December 13, 2005

Set Free

1549 page24 capT WAS A WARM SUMMER EVENING IN northern California?s beautiful Napa Valley. A few hours after sunset the hills of Angwin, with the Adventist community that surrounded Pacific Union College, became still. As Cheryl Davison was on her way to bed years of spiritual struggles came back to her, and she finally said to herself: I can?t take this anymore; I?m through with it. I don?t want God.

Cheryl picked up her collection of Ellen White books, along with her well-read Bible, and tossed them across the room. ?I?ve tried to follow You,? she cried, shaking her fist at God. ?I?ve done everything to please You, to get peace of mind. I just can?t do it.? Turning over to go to sleep, she told God that she would never talk to Him again. She fully meant it. After long, painful years of struggling to follow God, trying to find the necessary peace and balance in Him, she finally gave up.

Standing on False Premises
Cheryl grew up in a Christian home. As a teenager, she couldn?t imagine a situation that would cause her to leave the church. She loved God and wanted to follow Him. She loved the Adventist Church, and never had any desire to go out and do anything ?crazy.?

1549 page24Yet God allowed Cheryl to go through a very difficult period in her life. Once, as she read Ellen White?s descriptions about the close of probation, Cheryl started to have terrible fears that it was too late for her to be ready for Jesus? return. She started fearing the time of trouble as well, having terrible nightmares. Her fears led her to wish she could die before those events took place. She?d always been taught that if she loved God enough, she would give up anything for Him in order to be saved. So, with the fear of being left behind, Cheryl wondered what she was doing wrong.

?This began 12 long years of sorrow and downward spiral as I took my eyes off Jesus Christ,? said Cheryl. ?I was focusing on what I thought I should do to be saved.?

Cheryl started searching Ellen White?s writings to see what the prophet said about the proper length of dress (for women), the right diet, wholesome recreation, etc. Her primary concern became to be perfect when the Lord returned. The more she studied, the more her focus was on what she imagined she had to do to be saved. All the statements about living a perfect life became so twisted in her mind that everything she did caused her guilt and fear.

It seemed that Satan, unable to push Cheryl to indifference as a teenager, pushed her to the opposite extreme--fanaticism--as an adult. As Cheryl searched more and more, she started losing interest in religion and God. She approached her close friends and family, trying to find peace of mind from the terrible guilt that became a part of her life. She went to church every Sabbath. No one could tell what was going on within her painful heart and her restless, confused mind. At church she was told, ?Just follow God, and you?ll be happy.?

Cheryl?s internal reply to those affirmations was, ?That?s because you haven?t studied like I have.?

As Cheryl felt more and more fear and guilt, she felt like she was shunning the Holy Spirit by failing to do all the things taught by the Bible and Ellen White. When Cheryl was not able to do all these things, she suffered extreme guilt. But doing them made her life a burden, which she hated.

A God She Could Love
Years passed, and Cheryl struggled to overcome her condition. But the more she struggled to love God and do all these supposedly necessary things, the more she found she didn?t like God at all. She came to the point where she didn?t want to read her Bible anymore. She kept thinking, I guess I?ve never been a Christian. I must not have been converted, because I don?t have the kind of love that makes me want to give up all these things and take my stand, like Daniel.

When Cheryl truly meant to forsake God for good, she heard His voice loud and clear: ?My dear Cheryl, how can I let you go??

?His voice was agonizing love, and it broke my heart,? says Cheryl. ?I knew that God loved me.? Cheryl knew that the only thing that could take her out of God?s hand was her own decisions. Cheryl wasn?t happy serving the Lord. She didn?t have the necessary wisdom or knowledge to get out of this emotional hell that she had created for herself all those many years. She just cried and begged, ?Lord, please don?t let me go.?

?I will never leave you, nor forsake you,? said the Lord.

Here is her story in her own words:

I continued to struggle because God didn?t immediately raise me out of that pit. I had to see that I couldn?t do one thing to save myself. Even though God showed me His mercy and love at that moment, I still had within me the idea that I had to struggle to save myself. I still suffered with terrible guilt. I had a certain temptation in my life that I couldn?t overcome. God gave me this verse: ?But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ? (1 Cor. 15:57).* I started to claim this promise, because I knew that I couldn?t deliver myself from this obsession.

1549 page24After a few days of repeating this verse again and again, I thought, Wow! We have no part of the victory. God totally hands it to us. It?s a gift. We don?t do anything except ask for it.

For several days I praised and thanked God. Even though I didn?t feel victorious, I realized He was going to give me the victory. Then God hit me with His power. It swept over me, just as unmistakable as the voice I had heard. I felt God?s love flooding my soul, and His peace came over me. He completely delivered me from the past 12 years of guilt and oppression. I was freed from feeling unworthy; that I had to do something about my condition.

