I have three observations that have been rumbling around in my mind for several years. Well, one has been for several years. The other two are more recent.
My first observation is this: I think we will look back and see a window of time (like a 10 year window or so) where every single Christ-professing believer will be able to say “That was the worst year of my life.” As for me, I’ve had 2 such years since between 2018-2021. Each time I’ve learned more about myself, learned new and better coping skills, and have had to surrender all to the Lord. I have no option but total faith or nothing at all. I can do nothing unless Christ gives me strength—and He has. Not a lot, but enough.
I’ve heard this story from many other Christians. Some have struggled with their faith. Some have moved into a prolonged period of sin, though they never gave up on the Lord. And some, as I’ve noticed the last few years, are just calling it quits. And it hurts my heart because there is nowhere else we can go for hope.
My second observation is this: those who do end up leaving the faith rarely seem to do so for issues regarding truth. Many go through the “worst year of their life” and don’t come out on the other side stronger. I suspect some of them have had false expectations of what we are promised as Christians. We’ve experienced unprecedented cultural privilege and prominence for the last few hundred years. So much so, that many Christians view it as the norm—or worse—proof that being a Christian protects them from suffering. Just put yourself under the banner of Christ and you are protected from the ills of the world!
Friends, that is a luxurious theology that cannot last. And it does not last, because Christ promised us trials and tribulations (john 15:18, 16:33, 2 Timothy 3:12).
The idea that we, as Christians, will be protected from suffering is a dangerous doctrine. Very dangerous. Why? Because such a posh and luxurious “faith” crumbles in the face of reality and suffering. For all our talk of making Christ our foundation, many people soon discover that their hope was not in what Christ had done, but their expectation of what He would do—namely protect them from suffering and evil. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if your doctrine is not true for the persecuted church, it is not true. Period.
Finally, I am seeing a very real and troubling trend and I think it goes deeper than we might think. I keep hearing stories of people who claim that they have struggled and struggled with their faith and they just can’t make it work. So finally, when they walk away, it’s like they have this huge burden lifted from them. They feel free for the first time in years.
I do not want to dismiss or downplay the difficulties of deteriorating mental health. Trust me, I’ve been there. I don’t think people are faking, and I don’t think they just need to “try harder.” I want to acknowledge that our current mental health crisis is quickly approaching epidemic levels. Some of it is of our own making, and some of it is because we live in fallen bodies–bodies which are subject to the deteriorating aspects of the fall. Are we promised mental health? I don’t think so. I know that hasn’t always been my experience. There is real pain, real hurt, real anxiety. And, as we are seeing, people will give up everything for the chance to make the anxiety go away—even if that means mutilating their bodies or giving up the God they have served for so long.
Here’s where I’ve gotta get a little weird sounding to some. As much as my faith is based on evidence and reason and as much as I love apologetics, there is something else going on. There is a facet of the Christian walk that I did not have to grapple with until I got deeper into ministry. Indeed, many people I encounter who are in ministry report a similar experience—a blissful ignorance of spiritual warfare… until the bubble unexpectedly pops. Suddenly all those stories of spiritual armor and demonic activity sound a lot less “metaphorical.” And do you know why? Because spiritual attack and the necessity of spiritual armor are not metaphors. They are real. The demonic realm is real.
Now I’m not saying there’s a demon behind every bush. Sometimes depression and anxiety really are chemical imbalances… but sometimes they are not. I say in my talk Diagnosing Doubt that a healthy functioning body is our first level of defense against spiritual attack. With the decline of mental health (whether that be from the pandemic, record loneliness, social media, divorce, etc.), we would be unwise to ignore that we have an enemy with no scruples. He will exploit our each and every weakness.
Yes, there is some truth that living in a Christian nation does bring a level of protection that those in persecuted countries do not have. But friends, open your eyes. We are no longer in a Christian nation. Whatever protections we thought we had are quickly disintegrating, and we’re seeing fellow Christians drop like flies because they have underestimated the reality of spiritual attack or misunderstood the promises of God.
Why would someone feel like they have a heavy burden that won’t go away until they finally reject the name Christian? I’ll give you three guesses.
Remember: The enemy can release pressure as quickly as he can impose it. All the captive must do is cave to enemy demands: and our enemy demands that we renounce our identities as sons and daughters of God. And suddenly our feeds are flooded with stories of Christians who finally feel “free”, unfettered from the shackles of historic Christianity.
Friends, I urge you: do not take prayer lightly. Do not be content to pray for grandma’s health and that our food be nourishing. Those are not bad prayers, but they are inadequate for what we will continually face the further our culture drifts from God.
Pastors, take your role as guardians of your flock seriously. If you are struggling with persistent sin, seek help. If you are scared to admit your own mental health struggles, do what you would advise your own flock to do and get help. The church cannot thrive while you suffer in silence. They are left unguarded for the sake of your “reputation.”
Husbands: take seriously your role of guarding your family spiritually. I say this with no hyperbole: If you have porn in the house, you are basically inviting a demonic presence. Seek help. Fast for your family. Pray for your family. Pray over your home. Get rid of anything that would give the enemy a foothold. You are the protector. Protect.
Mamas, pray for yourselves beyond the obvious. Pray that the Lord would give you wisdom, eyes to see, ears to hear, and the ability to spot lies that are influencing your children. Pray for an insatiable desire to pray and study God’s word. Pray over your home. Pray over your children. Pray over your husband. And get away from all those fluffy, feel-good books that would sound like nonsense to a persecuted Christian. Ask for the fortitude to join the fight, no matter how scary it feels. What the Lord calls you to, he will equip you for. Figure out what parts of your life are unnecessary for raising up Godly children and be willing to miss out on things that don’t matter.
Christians, pray for your pastors. Pray for yourselves that the Lord would make you able to withstand the cultural chaos that is already here. Realize that a time is soon coming when we can capitulate no more to culture. We cannot live by lies, even small ones. And know that refusing to do so may cost you your job. Be willing to lose your job, if that’s what it means for you to refuse to call lies truth. It may mean having to go down to one income to homeschool your kids. There are worse things in this world than a smaller house and thrift store duds. Do what you have to do to make sure your children hear the truth of God more than the lies of the enemy. The mind has a hard time differentiating between that which is true and that which is familiar. Your kids need a cohesive, reasoned, Christian worldview to be their guide to understanding reality.
Church, we do not need to give the devil more than his due. We do not need to switch our focus to understanding all his schemes—but neither should we be ignorant of them. If you have been living without a robust view of the spiritual realm, pray that the Lord would prepare you without scaring you. If you have focused too much on the spiritual, pray that the Lord would free you from an unhealthy obsession. Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, friends. And pay attention when those whom you love begin to doubt their Christian faith because they can’t escape the anxiety that accompanies it. There may be more to it than doubt and questions. Fight for each other in prayer. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way we fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
 Paraphrased from David Kahneman from his book Thinking Fast and Slow