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Dr. Jack Graham on “Reignite: Fresh Focus for an Enduring Faith”

The Unexpected Pit

In May 2009, Pastor Graham was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery. Three weeks later, Prestonwood Baptist Church planned to celebrate his 20 years as their pastor. He was glad to get the procedure behind him, and rest up for the big event; but things didn’t go quite as planned. As Graham woke from surgery, his doctor told him they couldn’t be sure they got all the cancer and he would need more treatment. The uncertainty of that news left the pastor feeling nervous and afraid, which soon escalated into anxiety. “Anxiety? Me? But I’m Jack Graham! Turns out anxiety didn’t care who I was,” he remembers. Instead of bounding into the pulpit a few weeks later, it was all Pastor Graham could do just to attend the event. He then took a two-month sabbatical, figuring that would be more than enough time to recover. In point of fact, he needed a full year. Anxiety gave way to depression and at its worst, Graham describes himself as a dead man walking. He felt hopelessness, sadness, helplessness, despair, numbness, despondency, and struggled with insomnia and loss of appetite.  

A Rope to Climb Out 

Pastor Graham describes the tools he used to slowly climb out of his pit as strands of a rope: time, the touch of family and friends, thanksgiving, therapy, and most important, God’s Word. “That habit was returning to, engaging with, prioritizing the Word of God – the truest truth I know.” He says there were three beautiful by-products of spending time in the Bible. First, “the Scriptures reminded me that regardless of how isolated I felt, I was anything but alone. Second, the Scriptures provided me with the power I so desperately sought while stuck in my powerless state. And third, as I prioritized engaging with the God’s Word, even when I didn’t feel like doing so, I felt myself coming back to life.”   

Another strand of the rope Graham found necessary was professional therapy. Though he’d never felt the need to see a counselor before, the pastor humbled himself and started seeing one. As he told the therapist how he felt, what he was afraid of, and what he needed, he found it helped greatly. “He listened, he cared, he prescribed meds when necessary. And he helped me get back on my feet.” 

The Swaps that Reignite 

We can employ several “swaps” in our mental/emotional posture that Pastor Graham says will reignite our faith: exchanging doubt for faith, discontentment for gratitude, and distress for peace. Concerning doubt and fear, he points out that the Christian life means we will consistently come to forks in the road where we must choose one or the other; the two can’t be pursued simultaneously. “At this fork, I find that when I engage in two specific practices, they help me choose wisely. First, I remember God’s faithfulness. Second, I renew my commitment to Him,” he states. “The choice for faith is simply choosing to remember -- that God is good, that God is near, that God is committed to save and serve and heal.”  

Gratitude is another key swap, Graham believes. “Indeed, to neglect gratitude is to neglect God’s blessing in and over our lives. It’s to quite literally fence in our lives. But when we take our eyes off the things going wrong and choose to be grateful for all that is right, we set ourselves up for strength and stability on every front. We satisfy the commands of our Father, and he makes strong every weakness in our lives.”

We can also choose peace over distress, says Pastor Graham. “Jesus paid the ultimate price to secure peace for you and me and asks only that we pick it up and use it as we make our way through this life. This is what it is to “make peace” – simply acting on what we know to be true for those who are in Jesus Christ.” Applying that to everyday life, he says, “Seek the Lord.  Seek his righteousness. Seek the unity found only in him.  Quite fixating on all that could go wrong or is in this very moment going wrong.  Fixate on peace instead. Consider your heavenly Father who cares both for the flowers of the field and for the birds of the air. Let go of your identity as a worrier and become a worshiper instead.”

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