The Overflow

living in the overflow of God's goodness through every season

Confessions of a Spiritually Bipolar Christian

FaithCassidy Shooltz2 Comments
Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

I pressed a note into my friend Michelle’s hand as our youth pastor continued his lesson on a dark Wednesday evening. I had been thinking about it all night, how do you explain that feeling you get at summer camp?? As a junior-higher, I felt that there was one place in the world I could be close to God - camp. All the rest of the year seemed to be the “dead season.” I believed that, for some reason, God would hear my prayers, draw me closer to Himself, and convict my heart faithfully only when I was there. I lived through all the difficult days with the hope, “I’ll be back at camp soon!” I longed to be closer to Him, but it always seemed to be thirty minutes into the drive home that I would be back to ground zero - “Oh well…. Camp is coming next year.”

As Michelle unfolded the note, I gloated to myself about how perfectly I had just described the camp experience; I told my friend, “that feeling we get at camp is LOVE.” As if I had made some revolutionary discovery. She quickly picked up her colored pen and scribbled something down and passed it back to me, “that feeling is also joy, peace, kindness.” I agreed. As my youth pastor continued his lesson on that chilly winter night, my mind was far away…. You’ll never guess where!

Camp.

I was certain that if I could just make it back to that place, if I could just go back, everything in my relationship with the Lord would start “working” again.

What I didn’t know at the time, being about 12 years old, was the fact that what I actually wanted wasn’t camp - I wanted a spiritual high. I wanted an experience that would leave me breathless; I wanted to see the spike on the graph of my relationship with the Lord.

All  of us, as Christians, should long for intimacy with Jesus. That longing should drive us to our knees in prayer and to His word - not to a place, person, book, or resource outside of Himself. If Jesus isn’t enough for you, then there’s something wrong.  

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Now, as I look back on those days, I realize how wrong my understanding of God was; I thought that as soon as I made a mistake after camp, that was it! No more grace or nearness of His presence until next year…. I was dependent upon other people to help me thrive - I needed my camp counselor to push me out of my comfort zone so that I would do would go further in seeking Jesus; I wanted other believers to tell me how I should be serving; I needed my cool devotional in order to understand the Bible. I decided that I couldn’t do this whole “God thing” on my own.

A thought suddenly came to the head of that half-hearted believer, what if I was left with the choice Christian martyrs had been faced with: believe in Jesus or die! Would I step out in faith or shrink back?

That question bothered me greatly. I knew what was right, but did I trust with all my heart that God is real? Was I willing to put everything on the line for the sake of the Gospel? Would I make Jesus Lord of all in my life?

I knew that God was pressing my heart with that question, would I be all His? Or would I continue to be a spiritually bipolar Christian; always waiting for the next whim of feeling to come over me. Would I trust the roller coaster of my feelings and experiences or would I give everything up to Him? I knew He was asking that I hold nothing back in reservation; He wanted all of me. My love life, my dreams about the future, my emotions, my deepest wishes, all my fears - absolutely every part of me.

I had a decision to make; serve God or shrink back into mediocrity.

God was teaching me that I didn’t need my awesome devotional, camp, or other people pouring into my life in order to serve Him in everyday life. He was perfectly enough.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5, ESV

By His grace I took that first step or trusting Him. And I have never once regretted it. Each morning I wake up to that same question: will I give my everything to bring Him glory or shrink back? Do you, as a Christian woman, want your walk with the Lord to be hindered by an unnecessary focus on how you feel and if you’re getting the “right vibes,” or do you want to be radically poured out for the glory of His name? We, as women, love to feel; we want to feel God’s nearness, we want to feel like everything is going really well in life, we want to sense results when we invest in other’s lives…

….But what if you have no emotion following any of those things? Are you going attempt to quit breathing if it feels uncomfortable? In the same way, many girls thrown in the towel in their pursuit of Jesus as soon as it is convicting, painful, or doesn’t meet their expectations.

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Nineteen-year-old Karrie, a college freshman, was really confused about her relationship with the Lord. “It’s like He’s close one second, then a million miles away the next. Why can’t I just keep feeling His closeness always? If He really loves me so much, then why does He allow me to feel this way?” The following semester of school Karrie decided she was an atheist; she felt that if her emotions weren’t on board then God must not be real.

Maybe you just read that and shook your head, but guess what? It all started with Karrie trusting her emotions and experiences more than she trusted Jesus Himself. That is exactly what can happen to you and I. As soon as we make our relationship with God about experiencing the right emotions and having just the right experiences, we take our eyes off Him. Oswald Chambers once wrote on this,

“There are some people who are totally unemployable in the spiritual realm. They are spiritually feeble and weak, and they refuse to do anything unless they are supernaturally inspired. The proof that our relationship is right with God is that we do our best whether we feel inspired or not. One of the worst traps a Christian worker can fall into is to become obsessed with his own exceptional moments of inspiration. When the Spirit of God gives you a time of inspiration and insight, you tend to say, ‘now that I’ve experienced this moment, I will always be like this for God.’ No, you will not, and God will make sure of that. Those times are entirely the gift of God. You cannot give them to yourself when you choose. If you say you will only be your best for God, as during those exceptional times, you actually become an intolerable burden on Him… If you make a god out of your best moments, you will find that God will fade out of your life, never to return until you are obedient in the work He has placed closest to you, and until you have learned not to be obsessed with those exceptional moments He has given you.” [1]

When I was a spiritually bipolar Christian, I was never content. If I hadn’t had gotten an “experience” out of my personal time with the Lord, I thought God was far off. Even through that time, God was showing me that I must follow Him with complete faithfulness even when I don’t feel like it.

Practically, what it means to put Him first is to read His word every day and be in prayer even when I don’t see automatic results. In which ways in your life do you tend to desire an “experience”?

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India, once said, “If you would live in victory over the circumstances, great and small, that come to you each day… And if you want God’s life and power to well up from the depths of your being… Then you must refuse to be dominated by the seen and the felt.”

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Photo Credit: Katie Santarelli

Application

1. Are you a bipolar Christian, waiting for the next “supernatural moment” before you’re willing to make a move? If so, are you willing to put everything you’ve ever known on the line and follow after Jesus with all your heart?

2. In what ways in your life have you allowed yourself to be “dominated by the seen and the felt”?

3. You have a decision to make: serve God or shrink back into mediocrity. Which will it be?

References

1.  Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest.  (Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., 1992) April 25.