Tag Archive: despair


The Crisis

“…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
‭‭I Thessalonians‬ ‭5:18‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to talk about your feelings. David did this. Jesus did too; He is even called “a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief”.

But that’s a lot different than becoming bitter. Bitterness happens when we allow ourselves to believe that the situation that’s made us sad is beyond hope. We cave in to despair, and we resent God (if He’s even paying attention); we ask ourselves how He could let this happen.

We come to a point of crisis; our spiritual direction hangs on the razor’s edge. What will we choose: hope, or despair?

Small steps; it’s the direction that matters. Every small choice establishes us a bit more on one road or the other.

Complaining becomes a bad spiritual habit, and we must fight against it every day. This is why scripture tells us to give thanks in everything. It is a decision to voice our trust in God – even when we don’t understand, even when He seems a million miles away.

Our faith is tested this way all the time. When the sense of His support is taken away will our hearts still point to Him? That is what we are being trained in. The cultivation of good habits takes effort, like any type of exercise.

We are told to “guard our hearts”, and we cooperate with God when we choose thank Him for all. A trusting, thankful spirit honours God and develops us into true followers of Christ.

Advertisements

Enduring Faith

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

How is the heart changed?
When things are good, we tend to kick back and relax. We get lazy, and we start to take things for granted.

But troubles and pains drive us to our knees, exposing our frailty and need of God. We pray.

It’s humbling. Prayer is a request, so first of all we are coming to God on His terms. We look not to ourselves, but to Him for help. It’s a good place to start.

And as we pray, we develop perseverance and character as we wait on Him. The perseverance comes from disciplining ourselves to hope, even when sight seems to say God is absent. And it’s that discipline that builds character, a habit of trust and reliance on God. The waiting on Him is one of the things that changes you.

A moment’s thought tells us this is the only way it could be. It wouldn’t be a trial if things made sense or God’s presence seemed nearby. It’s when the feelings of doubt seem so strong that the decision to trust anyways does its work. It produces the steel God wants to put into our backbones, the character of a heart changed in practical fact.

And I think we need to regard this as the central issue in our lives. We often compartmentalize and regard our faith as a way with dealing with our larger life, merely a coping mechanism of some sort. But if He really is our Lord, then the changing of our hearts is the real issue, and what we go through to get there is merely the means to achieve this. Realizing that our lives are bigger than our circumstances lifts us out of despair and restores perspective.

The poet Keats said “The world is a vale of soul making”. I don’t doubt it.

Healing the Heart

image

“Sorrow is better than laughter, For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.”
‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭7:3‬ ‭

Depending on how you react when sorrow comes makes a difference. You can love better after your heart has been broken; the heart that does not choose despair when loss comes is made larger. It deepens you.

The opposite of despair is hope, and the only real hope is when death itself is defeated, because despair of any sort is always connected to death.

And Christ’s resurrection – and the hope of our own resurrection – is what lies at the very centre of Christianity.

We can let our sorrows make us better. It’s up to us.

Bitter or Better?

image

There’s a fine line between being broken hearted and becoming angry and disillusioned, and I don’t want to cross that line.

What determines how I react when life tests me is where my hope lies. And where is my ultimate hope? What forms the lens through which I will view everything else?

I hope in a Saviour who defeated death, and the degree to which I really believe that affects how I handle life’s ups and downs. Our trials will then improve us, since we have to lean hard on His victory as the bottom line reality of our existence. It trains our hearts in the discipline of trust.

I need to make a point of keeping Him front and centre. It’s a perspective sort of thing. When I step back and see the big picture and what has actually been done for me in Christ, hope returns and all of life looks different.

If we despair, we become bitter, but if we hope, we become BETTER.

Thoughts From The Cancer Ward

A dear friend passed away recently. She faced her cancer with courage, grateful for the good in her life and trusting God even in the face of a fearful disease. She packed as much living as possible into her remaining time, and even though she knew she had mere weeks to live, she acted like someone who expected to live forever.

Palliative wards are solemn places, but there’s also a sort of emotional cleanness to them. All the facades are stripped away, and life in its most elemental form is laid bare; no niceties or airs, but pure, raw existence. It’s one of the most honest places I can think of: the big questions can’t be put off any more. It’s okay to cry.

And… those facing death can view the gospel with unusual clarity. They know, better than any, death as the ultimate humiliation, the running down and undoing of all we are. It declares the cessation of dreams and all we cherish; it is the end of meaning and music, song and beauty. The dying and bereaved can’t put off death’s brutal reality with amusements and distractions; it’s right there in their faces.

