“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
By G.P. Avants
This is the sixth entry in the Overcome blog series. In a time where showing honesty and vulnerability is considered weak to some in the world, God has always used it as a avenue to go super things in the everyday person’s life.. Depending on how we face own limitations will show whether we will be overome or be an overcomer.
Today’s entry is a little different because it’s time to practice what this idea preaches. I have never shared the details of my deepest darkest journey through my own personal “valley of the shadow of death,” but I think the Lord knows it’s time. So, this is a little longer than my normal posts but please take one or two sittings to take this in.
I was raised in the church. I did all the things a good Christian boy should do. I faithfully went to church, attended a Christian college, volunteered my school year to teaching Sunday School and my summers off as a short-term out of state volunteer. After college I even served two years as a long-term missionary in Hawaii, “suffering for Jesus in paradise” as my friends often teased. Part of my duties included being on stage doing inspirational drama to crowd of people. There were great times of seeing God work and using us to reach people all over the world. I was in the limelight and it felt pretty good to be in the center of things. During that time I thought I found the love of my life. That decision to serve alonggside someone of the same mindset extended my missionary service on the East Coast. I was sure that this was the Lord’s will and I took an even bigger step of faith and proposed to her. In myTwenty-something mind, I saw everything for my life lining up perfectly and I couldn’t be more certain of our future.
She said no.
Now this wasn’t the only reason why things began to unravel. Being very impulsive and having a hard time saying no to opportunities, lead me to the obvious steps of burn out.(Which I did not see until it was too late) I also jumped from a tropical paradise to the harsh winter of upstate New York all in a matter of months. I was alone, no family, friends, an emotional creative fighting winter blues for the first time, and taking a position in a tiny church that just happened to be in a town that was a hot bed for Satanic activity. (Yeah, I doubted that too at first)I didn’t see this perfect storm coming, but the Lord did.
Here is the part that sometimes still makes my skin crawl. One night totally burned out, discouraged, and depressed, I woke with my heart burning and pounding like I had just run a marathon. With a worried mind,I couldn’t sleep so I walked out into the hall where I literally saw the fires of hell open up beneath my feet. (As a disclaimer I do know Bibically that some people have the discernement of spirits, but I didn’t know if this was it or what at the time. I was just horrified.)What was worse was the condemning voice I heard that said, “That is where you belong. You are a total fake as a Christian and everyone knows it.” Needless to say I was full of fear, doubted my faith and eventually ran for my life.
All the things I thought that made me a good Christian seemed to condemn me instead. I couldn’t set foot in a church without feeling like a total phoney. I tried to just get through the days and weeks and tell myself that I this was all just a nightmare and the next day it would be okay. But it wasn’t. My fearful pouding heart reminded me how empty and hallow my life was. Even the Bible that once brought me such hope, faith and love, sounded like heavy words for someone unworthy of its promises.
That went on for two years. Eventually I let my heart harden a little each day. I felt like God had condemned me for playing a phoney and leading others in the wrong direction. I was humbled and had to move back home. I didn’t attended church or associate with any other believers, even letting their calls ring and never calling them back. This was during the early 90’s so unemployment was at an all time high. At one point I worked as assistant activities director at a retirement home, a security guard at night, and shoe salesman at Mervyn’s. Even with all three jobs I was stil broke and directionless. During that time considered suicide whether waling up into the hills to die or swallowing a mouthful of pills. To add on to the depression and brokeness, I moved in with my mom and we were caring for my Grandma and Grandpa. That was until my Grandpa passed one fateful afternoon. I had become very used to a life outside of the limelight, surviving each day to the next, existing but not really living. Oh, that pounding in my heart stopped. That was because I let it harden to the point of being a dead stone my my chest. Yes, they weren’t kidding that a life without hope isn’t worth living.
