The Barnabas Ministry

Practicals On Spiritual Recovery
People go through various things that lead them to a need for spiritual recovery. Some have stepped out on faith and "crashed and burned." Others have been deeply hurt somehow, someway, in their spiritual walk. Even in the course of normal spiritual growth, we go through stages where our belief systems are not adequate and need to change. Hopefully this article will provide some practicals to help you through this time.

There are some strong similarities between spiritual recovery and physical recovery from an injury. Just as an athlete with a pulled muscle or some other injury needs to stop, have a diagnosis, receive treatment, and finally rehabilitate, so too those who are injured spiritually need to follow the same basic process.

1. Stop the activity causing the injury. This will make some people mad. John Mark took some heat for returning to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13, 15:38). But he had to face the fact that he wasn't surviving and succeeding spiritually on the mission field. Rather than live a charade, he faced where he was and stepped away from the challenges that he failed to overcome. This doesn't mean that John Mark gave up on God, but it does mean he stepped away from ministry responsibilities that were hurting him.

You probably need to do the same thing. If you're in leadership and the burdens of leadership have had a detrimental impact upon your faith, you just might need to get out of leadership for a while. John Mark did, so did Saul.

Maybe you're trying to change an unhealthy situation but having no success. Perhaps you've gotten caught up in legalism, or really been hurt in relationships with people in the church. Before you can begin to recover, you need to stop the thing causing the injury. It's not the end of the world, but it is the first step to getting your faith healed.

2. Diagnose the injury. What exactly is it that is injured? Faith in God? Confidence in yourself? Relationships with others? Your ability to help others? An inadequate belief system? Misplaced trust in a church system or a leader instead of God? Because spiritual matters are complex, it can be hard to find the problem.

I remember when I played football in the sixth grade. A kid on the team took a hit to his arm in practice and went down crying. I quickly picked him up, rubbed his arm and told him he would be OK. The coach yelled at me-- "He could have a broken arm! What are you doing?" I still remember the lesson-- when someone is hurt, proceed with caution, because inappropriate action could be even more damaging.

Just as someone who is injured finds a doctor or trainer, one who is spiritually injured needs to find a Barnabas, someone who can really help. Someone you can say anything to. Having a Barnabas in your life can help you come to grips with what exactly is injured. It may take some time, lots of talks. Lots of soul-searching. Lots of long prayer walks. Lots on pondering. That's OK, because before the injury can be healed, the diagnosis must take place.

3. Receive treatment for the injury. Physical injuries are treated with rest, medication, and sometimes surgery. In the same way, spiritual injuries need different treatment depending upon the nature of the injury. Rest (stepping out, taking a retreat) can be a great help for some injuries.

Spiritual medication is analogous to going to God for the spiritual healing that only He can provide. Sadly, we sometimes blame God for our injuries (e.g. "How could God let this happen?") and deny Him the avenue to help us.  We are created in His image, we are primarily spiritual beings. We need God to bring about spiritual healing. Running from God may be a natural response, but it doesn't make much sense. It can be doubly hard to go to God when we closely associate God with the church or certain Christians or leaders and these people then hurt us. We need to be able to distinguish God from these people, but this can be a difficult step.

At times like this, the Psalms and Prophets can be very helpful for reading. Spiritual men and women of old also wrestled with these same issues-- even at the hands of other believers, and their words can be for our healing today.

Spiritual surgery is analogous to getting into the word and studying out some of the deeper things of God to help our hearts and our faith at a very fundamental level. Part of this is questioning-- nothing is more critical to the deep healing process than re-evaluating your belief system. Frankly, everything needs to be considered. Is there a God? Is the Bible his word? Is Jesus his Son? What does God expect from you? From others? What about the church? What about evangelism? What about giving? What about leadership? Are there special issues in your situation? Study those things out! Read and consider the opinions of others on these matters. Try to start thinking "out of the box" more.

I remember when I was in high school I did some electric welding. In electric welding, the objective is to join two pieces of metal by melting their edges and joining them with the metal from the welding rod. Slag (oxidized metal) builds up on the surface of the seam and covers the weld. Slag is knocked off the seam with a hammer when you're finished. When I first started welding, I dreaded hitting the seam with the hammer because the slag made the weld look like the pieces had been properly joined, but one strike of the hammer on a poor weld would knock off the slag and show that the job had to be done again. But once I learned to join pieces properly, I realized that no matter how many times I struck the seam to knock off the slag, the pieces remained joined.

The lesson I learned from this is that if something is true, no matter how many times you challenge it and re-examine it, it will always remain true. So, we needn't have fear in challenging our beliefs and understandings of God's will for our lives. If what we believe is right, it will be confirmed; if it is not consistent with the Scriptures or cannot stand up to a closer examination, it will be revealed and we can change. And that is a good thing!

I think God uses failures to get our attention; only then do we re-examine our beliefs. Believe it or not, this is one of the ways God leads us-- through failure and change. The Scriptures are full of examples of people learning about God in this way. I think John Mark and Saul did a lot of soul-searching in Jerusalem and Tarsus.

4. Rehabilitation. Once the diagnosis has been made and treatment has begun, rehabilitation is next. Rehabilitation simply means working back to health. As painful as injuries are, they are only a stage. There is a future!

As an athlete does special exercises to restore strength to the injured member, the spiritually injured person must also get back into service. But this should be done carefully, only as much as the injured member can take without a relapse or re-injury.

Spiritually, serving others is a great rehabilitation. I honestly think the best servants are those who have gone through spiritual injury of some sort or another. Jesus' words about the greatest being the least among us show how highly Jesus values service. Serving others may make us feel low or menial-- but what it really does is that it helps us to get the focus off of ourselves and onto others. And having experienced pain, we can now experience the joy of bringing something of value to others. Is this not the same joy that Jesus felt helping others?

Part of the rehabilitation process is re-discovering your gifts. What do you do that God made you good at? How can you use it to serve others? Take advantage of opportunities and do it! Not only is this God's plan for meeting needs in the church, it is God's plan for bringing joy and satisfaction into our lives as well. As we serve others, we receive more joy than the selfish or works-based "pursuit of spiritual accomplishments" can ever bring.

One last and important part of rehabilitation is staying close to your Barnabas. But I don't view this as a command as much as something that will probably happen on its own. As John Mark stayed with Barnabas, and vice versa, John Mark received the benefit of healing and each enjoyed a mutually fulfilling relationship. I think that through all the hard times they went through together, there was a resulting bond of love and closeness that they valued for the rest of their lives. And they were able to pass along this experience and example for all that they ministered to for the rest of their lives.

5. Learn from the experience. It almost goes without saying that we should learn from our experiences. An athlete who gets a particular injury will want to learn how to avoid unnecessary risk of having the injury re-occur; he will also point this out to others in time. Indeed, trainers utilize experience from past injuries to devise exercises and training programs to minimize the potential for injury.

In the same way, those who are spiritually injured need to learn from their experience. That may mean writing things down, resolving to avoid the pitfalls that caused the injury in the past, and building healthier church systems that don't have built-in hazards that lead to spiritual injuries. It will in time also mean helping others to avoid those pitfalls. In a sense, it is sad that we need failures to learn certain lessons from God, but it would be tragic to experience the failures and not learn the lessons.

It is my humble hope that these ideas help you in your quest for spiritual healing.

Copyright © 1999 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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