by Rayola Kelley
The title of this new series may remind you of Homer’s epic poem about King Odysseus. He was the king of Ithaca, as well as a Greek leader in the Trojan War. Apparently after the war he wandered ten years before reaching home. As you probably already surmised, this series will not be about this wandering king.
The truth is that as Christians we are on an odyssey. We are strangers to this world, pilgrims in our search for our final home, and priests and royalty of an unseen kingdom (1 Peter 2:11; Revelation 1:6). However, the different challenges we face threading through the various terrains of the world can also cause us to become wanderers, somewhat lost, a bit disoriented, and uncertain about how to choose from the many paths that lie before us.
As I meditated on my past adventures, I realized that I could also recount my journey. Granted, we all have our own path and journey that we are currently on. We are seeing different terrain as we wrestle with diverse problems or situations. However, we all end up learning comparable lessons, coming to like conclusions, and coming to rest on the same foundation of life and hope. For this reason one’s journey can become a place of remembrance of what was, a place of encouragement of what can be, and a place of rest of what will be when the journey comes to an end.
There are times in my life I look back at the spiritual journey I have been on. At the beginning of my Christian life, I did not realize I was about to embark on an incredible odyssey. It never dawned on me that even though I had received Christ as my Lord and Savior, I had not really arrived. Granted, I had discovered an amazing peak in my life that brought such joy to my spirit, but I also would soon discover that my salvation experience was simply just that—a peak.
A peak may be an elevated point in your life, but it is not a place for putting down any real stakes. It is a point that gives you a different view, but such an overview lacks the details that can often derail one on his or her journey. Such a peak may also give you a sense of infallibility. There can be such ecstasy to what you initially experience and see that it is hard to believe that the probabilities of defeats and challenges in the future would even cause you to blink, let alone experience a deep sense of despair in your soul. However, this is the reality of the journey that awaits the spiritual sojourner.
Looking back at my peak, I realize that it represents the height to which the Lord had brought me from the depth of my despairing abyss. One can only reason that after floundering around in a pit of emptiness and desperation, when once delivered from it, you will indeed automatically find yourself on an elevated place, a peak of some type. The height of my peak simply represented the depth of the abyss from which I was delivered.
In a way, I was given insight into a very special lesson. The lesson was that the height God is able to bring you to will be determined by the depths in which He is able to reach into your life. I often mention this simple principle. Although it may seem obvious, silly, or redundant to some, it is a life principle that will constantly prove true as one travels through this world. Jesus put it best when He asked Peter who would show the greatest appreciation: the one who has been forgiven little or the one who has been forgiven much. The answer is obvious.
When God first found me, I was in a deep pit of sin. It had taken great failures for me to realize the profundity that my sin had on my soul. After all, before I fell into my pit, I thought of myself as a pretty decent person. As I compared myself to others, I felt I could hold a high opinion of myself for I was not such a wretched soul as so and so. I did not realize at that time that my high opinion of self was swinging from the deceptive branches of conceit. My height of arrogance was simply setting me up for the type of fall that was awaiting me. Years later I had to agree with the conclusion that the farthest distance for most people is the 18 inches that separates their minds from their hearts. The source that causes this great gap between these two areas is nothing more than pride.
When the fall came, I did not realize what had happened. It did not become obvious that I was in a great pit until I began to hit the walls of my abyss. I had a sense something happened to me because I felt depression grip my soul. The first wall I ran into caused confusion. I could not sense where I was. This was the first time I had a sense that I was lost. The problem with being lost is that it creates an unexplainable crisis.
I could not tell you why I was lost or what I was lost to. I always thought I knew where I was, yet I could not grasp my situation. I always perceived myself as being intelligent, but I found myself becoming uncertain about my perception. My confusion turned into skepticism as I realized that I did not trust anything around me, especially my conclusions. I found myself groping against the wall of my abyss which brought me to the next wall—that of anger.
Much of my anger was silent. My plight seemed to be unjust. I had striven to be a good person; and, of course, bad things do not happen to good people, right? Granted, there were flaws in my character that I did not appreciate, but I was trying to hold it altogether. In my naïve reality, I felt that if circumstances were different, fair, and pleasant for me, that all would be well with my world.
I would learn much later that such a perception is a sign of immaturity, inexperience, and wishful thinking. The “old man” in us always wants to be pampered, spoiled, and protected. It does not want its feigned character to ever be tested by adversity. It is for this reason that only the weak in character allow circumstances to become an excuse for unbecoming attitudes and behavior. I would later discover that godly character can only be forged in one’s makeup once he or she personally decides that he or she must take responsibility for how circumstances are going to define and impact his or her attitudes and responses. As believers, we must always choose the excellent road of righteousness.
Even though I had a sense I was lost, those around me could see no real change. The things that were plaguing me also plagued them. Granted, some wore their plight quite well, but nevertheless, they were also silently struggling with unseen issues. Whether it is pride, fear, or the attempt to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, it is easy for inner prison bars to develop around such people, causing them to feel isolated in their present struggles.
