

Knowing how the Big Story will end helps us put the small stories of our lives into perspective. But knowing how we got here, by studying the histories recorded in the Bible, also provides perspective.

I have a friend who is baffled and confused—well, actually, terrified is more accurate—because everything she’s ever counted on to make life work is being taken away. She finds herself divorced, without custody of her children, no job, and no idea how she will pay next month’s rent. None of it makes sense to her.

But I’ve been reading the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah through Malachi) this year, and what’s happening to her makes a lot of sense to me. God is lovingly taking away all the props that she has been depending on to make life work so that she can learn that that He is good, that He is her provider, that He is enough. And because she doesn’t yet know Him—she really just has some ideas about Him—she doesn’t know that she can trust Him.

Just as God cured the idolatry of His people by stripping them of all His gifts and benefits that they blindly attributed to the false gods they worshipped, I believe God is removing everything except Himself from my friend’s life. It’s a scary place, but it doesn’t have to be a hopeless place. God has a way of setting up crazy situations where we are given a front-row seat to what He’s about to do to reveal His heart to us.

Studying the Bible’s stories and lessons helps us see that. Looking backward, and looking forward.

Where there will be dancing!

This blog post originally appeared at blogs.bible.org/tapestry/sue_bohlin/knowing_the_end_of_the_story


“I Believe Every Bad Thing I Hear”

I am the person who unfortunately believes the bad things anyone tells them. I am also the person who will take one minute detail and suddenly base that as evidence of something that I am.

This all started about 4 years ago during worship. The pastor was singing, “Who the Son sets free is free indeed,” instead I heard, “Who the devil sets free is free indeed.” I ignored it, but then I started thinking, “You are hearing that because you were never a child of God.” And I believed it. I believed that I was predestined for hell and that it must have been because I committed the sin of blasphemy. This took a lot of willpower to not let it take over my life. It came to the point of me only believing that I was only sincere in my life when it came to evil things, that that was who I really was and not a child of God. I am still unsure till this day which is true, and which is a lie.

Unfortunately I walked away from God, and now that I am trying to come back I feel like I can’t. In school, I hang around with a lot of homosexual friends. I never thought anything of it until a friend of mine asked all of us who are straight, “Which of us do you think is gay?” and being the way I am, I immediately thought, “Am I?” And I am now battling over my sexuality. I know that it’s wrong, and I never had any desire for a woman before, but after that conversation with those friends, I find myself attempting to think and act like a lesbian. It’s horrible, but I don’t know how to stop it.

Aside from the homosexuality feeling, I feel as though I am a phony, that my walk with God is fake. Everyone always says that “faith isn’t mental, it’s in your heart and what your spirit knows.” But I feel like my heart is totally hard towards God and that no matter how many times I will say, “Lord make me believe, or Lord please deliver me of all of this garbage,” that he will never listen because my heart is truly not in it. I don’t know if it’s a matter of faith or a matter of my emotions, but I don’t know how to separate the two and just believe and believe that God can deliver me and forgive me for all of the sins that I’ve done. I try to pray and read the bible, but I go to sleep feeling worse off than I did before. I don’t know how to fix it. I am in a depression that I’m honestly not sure I can get out of.

I don’t know where to turn. I am trying to turn to God, but the whole issue of sincerity and insincerity is getting to me and it’s prohibiting me from allowing God to really save me. I don’t want to be evil or unsaved or predestined for hell. But I don’t know how to take myself out of the equation and focus on God and him healing me.

Why can’t he just ignore all of my sins and my unbelief and my insincere feelings and just show me he is God and change me?!?!

I am so glad you wrote to us! I am so sorry for this place you find yourself. It has to be really hard to be you, at least right now. But I do have an observation and a couple of suggestions I think may help.

The Bible says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). The beliefs you have about yourself and “the way you are,” constitute a filter through which you interpret everything you see and hear. From what you describe, your “flesh filter” (flesh is the human part of us that operates apart from the Spirit of God; it’s broken and unredeemable, which is why it needs to be crucified with Christ) is exceptionally susceptible to suggestion. You easily believe things whether they are true or not simply because the thought is in your head. It doesn’t matter if it came from your own heart or from the outside as a spiritual attack, your filter tags all thoughts as valid and true. (Which is also a problem in college, where you hear things that are not true all the time but you don’t know they’re not true!)

Where does that come from?

From not being grounded in truth. You don’t know what is true, so you can’t identify what is a lie. Lots of people try to make faith a warm fuzzy emotion of the heart, but that’s not the kind of biblical faith Jesus called us to. Faith is radical trust based on evidence that God is trustworthy. That’s one reason Jesus calls us to love God with our minds: we need to actively engage with the evidence for His existence and evidence of His love for us. And that’s why your prayers, as well-intentioned as they are, aren’t being answered. God doesn’t want you to passively sit back and let Him do all the work, because He will not do for us what He calls us to do for ourselves. Asking Him to make you believe is like showing up on the __________ campus and expecting the school to educate you while you stay in your room without going to class or studying. Does that make sense?

Making Your Faith Your OwnI want to recommend an excellent resource to you that will help build your faith by wrestling with the truth that will allow your faith to rest on the fact that it’s TRUE and not some warm fuzzy feeling. Teresa Vining wrote Making Your Faith Your Own after having some similar struggles to yours while she was in college. www.ccel.us/makingyrfaith.toc.html and www.amazon.com/Making-Your-Faith-Own-Guidebook/dp/0830823263/

Concerning your struggle with your sexual identity: it’s important that you speak the truth to yourself. God made you a female, designed to connect meaningfully with both women and men in different ways. The erotic/romantic connection is intended to be strictly between men and women. You are not a lesbian, you are being tempted with same-sex feelings that are coming from outside you (spiritual warfare). They may be strong, but they are not true. Truth is reality as God sees it, and He made you a heterosexual woman. This is the same line of thinking (helping people see and commit to what is true rather than their feelings) that we teach in the ministry I serve with that helps same-sex-attracted people deal with unwanted homosexuality.

I hope you find this helpful. I send this with a prayer that you will know that God loves you, He is for you, and there is hope for getting out of this dark place as you walk into His light.

Warmly,
Sue Bohlin

© 2009 Probe Ministries


Overcoming Anxiety: Finding Real Peace When Life Seems Crazy

What makes you feel anxious? Being late or unprepared for work or appointments? Maybe unresolved interpersonal conflict. Airline travel? Public speaking? Fears of losing love? Serious illness or a friend’s death?

Spanish flag This article is also available in Spanish.

What makes you feel anxious? Being late or unprepared for work or appointments? Maybe unresolved interpersonal conflict. Airline travel? Public speaking? Fears of losing love? Serious illness or a friend’s death?

Pressures from the trivial to the traumatic can prompt feelings of fearfulness or apprehension.

Once at a booksellers convention my wife and I spent an exhausting day on our feet promoting a new book. Late that night, after a reception crowd had thinned down to mostly authors and our publisher, we stood in a circle engaged in conversation. I had to leave her side momentarily to attend to a matter.

Upon returning to the circle, I walked up behind my wife and began gently to massage her shoulders. She seemed to enjoy this, so I started to put my arms around her waist to give her a little hug. Just then, I looked up at the opposite side of the circle and saw … my wife.

I had my hands on the wrong woman!

In that instant, I knew the true meaning of fear. Fear of circumstances. Even fear of death! Confusion clouded my mind. Heat enveloped my back, shoulders, neck and head. My face reddened; my stomach knotted.

You’ve probably had embarrassing moments that generate anxiety. What about more serious causes?

Your Greatest Fear?

Fear of death is perhaps humans’ greatest fear. In college, the student living next door to me was struck and killed instantly by lightening on a golf course one springtime afternoon. Shock gripped our fraternity house. “What does it mean if life can be snuffed out in an instant?” my friends asked. “Is there a life after death and, if so, how can we experience it?”  Confusion and anxiety reigned.

If you can’t answer the question “What will happen when you die?” you may become anxious.

How can you find real peace in a chaotic world? Consider a possible solution. It involves the spiritual realm.

As a university student, I wrote a paper for an abnormal psychology class investigating a biblical therapy for anxiety. I had come to faith as a freshman and found it brought me peace of mind. Complex psychological disorders often stem from more basic problems like anxiety, problems for which faith offers practical solutions.

I sent a copy of my paper to the author of our textbook, a prominent UCLA psychologist. A month later, he replied that he liked the paper and asked permission to quote from it in his revised textbook.

Somewhat amazed, I readily agreed. I also sent a copy of his letter to my parents in Miami, who were beginning to wonder about their son’s campus spiritual involvement.

