By Linda Rex
As one who has suffered on occasion from the blight of depression, I have a sympathetic heart for anyone who experiences living in this dark place. When a person is in the midst of such sadness and grief, it can take all of his or her effort just to do the simplest tasks of life.
This is not a place other people can come to and pull the sufferer out of. It is rather a place where those near and dear can come alongside and offer support, prayer, and encouragement. The best gift a person can offer to one suffering with depression is a constant and faithful relationship—a living presence with a willingness to sit in the darkness with the one struggling.
Sometimes we choose our darkness. Sometime the darkness is a result of other people’s bad choices. And other times, the darkness just is—it exists through no fault of our own. It is merely a result of health issues or circumstances. Darkness—an inner weight of crushing sadness and grief, or just loss of joy—can happen to anyone. Being depressed is not a sin, although it may at times be a symptom of an inner struggle.
For some of us, being depressed comes easily. The negativity through which we see the world becomes a lens which darkens our view each and every moment of our lives. This causes us to miss many opportunities for joy. We can be so used to the darkness that when the light enters, we close our eyes to protect them from its brightness.
Here during Advent, as we approach Christmas and the New Year, we may find ourselves resisting the holiday spirit, and feeling overwhelmed by loss and grief for various reasons. It is hard to feel upbeat when your heart is broken and your thoughts are filled with memories of what was and what could have and should have been. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the darkness during a season which should be filled with great joy.
The Holy Spirit calls to us during Advent to remember the One who joined us in our darkness, who didn’t feel it was enough just to say he loved us, but who actually came and sat in the sadness, grief, sorrow, and death with us. For God it was not enough just to be gracious and loving—he did gracious and loving. He took on our humanity and lived shoulder-to-shoulder with each of us.
God’s judgment on sin and our proclivity to evil and our preference for the darkness was the precious gift of a baby in a manger—the Word of God in human flesh—Immanuel, God with us. God’s judgment on our darkness was a gift of joy in the Person of his Son. He judged all humanity worthy of grace and worthy of salvation, worthy of his presence in the midst of their evil, suffering, and death.
That dark, starry night as the shepherds sat with their flocks on a hill outside of Bethlehem, God entered this broken world welcomed by Joseph and Mary as the fulfillment of the word of God through an angel. This little baby may have seemed insignificant and unimpressive in his humble circumstances, but his birth was the cause of the celebration of the angels. As we read in Luke 2:
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:8-14 NKJV)
Here was a message from God to his people—a message of peace and good will from God toward his people—a message of joy. These shepherds were astonished and overwhelmed, but their response was to seek out this baby to welcome him.
In our personal darkness, we may feel as though God has forgotten us, or as though we are lost in a dark night, barely holding ourselves together. But the truth we need to be reminded of is that God’s heart toward us has not changed. He is faithful and he still loves and cares for us. God has come into our darkness in the Person of the Word of God, and in Jesus Christ has lived our life, died our death, and carried us from death into life in his resurrection.
And it was not enough for God to join us in our broken humanity. He also sent his Spirit—pouring out on all the gift of life in his Son. The call to faith, is the call to believe in and embrace the joy, the good will of God toward each and every person in the gift of his Son Jesus Christ. God has given us an inner source of joy in the gift of his personal presence in and with us in the Holy Spirit. As the psalmist said: “All my springs of joy are in you.” (Ps. 87:7b NASB)
The reality is, when we are in a dark place such as depression, depravity, or despair, we need a source beyond ourselves to raise us up and deliver us. We need a source of joy which is real and endless, and which will not be squelched by our stubborn desire to remain in the darkness. We need “springs of joy” to draw upon.
And God has given us this in the gift of his Son and his Spirit. We celebrate the breaking in of heaven into our darkness this time of year, and we find in the birth of Jesus Christ the hope, peace, and joy we would never have otherwise. He is the source of our true life, a life which God has lived in for all eternity, a life he is determined to share with you and me for all the eons to come. He calls us to trust—to believe in the truth: God is here. God is near. And he is with us forever. Immanuel—the most precious gift of all!
Dear Abba, thank you! Thank you for the precious gift of joy. Thank you for not leaving us in our darkness, sorrow, grief, and depravity, but giving us a way out—your own Son. Fill us by your Spirit with all your hope, peace, joy, and love—we do not find these things within ourselves. They are a gift. And so we thank you, and praise you with the angels, through Jesus our Lord, and by your Spirit. Amen.
“O sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done wonderful things, His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98 NASB
By Linda Rex
It never seems to fail that when someone I know is suffering through a really bad experience and is finding it impossible to bear any more suffering, that a well-meaning soul will say, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I cringe inside because I’ve experienced the reality that sometimes God does give us more than we can bear. So when I hear that phrase, everything inside of me wants to scream out, “He does too!”