The next wall I encountered in my abyss was hopelessness. I was a hopeless mess. After all, I could see no way out of my dilemma. However, such failure did not serve as a reality check as to my real limitations; rather, it became an affront against my intelligence and abilities. I should “know” how to resolve such issues, but the truth is I did not know. Clearly, I was not divine and I had no means to change my present reality.
The remaining wall was resignation to simply give in to the force of the gales that were smashing against my resolve. I accepted that I would become nothing more than a cork on the ocean of the world, exposed to all the destructive elements. Obviously, I had to accept my lot in life.
The final wall of resignation produced a silent desperation in my soul. I did not want to accept such a lot. I was not a Pollyanna optimist, but I did not want my hope to drown in the hallow vacuum that seemed to consume anything in my life that had any semblance of optimism attached to it. However, I did not know where I could find hope in my despairing situation.
As I considered all that surrounded me, my soul became more desperate. Where could I look and where could I go to find hope that would become the wings that would lift me out of my abyss? Everyone can guess where I found my hope. I found it in Jesus Christ. He is the end of all searches and the answer to all questions regarding life.
As Christians, we need to expect that part of the spiritual journey will consist of those circumstances that will bring us into an utter state of desperation. Perhaps you are at this stage. There may be an inner struggle of desperation that threatens to escalate into a volcanic state of eruption. If you are there, you need to be open to examine some matters in your spiritual life.
Born Again (John 3:3, 5): Those who are spiritually lost eventually become desperate souls. Are you a Christian in title only or have you truly been born again of the Spirit of the living God? This means sin has been addressed in your life because it has been confessed and is under the blood of Jesus. You now have the seal of the Spirit upon your life and are learning to follow after Him in the ways of righteousness.
Sin: Is there sin in your life? God will not answer those who conceal any iniquity or moral deviations in their lives and He will turn away from those who are walking in sin (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2-4). Not only is sin isolating you into a pit of defeat, but you are also separated from God. You need to turn from your sin in repentance, confess it as so to the Lord, and flee the lusts that have beset you to once again experience blessed fellowship with Him.
Test of faith (1 Peter 1:6-9): The Lord wants to grow us up. However, our faith must be tested to reveal our inner character and our source of reliance in times of challenges and crises. It is not unusual for God to allow the waves of circumstances to hit the shoreline of our lives. The waves will wash away any sands of beliefs that are not founded on the Lord. They will show us the extent of our character and reveal the depth of our faith.
Keep in mind that it is easy to believe one has faith when he or she has not really been tested. It is also easy to believe each of us has character when we feel on top of things, but those times that lack adversity are not a reliable gauge in which to examine such matters. Faith is a choice, and character is a process. Faith is not carried over from yesterday, but must be chosen at the time of the test. Once a person chooses the way of faith, God is able to give him or her a measure of faith to help him or her through the new challenge (Romans 12:3). The walk of faith will bring one to a place of restful confidence and assurance in the Lord.
Character is not something we always have at the time of a trial; rather, it is what is often developed during the test; that is, if we make the right decisions. Clearly, we cannot have too much character. Obviously, faith must be chosen at the beginning of the test, where character is what must become our preference during the test. We must choose to walk in the ways of integrity and righteousness during the trial. Once character becomes the preference, then it can be established in our inner being as a reality.
Take courage in your situation: The extent of your desperation will determine the height in which you will be delivered by the Lord. His arm is never too short to reach you no matter how deep the abyss (Isaiah 59:1). As previously stated, the depth of your pit will determine the height of your peak. However, you must seek Him for deliverance. You must be sincere about learning the lessons of your trials. And, you must realize that He is the only One who can lift you out of your pit. Upon your deliverance, you will indeed end up with a new view of matters. It will be refreshing and liberating, but do not get too comfortable. The peak may give you a wonderful overview of the terrain, but you still must sojourn through the terrain that lies before you so that you can reach your final destination.
In time you will see the significance of these times of testing. It is in such times that you learn God is indeed faithful and true to His Word. Even though He may seem far away, in reality this is when He is the closest. His ear is extended towards you in readiness to respond to unfeigned faith, His heart is sensitive to your plight and ready to enfold you in comfort and compassion, and as He waits in the shroud of darkness for the time He will bring you into the light, He is guiding you to walk in line with the unknown path before you. Keep in mind, faith always leads down paths that you have not traveled before. The path may be unknown to you, but it is not unknown to your Lord. He already has gone before you, and He has specifically prepared the way for you to walk in order to discover how much fuller your life can be in Him.
Desperate times are part of the spiritual journey, but they give God the opportunity to find you in a state in which He can go deeper in order to bring you higher in Him. Even though desperate times make us feel as if we are falling into a crevice of nothingness, we can always trust that in the end we will fall into His loving arms of comfort and deliverance.