Readings: Philippians 4:4-8; John 13:1-5; I Peter 5:7
We are so very connected in this generation. The trouble is that we get so much bad news so quickly. By text, phone, email, skype, facebook, twitter and plane old TV it comes our way. Too much bad news is discouraging and can be depressing as well. Think about the news that we do get. Here are some examples.
PERSONAL NEWS – one man put a bumper sticker on his car that said: “Eat Right, Exercise, Die Anyway.” The Bible seems to back this up as Proverbs 5:11 says, “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.” A body that doesn’t cooperate is certainly depressing. A lot of personal news we receive is about people who are suffering in various ways.
INCOME TAXES for some people are depressing. I read that in a survey that most Americans would rather be mugged than audited by the IRS. Jesus did say of course, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).
A story about taxes: A little boy wanted $100 badly for a new toy and prayed to the Lord for two weeks but nothing happened. Then he decided to write a letter to the Lord requesting the $100. When the postal authorities received the letter addressed to the Lord they decided to send it to President Bush. The President was so impressed, touched, and amused that he instructed his secretary to send the little boy a $5.00 bill. President Bush thought this would appear to be a lot of money to a little boy. The little boy was delighted with the $5.00 and sat down to write a thank‑you note to the Lord. It said: Dear Lord, Thank you very much for sending me the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, DC and as usual, those jerks deducted $95.
FINANCIAL PROBLEMS create stress too. I often hear voice mails that go like this: “you know what to do”… One man put this message on his answering machine. “Hi. This is John: If you are the phone company, I already sent the money. If you are my parents, please send money. If you are my financial aid institution, you didn’t lend me enough money. If you are my friends, you owe me money. If you are a female, don’t worry I have plenty of money.”
Again the bible seems sympathetic. Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” It is depressing be enslaved by debt. One man commented, “If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a couple of car payments.”
The list goes on. And most of these things have been around for a long long time. Add to this PERSONAL FAILURE and BAD RELATIONSHIPS.
There are some challenges that are really disconcerting however in this generation. A LACK OF PURPOSE is a big one. In the movie Fight Club, Tyler Durden one of the characters played by Brad Pitt says this:
“We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. Our generation has had no Great Depression, no Great War. Our war is spiritual. Our depression is our lives.”
No purpose leads to depression. Purposeless in life is endemic. It’s a huge problem amongst our teenagers – New Zealand at present has the highest suicide rate amongst young men in the OECD countries. It’s no wonder we really area concerned about building good things into the lives of young men in this community.
The Bible reveals this kind of attitude too, as Solomon wrote, “Everything under the sun is meaningless, like chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14). That’s a good reason not to use the bible as a kind of game of chance – opening it up randomly for help – you might land up at that verse! The truth is many Christians feel like life is like chasing the wind.
Strangely PERSONAL SUCCESS can be depressing. Elijah the prophet as an example had the greatest victory in his prophetic ministry, but a few days later was fleeing for his life. He then says: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Legend has it that Alexander the Great wept after he had conquered the world, saying, “There are no more worlds to conquer.” When you finally reach your goal after working hard, you can experience depression. We are not as famous as Alexander the Great! But if the project or job we do becomes more important than who we are in Christ, we will be in trouble.
PESONAL SIN – of course also causes stress and anxiety. A personal struggle with SIN can be depressing. The Bible soberly reminds us in Titus 3:3 – “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.”
Perhaps you are enslaved by an addiction and the struggle never seems to end and its discouraging to battle the same old behaviours. No need to list those – we are all familiar with them!
Here’s a story to lighten things up a bit: A little boy’s mother had just baked some fresh cookies and placed them on the counter to cool. The little boy made the comment to his mother about how good the cookies smelled. The mother told him he was not to eat any of the cookies. A few minutes passed and the mother walked back into the kitchen and caught the little boy eating one of the cookies. She asked for an explanation to which the little boy replied. ” I climbed up on the counter to smell the cookies and my teeth got caught on one.”