This is an unfortunate reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which actually talks about temptation to sin, not about suffering or affliction in general. In the NASB it reads:
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
The context of this verse, then, focuses on temptations rather than afflictions or trials. In my opinion, overwhelming trials and afflictions are not what Paul is talking about here.
When reading Paul’s epistles, we see that he talks a lot about trials, afflictions and sufferings that are beyond our ability to bear. He talks about participating in Jesus’s sufferings and death so that we can share in his life. We learn from Jesus and his apostles that it is in dying that we live. It’s all about death and resurrection.
And suffering and grief are not just random events that have no purpose or value. They may be tools of the darkness and be designed to defeat and destroy, but the Light has come in Jesus. All these things must submit to the lordship of Christ, and fulfill the will and purposes of Almighty God. As the scripture says, we overwhelmingly conquer in Jesus.
The point is that God has in mind our perfection, our full reflection of his image. He also has in mind the renewal of all things. We don’t see the things God sees, nor can we fully understand his purposes or his methods. Our view is severely impacted by the pain and sorrow and suffering we may be going through at the moment and we may be unable to see that God does redeem and heal and restore in the end. Our humanity limits our ability to grasp the significance and purpose of all we experience in our lives.
God does indeed allow us to be “burdened excessively, beyond our strength”, even to the point where we despair of life. We are constantly “delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake”, but for a reason. God is refining us “as silver is refined.” He is teaching us to quit trusting in ourselves and to start trusting him completely. He is teaching us to die to ourselves so that he may fully live in us and through us. He is reminding us that we are the clay pots in which his divine Presence dwells.
The key to it all is what we believe about God and about Jesus Christ. Do we believe, really believe, that Jesus is who he said he is—the Son of God and the Son of man, and that he lived, died and rose again in our place? Because in the end, death is destined to end in resurrection. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so we too will have times when death seems certain, if not preferable, but which will in the end result in God raising us up to new life.
There is healing after loss, after divorce, after abuse. There is restoration after brokenness and destruction. We don’t always experience it immediately or completely, but God has declared it done and complete in Jesus Christ. He is our assurance that there is never anything he won’t go through with us, in us and for us. He said that nothing can separate us from the love he has for us in Christ.
So when God gives us more than we can bear, we can ask him for the grace to bear it. We have the opportunity to trust Christ to be for us in the Spirit all that we need in our moments of despair, struggle and grief. God doesn’t always take away the difficulty—we may have to go through it completely from one end to the other. But he will never fail to bring us in the end to the glorious result he had in mind from the beginning. So don’t lose heart. Don’t lose faith. Because Jesus is a risen Lord and God is faithful and he is love.
Dear God, in the midst of our struggle, loss, despair and grief, remind us that you have given us a risen Savior, a resurrected Lord, who has brought us, is bringing us, and will bring us, to new life in himself in the Spirit. Grant us the grace trust you to do what is best in every situation and to carry us through to a glorious and joyful end in your presence forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“For You have tried us, O God; you have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; you laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12 NASB
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,…” 2 Cor. 1:8–10 NASB
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Pet. 5:10
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” 2 Cor. 4:7–11
by Linda Rex
So it seems that we have lost yet another youth to the decadence of fame and fortune. The longing for significance, value and meaning has once again set a young person on the road to stardom, only to bring her to the place of sacrificing herself to the god of media success. Upheld by her fans, condemned by her critics, she is selling herself, and millions are buying. I don’t know whether to be angry or sad. Maybe both.
The problem is, she is not alone. Her performances are only symptomatic of the loss of identity so many are struggling with today. We are all guilty at some time or another of basing our identity on what others say about us, who they want us to be, how they want us to dress and act, what fashion, media and peers define us to be. We look to magazines, movies, music—you name it—to help us to understand ourselves and to figure out exactly who we should be. Self-help books and shows tell us to look inside—that we will find our real self within. But what if we don’t like what we find there?
If these things are where we need to go to find our identity, our value and our worth, then it is no wonder that many are struggling with depression and other emotional/mental issues. With so many choices and unstable means of self-definition, how can anyone have any peace of mind? No wonder suicide is so common among teens today—teens who are seeking to find their sense of identity, worth and value in this transient, media-driven world. In my view, it is tragic. This was never meant to be.
The truth is, we become like the gods we worship. When we define ourselves by ourselves and by one another, we become less than we were ever meant to be. When we are not compelled to something better, we often give ourselves over to our basest passions and desires. And we influence everyone around us to do the same or worse. We close ourselves off to the finer, nobler aspects of humanity such as character, honor, fidelity, compassion, and self-control.
