Monday, February 22, 2016

Why It’s Good to be Real About Your Depression

ONE of the most encouraging things any of us can do for another person is to tell the truth about how we feel.
We love it when we can be our real selves, especially regarding the struggles we have.  And this applies much more so to the Christian than it does to everyone else, because there is this double-barrelled truth:
Although Christians are commanded and empowered to tell the truth, they’re also more likely to hide their truth, for shame and guilt that perhaps their faith doesn’t work.
We know that depression and other mental illnesses don’t discriminate, and that they’re incredibly complex.  Having depression doesn’t whatsoever correlate with weak faith.
In fact, it takes stupendously greater faith to keep stepping with the Lord through the dark nights of the soul.  And it’s this faith, if only others knew what we were dealing with, that would inspire others.
It’s good to be real about our depression because an unnecessary burden is immediately relieved; we no longer have to carry the arduous weight of a lie!
When we live openly in the light of the truth — that life is hard, each and every day, or most days — then we stand to be encouraged by others for the courage we’ve shown.  This equips others to employ their courage.
Being honest about where our mental health is helps to inspire others to be honest.  And when two people can be honest with each other, they give each other permission to be real, and there is no greater gift or blessing.
Perhaps the purpose of your depression is to be real about it, by trusting God; He may have a purpose in it for you.  It might help others to their freedom.
Now, I can tell you I’ve been depressed several times, and I doubt whether I’ve had my final bout.  Isn’t that encouraging?  You and I are not alone.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Joy In Spite of Sadness, Hope In Grief’s Place

POSSIBILITIES reign in the land of the living; those in present sight are what joys might be known in sadness, and what hope might be overlaid grief.
Once we know this truth, we’re finally free.  Nothing that could otherwise encumber us can any longer.  The purpose in grief and sadness is to get us to this place — the place of accepting everything that comes, come what may.
Now, to get to acceptance we need to achieve a willing surrender, and we can only do that with enthusiasm when we see it’s worth it.
We trust in the eternal reserves of perspective, which is everything we cannot see.
There is so much we never see; it’s not that we can’t see it, it’s just that our perspective may block it.  Sometimes it’s God’s will that prefers not to show us.  Whatever holds perspective away isn’t the point.  The point is, life is in knowing we can’t know everything.
Life is in accepting the glorious beauty of a sorrow resting in our hearts deeply.
That may sound weird, or even wrong, but it’s true.  When we leave our hurting hearts open to the mystery of wonder, that we don’t know and can’t know what’s going on, God quietly makes his way in, and those hurts don’t hurt as much, because we don’t feel alone.
The Desiderata says “Be gentle on yourself,” and I love that.  I’ve found God saying that, into my heart, at times when I’ve been beside myself in grief and sorrow.
To not know, and to not need to know, in sorrow and grief, avails the tender Presence and peace of the Lord, to come on in upon our heart.
When we let go, we let God into our heart, and then healing can at last begin to take place.
Let God show us that joy is possible in sorrow; that hope can present itself even in grief.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Contentedness of Acceptance for Today’s Reality

LIFE has a way of taking us into the tasks of turmoil, and life doesn’t so much as apologise.  Yet life is the opportunity of learning, of adapting, of embracing, of accepting.  Life isn’t so much unfair as it’s an existence to be understood.
If we understand that life is what it is — that we can change what we can change, yet we must accept what we cannot — then life is an academic pursuit of sorting out what we can change from what we can’t.
Quite plainly, a day, any day, can be enjoyed.  Any day can be accepted; embraced; thrived upon.  Even in the pit of grief there remains that possibility (though some days it’s impossible).
Today is a gift, a prize to be accepted, a thousand breaths to be breathed, and a hundred sights to be seen; it’s some tears to be shed, a dozen sneezes, and several kinds of interactions, like the colours of the rainbow.
Holding open the possibility that today will be a day, unique of its kind, special even if it weren’t that special, we sense what is preloaded into the day, even as the sun rises innocuously above the horizon.
Chock full of both hope and despair, purpose and pain, levity and sorrow, life is what it patently is; and reality is to be respected.
Reality is never to be feared, just understood.  Emotions are not to be frightened of, just accepted.  The thought of happiness as a goal isn’t to be ridiculed, just appreciated.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Taking the Time to Nurture the Leader in You

