How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 9

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ I Kings 19:15a, 18

Remember how Elijah felt in verse 14? “Lord, Your people don’t care about You and I’m the only one left who does. I’m the only one left standing for what is right! I’m the only one left trying to serve You and that’s very discouraging.” Do you ever feel like that? Alone, afraid, and angry?

Then God has to tell us what He told Elijah –15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus… 18 Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ “ (I Kings 19:15a, 18). Circle the word “Go.” God is saying, “Get moving. Don’t sit in the cave of life feeling sorry for yourself. There is more to be done and I am doing things you don’t even know about that will encourage you and help you.”

This leads to our final step out of the pit of discouragement: GET MOVING, KNOWING WE DON’T HAVE THE WHOLE PICTURE (I Kings 19:15a, 18). We don’t have to have the whole picture to move out for God. God has a journey for us to take…a course for us to follow. He is inviting us to step out in faith, believing He is already at work behind the scenes to prepare the way for us.

Jesus Christ wants to lift us out of our pit of discouragement. He can help us; He can change us; He can heal us of discouragement. We don’t have to go through life being controlled by our emotions. Our emotions are controlled by our thoughts, and even though we cannot directly control our feelings, we can control what we think about with God’s help. We can choose to change our thoughts.

This is what Jesus is saying in John 8:31-32: “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’”The opposite of truth is falsehood or lies. The Lord Jesus wants to change our false beliefs that can keep us enslaved to harmful habits, hurts, and hang-ups, including discouragement.

I’d like to share some lies that have contributed to discouragement in my life along with the truth that is setting me free from them:

Lie: I am alone and unloved.

Truth: I am not alone or unloved. I am loved and cherished by the Creator of the Universe.

Scripture: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” Psalm 27:10

Lie: If somebody criticizes me, it means I’m worthless.

Truth: If somebody criticizes me, it is an opportunity for me to grow.

Scripture: “Princes also sit and speak against me, but Your servant meditates on Your statutes.Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.” Psalm 119:23-24

Lie: I  must be loved and accepted by everybody to be fulfilled in life.

Truth: It does not matter what other people say or think about me, what matters is that God always loves and accepts me.

Scripture:  “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’ ” Jeremiah 31:3

Lie: I cannot admit any area of weakness; I have to be perfect or else I’m a failure.

Truth: It is good enough to do my best for Jesus, and not be perfect.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Colossians 3:23

Lie: God is against me.

Truth: God is for me and not against me.

Scripture: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Lie: I could never be forgiven.

Truth: I am totally forgiven in Christ.

Scripture: 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Lie: I am an unacceptable person.

Truth: I am totally accepted in Christ.

Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1a

“To the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” Ephesians 1:6

Lie: I do not have what it takes.

Truth: Through Christ who strengthens me I do have what it takes.

Scripture: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

These are the kinds of lies that cause discouragement. Jesus knew the importance of correct thinking when He said, “31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him,  ‘ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32). The more we “abide” or remain in Christ’s word, the more we will know the truth which can deliver us from the lies that can enslave us to discouragement.

You can change. How do you start? By beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This doesn’t automatically cure all of your discouragement, but without Christ in your life you have no lasting power to change. He wants to be a part of your life, and if you will receive Him by faith, He will come into your life to help you start climbing out of the pit of discouragement.

To help us understand our need for Christ, we need to understand that the Bible makes it clear that all of us have sinned against God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Our sin separates us from God Who alone is perfect and righteous. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a). By sinning with our thoughts, words, and actions, we have earned death. The word “death” in the Bible means separation. This means we all deserve to die and be separated from God forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). I think you will agree that is bad news.

“But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b). Notice that eternal life is not through our religion, our good life, or prayers. Eternal life is “through Jesus our Lord.” God sent His Son Jesus to take our punishment on the cross and rise again so we could receive everlasting life as a free gift by believing or trusting in Jesus alone (John 3:16; I Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). The word “believe” in the New Testament means to be convinced that something is true and then trust or depend upon.

Jesus is inviting you to believe or trust in Him alone for His gift of forgiveness and everlasting life, not your good life or religion or prayers. If you are ready to believe or trust in Christ alone for His free gift of eternal life, you can tell God this through prayer. Praying this prayer does not get you to heaven. Only trusting in Christ gets us to heaven. Praying this prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son, Jesus Christ, to get you to heaven now.

Prayer:  Dear God, I come to you as a sinner. I cannot save myself. I believe You died on the cross for all my sins and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my religion, or my prayers), to forgive all my sins and give me the gift of eternal life. Thank You for the forgiveness and everlasting life that I now have. Thank You for coming to live inside me through the Holy Spirit. And thank You for the assurance I now have a future home in heaven with You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When you trusted in Christ for everlasting life, the Bible says Jesus gave you everlasting life (John 3:16; 10:28). How long does eternal life last? 5 minutes? 5 years? 5 million years? Or forever? Eternal life is forever! It never ends. And it begins the moment you believe in Jesus. Christ now lives inside you through His Holy Spirit and He wants to give you the power to live for Him now (John 7:37-39; Romans 8:9, 11; Galatians 2:20). Jesus in you can enable you to say “No” to Satan’s lies and “Yes” to God’s truth as you learn to trust and obey His Word. He can empower you to climb out of the pit of discouragement and help others to do the same.

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, I recommend downloading our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about. This will help you grow in your relationship with Jesus and with those you love.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 8

15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.’” I Kings 19:15-16

Twice God asked Elijah what he was doing in the cave (I Kings 19:9, 13). This stresses Elijah’s need to talk and change his perspective. But look at Elijah’s response the second time God asks this question. “And he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.’ ” (I Kings 19:14). Notice that Elijah’s response is no different than his first response.He still feels angry, alone, and afraid.

