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Prayer Articles

SPIRITUAL REST FROM WAR WITHIN

Introduction

One of the basic premises of Christianity is the promise of spiritual rest for the believer. Throughout the entire Bible are promises of rest, often revealed through heroic men and women who lived such rest within circumstances that should have denied it to them. Today there are many who, like the saints of old, are in the heat of spiritual battles on the mission field, behind the Bamboo Curtain or even bearing the cross of a lackluster existence dedicated to God's service. These joyfully bear witness to an extra something, a dimension of confidence and poise that the rest of us struggle for yet never seem to attain. We attend church regularly, we study the Scriptures, we pray; yet for some reason it seems impossible to break through, impossible to recapture that adventuresome confidence of the apostles at Pentecost.

What is wrong? Where does this modern lethargy come from that seems to drift over the church like a poisonous vapor, paralyzing many from undertaking bold deeds for God, numbing our ability to give and to sacrifice ourselves for what we know full well is the greatest cause in the universe? Why do we perpetually seek for a really transcendent spiritual breakthrough, but it mysteriously eludes us? To make matters worse, it almost seems as if in direct proportion to the apathy of the modern church, that seminars, retreats, Bible studies and even praise activities have mushroomed. Yet the more we listen to the experts on anxiety or read the latest best sellers on keeping the family together, or even the more we study the Bible and memorize Scripture, the more anxieties increase, the farther we slip backward from that elusive rest we seek.

There is something wrong, something tragically wrong for millions of Christians who are not lazy or shallow, Christians who praise God as they are told, who read their Bibles as they are told, who involve themselves in the church as they are told, who attend the seminars and read the best sellers as they are told, yet are simply not finding the kind of motivation and rest which the Bible promises.

If you, too, have been frustrated, perhaps for years, in your attempts to get on top of anxiety and apathy as a Christian, then at least be comforted that there are millions like you. Virtually all of them, if asked if they were confident of salvation, would quickly reply in the affirmative. Yet if asked if they had the kind of rest in their inner being which could accurately be called 'glorious,' as the Bible promises, they would have to admit they didn't. Yes, they may rest in their belief that they are eternally secure; but resting in the present world of anxiety, of marital and financial problems with a "peace that passes understanding" -  hardly.

The Bible portrays many individuals who had such a peace, even in tribulation. History also records it: men and women who maintained an inner serenity, not simply when times were good, but on the rack, while flames consumed their bodies. The Bible tells us that the men of old were "of like passions" with us. This means that if God gave them peace within, He can give it to us. He can give it to you.

Within the following chapters we will demonstrate that there are very obvious reasons why you, and so many like you, are unable to rise any higher. We will show that the paralysis you feel is rooted, not necessarily in your failure or in the materialism or apathy of the age in which you live, but in human and most of all in theological attitudes which could not be more perfectly calculated to produce anxiety and apathy if that were exactly what they set out to do.

As you progress in this book, you will see that your doctrinal system, sound as it may seem, may well be working against you in a way that you would never have believed. It did for me, and I come from a Wesleyan background. It has for others who have been born into Calvinist, Pentecostal or Catholic teaching. In very subtle, yet consistent ways, deficiencies in modern doctrine on both sides of the Protestant fence combine with our humanity to frustrate our best intentions to enter into rest.

Unfortunately, few of us would ever suspect the culprit to be doctrinal errors into which we were born or have been converted. Unlike sailors, who instinctively criticize the captain if something goes wrong, none of us would think of laying blame for our inability to enter into rest at the feet of our doctrinal persuasions. Instead, we instinctively blame ourselves. If only, we say, we had enough scratch to really get into the Word, or pray two hours every morning like the great saints did, or believe with the kind of agonizing faith that nearly pulls God off His throne like Martin Luther might have. Then God would answer us. Then we would know real spiritual victory, real rest.

But few of us today can quite measure up. We are so tired. Tired of striving, tired of being preached at, tired of being told again and again that if we only did those things, life would be different. So we muddle along, agreeing with our accusers. If we are Catholics or Calvinists, we take comfort in the fact that at the very worst, we can never be lost because we are baptized into the true church or have once been born again. If we are Wesleyans, we read our Bible, pray and witness all the harder, bearing the inevitable fatigue, anxiety and guilt that usually accompanies such a way of life.

Although such frustrations may seem a problem of our affluent age, spiritual anxiety has been the lot of many Christians for the last 2,000 years. In fact, many a great saint, wearying of the struggle, has been tempted to conclude that the promises of God, while promising heaven, seem half-workable on earth. Yet what other hope is there? And now, after 2,000 years of theologians wrestling over what is right and wrong with Christian doctrine, who are we to think we have a better way?

Let's not be too hard on ourselves. In the next few chapters, I believe you will see, if you keep an open mind, that the places where religion has gone astray and thus fouled up your chances of finding rest are really very obvious, very well-reasoned and defined. In taking a fresh look at what the Bible really says and how churchmen strayed away from it, you will see how impossible it may have been all the time to achieve spiritual rest, no matter how hard you tried.

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