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Posts Tagged ‘Jeremiah’

The mid-winter months are the toughest months for me.  The skies and clouds are gray.  All the colors of the earth are muted and lifeless.  The long cold nights seem to awaken in me a need to hibernate.  Life seems to come to a slow crawl – like molasses in January.  The shorter days, where one goes to work in the dark and comes home in the dark, bleed the sunshine out of the soul.  And it truly seems like my soul goes dark.

Some call it Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Others label it simple depression.  Whatever it is, all I know is that it sucks away life and the joy of living.  I am not talking about the kind of depression that leaves a person huddled in a ball in the corner of the room paralyzed.  I am talking about a more subtle kind.  I am talking about the kind of depression where one can half-way interact with others, even smile and laugh, but behind it all have a lingering dread and foreboding that consumes every thought and action.  It is mentally exhausting.  Moments alone are painful mental exercises in attempting to get over the cancerous negative thoughts that eat away at any self-esteem or sense of self-worth.

Many people cannot relate to this mental state.  Few have experienced sadness but not this type of lingering despair of life that broods for weeks or even months.  Thankfully, many people will never experience what it is like to live with heavy soul-filled despair without any hope of relief on the horizon.  Some people have experienced periods of depression and those that have all exclaim the painful experience and hope never to go back there.  However, for many people like me, it is a regular re-occurring event.  When relief finally comes and the “cloud of depression” finally lifts, it is tainted by the bitter after taste of knowing that it will visit again.

Depression does not seem to be something that even the best of Christians get to bypass in this life.  There are plenty of examples of leading Christians who suffered from depression.  Likewise, we have some biblical examples too.  King David complains of dark periods in his life to God.  About 3/4 of the Psalms contain laments.  Read Psalm 69, 77, or 88 and you get a picture of someone painfully wrestling with depression.  Elijah and Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” were prophets of the LORD God who seemed to have dramatic episodes of depression too.

Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) wrote about “the dark night of the soul.”  It portrays the utter discouragement that comes to those who suffer from depression.  Martin Luther‘s three-year period of depression threatened to ruin him.  The great 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, suffered from paralyzing depression to the point that there were times he could not preach or minister.  He tried to explain to others that he could not think himself out of his depression.  He described his thoughts like knives shredding his heart into pieces.  Abraham Lincoln once said about his depression:

“I am now the most miserable man living . . . If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. . . Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell . . .  To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better.”

William Cowper (1731 – 1800) was a gifted poet and writer.  Nevertheless, he struggled with depression so much that he was institutionalized.  Miraculously, it was in an asylum that he read the Bible and understood that salvation is found in Christ.  Yet, despite becoming a Christian, Cowper was never completely free of depression.  He continued to struggle with it for the rest of his life.  Still, through dark valleys, he wrote some of our greatest hymns.

J.B. Phillips (1906 – 1982) was a loved pastor and well-known for his Bible translation work – The Phillip’s Translation.  Phillips had many admirers and seemed to them to be the epitome of success.  Little did even his closest followers know that he suffered life-long with clinical depression that often incapacitated him.  After his death, his wife, Vera, and good friend, Rev. Edwin Robertson, published a book about J.B. Phillips entitled “The Wounded Healer.”  It tells the other side of Phillips’ story.  They write,

While he was ministering to others he was himself powerfully afflicted by dark thoughts and mental pains. He knew anxiety and depression from which there was only temporary release. And while he never lost his faith in God, he never ceased to struggle against mental pain.”

Some years ago I read “The Wounded Healer” about J.B. Phillips’ life.  He became a hero of the faith for me.  I in no way suffer the level of incapacitating depression that he did.  However, I know too well what it is like being afflicted with “dark thoughts and mental pains” while ministering to others.  I also know the constant struggling against that mental pain while maintain my hope and faith in God.

Tree Stump Close-up, Turtle River, ND, Fall 2005

Tree Stump Close-up, Turtle River, ND, Fall 2005 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

There are no easy “steps” to getting out of depression.  I have had many well-meaning friends give me their counsel and advice for defeating depression.  I am not sure it is ever defeated.  One might as well wage war against the frigid cold of a January winter in North Dakota.  The exertion may make you feel like you are accomplishing something but it is utter futility at the end of the day.  It blows on you and through you regardless of what you do.

The best that I hope for is to weather these tumultuous storms of the soul.  Experience has taught me that they will pass – though later than I like rather than sooner.  The Word of God becomes my mainstay in reminding me of God’s continued faithfulness and delight in me regardless of how I feel.  I particularly dwell upon the hope that David expresses in his darkest laments as he puts his faith in God.  The warmth of friendships around me, whether they are aware of my inner black hole or not, comforts and encourages me with moments of levity.  In these moments, rays of sunshine warm my heart.  My world will not be colored gray forever.  Someday, the full colors of spring will bloom and I will be able to bask in the full warmth of the Son.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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The Russian literary giant, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot.  He wanted more of everything.  Here is how Tolstoy tells the story:

One day a farmer received a novel offer.  For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day.  The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.  Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace.  By midday, he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground.

Well into the afternoon, he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point.  He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run; knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.  As the sun began to sink below the horizon, he came within sight of the finish line.

Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared.  He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth.  In a few minutes, he was dead.  Afterwards, his servants dug a grave.  It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide.”

The title of Tolstoy’s story was: “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (Adapted from Bits & Pieces, November, 1991.)  In the end, Tolstoy suggests, all a man really owns is a 6-foot by 3-foot piece of earth, so we are better off putting our confidence elsewhere.

Jesus, like Tolstoy, warns us (Matthew 6:19 – 24, 33) that we had better not put our trust in the promise of materialism.  If we do, we will be sadly disappointed.  Instead, there is something of eternal value that we can give our lives to pursue.  Anything we forfeit here on earth to gain what is in heaven will be returned to us there 100 times over (Matthew 19:29) along with eternal life!

Unfortunately, the western church in particular has drifted away from this teaching of Jesus.  Like first century Judaism, we associate material blessings with God’s favor.  Yet, very few people as well as nations have ever passed the prosperity test (Deuteronomy 8:8 – 10; 31:20; Jeremiah 5:7; Hosea 13:6).  The antidote to the poison of material envy and greed is “seek first His Kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

However, this is not a prescription for poverty either.  We are not more spiritual if we are poor – or act poor because we do not want people to think we have anything, which is hypocrisy.  Instead, in abundance or in want, the Lord wants us to trust him for all our needs.  He wants to use us to pour out his riches and grace upon “all nations” so that through us all people will know that He is God.  Like Abraham, he was to bless us so that we can be a blessing!

Nowhere is this more evident than in the churches of nations of the two-thirds world that are marked by material poverty but spiritual abundance in revival, signs and wonders, and miracles.  These saints do more with less for the Kingdom of God, while the American church does less with more.  While we are rich in available materials and resources, we are growing more and more Biblically illiterate and spiritually impoverished.  Thinking that we are rich and blessed, we are truly “blind, naked, and poor.”

Waitsburg Tombstone

Waitsburg Tombstone ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

While in Albania, I saw a church that was struggling with the simple resources that we take for granted everyday and every Sunday.  Can you imagine attempting to teach Sunday school or disciple without materials in your own language?  Can you imagine a church without any resources to pay for a staff of pastors and office help to keep ministry going?  Can you imagine doing Children’s ministry without any props or tools?

This is what I witnessed in Albania.  Yet, I saw a vibrant church in prayer, reaching lost souls, fellowship, and growing future leaders.  I witnessed creative people and pastors inspired by God who gathered dozens of children to teach them about Christ.  I saw the church gather for prayer and then “hit the streets” to find people to pray for and possibly be a witness to them about the love of Jesus.

My family has paid a price for my trips abroad to Albania and India.  Seeing such poverty among the world’s poorest of the poor ruins a person.  It gives one a jaundiced eye toward our western materialism and consumerism.  As such, for the past several Christmases we have not exchanged gifts.  We have not given gifts.  Plus, we have asked our friends and relatives to help us express Christmas in a new way.

Every year we pick a world poverty problem to target and give towards efforts that attempt to meet it.  We have supported homes for girls rescued from forced prostitution; bought and put together medical kits for AIDS patients; bought chickens for a impoverished family.  This year we are buying a goat to be given to a family in need.

This is a great time of year to ask ourselves:  How much stuff do we need to be successful?  How many material things do we need to feel God’s care and love?  How long do we wait until we have the earthly things we need so that we can answer God’s call to bless others?  How much of this world’s stuff are we dependent upon for our personal happiness?  How much “earth” does one need?

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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