Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fighting Despondency Even A Bit More

Sex and sleep: Could it be more obvious that these are good gifts or God for our joy and health? You're not super-human. You need to rest (sleep); and you need to be loved on, intensely (sex). So pleasure your spouse often and then rest well afterward (Ps 4:8, 127:2; Pr 3:24; SS 5:1; 1 Co 7:5). To the unmarried, try substituting vigorous exercise for sex.

Books: I once heard John MacArthur say that when he is tempted to feel self-pity he reads a Christian biography of someone who has suffered. In addition, I recommend Job, 2 Corinthians 11-12, 1 Peter 1, Matthew 5:10-12, Jeremiah 20, Ezekiel 24, etc. 

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him -- Ro 8:17. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fighting Despondency A Bit More

I continue to think of the battle against depression, or despondency, or sadness that seems to come from nowhere, by suggesting another tool: alcohol. The Apostle Paul commands Pastor Timothy to "use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (1 Ti 5:23). Here, Paul seems to separate Timothy's stomach issues from his ailments; meaning they are not the same things. Is it possible that Paul's reference here speaks to stomach problems caused by brain problems? Did Timothy have what my mother would call a nervous stomach? In other words, Timothy's stomach woes were caused by his anxiety. There a number of instances within 1 & 2 Timothy where Paul exhorts Tim to be the man God demands he be as a pastor; to be the man the church needs. Apparently, Timothy was sometimes slow to exert himself in a pastoral sense. He was relatively young and in charge and this caused him distress. (I feel his pain). So maybe Paul's words are meant to convey that the way to treat the stomach issue is to treat the brain to "a little wine". I say this because of texts like Pr 31:6f; Ec 23ff, 9:7, etc; and the places where the Bible speaks of wine "gladdening the heart (Dt 14:16; Ps 104:14f), or being used in celebration (Jn 2). So my point is not that we should drown our sorrows in booze (God condemns drunkenness), but that there may be a place for easing them via a "little" drink.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fighting Despondency

It is a fight you know, putting down despondency. It's not an easy task. I know a few people who have never dealt with it because they have the gift of an abnormal and natural light-heartedness. They just stay happy. That's their normal state and they don't work to be that way. But that's fairly rare I think. Most of us work to stay even, balanced, happy. We work to consider the goodness and kindness of God and to reckon that these present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to the people of Christ (Ro 8:18). And since a person is only one person, consisting of various aspects like mind, emotion, body, and spirit; it is necessarily that we embrace God's good means to knowing the fullest joy. I wrote on this earlier from 1 Ki 18-19. I want to supplement that a bit today and in the days to come. Some of it will overlap with the earlier post. I suggest:

Fellowship: The writer of Hebrews repeatedly stresses the urgent need for the troubled to be together with other believers that they may be encouraged (3:13), and hold fast (3:14), and stirred up (10:23-25). The way we this happens is through assembling ourselves together (10:25) and taking interest in each one another's lives (10:32-38). This works against our shrinking back, and promotes faith to the preserving of the soul (10:39). God does not mean for a person to go through life alone. See also Pr 27:9.

Nature: The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voices are not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth and their utterances to the end of the world (Ps 119 1ff). In other words, God has written some of His glory upon the sky, and in all of His creation (cf Ro 1). The created world points to the Creator, and this is therapeutic when we take to heart what it tells us about Him, and us. It was David, the man after God's own heart, a regular sufferer, who wrote the LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. (Ps 23:1-3a). It's good to get outside.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Even the Strongest are Terribly Weak

 A juniper tree, like the one Elijah sat down under to ask God to kill him

My Old Testament hero Elijah became so depressed that he prayed to die. God had recently granted him a miraculous victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Ki 18). But then Jezebel threatens him, and he runs (1 Ki 19). He was frightened (v3). He had had enough (v4). He was exhausted (v5). And he felt alone in his struggle (v10).

This is the same Elijah whose name means the Lord is my God. He was prophet to Israel and a miracle worker. He received direct revelation from God. He would later appear with Jesus on the mountain where He was transfigured. He would, like Jesus, fast for forty days and be ministered to by angels. And he never died. He wanted to. But God said no. The man who would never die, in the dark days of his life, prayed for death (v4).