“The true quality and nature of our leadership will ultimately be determined by the condition of our inner life, which, in turn, is the product of the degree to which we do or do not engage in effective personal soul care.”
— Samuel D. Rima
UNDER the heading Leadership Failures are Spiritual Failures, I found the above quote.  It’s striking in its simplicity.  Everything boils down to our most personal degrees of maintenance — our own delicately private soul care.
As I type these actual words, on my day off, which, as a pastor, is my Sabbath, I wrestle with the desire to work on my studies.  Like many, I straddle time; I’m a full-time pastor, which I hope never to take for granted, being privileged to be set aside for the ministry — for the protection, nurturance, encouragement and growth of souls — with the need to qualify for ordination, which hasn’t occurred yet.  So my time off, like for many students, is a careful juggle between some rest and some study.
And yet I find myself being persuaded by God — “do your wrestling with me first…”  “Okay, Lord,” is my reply.  It’s what I want to do anyway.  But, in fighting off the anxious drive within to get on top of the tasks bearing down, not to mention the tasks of family (which are a joy, but are nonetheless pressing on time), I have to remind myself, “I’m not procrastinating here.  I’m doing God’s will to spend some time in reflection, and in learning.”
So I picked up a book called, Leading from the Inside Out — the Art of Self-Leadership.  It’s right up my alley.  I open to page 130, and someone’s gone before me and underlined the text; the quote above.  I read it, and God says, “That, write on that.”
So I do.  Here it is.
Having suffered partial burnout in 2005, and having had, as a result, my mind altered in the way it functions, I know intuitively the value — no, the necessity it is — for me to engage in this thing; in the devotional life.  I thank God that I cannot live without God, just as I thank God I cannot live without engaging in a veraciously voracious soul care that has woven itself into my very moments — all of them, potentially.
So, for me, nurturing the leader within me starts at a basic survival level.
But the actual matter of the subject area needs nuancing.
We are all leaders.  Whether it be in the business world, in our communities of faith, in our families, in our sporting endeavours, or in some other arena, we’re all leaders.
Parents are leaders.  Those who are married are leaders.  Those who drive cars are leaders.  And those who interact with other human beings are leaders.  We all influence other people, and our role is our responsibility — to be a positive and loving influence.
We cannot be that sort of positive influence unless we’ve allowed ourselves the breathing space to be us!
If we’re generous with ourselves, in the time we take to be and enjoy ourselves, we’ll be generous with others.  Others need us to be loving in order that our influence would bless them.  As is the same for us regarding others and their impact and influence over us.
If we hope to be successful we’ll understand that success starts at a spiritual level.
All of our dealing with others comes back to our dealing with ourselves.  Let’s understand that if we’re hard on ourselves, we’ll inevitably be hard on others, and whether that’s loving or not, won’t matter; it won’t be perceived as loving.
If we’re fair on ourselves, within the scope of our lives, we’ll be fair on others, and we’ll all be blessed.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Camp of Contemplation On the Path to the Prize