If you find yourself constantly sinking your teeth into sin don’t be surprised if you are feeling down or even depressed. The Bible again reflects this reality in the life of David in Psalm 38, “I am troubled by my sin. O Lord do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God.” David’s sin had caused him to be depressed.
DEALING WITH DISCOURAGEMENT AND DEPRESSION
So what is to be done? So many people struggle with an overwhelming sense of discouragement and even depression. Here are some ways through it:
1. Remember who God is.
PRAYER, PRAISE AND WORSHIP IS THE KEY
We’ve seen already that Bible people got depressed: Even Jesus sounded pretty bad in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” (Mark 14:34). He prayed the most intense prayer and of course his disciples fell asleep!
David! Listen to him: Psalm 42:5. “Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him my Saviour and my God.” David knew that the way out of his depths was to worship. Most people think being on their own helps and they isolate themselves. We know that being together with Christians is a better plan! Pray and worship!
Of course a greater example is Paul and Silas singing Hymns at midnight in jail! There is power in praise!
Prayer, praise and worship put things into context, reminding us to see things from God’s perspective. And of course Paul in our reading from Phillipans 4 tells us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (v6)
2. Remember what God says!
SOAKING UP SCRIPTURE filling your life with the Bible is a brilliant solution. The Scripture are HUGELY encouraging as they affirm the faithfulness of God in the darkest situation. Even the most well known passages like Psalm 23 have secret keys that unlock our struggles:
23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The valley of DEEP DARKNESS! Even in the darkness God has promised to be with me!
Soaking up scripture TRANSFORMS our thinking – as we see how faithful God is!
JUST THINK OF JESUS: The ultimate example is Jesus! Success is not necessarily a sign of being on the right track in life! Being on the CROSS in those days was the sign of a curse! The Bible reminds us: Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
But Jesus was on the right track. He was in the right place at the right time. Gethsemane. Before Pilate and Herod. Humiliation and rejection. All exactly right. Dying on the cross – crying out MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME. All perfect obedience.
Again read Philippians and 1 Peter 5:7 to put things into perspective. The Peace of God is promised in Scripture, and also Peter tells us to “cast all our anxiety upon him” for he cares for us!
3. Remember who you are!
Our identity and destiny is in our being children of God and co-heirs with Christ. As children of God we are heirs of his promises. That makes us secure just as Jesus was secure as he faced his crucifixion. He knew exactly who he was and what he was about. Today’s gospel reading helps us to see this. Listen to John 13:1-4
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
4. Remember what He has done!
GET CONNECTED WITH THE PAST. Why do I say this? I have often been branded as a modernist, charismatic, anti-establishment kind of person! People love to brand you of course. I am a traditional person actually. I value the TRADITION handed down to us!
I value the so called “main line” church – which includes the Roman Catholic tradition. What Bible would we have today without the meticulous care of the church through the centuries preserving these sacred pages. I value the reformed tradition. That same mother church needed correction – and the Luthers, Calvins, and other great men of God heard God and spoke a corrective word pertinent for their generation. The Bible! Faith! Grace! These are our foundations! I value the Presbyterian tradition! It is a tradition which has ELDERS govern the church. It’s in joint discernment as a community of overseers that we discern The Lord’s will – it prevents us from being mislead by any one individual.
I value especially what Paul tells us about the tradition – that which he passed down to us: I Corinthians 11 tells us:
(v23) For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, (11:24) and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
The Communion service is the one connection we have with the past! It’s through his death – his blood shed – that we find cleansing, healing, restoration and healing.
More than that we meet with Him and he with us in this special communion. Let’s do that now! We do it together – because we are strengthened by one another – by our joint commitment to each other in community. There is one loaf – one body! We belong – and that gives us courage when we are struggling!
And as you take the bread – hand over to God whatever it is that you need to give to him today. The verse we need to focus on is this one – Phillipians 4:6-7 again:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
May you be free from anxiety and discouragement and may the peace of God guard your hearts and minds!