All the legislation and government in the world cannot change the human heart or transform it. Nor can it create a society of unified, caring and loving people. It just won’t happen—because it is not natural for us to be this way. We need to be awakened to the truth that God has given us a better way and this better way is not us, nor does the capacity lie within us to create it ourselves.
You see, God knew beforehand that this is the way we are. He made us in his image, to reflect his likeness—the image of ever-living, self-emptying, mutually submissive serving love. And he knew that by giving us the freedom to choose whether to know and love him or to deny his very existence and choose to live apart from him, we might very well turn our back on him. It has not surprised God at all that we continue to reject him and today choose to live as though he didn’t exist. This is nothing new. Our decision to define for ourselves what is good and what is evil has existed since the time of man’s initial existence.
Keeping all this in mind from the beginning, God planned from before time to make a way for human hearts and minds to contain his glory, to truly reflect his likeness. It involved God himself entering into human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ—this man who was testified to by so many, that he was and is the Son of God and the Son of man, fully God and fully human. This Person lived the perfect life we all long to live, died an excruciating, unjust death by crucifixion, and after three days, rose from the grave and was encountered in a real, personal way by hundreds. The testimony of the early church was that Jesus died for us, rose from the grave and ascended to his Father’s right hand in glory, bearing forever the human glory meant for you and me—the glory that is ours to have when we die and live again in Christ.
This is the glory God created us for. And not only did God give us himself in Jesus Christ—his life, death and resurrection for our life, death and resurrection. The Father and Jesus Christ sent the other Helper, the Holy Spirit, to live in human hearts as we open up ourselves to him to embrace him. This means that you and I were created to be the place where God himself would come to live, to be with us forever. So not only did God create us to be a reflection of his glory, but he also intended us to be the containers of his glory. This is who we are and who we were meant to be. This is the meaning, value and worth of our life. Everything else is transient and passing. This is meant to be ours forever.
But God’s not going to shove it down our throat. We can turn and walk away if we wish. It will break his heart—it already has broken his heart, his very being, in the crucifixion of Jesus. But God will always maintain and protect our freedom to choose out of his love for us. We can choose to live apart from him forever, denying his existence and rejecting his deep, endless love for us. Or we can surrender to his passionate love and give ourselves fully to embracing the identity he has given to us and renewed for us in Jesus Christ. It is our choice. Will we trust God completely and believe his heart toward us is fully good and loving? Will we embrace all that God meant for us to be in Jesus Christ? Will we give ourselves fully to God and trust him to transform us from the inside out by his Holy Spirit and to make us into all he meant for us to be? Will we believe?
Dear God, I confess that I have spent too much of my life deciding for myself what is good and what is evil. Please forgive me. And forgive me that I have not trusted you. I have not trusted that you are real and that your heart for me is always good and loving. Lord, grant me the faith to believe and to fully trust in you. I surrender my life and will to you—it is yours. Thank you for giving me the privilege of reflecting and bearing your glory. Grant me the grace to faithfully live and walk in Christ each day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“‘Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods? But My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate,’ declares the LORD. ‘For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.’” Jer. 2:11–13 (NASB)
“They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a molten image. Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior, …” Psa. 106:19-21 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
In my last blog, “Beyond the Now of Suffering” I talked about how to rejoice when you feel your world is crumbling or has been profoundly shattered. It is only in Christ that we may have any joy at all under such circumstances and it is a joy that looks in hope towards the future. But, as I stressed, in the midst of our heartache we are never alone in our grief and suffering—God in Christ by the Spirit is present in the midst of it, weeping and aching with us.
God does not want us to deny or ignore or try to fantasize away our suffering. God does not ask us to pretend tragedy did not happen or that loss will not or did not occur. Nor does he ask us to have a “stiff upper lip” and just brave it out, pretending that everything is okay. Living in denial, emotional numbness or in a sense of false spirituality is not healthy, nor is it godly.
There are many examples from the human life of Jesus that express his compassion and willingness to share in another person’s grief and suffering. He did not deny the real grief of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus died. In fact, he wept with them. Yes, he pointed them beyond his death to the hope of the resurrection, but he also shared in their grief and did not minimize it in any way. This is the heart of compassion and understanding that God has given us in Christ.
I am reminded of the story of when Jesus was traveling to the city of Nain. He met a funeral procession on his way. The mourners were weeping over the death of the only son of a widow. In that culture, this was a real tragedy because, not only did she lose someone very dear to her, but now she would be forced to find some way to provide for herself whether through begging or some worse occupation. She was really at a place where there was no hope or future for her. The text says that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. He was filled with compassion.
Jesus does the same for each of us today. Just as Jesus faces our suffering today with a heart of compassion, he comes alongside us as well to ease our burdens and to find a way to help us through our tragedies and difficulties to a new place. He may, in our case, not raise the dead as he did in hers, but he will bring our dead and dying circumstances and situations in time to a place of new life. Meanwhile he ministers to us in many ways.