When your plans seem to come unstuck,
Don’t be discouraged,
Don’t give up,
Press in upon His Spirit,
And steadily resolve — there’s another way.
There’s always another way. When God has assured us of our way, and then we get confused and frustrated and we feel abandoned, because that plan seems thwarted, His Holy Spirit invites us to press in upon Him, and find another way.
If what we do is for His glory, He will make a way for us. He will.
There are many times along the passage of a journey where God will, through the circumstances of life, force us (if we’ll submit) to stop and take up our camp of contemplation.
There’s not much point resenting the fact of our having to camp; it’s what we need to do to reconnect with the plan that God has for us. He can’t get us all the way there otherwise.
God knows we get ahead of ourselves. He also knows that we can only take little pieces of the plan at any one time (Matthew 6:34). We do get ahead of ourselves. I know I do. And yet God understands. Frustration and despair are part of the journey along the road toward any good thing.
Having to draw aside to nestle in, with our Holy Companion, we gain perspective for having rested. Yet not many of us are satisfied to rest when there’s a conquest to be had. But submission into rest is partaking upon the rest of Jesus; to once again commit not only our way again to Him, but also our very selves. He wants us, and not us contingent on our plans. Jesus is no conditional lover.
When God brings a stop to our activities He gives us a choice to choose between resting in the camp of contemplation or getting lost in restlessness, to where we find ourselves camped in capitulation. That’s a capitulation to our circumstances, and to our despair — that’s the world’s way; not God’s.
Think on Ezekiel 47:11-12 as a lesson in staying humbly submitted to the Lord our God. Staying with the flow of the river, where life teems, is dependent on staying with the will of God, taking our rest, but having things our own way just sends us off into a swamp or salty marsh, where there is no life. But life is in taking God at His Word — the assurance of the Plan He’s locked into our hearts.
Let us hold onto that Plan, with faith, with patience, with due diligence, agreeing to partake in our camp of contemplation regularly. To take our rest. To replenish our spiritual strength and to gather resources for the next part of the journey.
Who is it that directs our journey?
Who is it that brings us to a place where we have to stop, to reassess, to come back to Him.
We all need Him who we stray from. And yet, as soon as we’ve strayed we see how weak we are without Him. Life gets hopeless again.
We need Jesus. We cannot achieve our plans without Him.
Hold on and don’t let go.
He who knows us so well will not leave us nor forsake us regarding the Plans He’s promised us, in His time, in His way.
When we surrender the process to Him, Jesus secures the prize for us.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Come, Rest, Heal, Grow, Serve, Reflect, Love

EITHER as a weekly structure of days, or as a process for spiritual endeavour through a whole season, or as a devotional configuration for life, the following system serves to help mobilise faith.
1.     Come
As a principle of worship, Jesus just wants us to come; to be, in the doing sense — as in being is what we’re doing when we come.  That is, to allow ourselves the uncommon grace to come to him just as we are, nothing hidden, no shame nor guilt nor condemnation.  Although this is not easy, we can easily do it when we’re shown how.  A safe shepherd allows us the space to come into the sanctuary.
This is to worship in Spirit and in Truth — to connect at once with his Spirit because we’re blatantly truthful, as if we have nothing to fear, because we really don’t.
2.    Rest
Once we have come, we then come to the opportunity of rest.  Anyone who is weary and laden with burden should know that Jesus is rest for weariness and relief for burden.
Most of the time we only have to give ourselves permission to rest; then we need to be disciplined enough not to slip into something more comfortable — which, ironically, means work, and often for the Kingdom.  But if we don’t rest, more and more of our work for the Kingdom is done in our own strength, and not in the power of the Spirit.
Rest in our day is harder than it should be because of the sheer volume of distractions in today’s world.
3.    Heal
To come and to rest are antecedents of healing.  Nobody can heal unless they’re first emptied of themselves.  And that means we need to be stripped of the comfort of our habits, that have taken us far from rest.
A companion to healing is woundedness, and to such a degree that we’ve been smashed beyond comprehension.  That’s when we’re ready for healing; when we’ve been broken to such a point we realise pride needs to be surrendered on a daily and momentary basis.
We’re ready for healing when we’re submitted and humble.  When we have no need to defend or protect our pride.  Pride is a barrier to growth.
4.    Grow
The barrier to growth is healing, and once the doors of healing are flung open we’re in a state of eager anticipation for what God will do in us next.
Growth is paradoxical; it occurs most in the season where we see it least — when we’re pressed in and upon.  As we endure depression and despair, courageous enough to hope in the mire, we grow, and yet we won’t see it at the time.  Trust God, however, as it’s how he works for the good for the people who love him.
So heal, then grow.
5.    Serve
Underpinning growth is the willingness to serve, even, and especially even, when we’re far from arriving at the point of our healing.
Serving makes us grow at an exponential rate.  Through serving we’re faced with all sorts of challenges that need to be innovated and overcome.  It’s hoped there’s enough encouragement and empowerment in our serving, but ultimately serving’s about wanting to serve God.  That sort of ‘want’ will hold us up under even the most discouraging circumstances, because our serving isn’t about us; it’s truly about him.  Indeed, the more we’re thwarted, the more glory goes to God when we grin with peace through it!
Serve well, and healing and growth are fortified.
6.    Reflect
Anyone who’s heavily engaged in the serving must come regularly to reflection to be revitalised by God’s Spirit.  Ministry is too brutal otherwise.  Without Sabbath reflection we’re on the road to burnout.  Emotionally Healthy Spirituality tell us that Sabbath consists of stopping work, enjoying rest, practicing delight, and contemplating God.  That means actually stopping, and entering into a head and heart space estranged to life in this world; with the actual practice of the Presence of God.
7.    Love
This is the meaning of life.  It truly is.  If we cannot love with sweet abandon, we cannot enjoy the true essence of the gregarious Christian life.
So, as the completion of this cycle comes to love, let us once again commit to come before God, so we may rest in his Presence, and heal in his grace, and grow in his Spirit, to serve in his power (and not our own), in order to reflect his glory, by loving in his strength.  All these previous six modalities of means are for the ends of love.  Nothing else matters.
Come to God.  Rest in his Presence.  Heal in his grace.  Grow in his Spirit.  Serve in his power.  Reflect in his glory.  Love in his strength.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Practice of ‘Impossible’ Faith

