God Gives Free Refills
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
CBN.com - ORLANDO, Florida -- Have you ever felt so completely empty inside that you think your faith has run dry? You are not alone. Throughout Scripture we find that some of the greatest heroes of the Bible struggled through the same experience. There was a time in Abraham’s life that he didn’t trust God to protect his family. In the book of Exodus it seems that Moses has no faith at all. Elijah? He runs off into the wilderness and asks God to let him die.
The great news is that God gives free refills. As empty as we may feel, God is always there to restore and nourish our souls.
In his latest book, “Free Refill” (Standard Publishing), author/pastor Mark Atteberry tackles this incredibly difficult yet highly important topic. His goal for writing “Free Refill” is simple – to provide inspirational and practical help for anyone whose faith is spent.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Atteberry to discuss why people run out of faith, whether it is wrong for Christians to feel empty inside, and the solution for refilling your faith in God.
Your last book, “The Ten Dumbest Things That Christians Do” was so funny yet so convicting at the same time. Your latest book is very different. Please tell me about the inspiration you had for writing the book “Free Refill”?
As a pastor for years and then in my own life, I can see that people, the very best Christians, occasionally run out of gas. They run out of faith really. Their faith runs low, they begin to have doubts, questions about things, they are not as confident in their faith as they once were. A lot of my life I have spent dealing with those types of people because they are the ones who come in and make a counseling appointment. They will be the ones who come into the office, sit down, and pour out their heart. They will tell you their struggles. Just from that perspective I began to think about what causes a person’s faith to run low and how can they get it back. God wants your faith to be full and He is always ready and willing to refill it. He gives “free refills” so to speak. So it was that mission to go down that road and to wrestle with some of those issues that led me to write the book.
Why do you think people run out of faith? You become a believer and you are sold out to Jesus Christ but then something usually happens to diminish your passion.
A couple of things -- one is just the general wear and tear of life. Everything, EVERYTHING if you don’t maintain it meticulously and really take care of it will wear down, even your car. If you don’t get the oil changed on schedule it will eventually break down on the side of the road. Even more than that, I think suffering plays a role. If we could go through life and the sun was always shining, the birds were always chirping, a light breeze was always blowing and everything was always perfect we could probably maintain a strong faith for longer. But when something bad happens and you feel like you didn’t deserve it, like Hurricane Katrina, people start asking questions. Sometimes they don’t find answers. If the struggle is personal it is very easy to stop and say, ‘Why is this happening to me? Where is God when I need Him? I’ve given Him my life and served Him for many, many years and now this? Why is He doing this to me?’ I think suffering triggers a lot of our painful questions and if a lot of suffering piles on top of the other than you can end up in a place where you really don’t know if there even is a God anymore. It is one thing to have something bad happen to you, it’s another thing to have 20 bad things happen to you.
I love the fact that you base each chapter on a specific passage of Scripture. How did you arrive at the eight that are in the book?
That is a good question. The book is very Jesus centered and every one of those passages is a story out of the Gospels. The idea for that came from my conviction that if you don’t have enough faith in your life it is probably because you don’t have enough Jesus in your life. The way I arrived at that conclusion is simple. Hebrews 12:2 says our faith depends on Jesus from start to finish. That is the phraseology of the New Living Translation. That resonated with me. Our faith depends on Jesus from start to finish. So, if at any point along the way your faith runs out or runs low maybe it is because somehow or another you have lost touch with Jesus. You are not as close to him as you once were. You could be active in church, be busy doing a lot of stuff, a minister, you could be busy for the Lord up to your eyeballs but that doesn’t mean you are connected with Jesus. So, what I think happens is people get caught up in living the religious life and they forget that our faith truly depends on Jesus. It doesn’t depend on how many times you go to church in a week, how many committees we serve on, or how many classes we teach. Those things are not Jesus. They are connected to Jesus but they are not Him. Jesus is a person and that relationship is vital to our faith. If you lose touch with Jesus your faith is going to suffer at some point. So, what I tried to do in the book was to go back into the life of Jesus and try to remind people of why they fell in love with Him in the first place.
In your opinion, what generally causes emptiness especially in Christians?
