Let me explain the situation. I helped to direct a church running out of money. A close friend in the church had resigned his membership and as he left told me I was an idiot. Two of my fellow staff members were threatening to quit. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning without shooting pain in my back and legs. A dear friend died of cancer even though we had prayed for her every day for months.
As hard as all those things were, the most life-sucking part went on inside my head. Several times a day, I replayed a mental loop composed of four parts:
1. Thinking of all the ways I had failed the previous five years.
2. Piecing together the ways my failures had affected others, like my children, wife, friends and church.
3. How much they all had a right to hate me and/or curse me.
4. Resenting them for feeling this way about me…after all, they had all failed too and I wasn’t the only one…perhaps I needed a fresh start where I could prove myself.
Thinking about a fresh start lead me to conclude that even if I launched into a new opportunity (and I received several offers during that season) I would probably screw those things up as badly as I had this one. Then the loop would start again.
If you know Prayer Counseling (Theophostic), you might recognize the roots of much lie-based thinking. I was feeling self-destructive and self-loathing. Those are always based upon some kind of lie. Not to say that making mistakes can’t launch these thoughts, but these thoughts don’t stay unless they draw upon past lies. In addition to self-destructive thoughts, I was unrealistic about the opinions of others. Unrealistic viewpoints like this are residue of childhood Universal fears, I was channeling leftover thinking that had dogged me for years. I could go on with the analysis, but suffice to say I wasn’t thinking straight.
That wasn’t the best season to make life-directing decisions.
I’m not alone fortunately (fortunate for readers of this account as well). Many Bible characters suffered through this kind of season while they were wrestling with personal decisions. John the Baptist can stand in for them all as an example. Near the end of his life, as he rotted in Herod’s personal jail, he began to bear the weight of his pain, loneliness and sense of failure. This caused him to doubt even his own prophecies. He was the one who spoke for God in telling the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. But during the last days of his life, he sent a message to Jesus asking if he was indeed the Messiah or perhaps John needed to look for someone else. It was a crappy time in John’s mind.
But in this scene he shows us the way to the Light. The key here is that he didn’t give in to unbelief. He simply expressed his doubts to God. He asked questions and sought answers. He wasn’t budging from his beliefs unless God lead him on a different path.
I find that hearing God when your mind is wading through mental manure is not as hard as it sounds. Oh, it isn’t easy, but neither is it impossible. It begins by asking God questions. Have I really failed you? Is everyone against me? That one is better framed as a question. When Elijah made it a statement, God nailed him with the right answer. (Elijah, take a hint: When God asks “is that your final answer”, it is best to phone a friend. At least poll the audience).
One question I asked God during this season was whether I had created all the mess the church was facing. He assured me I had not created all of it. He also pointed out my role in the problems. That’s how I knew it was God. He rarely is as Universal and extreme as our minds would be. Also, God showed me things I could do to make amends. A few days later God also pointed out how He had started the church down the path to some healing (this later panned out as God said it would).
When listening to God during muddled mental days, ask a lot of the hardest questions. But don’t draw your own conclusions. Ask God frequently what you can begin doing. I took a lot of long walks and skipped a lot of stones on the river. I invited a lot more music and books into my mind and gave television and movies a rest for awhile.
In a month of this listening therapy, I was aware of joy returning. I could feel peace descending slowly but tangibly.
That’s when the idea of church planting began to grow. Even though it didn’t happen for three more years, the plan was already gestating. The main thing standing in the way had been my garbled thought-life. Once that mess got cleaned up, the future made more sense.