IMPOSSIBLE faith is practiced in such a way as to hold a dream in the vision of the mind and simultaneously, each day, let go of that dream.
Such a faith is audacious, because, as life throws us its own curve balls, we’re ready with a curve ball of our own — we hold to the promises God’s locked into our hearts, yet, for the sanctity of the day, we let it go.
We watch it float into the ether, but we remember that in the ether it’s still there floating.
Faith is that ability to hold on and to let go at the very same time.  Little wonder that those who are spiritually blind can’t see that as the most viable and vibrant way to live.
It seems absolutely dichotomous.
But, truly, faith is the constant practice of impossibility; the holding of discrete tensions — the dream held close and clung to, deep in the heart, which is the long-term picture, yet held so lightly as to let go of that dream, trusting God, each day, each moment.
Faith says, “I believe this will occur, and I believe so strongly that it will come to be, without any concern or worry from me.”
Impossible faith suggests that the discrete tensions are pushed into febrile extremes: the vision that God cast long ago to be held safely in the heart; that dream is believed most fiercely — the more, the better.  Yet, at the very same time the holding on to that dream in the immediacy of the moment is seen for the folly it is.  It could only tear us apart.  So we let go.
We cannot hold God to ransom; if he is to deliver upon the dream, we must give him space and time and the continuity of his Sovereign nature to do just that thing, in his way and timing.
Faith is the indispensable instrument for succeeding in this mysterious life.  Through faith comes peace, hope and joy and capacity for love.  But we can only enjoy the benefits of faith if we hold two tensions apart and together at the same time. 
We hold the fact that life is inscrutable in the one hand, with the hopes and dreams we have in the other.  We exist peaceably in the reality of the one, which seems against the flow of our dreams, whilst holding onto the vision that God tells us not to let go of.
We exist in joy, knowing that faith is impossible, and because faith is impossible, we can hold those two tensions perfectly.
So, faith is able to hold things in the heart and the mind; the longer term dreams in the heart, with the reality of the day in the mind.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Grief of Regret for Having Taken Life for Granted

