Week commencing Sunday 19th May

Week Commencing Sunday 17th May, 2020

Call to worship.

‘He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as he would guard his own eyes’ Deuteronomy 32:10

‘I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in God.’ Psalm 40:1-3

Introduction.

In this update we are thinking about depression. John Piper writes “Every Christian who struggles with depression struggles to keep their hope clear. There is nothing wrong with the object of their hope- Jesus Christ is not defective in any way whatsoever. But the view from the struggling Christian’s heart of their objective hope could be obscured by disease and pain, the pressures of life, and by satanic fiery darts shot against them…All discouragement and depression is related to the obscuring of our hope, and we need to get those clouds out of the way and fight like crazy to see clearly how precious Christ is.”

 

Hymn.

 

1 Christ triumphant, ever reigning,
Saviour, Master, King!
Lord of heaven, our lives sustaining,
Hear us as we sing:
 

Yours the glory and the crown,
The high renown, the eternal name.

 

2 Word incarnate, truth revealing,
Son of Man on earth!
Power and majesty concealing
By your humble birth:
 

Yours the glory...

 

3 Suffering servant, scorned, ill - treated,
Victim crucified!
Death is through the cross defeated,
Sinners justified:
 

Yours the glory...

 

4 Priestly king, enthroned for ever
High in heaven above!
Sin and death and hell shall never
Stifle hymns of love:
 

Yours the glory...

 

5 So, our hearts and voices raising
Through the ages long,
Ceaselessly upon you gazing,
This shall be our song:
 

Yours the glory...         Michael Saward               

 

                                                                                                                      

 

Reading. John 11:17-44

 

Prayer. ‘Open my eyes Lord that I might behold wondrous things from your word and give me grace to clearly understand and heartily put your ways into practice.’ Amen.

Sermon. ‘Dealing with Depression’

Almost everyone gets depressed at some time or other. Usually these feelings pass in time.

What things contribute to depression? Perhaps we have been overdoing things, exhaustion has set in and we need time to rest and recover. There are some medical illnesses that can contribute to depression. Medical treatment is then required.

There is some discussion about people who are slightly more susceptible to depression because of low levels of a particular chemical in the brain. I say discussion because it is thought depression itself leads to the chemical imbalance which in turn reinforces the depression. So although antidepressant medication can restore the chemical balance, something more is still needed to address the depression itself.

Many things can plunge us into a low mood- uncertainty about the future, a breakdown in relationships, financial difficulties, lack of purpose and so on. And if too many of these come together- as they are for many of us under the threat of Coronavirus at this time- then the stress created can lead to emotional overload and depression.

However, it is thought the widest felt problem underlying depressed feelings is a sense of loss. The second factor is the relationship between what we are doing and the rewards we expect. If our actions and behaviours do not, over a period of time, bring us the rewards we expect then we can become so discouraged that we sink into a low mood.

In our passage from John’s Gospel, we see that Mary was deeply depressed on both counts. She had suffered great loss- her brother Lazarus had died. There was also a break down between what she had done and the reward she expected in her relationship with Jesus; Mary had entreated Jesus to come while her brother still lived. She expected that action to be rewarded with his coming immediately and use his power to heal Lazarus. And he didn’t.

When Jesus does finally arrive on the scene, Lazarus has been in the tomb for 4 days, Martha runs to meet him, and we notice that little phrase at the end of verse 20 “but Mary stayed at home”. Mary was angry with Jesus, she was giving him the silent treatment, blaming him, punishing him- she’s not going to go and greet Jesus- he has let her down, so she thinks. Mary was hurt, bitter because Jesus had not come at first. Hopelessness is the mark of depression, and as far as Mary was concerned the outlook was bleak. It was too late. Why should He come now?

As we look at Jesus gracious treatment of Mary we understand

Jesus has a heart for depressed people

After Martha’s conversation with the Lord she goes to Mary and says, verse 28 “The Teacher is here, and is asking for you”.

Do you feel a bit like Mary at the moment? Depressed? Do you feel let down by the Lord? By the situation he has placed you in at this time. Your expectations were so high. Jesus knew Mary inside out, He knew her feelings towards him, but He still asked for her. He gave her a personal invitation. And Jesus is asking for you! He knows all about your blaming him, your bitterness, your doubting that He knows what he is doing. He knows all about you and still loves you. Like Mary go to meet him. He is sending for you. He sends for you knowing exactly what you are going to say and he is prepared to listen!