This professor felt that the principles in the paper—which certainly were not original with me—had both academic and personal relevance. Several months later, we met at his lovely home in Malibu overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As we sat in his back yard, this professor told me he lacked personal peace and wanted to know God personally. I showed him a simple four-point outline based on one of Jesus’ statements: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”{1}

We discussed God’s unconditional love for us, our dilemma of being unplugged from Him and the flaws (selfishness and “sins”) that result. I noted that Jesus, through His death in our place and return to life, came to plug us back into God by paying the penalty we owed for our sins.

Finding Real Peace

This professor decided to place his faith in God and asked Jesus to forgive him and enter his life. We kept in touch. Later, over the phone, he told me that as he looked out over the ocean and saw the setting sun, “I really believe I’m a part of all this. Before I didn’t, but now I do.”  He was seeing how he fit into God’s universe. An internationally acclaimed scholar linked up with, if you will, the greatest Psychologist.

One of Jesus’ earlier followers wrote to some friends about a divine aid for anxiety: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”{2}

Faith in God does not make life perfect and is no automatic solution to anxiety. Illness, chemical imbalance, emotional wounds and more can hamper coping. But a good starting place is to become linked with the One who loves us and knows best what makes us fulfilled.

Might it be time for you to consider Him?

Notes

1. John 3:16 NLT (New Living Translation).
2. Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT).

This article first appeared in Answer magazine 4:3 May/June 2006. Copyright © 2006 by Rusty Wright. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Fear and Its Remedies

All set for the next terrorist attack? Got your biohazard suit? How ’bout your gas mask, radiation detector and potassium iodide pills? A new store opened in Manhattan recently, only a few blocks from Ground Zero. “Safer America” markets personal safety products for a post-9/11 world.

Work in a high-rise? Have you considered a personal parachute? It comes in two models: the streamlined Executive Chute and the deluxe “HOPE” system (High Office Parachute Escape; opens automatically, good from heights over 100 feet, accommodates persons up to 300 pounds).

Safer America President Harvey Kushner takes a pragmatic approach to homeland security: “These products are no different than safety devices already commonplace in most homes, such as fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, and first-aid kits. We are enabling people to alleviate their fears by doing something smart and productive: preparing to overcome that which they most fear.”

Fears abound these days. CIA director George Tenet recently warned Congress that al-Qaida could attack at any time here or abroad. A sampler, from a guy who is privy to more intelligence data than most of us: “Based on what we have learned about the 11 September [attacks], an attempt to conduct another attack on U.S. soil is certain.

“You must make the analytical judgment that the possibility exists that people are planning to attack you inside the United States—multiple simultaneous attacks. We are the enemy, we’re the people they want to hurt inside this country,” Tenet said.

As Tenet spoke, the nation was still on alert code yellow—”significant risk of terrorist attacks”—because officials had no specific details about time and location of possible attacks. Frightening times. How should we deal with fear?

We trust military and law enforcement to keep us safe from harm. But we can never completely prepare for every risk in life. And eventually life will end for each of us. What then?

Besides taking reasonable precautions, might it also be worth considering something deeper as an ultimate solution to fear? An Israeli shepherd who became a king knew dangers from wild beasts and wild political enemies who sought his life.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” he wrote. “I have everything I need. Even when I walk through the dark valley of death, I will not be afraid, for you [God] are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

A descendant of this king, Jesus of Nazareth, offered similar advice to His friends: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill you. They can only kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God,” He taught. God loves people, values them and saves a spot in eternity for those who trust Him.

It’s hard to turn on the news these days without finding cause for fear: terrorism, snipers and financial woes augment personal concerns about relationships, family and job future. Maybe it’s time to look more closely toward One who can calm fears and who holds the future in His hands.


Anxious for Nothing (radio transcript)

What Makes You Anxious?

What makes you feel anxious? What do you worry about? Finances? Conflict at work or with your neighbors? Making today’s appointment on time? Perhaps your family or your health.

Anxiety seems everywhere these days. September 11th brought fears of flying and of the mail. Homeland security alerts have raised tensions.

A necessary war with an uncertain future can make stomachs churn. An unpredictable economy can affect bank balances, business plans, education, and retirement.

One bright sign: In the wake of the terrorist attacks, pizza sales were up. Have you ever used pizza as comfort food?

“Death is the only joy, and the only release.” “Contrary to popular belief, there is no hope.” These anonymous statements from a university newspaper and classroom blackboard exhibit what psychologists call “existential anxiety,” concern over frustration with a meaningless existence.

When I was a junior at Duke University, I wrote a paper for an abnormal psychology class investigating a biblical therapy for anxiety. I had come to faith as a freshman and found it brought me peace of mind. While studying psychology, I was fascinated to see that complex psychological disorders often stem from simple problems like anxiety, problems for which faith offers practical solutions.

