It is important to know what God’s Word does not teach, as well as what it does teach.
The late pastor Ron Dunn quipped, “Many people believe the Bible because they do not know what it says.”
He referred to misconceptions some folks have about what it does and does not teach. What they think the Bible teaches, it doesn’t, or if they knew what it really taught, they would be less inclined to acknowledge it and commit to it.
Here are a few things some Christians believe that do not stem from God’s Word.
1. “My day will go better if I start it with prayer and Bible reading.”
Obviously, we need the soul-food ingested during time alone with God. What God’s Spirit teaches us during a quiet time may sustain us throughout the day and inform decisions we make. But it’s a mistake to think that circumstances and relationships and ministry efforts will automatically and always flow smoothly because we had our devotions.
The Lord’s promise of nearness to the broken-hearted and those crushed in spirit implies that our hearts will break and life will sometimes crush us, no matter how we start our day (Ps. 34:18). The next verse (Psalm 34:19) adds, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.”
Personally, some of my worst bouts with depression or most disturbing relational conflicts came on the heels of unhurried time alone with God. This false belief needs a heavy dose of realism concerning what it means to live in a fallen world.
If I spend time alone with the Lord because I think it will provide smoother sailing, my motivation is wrong. I’d be a pragmatist, choosing time with Him not because I love Him, but because such time works better for me.
2. “I must discover my spiritual gift(s) before I start serving the Lord in my church and community.”
Spiritual gifts are God-given capacities for service that honor Him and meet the needs of people around us, especially in the church. We exercise some gifts in public venues; others are more relational and behind the scenes. But to wait until we have a class on gifts, or take a spiritual gifts inventory, to help us identify how God has put us together to minister, is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Take all the classes and fill out all the inventories you want, but if you don’t heed the next sentence, you may remain passive and never fulfill your potential for the Lord.
Spiritual gifts typically emerge from activity.
We reach out to folks in need, or volunteer in Sunday School, or help plan a retreat, and we discover that we’re good at it and receive intense satisfaction from the involvement. We obey the numerous “one another” commands in the New Testament and cultivate a servant heart toward program needs in the church. As we are proactive in serving people and the church, extraordinary areas of effectiveness will eventually surface.
Learning about gifts and gaining a cognitive grasp of what each one means may be helpful, but only when we get busy can we identify where and how we can best serve God, the church, and community. Only through activity do we determine where we are and aren’t useful, do we discover our passion, and sense the thrilling conviction, “I was made for this!”
3. “Depression and a predilection for discouragement stem from weak faith and hinder fruitfulness in ministry.”
In 2014, I gave a 30-minute testimony on depression and faith in the chapel of Columbia International University. One of the most godly men I’ve ever known–he would be at the top of my “Spiritual Hero” board–struggled with what I said, even though the means of fighting faith that I cited involved spiritual weapons. He spoke warmly to me when he said it, yet he concluded, “I’m struggling to reconcile your testimony with my view of sanctification.”
In his opinion, recurring depression, even when faith sustains us, is a spiritual defect. It is still far too common to view “victorious Christian living” as freedom from struggles, rather than obedience and faithfulness in the midst of those struggles.
It is difficult to reconcile my hero’s viewpoint with what we know from biblical teaching and from church history.
God chooses to use weak and unqualified people so He, rather than they, get the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-29; 2 Cor. 4:7). Paul cited the paradox that God’s power and grace excel in and through people who are weak and needy (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Charles Spurgeon, well-known pastor in London during the second half of the 19th century, experienced repeated bouts with debilitating depression. At age 24 he wrote, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour, yet I knew not what I wept for.” During a separate incident he added, “As well fight with the mist as with this all-beclouding hopelessness.” Yet he kept preaching and writing and leading people to faith in Christ. Publishers still distribute his devotional books and sermons.
But I suppose he just wasn’t spiritual enough.
David Brainerd (1718-1747) was so melancholy that twenty-two times in his diary, he expressed a yearning for death. Yet before he succumbed to tuberculosis at age 29, he started a church among Indians in New Jersey that resulted in 130 converts. He regularly fasted and prayed for the salvation of the Indians. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd has been in print since 1749, giving thousands of other servants the encouragement and strength to press on despite frailty.
But if only Brainerd had exercised more faith.
I know….I am getting cynical.
Despondency prompts deep dependence on God. Sometimes He uses us, not in spite of our weaknesses, but because of them. The needier we are when He uses us, the better He looks to observers. The Giver of grace gets the glory. We just get the much-needed, undeserved help.
(See Terry’s book, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants, for these and other stories of how God uses needy people for His glory.)
What else do some Christians believe that isn’t in the Bible?