GRIEF is the sting of regret multiplied under microscope strength for that which is gone and can never come back.  Loss is about that day that was always coming; a dark day that’s arrived.
Here is a vision I want to share with you: my parents, who are both about 70, babysat for us recently, so my wife and I could go out on a date.  We regularly get them to babysit so we can enjoy the basketball or a meal or a ministry activity together.  But on this most recent occasion, God gave me a vision.  As they reversed out of our driveway, I imagined a day that this could no longer be; one or both of my parents deceased.  I was instantly sorrowful.  But it made me think.  Such a painful vision inspired a motive to act before it’s too late.  I’m glad I get these types of wisdom visions regularly.
This is an article about taking far too much for granted, as we inevitably will.  We’re always tempted too curiously on endeavours most fleeting though alluring.  We always expect we’ll have far more time, and, of course, we don’t have anything like the sort of time we pretend we have.  Our time goes too quickly, or at least that’s what the elderly consistently say.
Here’s a little list of regrets produced out of a taking of things for granted:
It’s the day before cancer struck, when we chose to do something ‘more important’ than spend time with that family member whose life is now imminently threatened.
It’s the first day of school or a job a loved one has started, that we missed; of course, there’ll be further opportunities to take that will make up for this missed opportunity, won’t there?
It’s the nudge of God’s Holy Spirit compelling you to talk with someone important to us; a nudge that keeps persisting until it doesn’t anymore, and then there’s the instant sense of regret for having not acted.
A day is coming to all our lives when we’ll regret not having made more of a particular relationship; we took our parents too much for granted; our kids grew up, and flew the coup, and long lost is the memory that we wanted the hard work of parenting to be over with.
Decide now.  Make a decision about the people in your life that matter.  Decide never to compromise on them and that potentially important moment in their and your life.  Decide that regrets are not worth that pain, as far as it depends on you.
Yes, that day is coming when, tinged with regret, grief will cause you to look back with sorrow at what you could have done differently.
This isn’t sad.  It’s a reality of reflection to cause you to do now what could be regretted later if it’s not done whilst you have the opportunity.
Do it today.  Don’t put it off.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What’s Best Is Ahead From What’s Learned Behind

SOME of us, sometimes, are stuck in the future, because our pasts haunt us, and we agree: it’s no vibrant way to live.  Others of us are stuck in the past and cannot see hope nor a way for the future; we’re living in an unsatisfactory present.
Few people live mindfully, and at joy, in the present.  Few people are unencumbered by what’s ahead or what’s left behind.  But we can be one of the few.  We can choose to make the very most of what’s ahead and behind, rather than letting past or future dictate how we’ll feel.  We can choose.
God loves us most in that: he gives us choice.
Moving forward from a determined and contented present is always contingent on being content to leave what’s gone as gone.  The other half of the story is the practice of faith into the unknown vistas of what’s coming our way.
Future and past; these are not nemeses.  They’re lens through which to see life.  No matter how dark our past was, it is a ‘was’.  It’s gone.  And if there are any demons present from that bygone time, it’s possible in every case to heal from those experiences.  No matter how foggy the future looks, the future looks better with faith.  The future is not an enemy; it’s an unknown and unknowable thing, that’s all.
Ultimately, we land in this place and position:
You may think what’s ahead of you is impossible.
But look what’s behind you:
A history of God’s faithfulness…
And your obedience to keep stepping in faith and to not give up.
The more we keep going in life, leaving the past behind because it is what it is, the more we’re able to step hopefully into a future that beckons.
You’re an overcomer, because Jesus has shown you how.  You’ve been an overcomer and it’s incumbent on your hope to find your way back to those times when you’ve overcome the vast obstacles that have proven nothing but that they’re overcome-able.
It bears repeating, because it bears good reflection:
You may think what’s ahead of you is impossible.
But look what’s behind you:
A history of God’s faithfulness…
And your obedience to keep stepping in faith and to not give up.
The best is ahead if what’s behind is left behind.
What’s behind was there to teach us for what’s ahead.  Let’s use whatever we’ve learned to keep forging the path ahead.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pain, the Key to Unlocking Life’s Abundance

