An Open Letter to a Struggling Christian
Dear struggling Christian, if I could only say a few words to you, I’d say: you must look up and outside of yourself. I am aware that you wish to be comforted in the fact that you are not alone in your struggle. For that, you need not look any further than Abraham who waited patiently for the promise of God; or Job who suffered in ways beyond our comprehension; or David who endured many trials as the King of Israel; or Jeremiah who prophesied to a nation which could not hear; or Paul who endured much for the sake of Christ; or Christ who bore the weight of sin on His shoulders. The evidence that you are not alone in your struggle is overwhelming, but that is not where complete relief lies.
While knowing you are not alone in your struggle may give you a great sense of relief, it does not rid you of your struggle. You remain in the same spot as before; your trial must still be completed and your temptation overcome. There must be something more for you that you may be helped in your current condition. But to find the solution, one must properly diagnose the problem. Just as if a doctor does not diagnose the patient correctly, the correct prescription will not be given.
Why are you in such dire straits? What has brought you to this place? What news could so depress your soul, or what thing causes such anxiety within you? Maybe the more important question is: to whom do you look for deliverance? Where are you seeking to find that happiness and joy, or where do you run to find peace?
I want to share a story with you. It is the story of John Bunyan. Many today label him as a Puritan, but he was never called a Puritan. He was called a mechanic, not because he worked on automobiles (since the automobile had not yet been invented), but because he had received no formal education as most of the Puritans had. By trade, he was a tinker, and as a tinker in the 17th Century, he traveled across England’s countryside from village to village fixing pots and pans. Fortunately, he was a large, muscular man, for his job required that he carry a sixty-pound anvil along with various pots and pans on his back. But his passion in life was not tinkering; it was for preaching.
Now, the law made it illegal to proclaim a message different than the Monarch wished, a message contrary to that which gospel-minded Puritans preached. So Bunyan was put in prison for his preaching. It was a small, damp prison in Bedford, England, and in this prison, Bunyan would write one of the greatest pieces of classic Christian literature, The Pilgrims Progress. In this allegorical description of the Christian life, many of his own experiences would be incorporated, such as the heavy anvil he carried around as a tinker served as inspiration for the weight of sin which rolled off Christian’s back at the foot of the cross. But this wasn’t the only book he wrote while in that prison. He also wrote a testimony entitled, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in which we have a window into John Bunyan’s personal life and conversion, a window which gives us great insight for our present trials.
As a young lad, he despised the things of God which brought great evils upon him. He would be tormented by visions and dreams of demons and hell-fire knowing that was where he was headed. His early life would be one of despair, believing that Christ would not save him. He believed, “It was now too late for me to look after heaven; for Christ would not forgive me, nor pardon my transgressions.” But as he was sitting in church one Sunday morning listening to the sermon being preached, he was deeply convicted that the life he led was sinful and that his ways must change. Change he did, for after about a year, most of the talk about him was that of a godly man. He had found Christian piety, but one thing was still missing, he was without Christ. He envied the Christians who talked of the inward peace they had, and the joy they felt. Bunyan felt no such thing, and the despair he had felt before returned to him.
He continued in trying out this newfound morality, but it would prove to be a tumultuous time for him. Bunyan put it this way: “My peace would be in and out, sometimes twenty times a day; comfort now, and trouble presently.” He described it as reaching the top of a mountain where the sun warmed him and happiness was found, only to slide into the valley where the darkness and cold awaited him. One particular time, there seemed to be a pond of mire in the valley which Bunyan remained in for some time. There, the darkness was so great that he would blaspheme and sin in many ways. He was unsure of all that he had believed, tempted to rid himself of God, Christ, and the Christianity he embraced. He would be rescued from this mire, but only to fall into other temptations and further despair.
“But,” he said, “one day, as I was passing through the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing that all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven;’ and I thought I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, as my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, ‘He lacks my righteousness,’ for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good state of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad state that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away so that, from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God.”
To be able to apply this to your present struggle, I would put it this way: Turn your eyes from yourself towards Christ. All you will find when you look inward is the dross and weakness from sin. You will only see fuel for despair, and whatever good may be found, it will always fall short of the goodness you need. Look up! Look up and away from yourself! Look up to Christ! His righteousness depends not on your state. It is the sure anchor for your soul. It doesn’t get better when your faith is strong. It doesn’t get worse when your faith is weak. It is perfect. Look away from yourself, I say, and rest in him.
You may still be thinking, “What good is this for my depression, my anxiety, or the struggle I presently encounter?” To which I would ask again, where are you turning to find your peace and joy? Do you think that it will be found in the resolution of your problem? I can already answer that for you with a negative; for Scripture attests to the fact that both peace and joy come from God. They are not things which are produced within yourself; they are gifts given by God through Christ. Your hope for overcoming your struggle is found only in the righteousness of Christ. Another Puritan, Thomas Goodwin, when contemplating the present attitude of Christ towards us, wrote, “In Glory, Jesus’ first reaction when you sin is pity; where you would run from him in guilt, he would run to you in grace.” O struggling Christian, make great haste towards Christ. He stands with open arms of mercy and grace, willing to give you peace and joy that words fall short of describing.