And yet, so much hope.

Hope – all hope, if your really think about it – is ultimately connected to freedom from the fear of death. This is why the Resurrection matters. It’s not just a nice story; it is a historical fact declaring that by Christ’s death sin is beaten, and death broken. That our end is not one of futility, but of the triumph of life and all that goes with it: existence has meaning, beauty is real, and we have a reason to live.

And we WILL live. The anticipation of an eternal, physical existence with Christ lies at the very centre of Christian hope. He rose; and because He did, so shall we.

As far as this present life goes, we’re all terminal anyways; it’s just a question of when. They say there’s no atheists in foxholes, but I don’t think the dying are grasping at straws. There’s too much historical evidence for the gospel, too much commonality of experience to dismiss it out of hand. This hope is a very real issue to the dying, and its reality often shines through their last days: perhaps as beacons to those of us who will tarry a few more years.

When Life Hurts

Jesus said to him, “if you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24)

When trouble hits the fan, I have two choices: submit to God’s hand in my life, or despair. 

The Bible says God afflicts us for our good.

In our trials we realize our own inabilities, our lack of faith, our fears. “I believe; help my unbelief”. Perhaps all our difficulties serve to bring us to that point, to make us realize that depending on our own effort (even when we may agree with and pay lip service to grace), we still come up short. It’s not until we really understand our own inability to even trust that we make any real progress. God’s grace dawns, on my heart at least, gradually. It is learned as He disciplines me, and I suspect there is no other way. The first step in trusting is to realize we can’t do it on our own.

But I think the discipline doesn’t so much harden me to the task – to make me more moral and determined to obey – as it teaches me to let go and let His Spirit do the thing. Weakness here equals strength. I have to learn to let go, not just in theory, but in practice, and then He can get to work.

Romans 8 now makes a little more sense: if we don’t have His Spirit in us, we are not His; we can’t be His. It’s not so much a rule as it is a structural necessity: if it’s His Spirit inside that draws me, helps me to pray aright, that loves through me as I learn to step aside and let Him work through me, then it just can’t happen unless actually He resides within. And we can’t receive except by trust, by faith. It’s a slippery concept, because it’s so easy to say we are trusting, and to think we are trusting when we really aren’t. And even when we start to get it, there’s a sort of natural gravity that draws us back into the shadows. We need reminders, and life’s troubles push us back into His arms again and again.

I am by nature religious and dutiful. But that’s no credit to me; perhaps even a hindrance. It’s easy to trust in my own moral performance. 

But trusting in what’s already done… That’s the gospel! And if it’s already done, then we can get excited, rest, and rejoice.

Is there a connection between the power and purity of the early Church and the degree of trial they endured? I don’t doubt it. These extreme trials would surely force them to not trust in themselves: but we live in an affluent, secure age; such radical trust runs against the grain of our time and culture. 

I understand a bit better, I think, those who talk about our utter depravity and how God must do it all. It’s not just that we are culpable; it’s that our nature renders us incapable of obedience – unless He does it in us. It’s ALL him; God is completely everything. He initiates and works through us for His glory and our good.

The upshot of it all is I take credit for nothing at all. It’s God who calls, saves, heals, and helps me to trust. Yet… my free will is somehow still part of the picture: I must yield, get out of the way, rest, trust, and submit to the death of my old nature.

And nothing He does is ultimately frustrated if He is truly sovereign. He uses everything for His glory, which is connected wonderfully to our good.

Expectations

“When I get that job I’ll be content.”
“If I win the lotto I’ll be happy.”
“If only she would marry me!”

What is the one thing that, if you get it, you think would finally satisfy? Where we place our expectations shows us what our first love is.

The problem is that everything here is subject to change. That dream job gets downsized, our bodies age and weaken, loved ones die, and we enter crisis mode.

Mid-life can feel like a dangerous, uncertain time. What it is in fact is a reality check: we finally start to sense how temporary life is. And if we feel there’s nothing more, a sense of despair can start to creep in.

But it’s only when these things are threatened that we turn our expectations to that which doesn’t change. Love and goodness and justice will always be true, and I think we know in our heart of hearts that this is so. And if they are real, they must have an Author, and it’s there our hearts can finally rest. It’s wonderful to find God there, waiting for us, offering real hope.

Bitterness and Despair are two sides of the same coin. When we’re treated unfairly, it’s easy to get bitter. But if one could sum up the feelings bitterness arises from, I think it would be a sense of angry helplessness, of being victimized, and of hopeless frustration. In a word, despair.