When people sense that they are getting empty whether it is just natural wear and tear over the long haul and maybe they haven’t been as into maintaining their faith as they should be, or whether it is suffering, when people reach a point of emptiness the big mistake they make is to try to do more. For one thing, they feel guilty for being in the position they are in. I am going to do whatever my church asks me to do regardless of whether I have the time or not. We have this tendency to believe that the more we do the more God is going to be pleased with us. If I just do more or work harder the belief is that my faith will come back. In reality, that is the worst thing you can do. Busyness is not the thing you need. Busyness just fills your life with more noise and more clamor. What you need to do is back out and slow down and create openings in your life where you can spend some time with the Lord, just you and Him. One of the connections I make with this concept is the story of Mary and Martha. Martha was seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him and relating to Him and soaking that up. He is feeding her spirit and she is in a great place. Mary is in the kitchen working, clanging the pots and pans, putting the food together, and she is frustrated and irritated. She is not in a good place. I think that is pretty much the choice we have in life. We can be the Martha or we can be the Mary.
Is it wrong for a Christian to feel empty inside? After all, Scripture tells us we are to be filled with joy that is overflowing.
Consider the story of John the Baptist. He was the greatest man who ever lived up to that point and yet he went through this time of emptiness. That is our affirmation that there is nothing inherently wrong with running low on your faith. It is a very human experience. No, there is nothing wrong with feeling empty. There is something wrong with knowing you are in that place and not caring enough to do anything about it. I think it is inevitable. Everybody comes to this place sooner or later. In fact, great heroes of the Bible went through periods like this.
Changing gears, in your book you write that it is important for a person to be understood? What do you mean by that?
So many times we go through life frustrated because people don’t understand us. One of the beautiful things about Jesus is He understands everything about us. Testament to this is the woman at the well. I portray her from the historical research that I did of that time, a woman like her would have been an outcast. She would have been the scarlet woman. In that culture she would have been woman that none of the respectable ladies in town would have wanted to associate with. And yet when Jesus met her at the well and conversed with her He did not condemn her. What a great opportunity that would have been to lay some theology on her. But He didn’t. He was so gracious to her. I take that story and try to relate it to people as if to say if there has ever been a time in your life where you just don’t feel understood – we are all in that place occasionally – you can always go back to Jesus to find someone who understands you. That is such a place of peace to know that there is at least one person who does understand what you feel and are going through. I think that is a real starting place for getting healthy.
Why do some Christians feel that God is out of reach for them?
A key word you just said there is feel. When bad things are happening in your life -- nothing is going well, you’ve just gotten laid off, you’re not sure whether your wife still loves you anymore … all that stuff piles up and it doesn’t feel right. Sometimes we draw conclusions based on our feelings that aren’t accurate. Nevertheless, feelings are powerful things. So many people in the world do things purely motivated by their feelings. Christians can fall into that trap too. It is understandable. It is normal. We are human. We are going to make those mistakes. I have done it a million times.
How can we change that? Is there a fool proof solution?
It is really hard because we live in the culture. And the culture is so experience and feeling based. If you work for a secular company and you are surrounded by people who are not believers and live their lives based on material things, it is hard to live in that environment every day. It speaks to a great need for people to be connected in their spiritual community. It is critically important to read, keep feeding your mind with God’s promises.
So, with that said, how do you refill your faith in God’s promises?
Throughout our lives we are lied to. Even our little kids lie to us. You get to the point where you are so cynical and so skeptical that you just don’t trust or believe in anybody. Everyone else in the world may lie to you but Jesus Christ does not. That is the heart and soul of this book. Jesus is the one person you can go to find these things that are so important in life. You want to know there is somebody you can trust. It may not be your spouse. Husbands and wives lie to each other all the time. It may not even be your pastor. One thing we know is true … Jesus will never lie to you.
Final question, we hear all the time that nothing in life is free. With that said, is there any cost for a free refill?
That is a really good question. I think it depends on how you look at it. I call the refill free because it is always there and available. You can have it at any time. It doesn’t cost you in terms of money or time spent. On the other hand, you do have to make some effort to reconnect with Christ. It is kind of like saying grace is free, and it is, but yet you do have to believe. You do need to work at it. You need to live your faith every day. There is an element of investment that you have to make in order to receive the grace of God. I will say that many people really struggle with that question. But there is hope.
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