Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wounded Veterans

"...The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire."
Nehemiah 1: 3
"...Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?"
Nehemiah 4: 2

The drama of the church is often reminiscent of those scenes from war movies in which excited new recruits march toward the front lines while being met by weary veterans returning from battle, limping along bandaged and bloody, carrying their wounded, and still in shock from the trauma of conflict. The new recruits move forward ready to conquor the world, while the battle-weary veterans groan in the pain of failure and disillusionment. Multitudes start out in the Christian walk, everybody expects testing, they just don't expect it to be real. They expect either victory without battle (naiveté and untested faith) or battle without victory (skepticism and unbelief). Motives and untested faith must inevitably face the refiners fire. The disillusionments of time and testing can take a heavy toll on the lightheartedness of youthful innocence, naiveté, and inexperience. As a result many Christians tend to move over time and experience from the naiveté of the inexperienced novice to the skeptical cynicism of the disillusioned veteran.

How many Christians do you know who no longer fellowship with other Christians or who just sit on the back row and hover at the fringes of the Christian life? How many do you know whose lives have fallen apart? It's the spouse who has become spiritually defeated because of marriage conflicts. It is the pastor who feels he has been through his own crucifixion at the hands of a rebellious flock. It is the Christian who has been abused or hurt by the church or its leaders. It's the person who has been disillusioned by the unexpected complications of life, and disappointed by his own failures or that of others. Hopes held high in the beginning eventually dissipated during hard times, mistreatment, distresses, and sin. The experienced "veteran" is often the most depressed.

The "burnt-stone" syndrome occurs when a person is overwhelmed by the various "fires" of temptation, mistreatment, conflict, failure, disillusionment, and disappointment. It occurs when one embraces wrong or sinful responses to difficulties and adversities.These wrong and sinful responses, left uncorrected, hinder the grace of God, choke out the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and produce spiritual desolation. When a person gets the wind knocked out of him, his primary concern becomes survival rather than service.When a person is standing amid the broken fragments of collapsed walls he loses heart and hope. How can I give of myself again after all my past investment has gone up in smoke? How can I build again? Why should I build again? Who can I trust again? These are questions asked by those who have been disabled by the fires of life.

Symptoms
There are a number of symptoms that describe these people. They no longer serve with joy, and they try to remain at a safe distance from God's people. They have lost sight of God’s purpose. They associate it with those people and things that brought them pain. They grieve because of unexpected loss. They are unwilling to trust again because they were wounded by people they trusted. Disappointment of hope destroys vision.

Loss of Confidence in God and His people
To lose confidence in God’s people can cause us to consequently lose confidence in God Himself. No matter how much Christians or people fail, we must not forget that there is a God on the throne who rules and who will ultimately bring forth the full manifestation of plan and His kingdomon this earth. It is a deception to give up on God because of the failures of His children. We are willing to risk obedience because we trust in God. True faith in God must also include the ability to trust God with other people.

Avoiding hurt
Seeing themselves as victims who have been robbed they become bitter and angry,unwilling to risk vulnerability, afraid of being exposed to potential hurt. They say, "I will not be hurt again!" This survivalist mentality produces disobedience because obedience is seen as a risk. The primary motivation becomes self-protection and self-interests. The obvious consequence is the inability to have a heart after God's interest and God’s heart. They depart from the way of the cross. (Mat.16:24-25, Neh.6:10-14).

Avoiding Relationships
Superficial faith and superficial involvement with other Christians; withdrawn, independent, detached and isolated, separated from real church life, having drifted to the fringes and avoiding relationships; Drifting along, drifting away.
-Cautious and reserved in approaching God and other Christians; withholding themselves from both God and man. The walls that protect also isloate.

Hardened Heart
-Using problems as an excuse to neglect their spiritual lives. Ungodly attitudes, when embraced and nurtured, will take their toll upon the Christian's walk with God.
-Heart hardened through anger, bitterness, hurt, and other unhealthy attitudes. As the heart hardens, the fruit of the Spirit (those good qualities which usually mark the Christian's life) will begin to wither, and the worst tendencies of his flesh will begin to grow.
-Stumbled by tribulation, they allow the heart to become unfruitful soil; the word of God and its fruit are choked by the stresses and distresses.

Spiritually Disabled
-Spiritually paralyzed, disabled, and incapacitated.
-Sitting at home angry, confused, disillusioned, with loss of purpose.
-Living far below their potential, hiding their candles under baskets.

Loss of Vision and Faith
-Failing to see and understand the sovereignty of God.
-Unbelief, lack of hope, lack of faith, lack of vision.
-Do not understand, do not have the divine perspective. When a person does not acurately interpret his experience, especially if this misinterpretation stems from his failure to be broken and obedient before God, he will have short-circuited his power of discernment and will be unable to see God's plan and hope for his future. Not having resolved the past, he will be unable to proceed.

When we are burned by the fire, we avoid those things which we perceive will get us burned again. We fall prey to isolation, self-protectionism, and a survivalist mentality. A person can not move forward in useful and fulfilling service to God while his life is controlled and directed by this perspective and disposition. One can not build the future while standing in the rubble of the past; therefore, the ground must be cleared of the rubble in order to find freedom to face the future in faith, in obedience, and without fear.

And the future must be faced, for we have within us a God-given inner need to progress and move forward. It is no wonder that the enemy does everything within his power to destroy our future by ruining our past. To lose all that we have invested in, to be hurt by those from whom we least expected it, to be dismayed in the grief of our failures will strain anyones faith to the limit. When the past is seen only in terms of hurt and regret, the present is experienced as pain and emptiness left by the void, and the future is viewed as a dark place devoid of vision and purpose. When the past is a disaster the future is faced with fear. In such a state, it is very difficult to look forward, much less to reach forward.

Our God, however, is the God of redemption. Time after time the Bible gives testimony of God's ability and willingness to turn all things to our good and to His purpose. Christianity was built to successfully sustain us in difficult times. A spiritual and godly approach to life's difficulties will cause the Christian to please God in all things and to come through it all in communion and relationship with the Lord and with feet firmly on the path of God's purpose. It is a matter of our engaging the Lord properly, understanding His Sovereignty, walking in faith and obedience, and maintaining a right spirit and relationship with Him. For the Christian there is never an excuse for spiritual disability, quitting, or settling for less. There is a place in God where every Christian can come through every fire without "smelling like smoke".

My purpose in writing in this article is to encourage and inspire Christians to face adversity in a manner consistent with God's word. The fires of trials and testings will thus refine the Christian rather than leaving him burnt and disabled.
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8: 28
"But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you." 1 Peter 5: 10
"Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather let it be healed. Heb.12: 12-13