A few years ago, when I was still living in my “home on the range” in Iowa, I had been working to grow spiritually – doing things like reading the Bible, praying, going to church regularly, serving as a deacon, etc. And to some extent these efforts were working; by 2006 I felt that I was a somewhat spiritual person. Hopefully I wasn’t bragging about anything then…I can’t remember those details.
But then the changes started. My wife Zuali was not able to find work, then got cancer, and after her recovery from surgery and chemotherapy, we both felt it was best for her to return to India. The US was just not working for her. So she moved back, and I started a half-year process of quitting work and packing up. Everything was sold, given away, or put in a storage unit. In 2007 two suitcases and I went to India.
I’ll spare you the details of this next phase, but I could call it the descent into tribulation, or the unmasking of Brother Chris. Many, many details of life in India were really irritating and frustrating for me. Some of the things were cultural, some were just the effect of living in a developing nation. I was accustomed to perfection (long practiced in aircraft system design) and the loose approach to things in India grated on me.
Over a period of time, I gave in to anger and criticism, and these in turn led to more sins. My presumed spirituality unraveled and fell apart. In spite of this, people in the small church we were attending seemed to think well of me, asking me to pray and speak in the meetings. On the exterior I maintained the facade, but inwardly I was thinking of myself as a “bottom-feeder” – coasting along just above the muck, picking up leftover tidbits falling from those far above me. I know my attitudes and actions were wrong, but I just couldn’t climb away from them. My prayers just weren’t getting answered.
This state continued for a long few years, and I had many periods of depression, just not seeing any purpose to life. But, deep inside, there remained some hope that there was, after all, meaning and purpose, and that evenually I’d find it. Zuali and I had maintained our custom of studying the Bible together in the morning, talking about what we read. Even though it seemed fruitless, it also seemed that if the answer came from anywhere, it would be during those times.
Then one day, Zuali mentioned a preacher that had once come to Aizawl, and that he had given some very encouraging messages. So we looked to see if he had any sermons on the net, and yes, there were. Free, too! So we started listening, and the changes started happening.
Over a period of a few weeks, I listened to maybe 40 of Zac Poonen’s messages, and I was drawing a great deal of strength from them. The power of sin and depression was being broken. There were many things I learned, but there were three things which, taken together were what I really needed:
One, was that I had not been taking sin seriously. In truth, I was telling God that I didn’t believe what Jesus said in Matthew 5 – 7. And I wasn’t honest with Him, either, making excuses for sin rather than calling it what it really was. It would take a long time to get into the details of this, but the result was that sin kept hanging on. Genesis gives us a lesson here, in that it only took one small sin to get Adam kicked out of paradise. I believe now that we have to take sin as seriously as we take cancer or a car wreck. Really.
Two, was that I was using the Old Testament law as my guide for righteousness. As a result, I had only external righteousness. Jesus’ commandments found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, (which I had read many times and considered impossible) have to do with our internal life, and that’s where I needed changing. A lustful look of the eyes is as condemning as adultery. Anger is just as condemning as murder. Keeping up a good external appearance is what the old Pharisees did, and it’s what I was doing. And Jesus spent a good portion of His ministry telling those Pharisees that their pretending was worthless.
Three, is that I did not know the power of the Holy Spirit of convict me of sin, and then help me to overcome it. In John 14: 15, Jesus says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. ” Eg, the ones in Matthew 5-7 that I had thought were impossible to keep! But, He gives the solution in the very next verse (16): “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.” This is what I needed – some real help! A day came when I realized that without the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, I was sunk. Realizing this, I started sincerely asking for help, and it came.
So, in the time since then I’ve been taking sin very seriously, and attempting to listen (feel) carefully what the Holy Spirit is telling me to change. And the communication has been coming. Day after day He will point out areas where I’m out of line. I take it seriously, repenting, asking forgiveness, and asking His help to overcome. And He lives up to His title of Helper. Day after day, I’m less affected by the things that formerly produced anger, lust, and criticism in me. There’s no way I can claim self-effort for these changes, because I tried for several years and failed. It was only until I recognized the above-listed ideas that change started happening.
So why am I writing these things? It’s not to advertise this as an accomplishment, I can assure you. No, the reason is that these changes have been almost like a release from hell for me, and I’m guessing there may be many more people in the same situation. I attended church faithfully for four decades, never became aware of these things, and struggled with sin the whole time. How could this be? I believe it’s because these ideas simply were not taught because they’re not popular. I’ve been studying this topic over the past few months, and it seems that the topic of repenting and overcoming sin is rarely if ever taught in many churches, especially those that have a “seeker-friendly” approach.
If these things are of interest to you, feel free to message me on Facebook. Or, you can listen to the same messages that turned me around – just search for Zac Poonen on Youtube, or go to cfcindia.com.