Mary’s moment comes. She has probably rehearsed it many times before. She falls at Jesus feet and says: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. So too in prayer the Lord invites us to pour out our sorrows to him (as David did in his Psalms of lament.)

Mary weeps as she accuses Jesus. Tears are God’s gift to us when we are hurt, lonely, dismayed, under pressure and feeling like there is no hope left. They are like a release, a safety valve. When you cry the Lord sees. Jesus feels your pain. Verse 33 tells us Jesus saw Mary weeping and was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. Some stress Jesus teachings, they only attend to his thoughts. If you’re a certain type of person you’re uncomfortable with emotion, and you start seeing Jesus like that- wise but distant. But that is not the Jesus revealed to us here. Jesus is fully human. He entered fully into our condition. On one occasion He literally snorted with indignation at the self-righteous religious leaders who were opposed to his healing a man on the Sabbath. Jesus was angry because of his deep compassion for the man. Here He is moved at Mary’s loss. Jesus knows how to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Are you depressed, hurting, discouraged? Don’t be ashamed of your tears. God’s heart is moved by tears. It’s as though he cannot bear our tears. The first time tears are found in the Bible is in 2 Kings 20:5 “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears” God had told Hezekiah that he would die, but after Hezekiah weeps and prays, the Lord gives him another 15 years to live (Other examples: Psalms 39, 56,  Luke 7:11-15)

Are you down because of an addiction? A cultural problem or work related difficulty? A severe illness? Are you facing some kind of opposition or misunderstanding? Is there a financial storm beyond your control? Cry to the Lord in your pain, humble yourself before Him. Give that heavy load to Him. Perhaps you are depressed because of a deep sense of shame. You have let yourself down, your parents down, your husband/wife down, your children down. You have contemplated ending it all because you think you have nothing left to live for. Again cry out to the Lord in your pain.

Jesus loves to lift up those who are cast down. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt 12:20). He reaches down his hand and helps us through-because he loves us. His invitation is “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

But the key thing the depressed person has to know is that Jesus brings us through on His terms and not ours. Remember depression results when we expect rewards or results for what we are doing and these do not come to pass. Mary expected Jesus to heal Lazarus and He didn’t. Jesus is not with us to give us what we want on our terms. He is not here to keep us free from pain and cocooned in comfort. He is not with us to give us all we want. God is God. Jesus does what the Father wants him to do. That is the priority. Jesus decisions often displeased people because he didn’t fit their whims and desires. He didn’t for example free the Jews from Roman rule. Jesus only ever did the Father’s will and he faced rejection from people as a result.

Does this mean that Jesus is detached from us after all? That he doesn’t really love us or feel our pain? Not at all!! He is God. He knows best. Jesus is able to show his love in a greater way, beyond what we expected. Mary wanted Jesus to heal Lazarus. But God’s plan was greater; to raise Lazarus from the dead (38-44) this shows the greater love; that he is willing to free us from our supreme enemy death. Similarly, Jesus did not free his people from the Romans. He had a greater love in store- to go to the cross and there purchase eternal salvation for anyone who believes on Him! (John 3:16). Jesus has a heart for depressed people, but He wants to bring us through on His terms, not ours. He has a better end, a greater love in view:

Charles Colson tells the story of a 91 year old woman, Myrtle Howell. Myrtle had more than one reason to let depression take over, to give up and die. Her youngest son had died, her oldest son was declining in health. Many of her friends were dying and she began to think she had nothing left to live for. One day she prayed that if the Lord didn’t have anything more for her to do, she was ready to die. The Lord spoke to her in three words “Write to prisoners” That lady carried on an extensive written ministry with hundreds of prisoners. And they wrote back! One wrote “You’ve given me all the love and concern and care that I’ve missed for years and my whole outlook on life has changed. You’ve made me realise that life is worth living. You claim it is all God’s doing, but I think you deserve the credit. I didn’t think I was capable of feeling love for anyone, but I know I love you” Myrtle Howell wrote in her diary “Writing to inmates has filled my last days with joy…these last years have been the most fulfilling of my whole life”