How does God respond to this? 15 Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17 It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill.” (I Kings 19:15-17). God doesn’t seem to address Elijah’s answer. Why? Doesn’t He care? Yes, He cares so much that He wants Elijah to go beyond sharing his feelings to sharing his life with others. God gives Elijah a new job to do which gives him a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

From this interaction we learn the next step to take to climb out of the pit of discouragement: LET GOD GIVE US A NEW DIRECTION (I Kings 19:14-17). God put Elijah back to work. He did not give Elijah a big dramatic assignment like on Mt. Carmel. He gave him a smaller assignment designed to renew his sense of hope that God can still use him. He was to anoint two kings who would wipe out his antagonists and Elisha who would take over his role as prophet. 

Through these three men God would complete the purge of Baal worship that Elijah had begun. Actually Elijah did only the last of these three directly, but he did the other two indirectly through Elisha, his protégé. Elisha was involved, though strangely, in Hazael’s becoming Aram’s king (2 Kings 8:7-14) and one of Elisha’s associates anointed Jehu (2 Kings 9:1-3).” 1

When we are discouraged, we need to know that God is not done with us. Also, the quickest way to defeat discouragement is to quit sitting around in self-pity and start helping others. This gets our eyes off ourselves and onto to those who need our help. If we are constantly looking at ourselves and our problems, we are going to get discouraged. But if we are going to climb out of the pit of discouragement, we must get involved in helping other people.

God encourages us when we are discouraged so we may encourage others when they find themselves in the pit of discouragement. The Bible says, 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Who better to minister to someone who is depressed than someone who has battled depression? God does not waste our experiences. He will use them to equip us to minister to others.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank You for caring about us enough to help us go beyond sharing our feelings to sharing our lives with others. You are an amazing God who uses our struggles to equip us to minister to others with similar struggles. Thank You for not giving up on Elijah when He was at the bottom of the pit of discouragement. And thank You for not giving up on us. Help us to move beyond self-pity to sacrificial service for others. Please lead us to those who need encouragement. And when You do, show us the best way to bless them. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary History, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Location 6246.  

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 7

11 And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” I Kings 19:11-12

We are learning from the prophet Elijah, how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. For this to happen, we must …

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Not compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

– Take care of our physical needs (I Kings 19:5-7a).

– Accept God is not done with us yet (I Kings 19:7b).

– Pursue the Lord (I Kings 19:8).

– Give our frustrations to the Lord (I Kings 19:9-10).

After Elijah poured out his feelings of anger, fear and loneliness to the Lord, did God condemn him or judge him for feeling that way? Let’s take a look. 11 Then He said, ‘Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.’ And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (I Kings 19:11-12).

Why did God do this? Because Elijah had lost perspective. His focus was on the problem instead of the Problem-Solver. He had more faith in Jezebel’s power than he did in God’s power. So Elijah had to be shown the power of God. But God’s power was not in the forces of nature. It was not in the wind or in the earthquake nor in the fire as impressive as these natural phenomena were. God’s power was in a gentle whispering voice for which Elijah had not stopped to listen.

The quiet whisper of God’s Word was so powerful it changed Elijah’s focus and it can do the same for you and me. “So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” (I Kings 19:13). “Elijah covered his face because he realized that He could not look at God and live (v. 13), as Moses also realized (Exod. 33:20-22; cf. Gen. 32:30). Elijah was to learn that whereas God had revealed Himself in dramatic ways in the past, He would now work in quieter ways.” 1 God never changes, but His methods do.

What this tells us is we need to GET A FRESH AWARENESS OF GOD (I Kings 19:11-13a). One word from God is more powerful than all the nuclear weapons the world can muster. One word from God created the universe and one whisper could turn it to dust. God is in control no matter how big the problem and no matter how inadequate we are.

When Elijah heard the whisper of God’s voice, he learned the greatest lesson of all: NO MATTER HOW DISCOURAGED YOU ARE, GOD IS NEVER DISCOURAGED. He is never worried. He has the universe in the palm of His hand.

If God were to ask you, “What are you doing here?” how would you answer Him? Would you complain to God like Elijah did? God will meet you where you are at just as He did with Elijah. If you are discouraged, take your Bible and a notebook and go to a quiet place. Get alone with God and listen to His voice as you read your Bible. Just let God love on you and speak to you. Let Him meet your needs, and let yourself feel His presence. There is no greater antidepressant than communication and fellowship with the Lord. Like a sponge, God wants us to soak up His love and grace in His presence. Will you take time to do that today?

Prayer: Lord God Almighty, we come into Your presence needing a fresh awareness of who You are. As fallible human beings, it is easy for us to become so focused on our own problems that we lose perspective. When our world seems to be out of control, we assume that You are either out of control or You do not care. Neither conclusion is true. Forgive us for projecting our own thoughts and feelings onto You. Right now as we take some deep breaths, we ask You to speak to us, Lord. Please give us fresh insights from Your Word that will calm our anxious hearts and strengthen our faith in You. We give everything and everyone to You, Lord God. We surrender our problems to You, trusting that You will bring good out of them just as You promised (Romans 8:28). In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on I Kings, 2015 Edition, pg. 76.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 6

And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” I Kings 19:9

After his incredible victory on Mt. Carmel the prophet Elijah descended into the pit of discouragement following a death threat from wicked Queen Jezebel (I Kings 18:20-19:2). In response to Jezebel, Elijah isolated himself in the wilderness and asked God to take his life (I Kings 19:3-4). Although Elijah had plunged into the depths of discouragement, God had not given up on him. The Lord was slowly bringing His prophet up out of this pit of discouragement by providing rest and food for him through an angel (I Kings 19:5-7a). But Elijah also needed to spend time in the Lord’s presence to get back up on his feet, so the Lord gave him a journey to take to Mt. Horeb about 200 miles away.

After traveling forty days and nights on foot, Elijah arrived at Mt. Horeb “and there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ ” (I Kings 19:9). What method of communication does the Lord use here? A question. Why does the Lord ask a question He already knows the answer to? To get Elijah to share his feelings.

