A Year With Hell, Chaos, and Fear
About 18 months ago when Hell, Chaos, and Fear walked through my front door and sat down on the couch, with no intention of leaving. Let me explain... "Prior to October 2017, life made sense. I had taken a job that promised financial security for my family, something we had never really known. I was in the final stretch of my time in seminary. I was leading a growing men’s ministry. For the first time, I was feeling like I wasn’t failing at being a man, a husband, and a father. But like I said, some unexpected visitors showed up, let me introduce them.
Hell was losing my job unexpectedly a few days before my son’s birthday. I can’t get into the details of all that took place, but what I can say is that it involved feeling betrayed, being put in a position of choosing between financial freedom or faithfulness to God, and driving home in dead silence with a legion of voices telling me I made the wrong choice. Hell also made sure to do all it could to pit me and my wife against each other and cause division in our home. Hell made sure to block off channels of grace between me and my kids. Hell was a brutal tyrant who had me enslaved.
But let's not forget my other two visitors, Chaos and Fear. I came to find out Chaos and Fear, were a package deal. For the next nine months, I fought to keep my head above water as the necessary cares of this world sought to pull me down to the depths of the sea. I couldn’t get a job, burned through all my savings, and lived off credit cards in an effort to support my family. But with each passing day my heart sank lower, my faith grew weaker, my hope kept drifting away. As a result, I began to become more snippy and withdrawn. Those closest to me only seemed to highlight the horror show that was taking place in my heart, so I pulled away. Chaos convinced me to focus only on me. Fear drove me to hide from the world.
In the midst of all this, I was leading a weekly men’s study on the book of James. I was teaching on passages such as, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Or how about this one, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” I would stand up there preaching my guts out, but it wasn’t for those men sitting in that classroom. It was for me. I needed those words. I can’t even begin to count on how many of those Monday nights I felt like a dying man. I would sit in my car feeling empty and pray, “Father...I got nothing. Please pour your Holy Spirit out on us.” And in His grace, He would.
I share all this not for pity but for you to know that I truly was in the pit of despair. Depression and all the dark thoughts that come with it hid in the shadows always seeking a moment to grab hold of me. For nine months that was life. For 9 months I wondered if the darkness would ever lift. And then one day it did. The sun rose and God provided a job.
But, I knew that I couldn’t just take the last nine months and sweep them under the rug, I had to take time and process them. I had to sit alone with God and ask Him to help me understand. Here’s what I learned.
God is sovereign.
As horrible as those nine months were, they weren’t outside of God’s control but actually were part of His plan. It was during this season that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty took on a whole new level of meaning for me. I had always given it lip service (as any good reformed boy should), but now I was faced with it on a very real level. Did I really believe that He was sovereign - and if so, that it was for His glory and my good? It was the book of 1 Peter in which I found much comfort. Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” That verse was an anchor for me. What was happening to me wasn’t an anomaly, but was what followers of Jesus have always have gone through and will always go through. God loves me too much not to have me be refined. God cares too much about His glory not to have me know deep in my bones that in the midst of hell, God is good and we are to sing His praises. God the Father cares too much for the name of God the Son not to place me in a season where I must look to sufferings of my Lord and see I don’t know the first thing about suffering. God in His sovereignty made it crystal clear to me that I was a blood-bought, adopted son, because in this season He told me in His Word, “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
The importance of the local church
Where do I even begin... I’ve always thought that the local church was important but in those nine months, God showed me that it is in the local church where we meet Him in real and tangible ways. God used His local church to bring us meals, to pray for us in the late hours of the night, to shed tears with us in our suffering, to help us pay bills, to give us date nights, to encourage us with words of affirmation, and countless other ways that I cannot even begin to describe. In short, it was during this season that the local church really became a family. It’s when I learned what it truly meant to need and love the local church. As I sat with my church body, I was able to experience the love of God in a way I never knew before. This season of lament truly became a season of love as well. As King David wrote, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
The power of the Word of God.
When you have nothing and the reality of losing the roof over your head is quickly approaching, you feel desperation begin to close its caustic fingers around your neck. In those moments I came to know at a deeper level that the Word of God is supernaturally powerful. Even though there were countless times that I opened His Word with a cold and hard heart, I (in faith) would sit and read, and guess what? God would speak life into me. He would warm and soften my cold hardened heart. I would open the Word hopeless and leave hopeful. I would begin reading feeling dejected and end in heartfelt devotion. God through His Word did something that my words cannot capture...He spoke. I came to hold dear this promise found in Psalm 119, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!”
The strength that comes through prayer.
I don’t sleep much. I never have and suspect I never will. However, in a season like the one I was in, not being able to sleep felt like a curse. There are many lonely and restless nights. I would go for walks at 2am and just want to cry. So I did the only thing I could do: I prayed. Specifically, I would pray the Psalms. I can't even begin to count how many times I would pray Psalm 42:5, “ Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me. Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation” only to be followed by Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” It was through praying in this season that I came to realize that God does not always deliver us from our circumstances, but He is always with us in them.
This world is not my home.
Here is another one of those truths that I knew in my head but not in my heart. As everything in my world seemed to be crashing down or taken away, it brought to light just how much pride was wrapped up in the things of this world for me. I had made a bunch of golden calves in my life: I bought a home, raised my credit score to a level that was respectable, had a good amount of credit lines open, I was able to do things like taking the family out for dinner without worry, etc. In short, I was busy in the church but consumed with the world. If Jesus had returned right then, I probably would have been a bit sad because, in my eyes, I was just starting to gain some traction. God in His love and omniscience knew this about me, and so in love He afflicted me and reminded me, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This world is not my home; a kingdom of glory with the King of glory awaits me. I need to live for that! I pray I don’t forget this powerful truth. As the writer of Hebrews wrote, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”
Bitterness and anger are weeds that will overtake a garden of grace.
As I said earlier, I cannot get into the details of all that led to my being fired. However, what I can say is that as best as I can understand it (and those around me can understand it), what took place was a series of radically unchristian actions that I was a recipient of. It wasn’t until I got a job that I realized just how much bitterness and anger I had harbored in my heart towards a certain person. Bitterness and anger had overrun any and all grace in my heart and had as a result made me blind to the Gospel. It had blinded me to the fact that I am no better. I’ve been a lying, betrayer. I’ve been a foul-mouthed individual. I’ve been manipulative and cutting. Yet, Christ forgave me. So how could I withhold forgiving this person? How could I hold onto my bitterness and anger as if they were virtues? Did not my Lord say, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” ? The grace of the Gospel will never blossom in the garden of the heart if the weeds of bitterness and anger are left to run wild.
Now, I wish I could say that I learned these lessons and that life is back on track, but that would be a lie. In the last three months, I have dealt with hard spiritual warfare at my new job, ended up in the ER, received a medical bill that takes my breath away, and had one of our cars die. The creditors are still calling. With all that, I had three familiar guests try and invite themselves into my home, but not this time. This time, I tell Hell, Chaos, and Fear, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”