Violence, hatred, sickness, death, and evil of every sort engulf this world every moment of every day. It's not hard to understand why so many people are depressed and discouraged to the point of being paralyzed in everyday life, hospitalized for mental health reasons, or turn to suicide when out of hope completely. For some people hopelessness comes not from lacking, but from having. Things seem to be going okay, but there is an emptiness inside, a gnawing feeling something is missing.
For those without God through faith in Jesus Christ, nothing offers peace on earth or hope beyond death. The only thing the world can offer is quick fixes, false hopes and distractions. We are constantly bombarded with worldly ways to be happy now: Lose weight, look good, smell good, buy this, drive that, eat here, live there, get a mate, get rid of a mate, have a family, and the list goes on and on. None of it works in the long run (and often not even in the short run) because it can't solve our basic problem: our sin. Only God can cleanse our heart from sin with forgiveness. Only God can grant us entrance into life everlasting. Only then comes our peace here on earth.
Uh, oh . . .
What about believers who feel like they have no hope?
. . . somehow I don't feel any better!
Yet all of these sayings are true, so why don't they bring comfort and hope? Well, how would you feel about a bottle of medicine if your doctor shot the bottle at you from across the room with a slingshot and hit you in the back of the head with it?! Probably none of the first three thoughts that just went through your head was to take the medicine! We'll use this (somewhat crazy) metaphor as a path to spiritual wellness.
Compassion- It's easy to see how the aforementioned doctor lacked compassion. For the most part, people don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. If we sit in our ivory towers and slingshot our pearls of wisdom down into the sick, we are not likely to be very helpful. Much like our metaphor, if the patient angrily throws the medicine back at the doctor or into the trash, no healing takes place.
There is a Greek word, 'koinonia', that is most often translated 'fellowship' or 'communion' in the New Testament. The word implies sharing at an intimate level or a coming along side of one another. We have got to get out of our heads that we can't get close to someone that is hurting spiritually, afraid that we're going to 'catch' whatever it is they have. Do you ever remember reading about Jesus having compassion on someone and turning away from them? NO! Jesus had compassion on them and healed them (Matt 14:14), He fed them (Matt 15:32), He touched them (Matt 20:34), He taught them (Mark 6:34), He placed His hands upon a leper (Mark 1:41), and at His darkest hour, on the cross, He had compassion on the thief and welcomed him into the kingdom of heaven (Luke 23:43).
That's one of the reasons we should all be constantly studying the Bible and going to church. However, just being there, loving the person, sharing the burden, and listening goes a long way to making someone feel better. In addition, anyone can pray with someone and pray for them. Add to that Godly wisdom, and now we're getting somewhere!
That addresses the issue if someone else is hurting, but what if we're hurting? Learning to be more compassionate goes a long way to heal ourselves, because it takes some of the focus off of ourselves and focuses us on helping others. However, there are times when we do need address the feelings of self pity in our own lives.
Perspective- In order to feel sorry for ourselves we must have the wrong perspective.
The perspective goes something like this:
Here comes the medicine-DUCK!
Said as lovingly as possible, this perspective is one of "I am God- I know best." Oh, we don't like to put it that way because that's obviously not right. But when we go around spouting off what we do and don't deserve and what God should and shouldn't do, that's exactly the position we put ourselves in. The great thing is that if we ever find ourselves straying into this type of mind frame we can immediately change our perspective.
So what should our perspective be? We should realize that God is present in everything that comes into our lives. If something good comes into our lives, we know it is from God. If we are in trouble because of something we have done (sin), we know that God chastens those He loves. And if we are enduring a trial that doesn't seem to be caused by anything we have done, we know that God is working to shape our lives. The bottom line is that God loves us and NOTHING happens outside of His control.
First of all we should have an attitude of gratitude. It's hard to be miserable and thankful at the same time. Everyone who is a Christian has the biggest gift that anyone could possibly have: Salvation. When all else fails retreat back to the fact that Jesus died for us, and God has chosen us for life eternal with Him. That's worth repeating. When the sky crashes to the ground and the mountains tumble into the sea, our salvation rests securely in the grip of God's mighty hand. On top of that, most of us also have many, many other things to be thankful for.
One doesn't often make many of friends saying this, but many times we are the author of our own misery.
God has painstakingly let us know what is right and wrong and how we are to behave (in the Bible).
God has always been right, always will be right, and is not at fault for our
ignorance of His will. It is safe to say that most of us spend far more time seeking our own pleasure than
seeking God's will, reading the Bible, or gathering with believers in Church or study. Even when we
know what is right, we somehow believe we can escape the repercussions of doing wrong and do it
anyway. We will escape the eternal punishment as believers, but our sin separates us from God while
were here, and why would we want that?!
*Note- While what we do doesn't determine whether or not we are believers, what we do and what our heart desires to do does show whether or not we are believers.
Now for the good part! When we are thankful for what we have, and we stop shooting ourselves in the foot with deliberate sin, God can begin to use us and mold us for the work of the Kingdom.
James 1:2-4 gives us the proper perspective:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." NIV
Where is the hope? Our hope does not lie in avoiding the trials in life. Our hope lies in our faith triumphing over our trials. Our hope lies in God.
Paul, who was refined by trial after trial, had the perspective we should strive for:
"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers." 2 Corinthians 1:8-11(NIV)
Trials have a way of cutting through the fluff in our lives and revealing our faith. Do we have faith that God is in control? Do we have faith that God has our best interest in mind? Do we realize that we are utterly dependant on God?
Time and time again stories are told about how people abandon God and leave the church when something really 'bad' happens in their lives. Their faith was tested and found to be a false faith. But is it not better to find out now the condition of our faith then at death when our fate is sealed in heaven or hell for eternity?
In addition to revealing if our faith is genuine, trials also mature us in Christ. Paul, whose faith was proven genuine, was then continuously cleansed, purged, and refined by his trials, making him the great apostle that he was. Abraham's faith was tested with the call to sacrifice his son. Did God not know the state of Abraham's faith? Of course He did! Abraham found out the state of Abraham's faith! Abraham was reminded that living for God meant being willing to sacrifice everything! And we know that God didn't actually require the sacrifice in that particular case, just the willingness. Sometimes the sacrifice is required, however. We need to trust that God knows which is best and submit to His will.
Submission- If the very word 'submission' sends shivers down your spine, you probably have a hard time dealing with trials. The very idea of submission to God stands contrary to all of our humanness. Our sinful nature is afraid that if we submit to the will of God we will miss out on something 'good'. Yet Paul brings up a very interesting point. We are either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-22) In reality, we are not truly free to act on our own. When we follow God's laws, and therefore His will, we are submitting to Him. When disobey God we are not exercising our freedom, but submitting to the Devil and his temptations. Since Satan doesn't have anything to offer but death, he disguises it as freedom, independence, pride, etc..
God is the author of truth and life. He offers us that truth and life and calls us to a life of submission. Simply put, when we fail to submit to God we are fighting against God. Guess who loses. When we submit to God, He is faithful to guide and protect us, comfort and strengthen us, love and heal us.
If we do everything right does that mean our trials will be removed from us? Nope, not all of them. Does it mean we will never have moments of sadness? Probably not. But God is still God and He still loves us. Therein lies our hope!