But one afternoon after a stop at Sam’s Club, things changed. I saw a beautiful girl at the check stand who wore a button that said, “Jesus loves you.” I had such mixed emotions at that moment because I had locked my faith away. However, God does use people to speak quietly through. I didn’t make it back to my car because I purchased a package of moldy bread. Wouldn’t you know it that when I went to return it, she was there, too. Me and my big mouth had to mumble something about liking her button. She lit up and asked where I attended church. Nowhere was my answer. I told her that The Lord and I were not on speaking terms.
Needless to say this ordinary girl from Sam’s Club was more of an everyday missionary that I ever was on a stage. She simply invited me to attend Harvest in Riverside on a Sunday night in 1995. DId I go because I felt the Lord nudging my dead heart to life? Was it because I saw a light like Paul did and the truth was revealed? Nope. She was cute and I wanted to get to know her better.
But like I said, God uses people. That Sunday night I and my friend, Ron both attended a summer night service. Ron and I both had walked away from our faith and found ourselves both employees and Mervyns,and now both facing the truth about our faith. I had for so long battled with whether I was sincere in my faith or was I just doing all the right things in my own strength. Was it all about me not wanting to go to Hell or was it about having a relationship with God? All I know what that I carried the weight of the world on my heart and shoulders. I just knew that I was tired and done fighting the voices in my head. I went forward and told the Lord that either this was real or not real. Either way I was done fighting Him and I surrender.
Now I was raised very conservative Christian and had reservations about the Pentcostal fire from heaven experiences. In fact that whole idea scared me. But I did meet the Lord there. Whether the gentle wind I felt was the side door opening for a moment or the Holy Spirit’s moving, I am not sure. What I am sure about was the weight of twenty-five years being instantly lifted from me and the Lord saying, “You finally got it. No one can live the perfect life described in the Bible, but I can. By surrendering to me, you will find the life I have for you.”
I know this has been long, but I really felt I needed to share this. You see I was overcome by my own prideful self and human goodness. I didn’t see that until I was broken and walked humbly in other peoples footsteps. (Ah that was ironic selling shoes at Mervyn’s) I realized that it’s easy as a Christian to live in a bubble and not live real life among everyday people and their struggles. The Lord popped that bubble and let me understand first hand what sin does to a person, every person even the seemingly good ones. We don’t really see our need or the beauty of grace until we come face-to-face with the disease of sin in our own lives.
Now I see this happening to many in the church today. They have become disllusoned with their faith and questioning who they are, where their are going, and even if they really believe God and what He is doing (or not doing) in the world today in a post-COVID world. So, maybe these words will help a disslussioned believer who wonders if God is real or not.
I feel like my COVID experience twenty-five years ago has helped me to share this with people today. If I could help you in to overcome and not be overcome I would tell share with you these things I learned.
Don’t depend on your own goodness. We all have sin and our good deeds are not something we should put our faith in. We are seeing a great rise in humanism that says we are basically good and we should do good in the world. See that’s the thing. We all have a falllen nature that has no clue how far we fall short without the Lord in our lives.
Are we seeking after the presence of the Lord or the presents from the Lord? There are so many good feelings and wonderful benefits to being a believer, go on add to that living in a free country. When this is tested and we suffer it can causes us to doubt God’s working in our lives. The Lord knows each of our hearts and when to provide a need in our lives. Maybe He knows how to reveal more of His presence through the taking away of His presents?
Believers are ordinary people, not super people for a good reason. He refers to us as jars of clay to remind us not to try and do God’s work in our own strength. Jesus is looking for open doors in our lives in order to reach people though you. Just like my female friend who shared her faith at Sam’s Club, God wants to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things with the help of the Holy Spirit.
You aren’t perfect. Isn’t that good to know that being a Christian doesn’t depend on that? And you aren’t going to be perfect until you are home with the Lord. That makes you patient with others and yourself. When you apply grace, faith, love and all the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life it will take a lifetime to see those things change you and your circle of influence. Before we get discouraged that that our lives aren’t where we think they should be, consider that Jesus promised to complete His work in you “until the day of Christ.” In your assessment did you screw it all up today. He isn’t finished with you or me, yet.
Do you want to see the super in your natural? It’s as simple as one word.