I say this to remind the depressed that this dark season of yours ought not be the end. God acts on behalf of the hurting. God was always with Elijah, even through depression and anger. He fed him by the hand of angels, twice. He strengthened him in his exhaustion. He raised people up, like Elisha, to minister to him. He let him know that he was not alone. He didn't kill him when asked to. That's mercy. God told him by an angel, the journey is too great for you (v7). Then in v9, the word of the LORD came to Elijah. At this point Elijah had taken refuge in a cave, but God knew where he was and what frame of mind he was in. He gave him something to do (v11). That seems a little strange. In Elijah's most difficult moments, after meeting his physical needs, God gave him an assignment: Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD. Not much of an assignment. But it got him out of the cave. Precious to Father are His hurting children. When Elijah obeys and is standing in the entrance to the cave, God asks him, What are you doing here Elijah? I think this is an opportunity for Elijah to confess sin, not an opportunity for God to get new information. God can't learn. He's too smart for that. This is like when God comes to Adam in Eden and asks, where are you Adam? 

Notice with me the irrationality of Elijah's fear. He has just witnessed God work for him in wiping out hundreds of Baal prophets. God has been answering his prayers and speaking to him. And now, he's running from Jezebel? Really? I know she's mean and the queen and all, but still. His fear is an unreasonable fear, counter to faith. Like ours.

You can read the whole story for yourself. I just wanted to point out some of this super saint's serious weaknesses and vulnerabilities. God provides a tender but firm response. He dealt gently with him, giving him the physical and emotional lifts he needed. He didn't write him off or discard him. God made us. He knows our brains and bodies and hearts do not always perform properly. At those times He does not abandon us, though He sometimes allows us to feel like He has.

I realize there are some supernatural components to this story that are wholly in the hands of God. He will act in mercy according to His purposes and perform that which we cannot. But there are also some interesting aspects of this story that are, to some degree, within our control. I hope they prove helpful.

1. Elijah felt lowest when he isolated himself (v3f); and a part of God's solution was to get him in the company of others that could help him (v15-21). See Pr 18:1.
2. He needed quality sleep (v5 & 7).
3. He needed quality food and drink (v5-8).
4. He needed to get out of the house. In this case it was a cave (v9 & 13-15).
5. He needed the therapy of physical exercise. He did a lot of walking (v3 & 8 & 15).
6. He kept a prayer life (v4 & 10 & 14). His prayers were not altogether in line with God's will, and at times were sinfully selfish. But they were honest. He did pour out his heart to his God even if that heart was a sinful one. That's really the only kind of praying hearts there are.
7. He obeyed God as he received clear direction (v7f & 11ff & 15ff). He did what he knew to do. Elijah was enjoying a great victory over God's enemies when his life was threatened. He became fearful and that led to despair. The rest of the story is born out of that desperation. I think this means we must be honest with ourselves about what we fear. Fear is an enemy, unless it's the fear of God. So let's ask what we're afraid of; who has the power to hurt us; what am I dreading; from what am I running/hiding?

A person is one unit. Our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual capacities are inter-connected. What touches one touches them all. So it makes sense that a restful sleep and a healthy and tasty meal mixed with a prayer walk would make us feel better. But this means you will need to trust God enough to get out of the cave; to come out of hiding; to cowboy up, as they say. Remember, God resists the proud; but He gives grace to the humble (Ja 4:6). 

Friday, December 10, 2010

The One Thing

"As a belt clings to a person's waist, so I created Judah and Israel (God's old covenant people) to cling to me," says the LORD. "They were to be my people, my pride, my glory--an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me."  -- God, through the Prophet Jeremiah, chapter 13, verse 11.

There is a sense in which I may say that the one thing, the only thing, that God has ever asked of us, is to trust Him. All of the rest (obedience, praise, sacrifice, giving, spiritual growth and maturity, etc) flow from this one thing. Unlike Judah and Israel mentioned above, the redeemed do listen to their Redeemer; and we do believe what He says. That's not complicated, just terribly difficult at times.
Now I assume that someone will want to argue that to love God is the one thing. After all, that's the great commandment of Jesus (Mt 22). But it isn't love that the Bible holds out to us as the one thing that ties us to God savingly and eternally; it's faith. And faith is simply the noun form of the word believe.

What is a Christian's trust of God like? It's like a belt clinging to a person's waist, a belt tied around us, buckled and secure. This is the picture God gives Jeremiah to share with the people. So many people, even professing Christians, can get so bent out of shape over what God asks of us. Our sinful pride bristles against God's commands. We think we know better. How foolishly faithless we can be. But have you considered this command -- Trust Me. How about Come to Me, all of you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest (Mt 11). That's a command. In the Bible, belief in the gospel/trust in Christ, is not offered, it's commanded. It's the one thing we ought to do. Cling to Me, says the LORD. I created you. I know you. I knitted you together in your mother's womb (Ps 139). I love you. I mean to do you good and not evil. I could go on and on and on.

We glorify God when we trust Him. That's the point of Jeremiah 13:11, along with the rest of Scripture; that only by faith are we united to Jesus for salvation, and for a life of glorifying His name.