“Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?”
“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”
“The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them.”
“I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him, because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, One who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted for me, and no moment, therefore, when His care falters.”
“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.
2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”
Isaiah 43:1-2, NLT
“YARNELL, Ariz. (AP) — July 1, an Arizona forest fire into an out-of-control inferno that trapped and killed 19 firefighters, nearly all of them members of an elite crew of “hotshots,” authorities said Monday. It was the nation’s biggest loss of firefighters in a wildfire in 80 years.”
“This is as dark a day as I can remember,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. Firefighters have a dangerous job. They put their lives on the line.
The promises here in Isaiah 43 meant to prepare us, and promise us. Fires burn and consume. Floods keep growing and multiplying. Yet in this world full of fires and floods, we have these promises of His presence in the middle of it all. He intends to be right there when things are going very, very wrong.
And dear broken believer, trials and tribulations are a fact of life for us. Life is often full of badness, but my God, we learn. (Oh, how we learn.) You may be struggling now, but we are being made into something wonderful.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you.” –1 Peter 4:12
No surprises– burning trials– something strange? Hardly, it’s just the life of a saint, as he travels home to heaven. And isn’t heaven is worth just a little temporary pain? (I walk with a cane, so I’ll be behind you a bit.)
The reality is this, the Isaiah verses declare that there will be floods, and rivers to cross, and fires and flames. These are going to happen. But, the Lord does promise that He will walk with you, as your Companion, and Protector.
“It is quite useless knocking at the door of heaven for earthly comfort. It’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.” –C.S. Lewis
We are looking to be given comfortable things, naturally easy things. Like lots of money in our bank accounts, bills paid off. A redesigned kitchen would be nice. And one of those huge refrigerators (big enough to hang a cow in.) A new VW Jetta, maybe. But this is not the comfort that God is supplying us.
You may have to shift things in your thinking. But maybe you have already learned this, and might just need a tiny reminder. There is a definite upside to this– the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is standing at your side, and you will know his true comfort and assistance. It is a promise. And it is yours. (But not the VW, most likely).
1 Lord, my heart is not proud; I don’t look down on others. I don’t do great things, and I can’t do miracles. 2 But I am calm and quiet, like a baby with its mother. I am at peace, like a baby with its mother.
3 People of Israel, put your hope in the Lord now and forever.
Psalm 131, New Century Version (NCV)
The Christian, the struggler, and the mentally ill should become prolific readers of the Psalms.
Some of us will need to take meds, that is true. But the Psalms are pretty much required as well. We diligently need to take a physical dose of our daily medication. For believers, Psalm 131 is a spiritual dose that is just as mandatory, and just as necessary.
This particular Psalm is unique, and deeply insightful. It begins its work in us right at the start; the superscription. “A song for going up to worship,” and it strikes me that a work must happen inside of my heart. It is a preparation that will take me higher, and help me see God more clearly. I need to worship.
Verse 1 states the certain issue we have; it is called ‘pride.’ What David says seems to be a very arrogant and audacious thing to say. There is a truism that you think you’re humble, you’re not. A church once gave an elder a medal for humility. But they had to take it away, because he wore it everywhere. To claim you are suddenly liberated from pride, knowing ears perk up. It is almost always a sign of danger.
Take it at face value, King David states that he has a real contentment with limitations and weakness. It appears that he has been freed from the vicious cycle of needing to be the center of everything, ‘in the mix,’ and very significant. He admits ignorance, and something quite significant works its way into us through this psalm. There exists a definite place where we must renounce “ambition.”
Are you content to be the simple servant now, and delay the accolades and praise until you get to heaven?
Some make themselves, literally sick by the deep dark quest to be important. In verse 2, we connect with some astonishing imagery. A baby! I am like a little baby being held by my mom. It’s not an issue of sophistication, but simplicity . Of having limits, but not applause. How can this be?!
The word in Hebrew, isn’t “baby,” (as in newborn) but baby, but more like a small toddler. A “weaned” child more is a better translation. A weaned child no longer needs his mom’s milk. You can guess that it makes the child more content. He doesn’t fuss, or nuzzle his mothers breast, demanding his food. The child no longer receives his nourishment this way. There is a contentment, a simple desire just to be with mom, just because he wants to. This is a significant step into maturity.
