But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
Matthew 15:23, NLT
This is exceptional. Jesus is always engaging people around him. He teaches and preaches, fully energized by the Holy Spirit. He is a veritable hurricane of goodness and love. He heard every request, and healed every disease. But yet. On this occasion he is completely silent.
The woman’s piteous crying, and begging was seemingly ignored. “If Jesus won’t respond to me, I will go to his followers.” She presses, and cajoles. She falls on her knees. Have you ever seen a person truly beg? It is a very disconcerting experience. Yet, Jesus does nothing, in spite of being able to do all things.
She is a Canaanite; a pagan widow, and her daughter was demonized. Curiously, there was a large heathen temple to Eshmun, the Canaanite god of healing, was just three miles down the road. But her desperate cry was for something real. Something authentic and real that would heal her daughter’s affliction. Only Jesus has what she needs.
Jesus is astonishingly silent. He stands and sees, he hears her cries. She is sobbing, clutching at the disciples robes, disheveled and distressed. It was a desperate scene. Very ugly and very sad.
Jesus responds to his disciple’s plea. Then there is something that seems like a negotiation. A protracted conversation with a ‘seemingly’ reluctant Messiah. It is somewhat disturbing as we listen. Jesus seems to treat her callously. I have always been mystified by this, troubled by his behavior. I can only conclude that what he did was necessary in some way.
But the Son of God sees through this.
And then she makes an incredible statement. Jesus is suddenly amazed at her faith in him. This faith is what he has been waiting to see. She may have known despair, but that isn’t enough. Jesus leads her from the edge. Until she moved to a position of belief, nothing will change. Faith seems to change everything. This is key. It isn’t her words that alters things– it is her heart! At that moment, Jesus declares a healing for her daughter. She is now free from the demon’s grip.
So often I have also felt the pressure from the darkness. I am often embattled and driven into a despair that seems to cripple me. But Jesus is waiting for me, to come to him through an unflinching faith. My good works can never, ever be enough. I’m just like a dog, waiting for food under the table. I have little, if any, decorum or sophistication. There is nothing at all, to commend me to him. Nothing at all.
“Our Lord sometimes yet seems to be silent to His people when they cry to Him. To all their earnest supplications He answers not a word. Is His silence a refusal? By no means. Ofttimes, at least, it is meant only to make the suppliants more earnest, and to prepare their hearts to receive richer and greater blessings. So when Christ is silent to our prayers, it is that we may be brought down in deeper humility at His feet, and that our hearts may be made more fit to receive heaven’s gifts and blessings.”
I have gained much from reading Spurgeon over the years. I read this this morning, and I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking into my soul. I need more of this “peaceful perseverance” working in me.
From Charle Spurgeon’s “Faith’s Checkbook” Wait for the Finals May 11
“Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.”
Genesis 49:19, KJV
(“Gad will be attacked by marauding bands, but he will attack them when they retreat.”)
Some of us have been like the tribe of Gad. Our adversaries for a while were too many for us; they came upon us like a troop. Yes, and for the moment they overcame us; and they exulted greatly because of their temporary victory. Thus they only proved the first part of the family heritage to be really ours, for Christ’s people, like Dan, shall have a troop overcoming them.
This being overcome is very painful, and we should have despaired if we had not by faith believed the second line of our father’s benediction, “He shall overcome at the last.” “All’s well that ends well,” said the world’s poet; and he spoke the truth. A war is to be judged, not by first success or defeats, but by that which happens “at the last.” The Lord will give to truth and righteousness victory “at the last”; and, as Mr. Bunyan says, that means forever, for nothing can come after the last.
What we need is patient perseverance in well-doing, calm confidence in our glorious Captain. Christ, our Lord Jesus, would teach us His holy art of setting the face like a flint to go through with work or suffering till we can say, “It is finished.” Hallelujah. Victory! Victory! We believe the promise.“He shall overcome at the last.”
6 “The Lord your God will change your heartand the hearts of all your descendants, so that you will love him with all your heart and soul and so you may live!”
Deuteronomy 30:6, NLT
8 “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
2 Corinthian 3:18, NLT
Geologists tell us that a lump of coal can be transformed into a diamond. It is not an easy process, and there is little economic value. But it can be done, but with much effort and time. This involves tremendous heat, and incredible pressure.
Something is happening to us and we are being transformed. This is part of God’s plan for us. This takes action on His part, it is a special work of His Holy Spirit. Slowly, bu very surely, “we are becoming.”
Becoming is not an easy process.It is not a skill to be mastered but a new life to be lived. We are called to deny ourselves and bear our cross and follow Him every day. His Spirit comes along side and encourages us to believe God is changing us. We are slowly becoming like Jesus. We are growing “more and more like him.”
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”
We should conclude that God is surely working on us until Jesus returns, or we die. If you are a believer, you can have faith that His work is ongoing. It may seem delayed, or stalled but be assured that you’re His special project and He is not going to give up on you.
This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press —
Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”
Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.
Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.
Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”
A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.
That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”
Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.
Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.
But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.
Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.
Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”
Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.
Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.
People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.
Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com.
For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001 Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632 American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600