My Ordinary Christian Life
While the prior page about my spiritual testimony shared how it happened that I became a Christian, this pages provide some general details about who I am as a person.
Since it’s my goal to bless others with the insight that God has given me over the years, it’s important that my readers see me as being credible. More importantly I think, it’s also important that they see me as being “relatable.” The more insight someone has into my life circumstances, the more likely that can happen. So, I want to be open, honest and transparent about who I was before becoming a Christian, and who I’ve been and become since.
Our Perceptions of Others
No one is perfect. I think most people truly know that.
Still, I also think that many of us—knowing how “dirty” we are on the inside—often assume that other people have their lives a lot more “together” than we do.
It seems to me that people like writers, or speakers, or pastors are sometimes seen by others as experiencing life on some higher, less-sinful level. These “special” people are thought to have somehow figured life out—at least to a great degree—while other, “ordinary” people continue to struggle with sin. And often, the special people are only all too willing to continue to be seen that way.
While the ordinary people might feel a certain respect for the special people, they don’t feel drawn to them in any relational way. In fact, I think there’s an almost automatic sense of alienation from the special people, with the ordinary people thinking, “There’s no way I’ll ever be that holy.” Or something to that effect.
Rather than feeling encouraged and inspired, the insecurities of the ordinary people are intensified and their relationships often remain superficial with people they consider to be “special.”
Because of this dynamic, whatever it is that the special people might be wanting to share, it’s often discounted as being at least somewhat unobtainable by the ordinary folks. In this way, the perception of being “special” ends up hindering the ministries of the special people.
I don’t want that to happen with me and the encouragement I hope to offer on my websites.
At the outset, I want to clearly state that I’m an ordinary Christian. I’m pretty certain no one has ever looked at me and gone, “Wow, there goes Rick Carmichael.” (At least not in a positive way.)
The truth is, we’re all ordinary. No one will ever be special to the point of being above sin this side of heaven. All those chosen by God are “earthen vessels (of clay).” Including me!
2 Corinthians 4:7
7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.
Why I’m Not Special
As I write this book (in 2019), I’ve been a Christian for 48 years. During this time, I’ve experienced many “highs” but also many “lows” in my spiritual journey—which I believe is consistent with a normal Christian experience.
This section is meant to provide an honest and open confession of my struggles as a Christian to show that I’m definitely not among any special group of “successful” and “mostly sin-free” Christians.
This section is also about the power of the Holy Spirit—using the Word of God—to bring about a sense of conviction about the sin I’ve struggled with, and to persistently work to transform my life to be more like Jesus.
My Struggle with Sin
I grew up in a home where my father often expressed a severe anger over circumstances he didn’t like. Seeing that expression of anger modeled for so many years, I unconsciously adopted the belief that expressing strong feelings of anger was the normal way to act when someone did something you didn’t like.
I also suffered from a low self-esteem as a kid, which I tried to compensate for by developing an arrogance that often expressed itself through a very big mouth. I “needed” to be the center of attention.
In addition to anger and arrogance, as I entered my teen years, I also started a long-term struggle with sexual sin.
The Convictions About My Sin
Once I became a Christian, God began working in my life to bring a sense of conviction over the sinfulness of my expressions of intense anger. The Holy Spirit revealed how I was using anger as a way of controlling others—trying to force them to stop doing whatever it was that I was offended by.
He convicted me that underneath my intense anger, there was a “root” sin of pride, which revealed my true brokenness: I desperately wanted people to see me as good, and at the same time, I was desperately afraid of them seeing the bad that I knew was really there.
The convictions about my anger and pride have helped me see the gross ugliness of trying to forcefully control others who did or said things which I interpreted as being threatening to my sense of value and meaning as a person.
Underneath my struggles against sexual acts, the Spirit convicted me that I was also guilty of a range of horribly sinful thoughts in how I often viewed women: at times treating them as objects to be manipulated for my pleasure, and at other times setting them up as idols who I thought could make me whole as a man.
The convictions about my sexual and relational sin have helped me see the gross ugliness of trying to deceitfully use others to enhance my sense of value and meaning as a person.
Many years later, God helped me see that behind my struggle with sexual sin was the (wrong) belief that if I could find someone who was willing to be involved with me in sexual ways, then that must mean I was not such a bad person.
(I suspect that many people reading that last sentence will think something like, “what a crazy thought that is!” And I admit, it truly is a crazy thought. But according to the Bible, behind all sins are crazy, wrong thoughts and beliefs.)