To me, verse 2 is the centerpiece of Psalm 131. OK, let’s apply this spiritually. There was a time when it was necessary for me to have my mother’s milk. I screamed and would throw a terrible tantrum if she didn’t feed me from her breast. I would starve if she didn’t give me her milk. For all practical purposes, it seems we use God to get what we need. But we grow, and become mature.
David is saying that we need to emulate his example.
Now we can come into God’s presence– just to be with Him.
That’s all. So simple. As a child, we just want to be where He is at. We have no ulterior motives, there is no manipulation. We seek His face, and not what is in His hands.
If we rightly connect the dots, we find that we land right back to the opening superscription. This is an amazing concept of worship– the real kind. As a struggler, a rascal and mentally disabled, I must start at the beginning– again and again and again. I have to worship. I can only do this if I become a little boy again. I finally realize I must throw ambition and pride overboard.
“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”
“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”
–Henry Ward Beecher
“If you take care of yourself and walk with integrity, you may be confident that God will deal with those who sin against you. Above all, don’t give birth to sin yourself; rather, pray for those who persecute you. God will one day turn your persecution into praise.”
“bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.”
“Judas came straight to Jesus. “Greetings, Rabbi!” he exclaimed and gave him the kiss.”
Kiss– verb (used with object) 1. to touch or press with the lips slightly pursed, and then often to part them and to emit a smacking sound, in an expression of affection, love, greeting, reverence, etc.: He kissed his son on the cheek.
“A man’s kiss is his signature.”
This singular verse (v. 49) should cause us to pause and think. It is part of an amazing account of the events surrounding the death of Jesus. At this point Judas leans over and kisses him. Now, a kiss can be used when you show affection and commitment for someone. Kisses are like a ‘x-ray’ into your very being, opening and quite revealing.
Judas shows everyone exactly what he is all about. The kisser declares to the kissed the intent and desire of their heart. It also says things to those who witness it.
This kiss of Judas set into motion a whole series of events. But more importantly, this kiss was an evil kiss. We kiss and are kissed. Its the way we tell others of our friendship and fidelity. It has always been so. The mechanics of it all seem a bit odd, when you think about it. Touching lips? (Ok. That’s odd.) But a real kiss goes further, injecting love and esteem and other intangibles into another.
Also, we should understand that a kiss has intense power. The kiss of Judas had this power. It wasn’t done to convey his commitment or affection, rather it was a powerful act of betrayal. Judas had drained this particular kiss of all its goodness and only evil remained.
It very well could be that Judas was attempting to manipulate a sequence of events to allow Jesus to become the messiah/king by force. He may have thought that this was a politically expedient thing to do. Maybe a good thing in his thinking. (But who can know?)
A “Judas kiss” is perhaps the most dastardly way one can be betrayed. It is not real common, but it happens, and it is devastating. Some have told me that it was like having your heart ripped out of your body. Betrayal with a “Judas kiss” is almost always a surprise, coming out of the blue, hitting you when you’re most vulnerable.
The English poet Milton envisioned hell with many levels. The very deepest level is reserved for Satan. Interestingly, Milton puts Judas at the bottom with Satan. They share the punishment of hell together, forever. I guess that this is as awful as it can get. In studying the character and the sin of Judas the following lessons may be brought out:
We must not be surprised if some bad men enter the Church, for even among the twelve was one Judas.
It is no proof that Christianity is untrue when some of its believers prove hypocrites. The defection of Judas did not leave a stain on the name of Christ, nor did it disprove the loyalty and fidelity of the other disciples.
One may be very near to Christ and not be made holy in character. Judas was three years with Christ, heard His words, lived in the atmosphere of His love, and remained unchanged. An empty bottle, hermetically sealed, may lie long in the ocean and continue perfectly dry within. A heart sealed to Christ’s love may lie near Him for years and not be blessed. Only when the heart is opened to receive His grace does closeness to Him change the heart.
Sin grows, and we never can know to what terrible and awful extent a wicked thought or desire may reach. Extrapolated, it has a vast magnitude of evil possibilities and potentialities beyond anything we would have ever dreamed.
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.
There is much I can do before it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7
Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).
Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.
People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)
But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.
“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”
John Henry Newman
Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.