Over the past few years I’ve been through some pretty difficult times – in fact, during one very damaging period, I suffered from an emotional breakdown as a result of what we were going through. There are things in life that can cause us more suffering than we could ever have imagined. Yet, even in my blackest times, God has been my anchor giving me peace, hope and, yes, even joy. Joy despite it all.
As I read the news every day I am appalled by the horrific suffering that goes on in our world. Disasters, poverty, marriage breakdown, cancer, abuse… terrible, terrible things that tear families and people apart.
My own experiences of pain and desolation over the past few years have been, at times it has felt, almost more than I can bear.
Of course, there is great comfort to be found from God and His great love for us when we are going through hard times.
Yet, there were times when I was depressed and in the middle of my problems I felt completely abandoned by God.
The darkness seemed so great that I wasn’t able to know God’s presence at all.
I doubted the goodness of God, after all, why would a loving God allow me to suffer in such a way?
When you are going through or have been through incredibly difficult times of suffering it can seem really trite when people start talking about having the joy of the Lord. If you are in the midst of depression any suggestion of joy can make us balk as it can seem so far away from reality.
I must admit that I have often struggled with some of Paul’s teaching about joy. How even though he suffered so much he can boldly claim that he is content no matter what. That he has joy despite…
I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut.
2 Corinthians 11:23-29 – The Message
In the book of Philippians Paul talks about how he has learned to have peace and joy despite his circumstances, despite it all.
There is great danger in this teaching being interpreted wrongly and Christians can end up being pressurised to always live in a state of happiness no matter what they face in life. “Smile, Jesus loves you!” This kind of attitude can be very damaging.
Christians get depressed. This does not make them weaker in their faith. It just means that they have experienced suffering which has caused pain, sorrow and grief within them so severe it cannot be contained. It has become a chronic problem that they need to work through and allow prayer, sometimes medical help and, above all, time to recover and heal.
Paul is not talking about Christians needing to walk around in a state of euphoric elation all their lives, no matter what problems they experience. The Bible does not condemn sadness, grief, depression. In fact, the Bible contains many stories of people who experience these emotions. Even Jesus.
Joy in contentment
Paul does testify that we can feel a sense of deep contentment from knowing that we are loved by our Father God and saved by His grace.
I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things though Him who strengthens me.
Joy in hope
The Bible teaches that the trust we can place in God gives us a sense of hope knowing that God only has plans to prosper us never to harm us. Even when we go through tough times there is hope in what God promises us.
‘For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”
Joy in God’s comfort
No matter what we go through God promises to never leave us, to be with us, strengthening us and comforting us. The joy we can know of being able to lean on God when we suffer, sensing His love, His compassion and His comfort.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, of You are with me;
Your rod and staff, they comfort me.
My prayer is that during this series we can talk about the joy we can experience in our relationship with God, even when life throws some rubbish at us.
Yet, I want us to be real about the pain. About the fact that depression happens and it doesn’t make us less of a Christian if we experience it.
I would love to hear from you during this series – it is so encouraging to share our experiences and thoughts. So go on.. leave us a comment.
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