Jesus ministers to us through the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. When we turn to Christ in our struggles and suffering, we are blessed with the real comfort and peace that comes through the ministering presence of God through the Spirit. I have had widows tell me how they have experienced the nearness of God in a profound way after the death of their spouse. They have been comforted and encouraged in a real way through his ministry and grace. This is something we can ask God to do for those we know who are suffering or going through a time of darkness.
Jesus also ministers to us through his body, the universal church of God. We are surrounded by people of faith, whether from our church or not, who offer us consolation, encouragement, support and real, human assistance. The people of God are the physical “hands and feet” of Jesus for us in the midst of our tragedy and struggle. It is important for us as believers to be sensitive to the needs of those in the midst of crisis and not to belittle or minimize or spiritualize away their suffering. God meant for us instead to express Jesus’ heart of compassion and comfort toward them in the midst of it. God meant for us to be “place-sharers” in their lives—to be present with them as they go through it—not trying to fix it or them, but just being for them the real presence of God in the Spirit in that moment.
Finally, Jesus ministers to us through his Word, whether through the Scriptures, the spoken word and through “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Many a person has been revived at a point of crisis through hearing a song on the radio, receiving a card in the mail, being given a note of encouragement, or by listening to an inspired message. These are all real tangible gifts we can extend to others in their time of need or assist others in being able to receive.
God finds ways to bring us real help and strength in the midst of our human existence which includes suffering, struggle and difficulty. He does not leave us to muddle through somehow on our own. Nor should we expect others to do so either. If we have any heart of compassion at all, we should be finding ways to ease the suffering of others, not adding to it by our insensitivity or by ignoring it or minimizing it. For as members of the body of Christ, we do not suffer alone; when one person suffers, we all suffer.
Holy God, thank you for the wonder of your great compassion and tenderness for us in the midst of suffering and tragedy. We praise you that nothing in our lives escapes your notice. Thank you for the real ministry of your Holy Spirit, of the body of Christ and of the Word of God when we are in need. Remind us now of ways in which we might bless the lives of others who are suffering this week in a real way. Encourage and strengthen each of us who are in the midst of tragedy and loss right now in a real way so that we might bear these things we are facing that are difficult and painful to bear. We are grateful that we never have to walk through these things alone—you are always with us. Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit, we need you now, more than ever—please send your comfort, your peace and your grace, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” — 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27
by Linda Rex
I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?
The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.
This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.
It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.
But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.
God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.
So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.
Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)
by Linda Rex
When I walked into the business office one day, I was greeted by a wonderful floral fragrance. On the desk sat a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The lilies in the bouquet were filling the room with their pleasant scent.
We often associate lilies with Easter or with the passing of a loved one. Lilies remind us in times of death that there is always the hope of new life in Jesus. Lilies begin to bloom in the spring, and are often associated with the seasonal renewal of life. The winter season is when lilies go dormant, drawing their energy back into their bulbs. The cold soil hides the life of the lily until the warm spring sun awakens the bulb again to new life.
During the winter of our lives as our bodies begin to give way to stress and strain, we may feel that we are like the dormant lilies. We may feel lifeless and dull. We may have lost our energy and desire to do much of anything anymore. The aches and pains may overwhelm our desire to get up and face the day. Our loneliness or sadness may feel like a weight upon our soul. Like the lilies, we may withdraw into the cold bulb of our hearts or our room and wish to be just left alone.
God says in these times he will be like the dew to us so that we will blossom like a lily. To find renewal, an ability to keep going in the tough times, the strength to carry on one more day, we go to Jesus. He understands our suffering and our struggles because he bore them in person, in human flesh, just as we do. He will listen to our heart’s cry when we cannot pray, and comfort our spirits when we are overcome with sorrow.
Jesus is the sunlight that melts away the coldness of sorrow and loneliness. He is the friend who is closer than a brother. He comes near and warms us with his love and grace. When we turn to him and bask in the sunlight of his love, we find renewal and strength to face each new day. In the light of his presence, we find encouragement and comfort. In Christ, we find within ourselves the strength and wisdom to share his Light with others so they might be encouraged and comforted as well. Like the spring lilies we will blossom, and the fresh fragrance of God’s love will begin to spread to all those around us.
Lord, thank you for the beautiful lilies of the field. They remind us of your great love that is endless and faithful. Thank you, that in Christ, we may find the comfort, strength and encouragement that enables us to begin again each new day. Please grant that today we like the lilies of the field, will blossom and share the fragrance of your love with all those about us. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
“I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily.” Ho 14:5 (NIV)