And Elijah answered truthfully: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10). Elijah is saying, “Lord, I’m angry. I’m the only one serving You among Your people. The rest don’t care about You. I’m all alone and I’m afraid they’re going to kill me!” God was not shocked by Elijah’s feelings. He allows His prophet to let off steam. This is our next principle for climbing out of the pit of discouragement: GIVE YOUR FRUSTRATIONS TO THE LORD (I Kings 19:9-10). Verbalizing our feelings can clarify our thinking. Stuffing emotions can distort our spiritual perspective.

There are at least six emotions that Elijah has been feeling since Jezebel threatened his life:

– Fear: “And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life.” (I Kings 19:3a).

– Hopelessness: “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life…’ ” (I Kings 19:4a).

– Guilt: “… for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4b).

– Anger/Resentment: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword.” (I Kings 19:10a).

Loneliness: “I alone am left.” (I Kings 19:10b).

Worry: “and they seek to take my life.” (I Kings 19:10c).

When we combine fear, hopelessness, guilt, anger/resentment, loneliness and worry, and keep them all pent up inside us, we are asking for discouragement! So God draws these pent up emotions out of Elijah by asking a question. He says, “Elijah, what’s frustrating you? What’s eating you up?”

When we are discouraged, this is exactly what we need to do – give our frustrations to the Lord. Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught that feelings are wrong. “Good Christians do not feel afraid, angry, depressed, hopeless, lonely, resentful, or worried,” they are told. Or worse, they are taught that their feelings are actually demons. “You have a demon of fear… anger… depression… guilt… hopelessness… loneliness… resentment or worry.” Their feelings are spiritualized by well-intentioned, but misguided believers.

What these misconceptions have done is keep Christians from healing their wounds. God knows that we must feel to heal. This is why He recorded the writings of King David in the Psalms. Even though King David was an adulterer and a murderer, God still assessed his life “as a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22). What was it about this man that led God to speak so highly of him? I believe one reason God said this about David is because he was very honest and open before the Lord. And God was so impressed with David’s honesty and vulnerability in the Psalms that He refers to him as a man after His own heart.

How can we give our frustrations to the Lord? Like David, we need to talk to the Lord about them. If you are not sure how to verbalize your feelings to the Lord, pray some of the Psalms back to God that express…

– Anger/Resentment (Psalm 4, 5, 6, 10, 13, 17, 35, 37, 42, 52, 54, 58, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 137, 140)

– Fear (Psalm 3, 4, 9, 16, 23, 27, 31, 32, 34, 46, 56, 62, 91, 112, 118, 121)

– Grief/Sadness (Psalm 6, 23, 25, 30, 42, 59, 61, 86, 116, 118, 147)

– Guilt (Psalm 25, 32, 25, 40, 51, 85, 86, 103, 130

– Hopelessness (Psalm 5, 25, 27, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40, 42, 43, 46, 52, 57, 60, 62, 65, 71, 91, 94, 108)

– Loneliness (Psalm 17, 23, 25, 27, 39, 68, 73, 102, 142, 147)

– Worry (Psalm 4, 9, 16, 23, 25, 27, 31, 34, 40, 42, 46, 55, 56, 61, 62, 84, 91, 94, 103, 112, 116, 121, 139, 145)

You may want to write down your prayers to God which can help you release your emotions to Him. Carrying unprocessed feelings inside us can contribute to our discouragement and stress.

Early in life, our brains discerned if the world was safe or dangerous. If our brains determined that the world was dangerous, it created protective personalities to keep us from being hurt. So instead of learning to trust others and God, we concluded that we did not need God or others to avoid being hurt. Our tendency is to avoid taking risks and being vulnerable before God and other people. But this only leads to more discouragement and stress.

God understands this and He wants to set us free from these protective walls we have created for ourselves. We can learn from Elijah the importance of giving our frustrations to God. We do this by being vulnerable before Him. The Bible tells us, “Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8). We can trust the Lord with our feelings because He is “a refuge for us.” He is safe to be transparent and vulnerable with. He is benevolent and understanding. He sympathizes with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for asking Elijah what he was doing in that cave. Elijah’s response showed that he needed to release all the pent up emotions he had been carrying since Queen Jezebel threatened his life. Like Elijah, we can stuff our emotions down inside us and experience discouragement and distress as a result. Lord, please show us if there is anything in our lives that we need to release to You. You already know the feelings we have and You are eager to hear us talk to You about them. How we feel does not change Your love for us. Some of us have learned to avoid our feelings because it was not safe to identify them or share them with others when growing up. Help us see that we are safe in Your presence now. We can be vulnerable before You with our emotions just like Elijah was. In the gracious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.  

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 5

“So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” I Kings 19:8

We are learning from the prophet Elijah, how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. For this to happen, we must …

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Not compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

– Take care of our physical needs (I Kings 19:5-7a).

– Accept God is not done with us yet (I Kings 19:7b). 

After the angel of the Lord awakened Elijah again and informed him that God had a “journey” for him to take,he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.” (I Kings 19:8). Just as Elijah needed food and rest, he also needed time in God’s presence.

Moses and the Israelites had traveled in that wilderness for 40 years, sustained by the manna God had provided for them and learned lessons of His faithful care and provision. Now Elijah would traverse the same desert for 40 days and … nights, sustained by the bread God provided and would learn the same lessons. A direct trip from Beersheba to Mount Horeb (the ancient name for Mount Sinai; cf. Ex. 3:1; 17:6; 33:6; Deut. 5:2; 1 Kings 8:9; Ps. 106:19; Mal. 4:4) would have taken Elijah only about 14 days on foot (a distance of ca. 200 miles). God was reminding him and teaching him during those 40 days and nights. Finally He went to the mountain of God, the very place where God had revealed Himself to Moses and the Israelites and where He had entered into a covenant with His Chosen People.” 1

Remember Elijah’s attitude in verse 4? He was ready to die, but now we see him doing what God wants him to do. He moves toward God. This is the fifth step to take to climb out of the pit of discouragement – PURSUE THE LORD (I Kings 19:8). Pursuing the Lord is one of the hardest things to do when we are overwhelmed with discouragement, but it is an important part of climbing out of this pit.