But I still had a process to go through. I believed that once I claimed God?s promise, Satan was defeated in my life from then on. But Satan said, ?Do you think I?m done with you? Not on your life!?

Satan made me believe that my experience of deliverance with Christ was a false one. I fell into a depression I had never experienced before. For four months I went through the most agonizing fear I?ve ever experienced. I didn?t sleep; I paced the floor night after night pulling my hair, wringing my hands, and saying, ?It?s too late!?

I don?t know how my husband or my children put up with me. I was driving everybody in the house crazy. I had totally given up hope on God?s victory and taken myself away from Him and started looking within myself. As I went through this struggle, God allowed me to finally reach bottom, to realize I could do nothing to save myself.

After four months with hardly any sleep and no hope, I felt like a person who had fallen into a deep, dark well. I was so far down, all I could see was darkness. I groped at the side of the well, but there was no foothold, nothing to hang on to. Finally in that darkness God sent me a rope. God showed me about the whole armor of God (see Eph. 6:10-15).

According to Ellen White, God stands behind all His promises. She wrote: ?Can you not trust in your heavenly Father? Can you not rest upon His gracious promise? . . . Can we not have implicit trust, knowing that He is faithful who hath promised? I entreat you to let your trembling faith again grasp the promises of God. Bear your whole weight upon them with unwavering faith; for they will not, they cannot, fail? (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 497).

If we trust God and believe that He never lies to us in His Word, when we claim His promises for victory, we know that God will do it. If He has promised, He will do it.

When I was in the bottom of this well, God spoke through His Word to me through His promises. I realized I was helpless to help myself, just like the demoniacs in the Bible who threw themselves at Christ?s feet and cursed His name because they had no control over what they said or did. When God finally let me reach the bottom, I discovered that the Bible contains more than 3,500 promises for us and for our deliverance.

The first promise He gave me was Jesus? words in John 6:37: ?Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.? Through my foggy brain I said, ?You promised if I came to You, You wouldn?t cast me out.?

Questions for Reflection
Or for Use in Your Small Group

1. Have you ever felt that God had unrealistic expectations about your spiritual condition? What were the sources of those misconceptions?

2. When did you first understand that God meant to deliver you from guilt and condemnation? What part did the Bible play in that revelation?

3. How do God?s promises play a role in our living a life of assurance?

4. What Bible promises do you claim when you feel estranged from God?

The next verse that God gave me was Luke 4:18, 19, where Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah: ?The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord?s favor.?

I said, ?Lord, I?m brokenhearted, I?m a captive, I?m blinded. I?m bruised and kicked by Satan.?

So I claimed the promise in James 1:5: ?If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given.? I prayed, ?I?m confused; I don?t know what to do.?

Then God spoke to me through His Word. David wrote: ?In thy presence is fulness of joy? (Ps. 16:11, KJV). And the next words of God?s promise were about pleasures forevermore. I said, ?Lord, I?m not experiencing any pleasure. I must be believing lies.?

Satan kept attacking me with fearful thoughts that I was lost. But I kept looking to the promises of God, saying: ?God, You haven?t given me the spirit of fear.? Whenever Satan attacked me, I held up God?s armor between me and Satan?s attacks. Suddenly I realized the condition to any promise is that we ask! If we lack wisdom, let us ask of God. If we want forgiveness, ask forgiveness. If we want the Holy Spirit, all we have to do is ask. God promises to fulfill His Word.

God never gave up on me. I am free from the darkness and pain.

Living Life to the Full
Today Cheryl is living proof of a loving God; a praising believer who is drawing many others to the throne of grace. She believes in miracles and leads a prayer group in her home. Cheryl praises God and thanks Him for her trials. She says that she has never been as close to God as she is today. She knows that from the very beginning of her life until this day, God never has stopped loving her. Nevertheless, it took a long 12 years for Cheryl to accept the Lord?s promise to deliver her from the darkness and pain to a new life of light. Not in a moment, but gradually, the Lord taught and showed her many different aspects about living the victorious life.

Step-by-step, verse-by-verse, Cheryl received the truth, and God?s power set her free. Many Christians long to experience God?s unconditional love and power because they go through the same or similar struggles in their lives. But the price of salvation and victory has been paid at the cross.

It?s simple. Just ask for the victory by claiming His powerful and life-changing promises, and the truth will set you free.

*Unless otherwise noted, quotations from the Bible are taken from the New International Version.

Dmitry Lossev, a native of St. Petersburg, Russia, is now a student at Pacific Union College studying International Communication.