(Without a doubt, this is the longest article I’ve ever posted on NLI. I do apologize, but I felt I needed to get it out in one sitting. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will help those who need to read it to do so.)
“Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, dig in the wall.’ So I dug in the wall…”
In December of 2012 I arrived at “The Wall.” I had never been to this wall before, and really didn’t know what it was when I first encountered it. All I knew was that it scared me and shook me to the very core of my being. It only got worse as I learned that I had to dig in, and go through the wall. Honestly, there have been times I wondered if I would make it. What am I talking about you ask? Well, I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.
In May of 2007, God moved dramatically in my life, and from that point until November of 20012, my life was a beautiful whirlwind. The Lord led me to a wonderful church where I would end up serving over five years as Worship Pastor. The Spirit of God moved among us in ways I had never experienced. I went back to school and would finally (after almost a 30 year gap) earn my Bachelors Degree in Biblical Studies. Besides serving as Worship Pastor at my church, there were worship conferences, preaching engagements, and the birth of NLI. People were coming to Jesus, and I was personally experiencing an intimacy with the Lord I had only dreamed of. I was hearing things like, “Brother, you are so anointed.” and “When are you gonna release a CD, and write a book?” I was both humbled and blown away by all that God was doing. I had no idea that I was about to slam face first into “The Wall.”
Things went down at the church where I was serving that hurt me deeply. I experienced feelings of betrayal and rejection, the likes of which I had never known. I left in a daze not knowing what I would do. An opportunity soon presented itself at another church, so, I became their Worship Pastor. The people were awesome! They accepted me and treated me with nothing but love. But something just wasn’t right- with me. Looking back, I now know that I should’ve never taken the position. They were looking for a Worship Pastor, and wound up getting a man who was living in the shadow of “The Wall.” So, nine months later I resigned. And it was time to start digging.
Here’s where I tell you exactly what wall I’m talking about. I began to reach out to people I respected and trusted, sharing with them what I was experiencing, and one day a dear brother (Thank you Jeff!) sent me an article by Richard J. Vincent. The part that hit me was the following:
“Stage 4 is “the journey inward” – “a deep and very personal inward journey” that “almost always comes as an unsettling experience yet results in healing for those who continue through it.” In this stage, our former views of God are radically challenged. The disruption can be so great that we feel like we are losing our faith or betraying loyalties.
At this stage, we face an abrupt change (at least many do) to almost the opposite mode. It’s a mode of questioning, exploring, falling apart, doubting, dancing around the real issues, sinking in uncertainty, and indulging in self-centeredness. We often look hopeless to those around us.
This newfound (and often surprising) uncertainty is usually precipitated by a crisis. “The move from stage 3 to 4 is more likely precipitated by a crisis in our life or our faith. That crisis makes many of the former truths and answers inadequate or inappropriate for the next phase in the journey.” The crisis “shakes our strongly held beliefs or assumptions and we feel adrift on a restless sea, fending for ourselves. Our sense of God is shaken and we can find no new direction, only more questions.”
The crisis shocks our system. We lose comfort and question our convictions as our previous faith-supports crumble before our very eyes.
For the first time, our faith does not seem to work. We feel remote, immobilized, unsuccessful, hurt, ashamed, or reprehensible. Neither our faith nor God provides what we need to sooth us, heal us, answer our prayers, fulfill our wishes, change our circumstances, or solve our problems. Our formula of faith, whatever that may have been, does not work any more, or so it appears.
Why does advancing to this stage usually demand a crisis? The reason is simple: No one would choose this kind of experience on their own!
Most of us are so comfortable and self-sufficient at the previous stage (called the productive or fruitful life) that we have no natural tendency to move at all. In fact, stage 4 does not even look like part of the journey for those of us at home in stage 3. It does not appear to be an extension of our faith and growth. Consequently, we are not drawn in this direction.
Our aversion to stage 4 is increased because of the very real dangers that accompany this stage. “Sometimes people drop off the journey totally at this point. Overwhelmed by pain or crises in our lives, we absolutely cut ourselves off from God.”.