The Bible tells us, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). We must take the first step. God will not force His way into our lives without an invitation. We must open our hearts to Him. People are opening their hearts to all kinds of false hopes instead of to the Lord, our true source of hope.

We can draw near to God through prayer, praise, and obedience. The key is to be open and honest with the Lord. The apostle John writes, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7). Notice that this verse says, “If we walk in the light.” Only God is light (I John 1:5); but we are called to walk “in” the light. We must be willing to let God expose the sin in our lives. And when He does, we are to agree with Him by confessing our sin to Him (I John 1:9). Believers who “walk in the light” are not sinless, but the light reveals their sin to them so they can confess it to the Lord. When that happens “we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

When holy people see themselves in God’s light, they see their dirt. And when they see the dirt, they want God to deal with it—something he is delighted to do. Only as we live fully exposed to the truth of God is the ongoing cleansing work of the blood of Christ activated to reveal, cleanse, and empower us to address the sin that has been exposed. Then fellowship with God is maintained and expanded.” 2

God has pursued us all our lives, but He also wants us to pursue Him. Let’s take some time to do that, especially when we are discouraged. It may not feel comfortable at first, but the Lord will not disappoint if we will take that first step toward Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when I think about Elijah’s decision to move toward You by taking his journey to Mt. Horeb, I wonder what lessons You taught him as he traveled 40 days and nights? Did Elijah take time to observe the birds of the air in the wilderness? Was he reminded by those birds that You care far more for him than the birds You daily feed (Matthew 6:26)? Was he refreshed by the cool breeze under the shade of the trees? Did he feel the warmth of Your presence along the way? You gave Your prophet the strength he needed to make this trip. Giving Elijah this journey must have renewed his sense of purpose and usefulness. Perhaps his sense of anticipation of good from You increased with each step he took along the way toward Mt. Horeb. Lord God, please help each of us to take that first step toward You; to open our hearts and minds to You knowing that You are the God of second chance Who delights in spending time with His children no matter how discouraged they have been. Our discouragement is no surprise to You. You love us regardless of our emotional condition. And like You did with Elijah, You also give us the strength to pursue You when we choose to do so. Thank You, Father, for being so good and gracious to us. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, The Bible Knowledge Commentary History, Editors John F. Walvoordand Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), Locations 6218-6223.  

2. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 2334.

How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 3

“Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’” I Kings 19:5

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. Elijah had quickly descended from the mountaintop of victory on Mt. Carmel into the bottom of the pit of discouragement after he encountered resistance from wicked Queen Jezebel (I Kings 18:20-19:2).

Like Elijah, we can climb out of the pit of discouragement when we…

– Focus on the facts, not our feelings (I Kings 19:1-4a).

– Don’t compare ourselves with others (I Kings 19:4b).

The next step to take toward climbing out of the pit of discouragement is to TAKE CARE OF OUR PHYSICAL NEEDS (I Kings 19:5-7a). How did God respond to Elijah’s discouragement? Did He slay him under the tree? Did He scold him for being cowardly? Did He lead him in a Bible study or quote verses to him? Did He say, “Snap out of it Elijah! Just pull yourself together?” Did the Lord rebuke any evil spirits? No. God did not do any of these things. What did the Lord do?

We read, 5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, ‘Arise and eat.’” (I Kings 19:5-7a). God let Elijah sleep and then provided a meal for him, not once, but twice. Think how much God’s prophet must have needed this! He had just faced off with 450 prophets of Baal (the male god) and perhaps 400 prophets of Asherah (the female goddess) on Mt. Carmel and eventually executed them all (I Kings 18:19, 22, 40)! He also ran from Mt. Carmel to the entrance of Jezreel (I Kings 18:46) which would have been about twenty-five miles! This would have left Elijah physically and emotionally exhausted.

Notice how tenderly God dealt with Elijah. The Lord knew what His servant needed. He did not put him down or condemn him; all God did was give him food and rest. God restored him physically. The Lord took care of Elijah’s physical needs. Even though God used His prophet in supernatural ways, he was still human and needed to sleep and eat after such an exhausting encounter on Mt. Carmel.

When we are physically and emotionally exhausted, we are more prone to discouragement. Mole hills can easily become mountains in our eyes when we are fatigued. During these times it is important to be aware of our physical and emotional needs. Maybe we need to watch our diet or we need to get more sleep or exercise. Our physical health has a profound impact on our moods.

The average person needs about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. 1 We need time to dream in order to maintain our mental health. Adults dream twenty minutes out of every ninety minutes of sleep,  but they don’t remember them unless they wake up during the dream. Three nights without dreaming will cause most people to get discouraged. Dreams are God’s way of allowing us to vent our unconscious feelings and conflicts. People who are properly rested are less likely to be overcome by discouragement.

When was the last time you had uninterrupted solitude with the Lord? Your main goal was to rest in the Lord’s presence? Sometimes getting away to rest in the Lord is the most spiritual thing a Christian can do, especially if you are emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.  

Tony Evans writes, Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is get some sleep. We need the reminder that we are created beings; we’re not God. The fact that we need rest is a reminder that we are dependent on the one who ‘does not slumber or sleep’ (Ps 121:4).” 3

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, sometimes we can become so focused on serving You that we forget to pay attention to our own physical and emotional needs. When You use us in supernatural ways, we can forget that we are still human and neglect our most basic needs. Thank You for reminding us that You do not need to sleep, but we do. You know our needs far better than we do. Please help us to be aware of our basic needs and care for them because You care for us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Retrieved on August 5, 2021 from Eric Sunl’s article updated March 10, 2021, entitled, “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” at sleepfoundation.org.