A young minister and his wife went to see David Wilkerson. They were depressed about their relationship. They were bored, restless and unhappy with each other. After 4 years of troubled marriage and 2 young children they were contemplating divorce. The wife said: “There is no hope for our marriage now. We are in 2 different worlds. He is so wrapped up in his work, he has no time left for me and the children. My whole world has been wrapped up in him; but now I’m getting tired of sitting home waiting for him.” Wilkerson said to her “What a shame that all your happiness depends only on what your husband does. When he spends time with you find a little happiness. But when he lets you down, you have nothing left. Your whole world rises and falls on the actions of your husband. Wilkerson counselled her “You cannot survive if you depend on someone else for your own happiness. You must find your own happiness in yourself through God’s power. You must become your own person and stop depending on your husband or anyone else to make you happy”. Wilkerson writes “From that point on she was determined to step out of her role as an emotional cripple and find her own source of happiness through a new relationship with God”. (‘Have you felt like giving up lately?’ David Wilkerson)

David Wilkerson tells of his own depression resulting from his feeling a failure. He had gone to New York to minister to teenagers caught up in gang warfare and drugs. But he had been unceremoniously dumped from a courtroom after he had wanted to support seven teenage murderers. “I had seen my picture in the papers, with the caption “Bible waving preacher interrupts murder trial” Wilkerson sat in his car and wept. He says “I shudder to think of how much blessing I would have missed if I had given up in that dark hour. How glad I am today that God taught me to face my failure and go on…” Through Wilkinson’s ministry many gang members were converted and numerous teen challenge centres were established to help minister to these young people in America. (‘The Cross and the Switchblade.’ Wilkerson)

So we come out of depression, by refusing to insist on our own expectations about what God should do. We instead discover His agenda for us which is truly loving. So we talk to Him, we pray, casting our burdens/cares on Him. Instead of nursing grievances or regrets or focusing on those things we have lost, we look by faith to see the Lord’s greater way forward. Instead of focusing on past sins where we have let the Lord, others and ourselves down, we confess these sins and so experience His forgiveness and start afresh (‘if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9). We think about those things that are unseen and of eternal value. How He is within us ready to transform us by His Spirit. How we will be made more like Christ, made stronger, more sympathetic and loving towards others because we ourselves have experienced pain. He will point us towards new ways of serving others in their need. He will teach us to forgive, so we will not put anyone down unless it’s on a prayer list! We will be more thankful, looking for the good God brings into our lives and what He will yet do in this present difficulty. We will rejoice in Him and praise Him. We will not ruminate on painful thoughts but have our minds renewed with God’s thoughts according to what we read in the Bible. How He wants to make us more spiritually minded, more aware of Kingdom priorities, more aware of our heavenly destination. So with the Apostle Paul we can say, “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:16, 17)

In such ways we experience His strengthening of our lives as He moves us out of darkness and into His light. In my own experience of loss and thwarting of expectation I have found the Lord bringing me back to these principles for the renewal of my mind and so find my freedom in Him. If you contacted me I would be happy to share with you one or more of these circumstances if it would help you in your battle with depression.

But the person who refuses the Lord’s agenda and eternal perspective remains in the dark and depressed. They cannot see these ways forward. All they can see is their loss and their insistence that God act the way they think He should act.

Doctors tell us that Depression is a problem when it becomes a lifelong condition: when a person experiences feelings of darkness and hopelessness that lasts months and even years. People whose lives are marked by gloom and pessimism, apathy and fatigue, feelings of uselessness, people who have withdrawn themselves from others. When a person is neurotically depressed like that the Psychiatrists say it is because they choose to cling to their anger and guilt and dwell on their problems. They keep repeating negative patterns of painful thinking in their mind- regrets, “what ifs” and “if onlys”, self-blaming, bitter condemnation of themselves and others. Minirth writes of the depressed man “He is so self-focused and inwardly focused that his concentration, attention and memory are impaired. He is angry about the past, negative about the present, gloomy about the future” McMillan writes that ‘the root of ongoing depression is self-pity.’

Doctors can try to encourage the neurotically depressed to think positively, to practise positive self-talk, to avoid over introspection, create good routines for themselves and learn to laugh. All of these are good measures as far as they go. But the real remedy is spiritual. Refusing to insist on your own will and surrendering yourself to the Lord; what He now wants to do for you and through you.