The end of stage 4 involves an experience of “the Wall” – “a face-to-face experience with God and with our own will.” It is impossible to go over, around, or under the Wall. One can only go through it. “The Wall experience is the place where… psychology and spirituality converge. Up to this point, one can be religious, spiritual, or fruitful and not be healed psychologically, or vice versa.”
At the Wall, we become “aware of all the lies we have accepted about ourselves.” We are forced to “face the truth” in order to move forward. “The Wall invites us to integrate our spiritual selves with the rest of us. And that involves facing our own and others’ demons. We must face that which we fear the most, and that is why it is so unsavory, and why so many people only enter the Wall under duress.”
Only through self-acceptance and surrender to God’s will can one go “through” the Wall to deeper levels of spiritual growth. “The power behind the transformation at the Wall is this: learn to embrace your whole story with loving, forgiving detachment.” We must accept ourselves with all our wounds and imperfections. We must experience God’s love and acceptance of us as we are in all our weakness and humanness. And then we must fully and completely surrender to God’s will, even though we remain in the dark.
(To read the entire piece, go to http://www.theocentric.com/spirituality/christian_living/stages_of_faith_a_map_for_the.html)
Now I’m not one for static paradigms or manuals on “Five Levels of This” or “Seven Easy Ways to That,” but when I read this article by Richard J. Vincent, I completely identified with “stage 4” and “The Wall.” Moving on…
In the passage I quoted at the beginning this article, God had told Ezekiel to dig through the wall and he would see the sins and abominations of Israel. But digging in my own wall would reveal some unsettling things about me.
I no longer felt God’s presence. My prayer life and time in the Word was almost nonexistent. I felt like I was literally falling apart, and I began to self-medicate. Old patterns of behavior were beginning to resurface and I was afraid! I began to isolate, and of course I lied (except to a few, and at times, even to them) when anyone would ask how I was doing. I could tell my family was worried and afraid for me. “Dear God! I’m supposed to be a minister of the gospel and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m even saved.” There was deep darkness and an impending sense of doom.
As I continued to dig, here are some things I began to see:
1) I was hurt by what went down at my former church. The hurt was legitimate. But much of the hurt was my own doing. Didn’t they see that I was right? Had they forgotten how anointed I am? How could they treat me this way after all I had done for them? I was forced to ask myself how much of my ministry has been truly motivated by love.
2) At times, I have cared more about receiving recognition than people. For example: I was talking to a brother on the phone, and he was telling me of his struggles, and I was offering what I prayed was good advice. The next day he called back explaining how the Lord had ministered to him, revealing some things to him that helped him see a little more clearly. Honestly, instead of being grateful that God had helped him, I was more upset by the fact that he didn’t mention that it was I who had told him the very same thing the night before. Or, what about the times I have led worship and the presence of God really “showed up,” and I felt like somebody should’ve recognized me as “the vessel.” How twisted is that?
3) My theological studies have caused me to be arrogant and pharisaical at times. I have often debated with others to prove myself right rather than help them see what I believe is the truth.
4) How many times have I watched videos of myself leading worship or preaching not so that I might improve, but because I just wanted to see how I looked?
5) More times than not, my, “It aint all about me.” was ALL ABOUT ME!
6) There have been times when I have posted on NLI not out of a sincere desire to minister, but rather for the traffic.
7) How many times have I “performed” instead of ministering?
I could probably go on, but I’m sure you’ll agree that that this article has gone on long enough. Honestly, I don’t really know if writing this was more for me or you. If you’ve arrived at “The Wall” I just pray you are encouraged by it. No one can go with you through the wall except for Jesus, and you’ll probably think he’s deserted you. There will be others who pray and lift you up, but you won’t realize nor appreciate it at first. As for me, I don’t think I’m through digging yet, but I do believe I’m starting to see a little light. Hallelujah! God is faithful and he really does love us!