I sent a copy of my paper to the author of our textbook, a prominent UCLA psychologist. A month later, he replied that he liked the paper and asked permission to quote from it in the revision to his text.

I picked my jaw up off the floor and said “By all means!” Actually, the first thing I did was send a copy of his letter to my parents in Miami so they would know their son had not gone off the deep end with my involvement in a campus Christian group. (They were beginning to wonder.)

This professor’s response to the paper indicated that the principles it contains — which certainly were not original with me — had both academic and personal relevance.

Anxiety has many causes, including emotional struggles, relationship deficiencies, aimlessness, poor diet or exercise, and chemical or hormonal imbalance. In this short essay, we will consider

three possible causes: guilt, fear, and lack of friendship. And we will consider a solution to each cause that very well could make a difference in your life.

Have you felt guilty recently? Let us look at guilt, a significant cause of anxiety.

Guilty or Not Guilty?

Guilt can make you feel anxious.

What makes you feel guilty? Losing your temper? Shading the truth? Maybe taking office supplies from your employer? Cheating on your income tax return? Cheating on your spouse?

Some psychologists say that feelings of guilt come from unresolved past conflicts or from following outdated moral codes. Solutions in these views involve recognizing our past problems or relaxing our moral codes.

Of course, past problems can affect us. And many people follow overly rigid behavior codes. But should we also consider that sometimes — maybe often — people feel guilty because they are guilty?

Admitting you are wrong can be hard. Perhaps you’ve heard of the writer who asked his domineering editor if he had ever been wrong. “Yes,” replied the editor. “I was wrong once. It was when I thought I was wrong but I wasn’t.”

O. H. Mowrer, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, pointed out a common dilemma for people trying to face their own shortcomings:

Here, too, we encounter difficulty, because human beings do not change radically until first they acknowledge their sins, but it is hard for one to make such an acknowledgement unless he has “already changed.” In other words, the full realization of deep worthlessness is a severe ego “insult,” and one must have a new source of strength to endure it.{1}

A biblical perspective offers a new source or strength. The biblical God loves humans and wants our happiness. We all blow it at times, by harmful actions or unhealthy attitudes, and miss His standards. One follower of Jesus outlined what he saw as God’s solution: “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”{2}

If I had a traffic fine that I could not pay, you could offer to pay it for me. Similarly, Christ paid the penalty due our sins through His death on the cross. He offers us new life when we personally trust Him to forgive us. One early believer wrote, “God has purchased our freedom with his blood and has forgiven all our sins.”{3} When we feel guilty, we can admit our sin to God and He will forgive us.{4}

Take it from a guilty person: being forgiven is wonderful. And the complete forgiveness — freedom from guilt — that Jesus offers is free.

Fear is another cause of anxiety; let us look at that next.

What’s Your Greatest Fear?

What do you fear most? Confrontation? Maybe financial loss or abandonment? Your stomach, neck and shoulders tense up; your heart races; your mouth becomes like cotton and your breath gets short. Anxiety strikes.

Fear of death is perhaps humans’ greatest fear. In college, the student living next door to me was struck and killed by lightening. Shock gripped our fraternity house. “What does it mean if life can be snuffed out in an instant?” my friends asked.

If you cannot answer the question “What will happen when you die?” you may become anxious.

Fear of circumstances — from the trivial to the traumatic — can bring anxiety. Once at a bookseller’s convention my wife and I had spent an exhausting day on our feet promoting a new book. Late that night, after a reception crowd had thinned to mostly authors and our publisher, we stood in a circle engaged in conversation. I left her side momentarily to attend to a matter.

Upon returning to the circle, I walked up behind my wife and began gently to massage her shoulders. She seemed to enjoy that, so I started to put my arms around her waist to give her a little hug. At that point, I looked up at the other side of the circle and saw . . . my wife. I had my hands on the wrong woman!

In that instant, I knew the true meaning of fear. Fear of circumstances. Even fear of death.

Is there a solution to fear? Jesus of Nazareth said He could replace fear with peace: “I am leaving you with a gift,” He told His followers, “peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”{5}

For fear of death, He offers eternal life. He told a worried friend, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me . . . are given eternal life . . . and will never perish.”{6}

Faith can help allay circumstantial fear. Believing that I am in God’s hands has helped keep me calm.

