The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 2: Joy in God’s Word [2 of 3]
My first exposure to the power of God’s Word and its ability to bring about healing and change manifested when I read Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking. When I discovered this little book and the message it conveyed, I was struggling with the first wave of unsettledness conjured by the tug of writing versus the practicality of engineering. From the time I could remember I’d always been a worrier, and this book ushered in a new way of looking at circumstances, dreams, and desires. My desire to write stood in stark contrast to the desire to live financially secure, and my inability to reconcile the conflict dragged me physically, mentally, and spiritually into the dark basement of depression and dissatisfaction. But The Power of Positive Thinking turned on a light in the form of Philippians 4:13 (KJV): “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
For a season the little bits of Scripture I’d picked up from Dr. Peale’s guidance got shoved into a mental lockbox by self-focus, pride, self-sufficiency, and affirmations delivered on cassette tapes as I tried to settle my conflicted mind. I’d remembered the first half of Paul’s assurance to the Philippians, “I can do all things,” but had forgotten the second half. Indeed, the most important half: “through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I took pride in my self-sufficiency, and ten years later I paid the price for it: I fell into a depression so severe I finally dragged my butt to a Christian psychological clinic and checked myself in as an outpatient. A week or two earlier, God had clearly spoken to me, directing me to open a faded, dusty Bible I hadn’t had much use for during the prior 32 years. His message, planted directly into my heart, awakened me long enough to dial the clinic, set up the consultation, and check myself in. His Word saved my life, literally.
It was during the weeklong evaluation, group therapy, and emotional vomiting that I became reacquainted with God’s Word in spades as a tool for mental, physical, and spiritual recovery. It was then I was introduced to the apostle Paul’s urging in his letter to the Romans: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2). Fifteen years later Eric Owings, Marc Owings brother, slid up behind me during the first night of the Fully Alive retreat at Lake Fork, Texas, and slipped me a tiny piece of paper folded in half. I’d just experienced a life-changing outpouring of God’s mercy as I opened up and confessed to twenty-five men my brokenness, my anger, my fears, and my desperate search for my life’s redemption from the death grip of past failures. I sat, shaking, yet covered over with peace and love and . . . relief. I opened up that slip of paper and saw Eric had written a Scriptural citation: Romans 12:1-2. The very same verse given to me at the clinic. I’ve since had that citation tattooed on my right shoulder under an old rugged cross surrounded by all the junk I’ve had to lay at its foot. It’s truly my life verse.
Since then I’ve dived headlong into the Word of God. Our church small group did a study reinforcing the power and practicality of absorbing God’s word through conscientious memorization and recitation. Like Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the apostle John, I ate it up! “When your words came, I ate them,” wrote the prophet Jeremiah, “they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.” (Jeremiah 15:16 NIV). I committed to starting each day by reading a devotional and the referenced Bible verses. After all, Jesus started His day in solitary prayer: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). Jesus didn’t do anything until the Father directed Him; likewise I try to start my day with an attitude of open-mindedness and flexibility. I find I still approach the quiet time with my own agenda in mind, and sometimes as something to just check off my to-do list, but the more I humble myself before the sovereignty of God, the more and more I’ll understand why Jesus did what He did so early in the morning. The existence of these very chapters testifies to my willingness to open myself up to God’s direction through prayer and total absorption in His Word.
In St. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he commanded the Ephesians to “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 5:11-17 NIV, emphasis mine). In Paul’s metaphorical suit of armor, all the elements are defensive save one: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes