Coping Biblically with Difficult Times
Is western Christendom facing the possibility of nearly a century of rule by tyrants as endured by Russians in the 20thcentury? Or maybe four centuries of slavery like the Israelites in Egypt? Can this descent into despotism be turned around? It can be—according to II Chronicles 7:14: God can turn it around IF we do our part (humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways). Will things get better or worse? According to Deuteronomy 28, if we obey God’s commands, we’ll be blessed—things will get better, but if we disobey God’s commands, we’ll be cursed—things will get worse; we need to hope and pray for the former, but in the meantime how do we keep our spirits up and avoid personal depression? The main key is a closer walk with God.
As in the martial arts tactic of using an opponent’s motion to your advantage, when adversity comes, let that drive you deeper into the arms of God and you win. “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them” (Deu. 33:27). Pray always (whether long or short and on your knees when possible) and thank God for his providential care and love for you, for saving your soul and the gift of eternal life: “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7). Pray for others and not just for yourself (love your neighbor as yourself). Read the Bible daily and trust God’s promises: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee (Heb. 13:5). Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you (1 Pet 5:7). Get to know God better each day by talking to him (prayer) and reading his Word. He is your best friend. Love him with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37).
While a closer walk with God is always a goal for every Christian regardless of circumstances, another key to avoiding despondency is to keep the big picture in mind: for Christians, this life is a training ground for the eternal life to come. Not only are we not promised a care free life of ease in time, but rather told that we must endure suffering in order to be glorified with Christ: “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together (Rom. 8:17). That doesn’t mean nonstop perpetual suffering as God has promised that we will not be tempted above what we are able to bear (I Cor. 10:13) and moreover, John writes that “I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in good health, even as thy soul prospereth (3 John 1:2). God will customize whatever combination of suffering and prosperity is best for each one of us. And if we’re patient and faithful in well doing, we will reap great rewards in the life to come. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life….” (John 14:6). “For in him we live, and move, and have our being….” (Acts 17:28). God is our life; the closer you are to him and the more you love him, the more life you have. “…all that hate me love death” (Pro. 8:36). “Fear not Abram: I am thy shield, and they exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1). “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God had prepared for them that love him” (I Cor. 2:9). Children of the super wealthy inherit great earthly fortunes, sometimes to the detriment of their eternal welfare, which only last for their lifetime. But our inheritance as sons of God and joint-heirs with Jesus lasts forever and will be infinitely greater than any earthly inheritance. We have the unspeakable gift of eternal life; we will have mansions and many other wonderful treasures there, but our greatest treasure and reward is God himself.
There are paradoxes in the Christian Life: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25); “…some of you shall they cause to be put to death…. But there shall not an hair of your head perish” (Luke 21:16, 18). How can this passage from Luke be true? Because Jesus said “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26). Life is relational and as we enjoy a warm fire much more when coming in out of the bitter cold, or a glass of cool water when parched with thirst, so we’ll enjoy heaven that much more after we’ve endured our allotment of suffering in time. “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:12). “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phill. 1:29). Suffering builds Christian character and strengthens our communion with Jesus through the shared experience, and it is meant for our good. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb. 12:11). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God…” (Rom. 8:28). We’re not to seek suffering, but when it comes, keep the big picture in mind and remember that it is for the greater good, and God is working all things for your good.
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21). “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel” (I Tim 5:8). Providing material necessities for yourself and your family is not only permitted but required by the Bible. If great wealth comes to a Christian through business or some other means, then he or she should be a good steward and give generously to the advancement of God’s kingdom (I Tim. 6:17-19); but a Christian who makes the accumulation of great wealth a priority is off course: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (I Tim. 6:9). Christians don’t need to be driving Lamborghinis and living in 50,000 square foot mansions, but a safe comfortable home, a reliable car, an emergency fund and provision for retirement, and a goal of achieving financial independence (which frees a person to better serve the Lord as opposed to being a wage slave) are reasonable and desirable objectives for most Christians. Of course the Bible teaches self-sacrifice and deciding how much material possessions is enough and how much should be given to advance God’s kingdom and help others is a personal decision between the individual Christian and God. You can’t out give God and generally speaking, those who are more self-sacrificing in time will probably enjoy the greatest rewards in heaven.
“What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own” (I Cor. 6:19)? Our old nature rebels against this verse: we want to go to heaven when we die but until that time we want to retain our “freedom” and “independence.” But this imagined “freedom” and “independence” (from God) boils down to unlimited choice which is not freedom but rather slavery to our sinful lusts. We are created for God in Christ Jesus and our freedom is found in slavery to Christ, in becoming what God has designed us to be: people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and their neighbor as themselves, and in losing their lives for the sake of Jesus, save them. You don’t want to be “free” and “independent” of God any more than a child wants to be free and independent of loving parents. Anyone believing they are independent of God is delusional: God creates us in our mothers’ wombs, sustains our every breath and heartbeat throughout our lives, and determines our eternal destiny based on whether or not we have personally received his Son as Lord and Savior. Attempting to be independent of God leads to insecurity; the fact that we belong to God and not ourselves is our ground for security and occasion for much rejoicing.
In a recent interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal, Robert Baron explained that God is not a being and while we may think of him as being itself rather than just another being, he is above and beyond the genus of being; we find freedom by disciplining our desires to God’s will so that accomplishment of the good becomes not only achievable but effortless. Baron further explains that we do not lose our liberty in becoming slaves to God because he is noncompetitively transcendent. God has revealed what we need to know about him in creation and his Word, but after that he is so much above us that he is incomprehensible. So if you began to feel depressed, remember that this God, who is great and good and loving and powerful beyond our comprehension, loves you more than you love yourself, and will “deliver [you] from every evil work, and will preserve [you] unto his heavenly kingdom…” (2 Tim. 4:18). “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate” (Psalm 34:16-22).
Don’t forsake assembling together (we will win or lose as a team)—a commandment and an antidote to depression—and remember that is it more blessed to give than receive. Getting out of ourselves and into serving God and neighbor is another antidote to depression. Your job or business demands permitting, find some place to serve and participate: teaching civic responsibility in a Sunday School class, helping at a rescue mission, visiting seniors, doing evangelism. It will do you a lot of good and help others also.
Due to travel restrictions, many people are figuratively speaking living in a no-fly zone. How did we get here? For the last century, the majority of American evangelicals have been living in a no-think zone, following the advice of their pastors to “not mix politics and religion.” Meanwhile, they forgot the verses in Matthew (22:37), Mark (12:30) and Luke (10:27) which tell us to love God with our mind as well as our heart and soul. Many people’s lives are being destroyed by the current tyranny and they need help. So for those of us who are able and like the Apostle Paul, have learned to be content in whatever state we are—what do we do now? We FIGHT. We fight to win, to advance God’s kingdom in time as well as for eternity and defeat the forces of Satan. We fight to win because what happens down here counts for eternity and people need help. The people whose lives are being destroyed are hungry and in prison; we need to help them because the Bible tells us to and it also tells us that they represent Jesus and if “ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous [who helped the least of these] into life eternal” (Matt. 25:45-46). We need to help these people directly when possible but also work to prevent (an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure) their hunger and imprisonment by taking back civil government into Christian hands. I’ve posted an article (It’s Theological) on my website, investingforeternity.com, that offers some strategies for accomplishing the latter.
America is under God’s judgment. We need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways; God has promised to hear from heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our land if we do that (2 Chron. 7:14). Purpose and meaning in life are essential to avoid depression. While each individual Christian has a unique calling(s) under God, every Christian has a calling to be a responsible citizen whose purpose is to advance Christ’s kingdom and bring every sphere of life (including civil government) under his lordship. We “are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom 8:37). “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever” (Isa. 9:7).