Or maybe I should say calmer. My life is not fear-free. I have even become anxious about speaking on anxiety! I can be fearful over an important project, a deadline or a strained relationship. Having God as a friend has not eliminated fear, but when fear comes I know whose hand to hold.

Speaking of friendship, lack of it can also make you anxious. We will look at that next.

A Little Help from Your Friends

William Glasser, a psychiatrist, says we all experience two basic needs: the need to love and to be loved and the need to feel a sense of worth to ourselves and to others. To satisfy these needs he recommends developing a close friendship with another person who will accept us but also confront us if we act irresponsibly.{7}

We all need close friends.

1996 was a terrible year for me. My wife of 20 years, whom I loved dearly and continue to respect, divorced me. Some trusted coworkers turned against me. I had a cancer scare. (It turned out to be kidney stones, but it still was no fun.)

Divorce hurts. Imagine the pain of the worst spat you have ever had with a friend or spouse, multiplied by a trillion. I felt like an emotional Roto Rooter was reaming me out. I cried buckets.

In the midst of my pain, several wonderful friends held my hand. They would invite me to eat or to attend a sporting event. They listened. They called to see how I was doing. They prayed for me. They sat with me in divorce court. I learned through them what true friendship can mean. They helped me to survive this tragedy and to land on my feet. I am eternally grateful.

Good friends are very important. But human friendship, necessary as it is, is still fallible. People can let us down and make mistakes in judgment. Wouldn’t the ultimate in therapy consist in becoming involved with our creator? The biblical documents say that God is “faithful and righteous.”{8} He never lets us down and He always has the best advice. He loves us, so much that He would send His son to die for us.

Paul, a prolific ancient writer and speaker, wrote of the depths of God’s love:

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. . . . Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”{9}

Wouldn’t it be great to have a friend like that?

Faith in God can help treat causes of anxiety like guilt, fear, and friendship-deficiency. But could faith be just a psychological trick?

Is Christianity Just a Psychological Trick?

In this article, I have claimed that God can treat several causes of anxiety such as guilt, fear and lack of friendship. You might wonder, “So what? The Christian faith could just be a psychological trick.”

Sigmund Freud taught that Christian faith was merely an illusion driven by wish fulfillment, a fairy tale invented by needy humans to satisfy their emotional needs for security.

Is Jesus’ belief system an illusion? Consider three issues.

First, consider the object of the Christian’s faith. As somewhat of a skeptic, I was surprised to learn that the evidence for Jesus’ deity, His resurrection, and the prophecies He fulfilled make a strong case for the validity of His claims.{10} The fact that Christian faith can be described in psychological terms does not negate its validity. Examine the object of any faith. If the object is valid, we would expect the faith to have practical benefits.

Second, human personality alone cannot explain all faith-related behavior. Our personalities have intellect, emotion, and will. Many psychologists believe the will cannot completely control the emotions.{11} Nor is it likely that the intellect could completely control our emotions. Yet many followers of Jesus have suffered humiliation, beatings, torture, cruelty, and death but still have loved their enemies and forgiven their persecutors. Something beyond human personality seems at work here.

Third, the Book in which Jesus’ solutions to anxiety are recorded has unusual credentials. Written over a period of 1,500 years, in three languages and by 40 different authors (most of whom never met), the biblical documents are thematically coherent, internally consistent and historically accurate.{12} Completed more than 1,900 years ago, the Bible continues to provide workable therapy for millions. A book with these credentials bears a closer look.

This article on anxiety started with a college paper that the author of our textbook found intriguing. This professor told me he lacked personal peace and wanted to know God personally. I showed him a simple four-point outline and he invited Jesus to forgive him and to be his friend. An internationally acclaimed scholar linked up with, if you will, the greatest psychologist.

Anxiety plagues millions of us. God offers genuine peace. Is that worth considering?

Notes

1. O. H. Mowrer, “Sin, the Lesser of Two Evils,” quoted in Henry R. Brandt, The Struggle for Peace, (Wheaton IL: Scripture Press Publications, 1965).
2. 2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT.
3. Colossians 1:14, NLT.
4. 1 John 1:9.
5. John 14:27, NLT.
6. John 11:25-26, NLT.
7. William Glasser, MD, Reality Therapy, (New York: Harper and Row, 1965).
8. 1 John 1:9.
9. Romans 8:38-39, NLT.
10. See, for instance, Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999).
11. S.I. McMillen, MD, None of These Diseases, (Old Tappen NJ: Fleming H. Revell Publishers, 1968), 77.
12. McDowell, New Evidence.

© 2002 Probe Ministries