“Pain plants the flag of reality in the fortress of a rebel heart.”
— Chuck Swindoll
QUOTES like the one above can take some working through, but I would like to attempt to fit my title to the concept bound up in this pithy statement of wisdom.
Pain Plants a Flag of Reality
Reality is what we all deserve to feel, for only in reality — felt in all its wonder, truth and force — are we real.
Pain would not be the only way we experience the desire to embrace reality.  But we do grow through the harsher realities that come against us.  And we grow in our capacity to deal with reality.
Pain does plant a flag of reality, and through pain there’s no sustainable way of escaping reality.  Even if we did escape reality, pain will bring us back to face it, ultimately.
Pain, therefore, augments our path to live in accord with reality.  Pain is the key to unlocking the abundant life, because the abundant life is hidden within reality.
… In the Fortress of a Rebel Heart
Rebel hearts are not easy to break down.  Indeed, there’s a fortress-like function in the heart that rages even against God, as it is referred to in Proverbs 19:3.  The rebel heart has no friend in the land of the purposes of God, yet deals are made with the devil without knowing it.
The fortress of a rebel heart needs the flag of reality to be implanted, and pain is the only way to manifest such a global actuality.
It’s a good thing for a stubborn heart of a stiff-necked person to be pierced and broken.
Pain is the key to unlocking the abundant life, because the abundant life is hidden within reality.
To be healed is to live in the acceptance of a reality of God’s choice.  No matter what God chooses for the circumstances of our life; that’s our reality.  And it’s pain that initiates and completes the full loop which gets us accepting and enjoying reality.
There’s no reality that we cannot endure, but we’ll have to endure pain first if we’re to enjoy every reality.  And it’s God’s will that we can be joyously content always.
Pain ought not be loathed, but appreciated for where it’s taking us; into the fuller mystery of being able to more fully experience reality.
This is what is meant by losing our lives to save them.  We must have passed through the valley of the shadow of death to appreciate what’s out there; on the other side.
Don’t despise the pain,
Though you hate your life right now,
After the presence of deathly rain,
Sunshine to you will life endow.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Carried Through Pain, Healed, and Carried Onward to Joy

“Carried… by people’s prayers, and by our faith; that’s what it was; that’s how it was!”
Talking to a breast cancer survivor — a seven-year struggle — it was clear that God had no only healed her physically, but spiritually also.  As she beamed, her face aglow with joy, there was no sign of the pain of resignation — the pain of a death about to be lived — the indelible signs of a cancer detected all too late.  That was mid-2008, when the cancer found its way from deep inside the breast, all the way out to a bloody brassiere.  From there, there were three-hundred-and-fifty harrowing weeks to endure.
A Loss That Stands an Arm’s Length Away
Ambiguous loss is a strange concept.
We don’t lose all we could lose in an instant; loss is enigmatic in that it feels like loss but the loss is so intangible it’s impossible to chart.
Ambiguous loss is a complicated grief, and cancer is one manifestation of an ambiguous loss, because of the life we must give away in fighting it, and the life we give away because it fights for us.  Ambiguous loss is a loss that stands an arm’s length away; a loss that feels like loss without actually being loss.  Therefore, it’s possibly the worst variety of loss.  It’s too intangible for us to cope with.
But the intangibility of ambiguous loss, when it’s traversed, as it’s been overcome, gives us such a swollen sense of hope and God’s trustworthiness; that got us through.
What Else But Joy, When Death is Faced and Conquered
A cancer survivor will experience this, as much as a survivor of a train or plane wreck will: there is such inbuilt and deep gratitude that the survivor abounds in a special portion of joy.
Such a joy is a hope prevailed, a peace secured, and a death conquered.  It’s a revenant experience; the coming back to life from the repetitive prospects of death.
What else is there to be experienced in the survivor but rapturous joy for the summit conquered?  And cancer is an Everest.  When death is faced and conquered in the mortal body there’s possibly such unparalleled joy on tap every moment; it’s an unbelievable accomplishment.  But the biggest joy is the experience of joy itself.
Joy is the hallmark of the person touched by the healing hand of the Lord.  The light in their soul beams outward from eyes that have seen so much of death coming to take them that couldn’t.
Carried by faith,
And the power of prayer,
When you can’t be safe,
Have faith to dare.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.