But what’s at the root of despair? That everything is hopeless. There’s no sense, no justice, no hope… and in the end, all that awaits is death and futility. Everything runs down; for even the best people, death gets the final word.

And this world is so full of despair, sadness, and injustice.

That’s why the Resurrection matters. It tells us that death does NOT get the final word; that it is a defeated enemy, and that we may know that as Christ rose, so shall we. That in one instance, the physical didn’t stay dead, and the promise is that Jesus was just the first of many (we must never forget that “dying and going to heaven forever” is not what the Bible teaches. It is a temporary place until the redemption of our bodies). We ourselves will live again, and along with eternal life, will see all the wrongs righted, all the tears healed.

And this hope should spill into our daily lives. If we live as those who know death loses in the end, the bumps and bruises of daily life – though real enough – are viewed in a different light, because we expect a different outcome.

The Discipline of Hope

To be honest, a lot of the stress in my life comes of worrying about what people think of me; I want to be thought of as competent, capable at my job and in life. Maybe that’s the thing I have to unlearn: “The fear of man is a snare”.

There is a sorrow comes from a sense of despair; of a sense of worthlessness and futility. Sometimes an unkind or thoughtless word by another (especially if the nerve is already raw) can set off a chain reaction of negative thoughts and feelings, and depression ensues.

Yet what is, at the bottom, behind everything the Bible teaches? That value is real, that what God makes is good (and that He made us), and that because He values us, despair is not an option. It is supremely a declaration of hope.

Read Psalm 77. The writer talks about feeling abandoned and forgotten, then reminds himself to remember the deeds of The Lord; His past deliverances and blessings, and a determination to meditate on His past blessings.

Likewise, I believe that hope is an attitude we can learn; a spiritual discipline we can cultivate and encourage ourselves in. We need to fill ourselves with what the Bible teaches us; to read it, think about what it says to our hearts.

So must I do.

Mid-Life Angst

Last night I went to bed because I was bored. Nothing appealed to me, and I just wanted to check out. I wasn’t even that sleepy.

Sometimes I feel there’s nothing left to dream about, nothing to look forward to. When our dreams are threatened or remain unfulfilled, we encounter a mood not uncommon to (especially) those entering mid-life.

This can uncover where our centre really lies. I’ll give an example.

Those who know me are aware that I love to fly, and I did learn do that. I’ve been crazy about airplanes since I was around 6 years old and (interestingly enough) this arose about the same time I first started thinking about God.

Those who know me better know that I’ve always wanted to build an airplane. I’ve doodled a million pictures of the Airplane I Was Going To Build When I Grow Up. But now, at 57, that dream is looking less achievable than ever, and this is taking some of the tang out of life.

Someday… but I’m running out of somedays. Even if I do get around to building it, give me 20 or 30 years and I’ll be too old to fly my creation anyways. I’ll have to let it, and everything go sooner or later.

No wonder they call it a Mid-Life Crisis. By the it rolls around, most of us have run out of the money and time to keep ourselves distracted with more noise, toys and activities. Finally the big questions elbow their way into our lives, and what we see scares us.

There’s a scripture that’s been on my mind a lot lately, and it’s found in 1 Corinthians 4:16: “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” We are aware of our mortality, but if we are Christians, we know there’s something more.

Well, my outward man is definitely perishing, in spite of my best efforts to the contrary. The fact is, I’m going to die some day, even if every moment until then is just filled with sunshine and happiness. Everything is running down.

But if Christianity is true, this life is in fact more of a preparation than anything else; it’s just the preface to the story of my real life. Some people would suggest that as a Christian, I’m just self-medicating with thoughts of eternal bliss, a sort of a “pie-in-the-sky” mentality. But as C.S. Lewis once said, there’s either pie in the sky or there is not; and there is plenty of evidence that there is far more to life than the 70 odd years that we experience down here. Lewis goes on to suggest that we have longings because they are meant to be fulfilled; that a desire indicates the existence of that which can meet the need. If I’m hungry, there is food. I want to fly: there are airplanes and the intelligence to build and fly. We long for justice: there is moral truth. I long for ultimate fulfillment, for meaning and eternal life: there is God, and the prospect of eternity with Him. This is where we are to invest our hearts, where we are to lay up treasure.

I want to pour my life into the pursuit of God, to know Him and to be known by Him. Part of me has always known this is so, but as I get older, the choice is plainer. He satisfies, calms, and reassures; and even when my feelings rebel, I can choose to just rest in Him.