2. Adapted from my Introduction to Psychology and Counseling: Christian Perspectives class taught by Drs. Frank Minirth and Paul Meier at Dallas Theological Seminary, 1983-1984.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1599.

How can Jesus’ resurrection make a difference in our daily lives? Part 3

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ ” John 20:15a

We are learning how the empty tomb of Jesus challenged the life of Mary Magdalene (John 20:1-18) and provides ways to make a difference in our daily lives. So far we have discovered that Jesus’ resurrection can make a difference in our daily lives by…

– Dispelling the darkness in our lives with the light of His resurrection (John 20:1).

– Providing evidence of His resurrection for our minds (John 20:2-9).

Today we see that Christ’s interaction with Mary Magdalene PROVIDES ANSWERS FOR OUR HEARTS (John 20:10-15a).  John may have been the first to believe Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:8), but Mary was the first to see the resurrected Lord (John 20:10-15a). Some students of the Bible refer to this as the greatest recognition scene in all of literature – Mary seeing Jesus unexpectedly. The incredible thing about this scene is Mary does not recognize Jesus at first.

“Then the disciples went away again to their own homes. But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.” (John 20:10-11). After Peter and John returned to their homes, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb. She was weeping outside the tomb, stricken with grief over the death of Jesus and the confusion about His missing body. As she wept, she looked into the tomb.

“And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” (John 20:12). Even though angels had announced to Mary on a previous visit that Jesus had risen (cf. Luke 24:5-6), Mary still did not understand because grief had overtaken her.

“Then they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’ ” (John 20:13). These angels do not announce the resurrection of Jesus, instead they express amazement at her sorrow. “Woman, why are you weeping?” Christ’s resurrection was the least appropriate time for tears. But Mary did not understand that Jesus was alive!If she had believed the previous announcement of the angels that Jesus had risen, she would not be weeping. But overcome with grief, Mary wants to know where Jesus’ body has been taken. She had come to the tomb to complete the burial of Jesus, but even that had been taken away from her.

Look at what happens next. “Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.” (John 20:14). “The fact that He appeared to Mary rather than to Pilate or Caiaphas or to one of His disciples is significant. That a woman would be the first to see Him is an evidence of Jesus’ electing love as well as a mark of the narrative’s historicity. No Jewish author in the ancient world would have invented a story with a woman as the first witness to this most important event. Furthermore, Jesus may have introduced Himself to Mary first because she had so earnestly sought Him. She was at the cross while He was dying (John 19:25), and she went to His tomb early on Sunday morning (20:1).” 2

Why didn’t Mary recognize Jesus? Two possible reasons why Mary could not see the risen Jesus:

Her TEARS. She couldn’t see Jesus through her tears. When the Bible says she was “weeping” [klaíō, κλαίω] (20:11, 13), it is not talking about a little tear making its way slowly down her cheek. It is a word for wailing or “weeping vehemently.” The tears were streaming down her face and had blurred her vision. We see in Mary someone with a broken heart after all she had been through. Because of those tears she couldn’t see Jesus. The second reason she did not recognized Jesus was…

Her FOCUS. It all has to do with her sight. She couldn’t see Jesus because she was focused more on the empty tomb in front of her than the resurrected Lord who was right behind her. She is peering into this empty tomb trying to find the resurrected Lord when He is standing right there ready to give her hope.

Some erroneously conclude that Mary did not recognize the risen Lord Jesus because it was a different person than Jesus. There is nothing in the biblical text to substantiate this. The same Jesus Who died is the same Jesus Who rose from the dead (see I Corinthians 15:1-8). Over five hundred eyewitnesses attest to this fact.

The empty tomb is a great thing, but it is the resurrected Lord we really worship. We don’t worship a tomb. We don’t worship a place. We worship the living Lord Jesus. Anytime we allow ourselves to focus more on some tradition, some place, some ritual and we get our eyes off the resurrected Lord, we start to lose hope. So Mary did not see the risen Lord at first because of her tears and her focus.

What happened to Mary can also happen to us. There are times in our lives when the resurrected Lord Jesus is right there in front of us and He wants to give us hope, but we don’t see Him because our emotions have blinded us or we have lost focus. It is easy today to loose focus on the Person of our risen Lord Jesus because of the impact the coronavirus is having on our lives. Large portions of the world’s population are confined within their homes and apartments, hoping they won’t be added to the statistics that are tracking this deadly pandemic. As I am writing this, there have been over 161.5 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 3.3 million people have died so far. There will undoubtedly be tens of thousands of additional deaths before it is all over.

Mary is asked two questions by Jesus to help her find the answers her heart needed. The first question is “Why are you weeping? (John 20:15a). Mary’s heart is broken after all she has been through. She sees the cross and Jesus taken to the cross. She sees Him taken to the tomb and buried. Now three days later, she comes back to the tomb and thinks His body has been stolen. Because of this, she is deeply hurt. She is crying.

Some of us may feel like Mary did. Your dreams are at a dead end like Mary’s were. Or maybe our expectations take a total U-turn from what we thought was going to happen. Or the support that we have been depending on in our lives crumbles from beneath us. We know exactly the kind of feelings Mary felt at the tomb. Jesus is asking us, “What is making you hurt?” That is what Jesus was asking Mary and now He is asking us. “What is it that is making you hurt?”

Mary is so much like us. She reminds us so much of what we need when we hurt so deeply – to listen and realize that Jesus cares about the fact that we hurt, that He cares about the struggles we have been going through in our lives. For Mary, her hurt was keeping her from seeing God’s hand at work in her life. That can happen to me and to you. God does not want our hurt to keep us from seeing that He is at work in our lives. Jesus Christ is alive.