To be honest, even after 48 years as a Christian, I still have times of struggle against these—and other—sins. But the more I’ve studied and sought to understand God’s Word, the more the Holy Spirit has used the truths of the Bible to bring about significant transformation in my life in these areas.
My Struggle with Disappointments
There have been a number of challenging disappointments in my life that I’ve struggled with in addition to the struggles with sin.
This started with my mom dying when I was only five years old. For much of my life, this one disappointment severely limited my ability to relate in truly loving ways to others, especially women.
Another challenging disappointment I’ve experienced includes divorce—actually, two divorces—neither of which I wanted.
An additional, severe disappointment has been the complete estrangement from my daughters, my sons-in-law and my grandchildren, as well as from my siblings and relatives—seemingly as “fallout” from my first divorce.
These circumstantial disappointments have often led to sinful thoughts and actions on my part, attempting to totally remove the source of the disappointment and/or dull the pain I felt.
The Conviction about My Disappointments
Again, through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit has consistently worked to convict me that disappointments for Christians are not bad.
In fact, Scripture is clear that we’re to rejoice in our struggles with disappointments knowing that God is working—for our good—using those disappointments to more completely transform us into the image of Jesus.
This conviction about the good role of bad circumstances is one of those truths which is easier to acknowledge in thought, but more difficult to apply to actions. It took years of the Holy Spirit working through disappointments for the conviction of this truth to work it’s way from my head down into my heart.
My Struggle with “Success”
There’s nothing about my life which would indicate great “success” from the world’s perspective. (Though I confess to having often longed to achieve that very thing in my life.)
I graduated university with a degree in Forestry—but never actually worked as a forester. My first career was as a junior-high and high school science teacher, which I think I was good at, but which was not very rewarding from a financial perspective.
After teaching, I switched to real estate sales to try to achieve a higher level of income for my family. But that hope was never realized as I ended up earning far less than I would have if I’d remained in teaching. Next, I left real estate sales for a brief career in construction—building houses. While that was an incredibly fun and satisfying experience, it brought nothing resembling success, in terms of income.
After construction, I worked in the computer industry for 16 years. I held a wide variety of positions in that field: training, support, marketing, sales, and business development. Even though I worked for much of that time for one of the world’s most innovative technology companies, I was never able to experience any success in the form of career advancement.
For the last 21 years, I’ve worked freelance, providing professional photography and web design services primarily for luxury resort, hotel and villa properties in Southeast Asia.
During this time, I’ve always hoped to be able to grow from a one-man operation into a real agency, able to offer photography jobs and expert photography training to many employees. But, that hoped-for personnel growth hasn’t happened and I also haven’t experienced any form of significant financial success.
Even as a Christian—with the natural talent of a teacher and the spiritual gift of exhortation—I’ve not experienced what others might think of as signs of being spiritually successful.
I’ve shared my faith in Jesus as Savior with many people, but I’m unaware of any who actually became a Christian as a result of my testimony and sharing. None of the Bible Studies or home Cell Groups I’ve led ever experienced significant growth in numbers.
I’ve always had this desire to be “successful” in serving God, but those desires generally relied on worldly measures of success and not on spiritual measures.
The Conviction about My Desires for Success
This is another area where the Holy Spirit has used God’s Word to bring conviction. And His Word is crystal clear: we are not to desire the kind of success that the world promotes.
Spiritual “success” is much more important than worldly success, and it’s never measured by numbers or by any results that we might see.
And, actually, God doesn’t even measure our success. He measures our faithfulness.
Success is about results. But in the spiritual realm, results are God’s business. His doing.
The Holy Spirit has helped me see that since the results are God’s, His main concern is not my success, but my faithfulness. Whenever I act in faith, trying to give myself in service to Him, He’s pleased with that faithfulness, and with me.
The Main Point
The main point is that God has persistently been at work in my life, actively using the struggles, sins and disappointments to mature me in my faith. And—most important of all—to increasingly reveal the immeasurable goodness of His nature, character, plans, purposes and works on my behalf, as well as the immeasurable greatness of His love for me.
Again, as these stories of my struggles hopefully reveal, I’m definitely not among any special group of “successful” and “mostly sin-free” Christians. I’ve gotten bogged down in sin just like most other people. I suspect, just like you.
But God’s faithfulness has been proven to me, time after time, as He patiently, persistently works through the Holy Spirit to transform me more and more into the image of Jesus.