What's Holding You Captive?

In my personal devotion time, I’ve been working on a study about the mind and thoughts. It’s been quite educational and has helped me to see things in a way I never saw them before. I doubt I will share every lesson with you (though the Lord may lead me to do so at a later time), but this one was just too good not to pass on.

And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not. For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.
— Mark 5:1-17

It’s a lengthy passage, I know, but you need to get a full view of the story to understand what’s going on here. Before I go any further, though, I want to share with you this humorous anecdote. When I was in college, one of my teachers was a preacher who was as full of humor as he was humility. One night, he preached a sermon in chapel on this passage in Mark. He titled the message, “The Nude Dude in Rude Mood.” I’ve never forgotten that, and his message title always comes to mind when I read through this passage.

Anyway, to get back on point, this poor man was possessed by many demons. The word “legion” implies thousands, so it’s safe to assume that’s how many demons were indwelling this individual. I cannot imagine the fear, torment, shame, and pain he faced daily. What a sad situation!

What’s even sadder is the way the townspeople dealt with him. Not knowing what else to do, they bound him with chains and left him alone in a graveyard. Creepy! But the man broke through the chains time after time, leaving him free to hurt himself and others.

After reading through this passage a few days ago, I wrote this in my journal: “I find it interesting that thousands of demons possessed the man. Talk about dividing the mind (which is the very definition of anxiety). No wonder he was anxious and depressed. Anxiety and depression do feel a bit like being demon possessed. The voices and feelings that pulse through our minds and bodies create havoc and captivity.  The maniac was enslaved more by what was happening within him than by what was happening without. Often the same is true for me. It’s my thoughts and attitudes that enslave me far more than my outward circumstances.”

Isn’t it amazing how God could use the story of a demoniac to help His child who tends to make mountains out of molehills? Think about it.  This man was shackled, but he quickly broke the chains. To my knowledge, there was no fencing or perimeter to keep him within the graveyard. Physically, he was free. But mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, he was a captive. Yes, he was imprisoned by what was dwelling within him.

I can relate. I blame my captivity on my health, financial struggles, or other outward circumstances, but the truth is, the thing that’s imprisoning me is my reaction toward these things. Circumstances are what they are, and often we can’t change that. We can, however, change how we deal with them and even how we view them. And in doing so, we break free from the chains of anxiety, depression, self-pity, and so much more.

What’s holding you captive today? Chances are it’s something within rather than your outward circumstances. Give it to God, and like the maniac, you can be free and in your right mind.

Relief From My Unbelief

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“There is great joy in serving Jesus.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this statement. I’ve even said it many times myself. And deep down, I know it to be true, which is why I’ve had such a hard time reconciling the feelings of stress and overwhelm swirling within me over the past months.  After all, I’m serving Jesus to the best of my ability. I am doing all that I know to do to live for and honor Him. So, why am I not basking in joy? Why am I struggling to find my song?

As I poured out my heart to God about this, I felt so ashamed. I thought of how many Christians are serving in horrible places and dreadful conditions, yet they praise the Lord with every breath. Here I am with more blessings than I can count, yet I can’t seem to ease the ache within my soul. I feel so alone, so out of place. Some days, it seems as if the task of deputation is far more than my body and mind can take. I long for the peace of God to overflow in my heart and life. I crave the joy I know can only be found in Christ. To quote a line from a song, “I want to believe there’s beauty here.” Yet, I weep in the in-between moments when I finally have a chance to stop and catch my breath. When I can lay down all the masks and costumes of “the good Christian girl who has it all together” and just be me. The real me. The confused me. The disheartened me. The shamed me.

I know it’s a privilege to serve the Lord, and I count it as an honor that God would use me. So, why, at this point in my life, doesn’t it feel like a privilege? Why does it feel like a trial? Why is it causing anxiety and stress instead of peace and joy? And what kind of lousy Christian must I be to feel this way?

I’m happy to say God met my questions with some powerful verses that opened my eyes to some precious truths. While there is joy in serving the Lord, that does not mean we will always be happy with where He leads us. In fact, sometimes, we’ll be heartbroken and afraid. . .just like Jesus was. Yes, Jesus. He came to this earth to do His Father’s will. He knew He would have to die for our sins. He knew the price He would have to pay, and He was more than willing to do it. But that doesn’t mean He wanted to go through it. He prayed the cup would pass from Him.

And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. - Matthew 26:39

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. - Luke 22:41-44

Praying. Pleading. Sweating blood. If this isn’t a picture of someone who is dreading an upcoming season of life, I don’t know what is. On the one hand, Jesus wanted to do the Father’s will. On the other, He didn’t want to face such cruel agony. To quote another song, “His humanity cried, ‘Lord, any other way.’ His divinity rose up and said, ‘This price I have to pay.’” And if those two passages don’t paint a vivid enough picture, check out what Hebrews says.

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; - Hebrews 5:7-9

Did you catch that? Strong crying. Tears. Fear. Oh, that sounds so familiar. Jesus, in the center of God’s will, cried out to His Father. He felt overwhelmed by the task to which He had been called. I see no joy or peace in these verses, only fear and anguish. I see Jesus being obedient but not jumping up and down for joy at the prospect. I see an example that makes me feel less ashamed, less like the worst Christian in the history of Christianity. I see Jesus as a man. A man with emotions. A man living in the nasty now and now and deciding to keep serving whether or not He feels like it. I see a man desperate for different circumstances, for a change of heart and attitude. I see someone seeking for joy amid a less than joyful situation. I see myself. . . and I smile.

Jesus has been right here. He’s walked in my shoes. He’s felt my pain. He understands the tears I shed in secret and my seemingly fruitless search for joy and peace in my ever-changing life. He can relate to my roiling emotions and aching heart. And through His Word, He’s reminded me that it’s okay. He’s shown me that while there is joy in serving the Lord, there’s also suffering. At first, that doesn’t seem like much of a comfort, but if we know the truth of that going in, we’ll feel less disappointed and desperate. We’ll feel less alone in our struggles. When we realize that even Jesus Himself dealt with fear and the sense of overwhelm, it helps us know that we’re not as “off track” as we thought we were as long as we continue to follow Jesus’ example and be obedient. And if you’ll look back at that passage in Hebrews, it tells us that Jesus learned obedience through suffering.  

My life right now may not be all that I hoped and imagined it would be, but through it all, God is teaching me to be obedient. He is showing me how to put His will above my own, to set His purposes before my peace. And in the midst of it all, He’s reminding me I’m never, ever alone, and I don’t have to hide my pain. I can be honest with Him because He knows what I’m feeling anyway. There is a brighter day coming, but in the meantime, I find comfort in knowing I can be myself, and that myself is not such a bad thing after all.

Running to the Master

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A few nights ago, I was awakened by a bright flash of light. Groggy from sleep, I lay still trying to determine what had disturbed my blissful slumber. A long roll of thunder confirmed my suspicions—a storm had rolled in. As the roar tailed off, I expected to hear the pitter-patter of feet on the hardwood floors, but none came, so I closed my eyes and did my best to get back to sleep. 

 Before long, another flash of light lit up the bedroom, and once again, a roll of thunder followed in its wake. This time, however, there was no hesitation. I heard Barnabas as he jumped down from his comfy place on the couch and made his way to our bedroom. Within seconds, his cold nose nudged my arm, and his big pleading eyes met mine as if to say, “Mommy, I’m scared. Can I sleep with you?”

I patted the space on the bed between Jason and me, and in no time, the area was filled with 95-pounds of dog. Barnabas snuggled into the space, breathed a sigh of relief, and promptly went back to sleep. Though the storm raged on through the night, Barnabas slept soundly because he knew he was safe with his masters.

As I watched/listened to my sweet pup go from anxious to completely settled, I couldn’t help but smile. I can relate. How sweet it is to run to my Master when I’m afraid. When the storms roll around me, and I don’t know what to do, it’s such a blessing to know I can find peace and safety in the arms of my Lord. Sometimes He actively comforts me, but other times, just resting in His presence is all it takes to ease my mind and calm my fears. And not once have I ever been turned away. Every time I’ve approached the Lord and said, “Daddy, I’m scared. Can I sit with you?,” He’s invited me into His presence. Every time! And I know He always will.

Are you afraid today? Do the storms have you running for cover? If so, seek refuge with the Father. He loves you and understands your fear. He longs to comfort you and give you peace in the midst of your storm. And He will never, ever turn you away (even if you do have a cold, wet nose!).

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.
— Psalm 56:3

NOTE: I apologize for the lack of audio lately. Last week, I was sick and had little to no voice. This week, for some reason, my recording software is giving me fits and picking up a lot of background noise. Oddly enough, it’s noise that isn’t really in the background. I have no idea where it’s coming from. Lord willing, I’ll get it running smoothly before long and get back to recording the daily devotions. Gotta love technology!