Martin Luther who started the Lutheran Church and pioneered the reformation, was obviously not a perfect person any more than the rest of us. But he had quite a wife. One day he was in a deep depression over something that had gone wrong. On the third day of his depression, his wife came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. He asked her “Who’s dead?” Luther’s wife said, “God is dead.” He said, “What do you mean God’s dead? God can’t die!” His wife says to him, “I just thought He had died considering the way you’ve been acting the last three days.” 5

We can sometimes act like Martin Luther. Sometimes we act like Jesus isn’t alive. Yes, our world has drastically changed because of COVID-19. We are more restricted than ever before. But what is more important? That, or the fact that Jesus is alive and guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Him (John 11:25-26)? Maybe some person offended you at work. What’s more real? That or the fact that Jesus is alive? Maybe you did not get something that you wanted to get. What’s more real? The fact you didn’t get something you wanted to get or that Jesus has a life for me in eternity? 

But Mary is just like us. The little things hurt us not to mention the big things. Those little things grow into bigger things. For Mary this was the biggest hurt she had ever faced. Jesus came to her and said, “Why are you weeping?” He asks us that question too. He wants to know because the resurrected Jesus Christ has an answer for our hurt. He has a hope. That’s what the resurrection is all about.

Then He asks her a second question: “Whom are you seeking?”  (John 20:15b). It is significant that Jesus asked Mary “whom” (tina) rather than “what” (ti) she was looking for. As one commentator says, “She was looking for a corpse whereas she should have been seeking a person.” 7

Jesus’ questions had to do with her tears and her focus. Why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? As I read the Bible, I have noticed that God has the habit of asking great questions. The first question that God asks in the Bible, back in the book of Genesis, after Adam sinned. Adam is hiding behind the bushes in the Garden of Eden and God comes into the garden and asks, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). That’s a great question. God knew that Adam was behind the bushes. That wasn’t what the question was all about. “Where are you, Adam, in relation to Me? How come you are not having fellowship with Me? How come you’re not close to Me?”

God asks great questions. Jesus Christ was in the habit of asking great questions. At the feeding of the four thousand He looked at the disciples and asked, “How many loaves do you have?” (Matthew 15:34). He says, “Just give Me what you have, and I will take care of the rest.” He asked His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Luke 9:18). Then He asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20a). One of the greatest questions Jesus ever asked and He asked this one several times, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32).

Sometimes we need to stop asking God questions and let Him ask us questions. Take time to be quiet and listen to the risen Lord Jesus. Maybe He wants to ask, “Why are you hurting? Whom are you seeking? Where are you in relation to Me? What can you give to Me? What do you want Me to do for you?” Mary listened to these questions and her life started to turn around. Will we listen to God?

Some of you reading this article are restless and seeking answers for your fearful and hopeless heart. You may be seeking the Lord Jesus and not even know it. Jesus is inviting you to come to Him just as you are. Listen to His voice: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). When you come to Jesus just as you are, He will give you spiritual rest. The rest Jesus offers here refers to a state of mind that exists when a non-Christian realizes he or she does not have to earn or work for their salvation (cf. Romans 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9). This refers to the positional rest of eternal life that is based on trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross alone (John 3:14-15; 19:30). Christ can give you everlasting life as a free gift because He paid for it through His death and resurrection (Romans 6:23b; I Corinthians 15:1-8).

If you came to Christ in faith just now, Jesus gave you everlasting life which can never be lost (John 10:28-29). God became your Father and you became His child forever (John 1:12). Jesus now lives inside of you through His Holy Spirit who will comfort, guide, and teach you so your life will magnify Jesus (John 14:16-17; 15:26; 16:13-14). Jesus wants to be your best Friend. You can get to know Him better by spending time with Him, talking to Him through prayer anywhere, anytime about anything (John 15:7; Philippians 4:6-7). Learn to listen to His voice as you read and study the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I recommend you begin with the fourth book of the New Testament, the gospel of John, because it is all about Jesus and how you can have everlasting life in His name. It will also reveal to you God’s plan and purpose for your life.

Prayer: My risen Savior and Lord, please forgive me for losing focus on You and Your resurrection. I have allowed so many things to distract me from what is really important. Thank You for coming to me with questions just like You did with Mary Magdalene that first Sunday after Your death and burial. Your questions show me that You really do care about me. You care especially about my heart. You care about my disappointments, my hurts, my needs, and my worries. Your presence in my life calms my troubled heart and assures me that there is hope for today and tomorrow, and all the tomorrows You graciously give to me. Thank You for helping me refocus on what is eternal. As I quiet my soul in Your presence, what would You say to me right now Lord Jesus? I am listening. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 369 cites William Barclay, The Gospel of John: The Daily Study Bible series, 2nd ed., Vol. 2 (Edinbugh: Saint Andrew Press, 1963), pg. 312.

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 697.

3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 545.

4. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website on May 15, 2021 at https://covid19.who.int/.

5. Adapted from https://www.family-times.net/illustration/Trust/201414/.

6. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 362.

7. Ibid., cites Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), pg. 838.

Receiving Life Freely – Part 7 (Video)

This is the seventh video in a series about the gospel of John – the only book of the Bible whose primary purpose is to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life and a future home in heaven (John 20:31). This video looks at the seventh miracle of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John involving the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45).

The movie clip subtitles are from the Good News Translation. All other Scripture are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted. Gospel of John pictures are used with permission from  www.GoodSalt.com, John Paul Stanley / YoPlace.com, www.LumoProject.com, or they are creative common licenses. The copyrights of the images of the movie belong to Jesus.net. The Gospel of John movie clip is used with permission from Jesus.net. You may view the entire Life of Jesus movie at https://jesus.net/the-life-of-jesus/.

God’s Grace and Suicide

Living during a global pandemic makes it especially difficult to connect with one another. There is a great emphasis on social distancing. People cannot connect with one another as easily as before because of all the COVID restrictions and the fear of getting sick. The additional stress caused by COVID increases the chance of conflict with one another which can also become a barrier to connecting with one another. Emotional needs are much greater during this pandemic. There is more fear and depression which can lead people to isolate themselves from others. More people feel hopeless and think of taking their own lives.

A question that may arise during this pandemic is, “Will a believer in Jesus Christ who commits suicide still go to heaven?” The answer to this is strongly related to one’s view of God’s grace.

WHAT DOES GOD SAY ABOUT A BELIEVER WHO COMMITS SUICIDE?

In Romans 8:31-39, God answers four questions or accusations that can arise in cases of suicide:

1.MAN’S ACCUSATION: Doesn’t such a death as suicide prove that God works against us, not for us? Isn’t this what prompts a believer to take his life?”

GOD’S ANSWER: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) God says, “Since I am for you (and no one is greater than Me), no one can successfully oppose you, including yourself.” When the unexpected happens, you need to ignore the lie that God is against you. He is on your side. God does not work against us. How wrong it would be to believe that God turns His back on the believer who commits suicide. God is FOR US – on our side – deeply interested in our needs, our hurts, our pain, our failures and loneliness. 

Proof of this: God gave His Son to die for our sins, including the sin of suicide (Romans 8:32). 

2. MAN’S ACCUSATION: “Doesn’t the suicide of a Christian confirm the fact that Christianity really doesn’t have the solutions to man’s problems?” 

GOD’S ANSWER: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” (Romans 8:33) God says, “No one can successfully press charges against a believer in Christ because I have declared him totally righteous on the basis of his faith in My Son.” No one can successfully accuse any Christian who commits suicide because God does not even accuse him – He declares him totally righteous or not guilty the moment he believed in Jesus Christ. No one can bring an accusation against the Christian who commits suicide that will stand. But how difficult it is at times to realize God’s interest and presence! It’s like the sun – every day – it shines. No one could EVER say – the sun isn’t shining! We may say, “I can’t feel it or see it”…but fly high enough and there it is!

3. MAN’S ACCUSATION: “Doesn’t such an act as suicide deserve condemnation?” 

GOD’S ANSWER: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:34) God says, “No one can successfully condemn the believer who commits suicide because My Son – 

“… was condemned to death for his sins, removing his guilt (8:34b).

“… was raised to life, satisfying My demand to punish his sins (8:34c). 

“… is at My right hand defending him against all accusations (8:34d).” When Satan comes to God’s throne with accusations against the believer who commits suicide, God looks to His Son, and Jesus says, “Father, I paid for that sin.”

“… intercedes for him (8:34e).”

Now let me make something quite clear. I am not suggesting that such a death is condoned in Scriptures… for God assures us that He has not only designed LIFE but LIFE MORE ABUNDANTLY for His children (John 10:10). However, the struggles and pain are often too great for a person who commits suicide. But God does not condemn him because Christ has taken his or her punishment. 

4. MAN’S ACCUSATION: “Doesn’t such an act separate a person from God’s love and presence? Isn’t this the classic act of rejection?”

GOD’S ANSWER: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39) Nothing, including suicide, can separate a Christian from the love of God. Even though others may stop loving us or we may stop loving ourselves, God’s love will never abandon us. Nothing you do, say, or think can separate you from God’s love. Absolutely nothing. 

Listen to Jesus’ own words: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them…and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29) That includes the believer who commits suicide!  

Who shall oppose us? NO ONE. Who shall accuse us? NO ONE. Who shall condemn us? NO ONE. Who shall separate us from God’s love? NO ONE. The believer who commits suicide is in God’s presence – no more tears, crying, pain, death or darkness… all that is gone. His body awaits that incredible moment when it will be raised and changed—NEVER TROUBLED AGAIN WITH INNER DISTURBANCE  …CONFLICT …INSECURITY…UNREST…

HOW CAN I OVERCOME THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE?

  • Aim to work on the causes of your emotional pain, not just the symptoms.
  • If your depression is due to guilt, admit your sin to the Lord (Psalm 32:1-5; I John 1:9).
  • When you are depressed, place your hope in God (Psalm 42:5; Lamentations 3:20-25).
  • Avoid being isolated (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Stay connected to loving and supportive friends.
  • Seek help from others (Galatians 6:2; James 5:13-16).
  • Listen to uplifting Christian music and sing (I Samuel 16:14-23).
  • Identify and replace the lies underlying your suicidal thoughts with God’s truth. Jesus came so you could have life, but Satan came to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Suicidal thoughts often stem from some of Satan’s lies.Focus on the truth of God’s Word, not Satan’s lies (John 8:31-32). If you are not aware of the lies you believe, journal your thoughts and feelings, relying on the Holy Spirit to reveal the underlying lies. Then ask God to remove the lies that cause you to have suicidal thoughts and graciously replace them with His truth (Psalm 119:28-29).

WHAT IF I SUSPECT SOMEONE I KNOW IS HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE?

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. We are only as sick as our secrets. Ask questions like: “Are you thinking about taking your life? Do you have a suicide plan as to how you would do it? Why do you think that’s the only answer?” Talking about suicide does not plant suicidal thoughts in someone who is already depressed. Talking about suicide actually decreases the possibility of that person taking his or her life because it diffuses its power. (If someone has a plan to kill themselves, make sure they get medical assistance immediately!)
  • Obtain a verbal “non-suicide” contract or commitment not to do anything that would be harmful or self-destructive without first talking with you or with a counselor, pastor, or another trusted person. 
  • Ask them to think through these questions: “If you died and came back to life, could you find other reasons for being glad to be alive? Would the Lord’s promises of love and guidance though your trials still be in place? Would the sun still shine and water still be cool and refreshing? Would there still be adventures in life and growth in relationships? Could some positive reasons for living, as opposed to dying, be developed?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! There is hope for the hopeless!


How can Jesus transform our grief into gladness? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” John 16:20a

As technology advances at exceedingly high rates, we may come to the conclusion that life should be easy. After all, we have all of these gadgets that are intended to make life easier for us. Things like automatic dishwashers, microwave ovens, central air-conditioning, garage door openers, GPS, cell phones, etc. Once we obtain these gadgets, we think we cannot live without them.

There is nothing wrong about finding ways to make life easier. But when we do, we can often shift this attitude into a demand that life must be easier. And when life does not comply with this thought, we can easily become angry or even bitter. Our grief over the problems in life can turn into depression.   

We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His disciples how He can transform our grief into gladness. We discovered in John 16:16-19 that Christ can do this when we ask Him to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation. Today we see that our grief can be transformed into gladness when we ACCEPT THAT PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE PART OF LIFE (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).

Christ said to His eleven believing disciples, “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” (John 16:20a). Jesus assures His disciples (“most assuredly, I say to you”) that they “will weep and lament” over His departure when He dies on the cross. These words combine the thoughts of deep grief and the outward expression of that grief. Watching their Lord endure false accusations, beatings, mocking, and the shameful, humiliating death of crucifixion, would be extremely difficult for the disciples. Yet while they would experience great anguish at the crucifixion of Christ, the unbelieving “world will rejoice.” The religious leaders especially rejoiced over Christ’s sufferings and death because they had removed the One Who threatened their power.

When we see evil appear to triumph over good, we will experience grief and sadness. For example, when militant Muslims murder innocent Christians and boast about it on TV, Christians will feel deep sorrow over this. Believers must realize that being a Christian does not insulate us from grief and sorrow. Christ never promised believers that life would be easy. It is not sinful to experience grief and sadness since both Jesus and His disciples did (cf. Matthew 17:23; 26:22, 37-38; Mark 14:19, 34; Luke 22:45; John 11:33-35; 16:6, 20, 22). In fact, the prophet, Isaiah, describes Jesus as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). So feeling grief and sadness is not ungodly. It is Christ-like.

There is some teaching in Christian circles today that says life should be easy if you are a Christian. If life is not easy for you, then you must be the problem because God wants all His children to have it easy. Is this true? No. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (16:33). He did not say “you might have” tribulation. He said you “will have” tribulation. The word “tribulation” (thlipsis) is used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; it is an internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). Christ uses this word to refer to “persecution, affliction, and distress.” 1

Jesus also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34b). Most people would agree with this. On Monday, your electric bill arrives, and it’s three times as much as you have left in your bank account. On Tuesday, your car won’t start. On Wednesday, your child is exposed to COVID and your entire family must quarantine. On Thursday, your spouse tells you they don’t love you any more. On Friday, you find out you have lost thousands of dollars in a poor investment. And the list goes on and on. Jesus did not say Christians would have it easy. He said life would be difficult. He wasn’t being pessimistic in these verses, He was simply being honest.

Life can also be internally difficult for us as Christians because there is this internal battle going on between our sinful flesh and the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). All people are born with a sinful flesh that has a bent toward selfishness, laziness, immaturity, distorting reality, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, the pride of life, etc. (cf. Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 7:18; Galatians 5:19-21; I John 2:16). 2

The apostle Paul describes this battle when he says, 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. 16 If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. 20 Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.” (Romans 7:15-21).

Paul is very clear in these verses that a battle raged inside of him between his sinful nature that operated in the flesh and the new person he was in Christ that operated in the Spirit. We may agree intellectually that life is difficult both externally and internally, but deep down inside the recesses of our minds we believe the lie that says life should be easy. So when life does take a turn for the worse, we can throw an emotional tantrum.

Christian counselor, Dr. Chris Thurman, shares how many of his clients come into his office believing this lie that life should be easy, and when life proves otherwise, they have a lot of intense anger that can turn into bitterness and resentment. They refuse to accept that their problems or disappointments are a part of life. 3

Accepting that life is difficult does not mean we must like the problem or be glad it happened. But you can choose to hurt over it and accept it. Thurman writes, “Accepting it means you have faced the fact that it happened (versus refusing to), understand why it occurred (versus being in the dark about why it did), have let it hurt (versus feel numb about it), and have come to a place of peace about it (versus still in turmoil over it).” 4

We need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to face my problems or run from them?” Satan “wants us to run from our problems, both foreign (external) and domestic (internal), because he knows our problems get worse and we end up suffering at a greater level when we do. God wants us to face our problems because He knows doing so resolves them and the suffering we experience helps us mature in Christ.” 5

If we tell ourselves that life should be easy, we are going to experience bitterness because our expectations are not realistic or biblical. We will either become very angry or discouraged and depressed when life does not match our expectations. The truth is life is difficult and the more we accept this truth, then the more we can move on from our past problems and experience the joy Jesus wants us to have, even when life is difficult.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this message really convicts me about my bad attitude. It is so easy for me to complain about problems in life and develop a lot of anger and even bitterness. Much of my anger is connected to believing the lie that life should be easy. Thank You for making it so clear that life is not always going to be easy. It can be very difficult. Even if I am living for You, Lord Jesus, You said I “will have tribulation” (John 16:33) because the world hates You and those who follow You (John 15:18-21). I pray You will help me replace this lie that life should be easy with the truth that life is difficult so I may accept that pain and suffering is a part of life. I want to invite You to walk with me as I face the pain and process it so I may move on and experience Your joy no matter what happens in life. Thank You for hearing my prayers, my Lord and my God. In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. see https://biblehub.com/greek/2347.htm.

2. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 201.

3. Dr. Chris Thurman, The Lies We Believe (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), pp. 160-161.

4. Ibid., pg. 165.

5. Thurman, The Lies We believe (2019 Kindle Edition), pg. 209.