Psychiatrists tell us depression is the biggest problem of our day, and it’s no surprise that it’s prevalent in a culture that seeks to live without reference to God. It was said about the outpouring of grief at the funeral of Princess Diana that people were really grieving for themselves. Without God people come to believe their lives are short and meaningless, since in the secular view death ends everything. The one person who seemed to have it all, who everyone put on a pedestal- in the end had nothing. So it’s futile to live for this life alone. You are going to end up seriously depressed if you do.

The only way forward is to strengthen yourself in the Lord. This is what David did when he was fleeing for his life from King Saul, and even his own followers turned against him (1 Samuel 30:6. The Amalekites had carried off his and their wives, sons and daughters). All very depressing! But the Lord brought him through and gave him hope and enabled him to eventually triumph in all these things. So too, that is what you and I must do if we are to move beyond our lowest point. We must strengthen ourselves in Him.

The Will of God will never take you where

The Grace of God cannot keep you

The Arms of God cannot support you

The Riches of God cannot reach you

The Power of God cannot empower you

The Comfort of God cannot dry your tears.

 

Hymn      

 

When I walk through suffering
Let it be an offering
Like a fragrance rising
In the valley of shadow
Not to waste my sorrows
But to trust and follow

Until the day
When you wipe away every tear
You will hold me, carry me
Till that day
When You take away every fear
No more suffering
Who can imagine

So I'll trade my sorrows
For the joy of serving you
Sharing your tomorrow
With your comfort, comforting
Bringing hope from hope you bring
My whole life an offering

Until the day
When You wipe away every tear
You will hold me, carry me
Till that day
When You take away every fear
No more suffering
Who can imagine that day    (Graham Kendrick 2008, from album ‘CompassionArt’)

 

Prayers. (Christian Aid)

 

A prayer for times of isolation:

 

‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come... will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39)

 

God of heaven and earth, in these times of isolation, apart from loved ones distant from friends away from neighbours, thank you that there is nothing in all of creation, not even coronavirus, that is able to separate us from your love. And may your love that never fails continue to be shared through the kindness of strangers looking out for each other, for neighbours near and far all recognising our shared vulnerability, each of us grateful for every breath, and willing everyone to know the gift of a full and healthy life. Keep us all in your care. Amen.

 

A prayer for medical workers everywhere:

 

Restoring and healing God, thank you for medical workers everywhere, embodying sacrificial love in these challenging time putting the welfare of others before their own, staying away from their family and loved ones, comforting the concerned and bereaved, reassuring the anxious and vulnerable, working to heal and restore people who are ill. Be their guide, strength, wisdom and hope. We pray for those in authority to do right by them for proper protective equipment to be provided and for their dedication to be met with much gratitude when they return home, exhausted.

 

We pray for medical workers around the world, where resources and protective equipment are always in short supply, not only now but always. May these extraordinary times lead to deep and necessary changes in how our world works, resulting in a genuine effort to address the profound injustice of life expectancy being determined by geography, to awaken us all to the reality of how connected we all are and to work together to create the community and world we all want to be part of. So help us, God. Amen.

 

Loving God, we seek your presence in the silence beyond words looking to you for comfort, strength, protection and reassurance, breathing with gratitude, holding on to hope, trusting with faith that you are still God in the midst of the turmoil and that your love reaches to the ends of the earth. Be present with us now. (Silence). Amen.

 

The Lord’s Prayer:

 

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

                                                                                                                                                              PTO

 

Hymn

 

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Saviour, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

 Joseph Scriven

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommended titles.

 

‘When Heaven is Silent’ Ron Dunn

(I have several copies of this title that can be borrowed)

‘Have you felt like giving up lately?’ David Wilkerson

‘Seeing in the Dark’ Philip Yancey

(Subtitled ‘faith in times of doubt’ and also explores the Old Testament character of Job; a righteous man who suffered greatly.)

‘Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy’ Mark Vroegop  

(Christian Book of the Year 2020. Must admit haven’t got this one yet, but looks good! Summary: ‘Exploring how the Bible- through the Psalms of lament and the book of Lamentations- gives voice to our pain, this book invites us to grieve, struggle, and tap into the rich reservoir of grace and mercy God offers in the darkest moments of our lives.’ Cheapest £8.99 from ‘10 of those’, £9.99 from Amazon.)

 

 

Blessing.

 

 

‘The blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.’ Amen.