Ed. Note: Today we hear from Tim Cummings, evangelist with Reformed Evangelism Fellowship. Tim serves in New Jersey, often sharing the Gospel on college campuses. We met in January, when we were team members on an evangelism trip to Uganda. Tim shared this recently in an email update and I thought it was important to share. -AR
“Come hear, all you who fear God, And I will declare what He has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16).
Mandisa is a Christian contemporary singer who, after a good friend died of cancer and left behind a small child, plunged into a deep depression, with thoughts of suicide and using food for comfort. The Lord broke through to her through some friends, and used counseling to help her emerge victorious.
Beth Moore is a Christian speaker and author who was counseling someone when things were said that triggered personal trauma buried deep in her past, plunging her into a deep depression for a year or so, during which the love of her family kept her connected to reality in the midst of the maelstrom.
Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Romania who, in the midst of imprisonment, torture, and interrogation, gave in to dark thoughts and stored pills in his mattress, purposing to “make away with himself” as Giant Despair tempted Christian and Hopeful to do in Doubting Castle. Thankfully the mattress was providentially removed, and Wurmbrand found the “key of promise” restored to him. Though he remained in the physical prison, it became for him radiant with the beauty of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon, after a riot broke out during his preaching in which a number of people died, fell into black despair, during which, as he described it, “reason tottered on its throne.” But the Lord broke through to him with the promises of the gospel, and though he struggled with dark depression throughout his life, the Light of Christ shone brightly through it.
Each of these accounts has proved to be very encouraging to me. Since a good friend recently encouraged me to share a bit of my story over the last couple of years, I thought I would, in hopes that my testimony of God’s grace might “strengthen the weary one with a word” (Is. 50).
Two years ago I experienced what my wife described as a “perfect storm.” I came down with another sinus infection, which lasted a couple of months. There were difficult events that occurred, and there was trauma from the past that had not been effectively processed. In the midst of all that, there came “infernal thoughts,” as Spurgeon described them–fiery darts that seemed to lodge and catch fire.
But all this really exposed spiritual and theological weaknesses. My mind tended to be taken up with examining my performance–analyzing and dwelling on past mistakes, and over-analyzing what might be God’s will in a particular situation. M’Cheyne said that for every one look at self we ought to take ten looks at Christ; recently I heard someone confirm that this is about the proportion we see in the book of Hebrews! But when thoughts orbit around self, the spiral of despair is just around the corner, for no good thing dwells in my flesh. With a performance-oriented and guilt-inhibited mind, the devil had plenty of material to work with to weave webs of condemnation, and paralyze my will. If hope is the mainspring of action, condemnation is the doorway of paralysis. And since I tended to be introspective about my emotional state, leaning far too heavily on my feelings as a barometer of my spiritual condition, feelings of depression made it seem as if the floor was caving in.
I spent about two months deep in the dungeon of Giant Despair. The condemning, irrational, and infernal thoughts were overwhelming. Assurance of salvation seemed quite out of reach, and salvation itself unlikely in either the present or the future.
The initial words of deliverance were from Psalm 131–given to me by a friend to read repeatedly. The psalmist speaks of stilling and quieting his soul, instead of giving way to proud and fretful thoughts. Thoughts of condemnation and uncertainty are really the counterparts of proud self-righteousness. Obsession over one’s performance must give way to trust.
After a good and peaceful night’s sleep, I woke to new temptations to condemnation. But the Lord provided two passages ready-to-hand. One was Zechariah 3, which spoke of Satan the accuser being removed from the presence of the Lord since Joshua the priest’s new clean robes rendered his accusation an irrelevant lie. The other was from Romans 8: “Who shall lay a charge against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies; who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died; yes, rather who was also raised; who is at the right hand of God; who also makes intercession for us.”
A little while later, after returning from a rest at my pastor’s cabin in the woods (which itself I found to be a crucial ingredient to good spiritual and emotional equilibrium), I happened upon a book my wife Renee was reading, C.J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross-Centered Life. It seemed to effectively diagnose and provide a remedy for the center of my spiritual / theological problem. It was like spiritual accupressure. Mahaney stated that the evangelical church tends to suffer from condemnation, legalism, and subjectivism. This book launched me into a process of “marinating” in the “word of the cross.” I consistently reviewed Scriptures about the cross (from Isaiah 53; Hebrews 10; Romans 3, etc.). I read books of grace (Jerry Bridges’ Transforming Grace and The Discipline of Grace). I listened to sermons focusing on the cross (Spurgeon and Mahaney). I listened to songs focusing on the cross and its present relevance for the believer (Fanny Crosby’s “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross” is now a favorite, as well as “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” contemporary songs on Youtube were also helpful, such as the Newsboys’ “Hallelujah for the Cross”).
But along with “marinating” in the word of the cross, it was also a great blessing for the gospel to be “kneaded” into my life in specific areas, and concerning specific issues. A good friend of mine who is a counselor was willing to talk on the phone once a week to work through a book with me that accomplished just this. Other friends and counselors were able to consistently point me to the place where freedom and stability in the Christian life are maintained–the cross.
As I’ve learned to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, my will has been more and more freed (He did say the truth would make us free). The whole counsel of God as revealed in His Word is what provides logs for the steam engine of the will. And as I’ve learned to pay attention to Christ instead of my emotions (since, as Billy Graham said, substituting feeling for faith is a heresy), I find that Christ Himself satisfies my deepest affections, and in the midst of darkness He is my Light.
There are various practical suggestions that could be made, and perhaps will be made, concerning personal evangelism. At the very heart of it, though, is an awareness of the profound depths of divine love displayed at the cross, for me. Also at the very heart of personal evangelism is a love for the lost that can only be kindled at the place where love for the lost was indelibly demonstrated . . . at the cross.
The Holy Spirit has been given to the church–all flesh–all kinds of people–for the purpose of personal evangelism. Before Peter spoke at Pentecost, 120 believers of various ages and genders were speaking of the mighty works of God, filled with the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit comes to focus our attention on Jesus Christ, and to engender His love for the lost in us.
Training and tools are necessary. What is essential, though, is the awareness of the greatness of Jesus’s sacrifice, and a love for the lost that reflects His. If you receive these from the Holy Spirit, and trust Him to lead you, He Himself will by His wisdom provide you with strategic ways and means for the situations you will encounter.
Again, I’m grateful for Tim’s permission to share this and his courage to share his story. If you’d like more information or to support his work, please visit Tim’s bio and support page here. -AR