Well, we’ve started a series on Hope. One popular song says, “Our hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.” God has proven himself to be faithful to both the nation of Israel and the Church time and time again. God continues to keep all his promises. There are times we don’t feel like he is with us. There are times we feel our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. There are times when, because of our disobedience, just like Israel, we find ourselves walking through a desert. For those who have yet to believe, life is even worse, because on their bad days, they have nothing and no one to turn to for hope. Our world is filled with false hopes and Band-Aid fixes. I am not one to tell anyone to avoid all medications, some medication, including for mental illness, is beneficial. But many doctors would rather pump a person full of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills than offer a person real hope in the Savior of the world. There is hope in our hopelessness, our despair, and in our depression far beyond just what the doctors can prescribe.
In his book This is Your Brain on Joy, Dr. Earl Henslin says,
All our brains are uniquely wired. Some of our wiring gifts us with a basic emotional set point that includes mostly though and feelings of happiness and peace and basic sanity. Sadly, however, some of us are wired to experience more anxiety, anger, or depression. Some have mental predispositions for psychological imbalances or illnesses. And many of us are wired with a mixture of everything in between.
There are disorders that are genetic. There are disorders that can be identified by specific brain imaging. But there are also issues that have specifically to do with ungodly behaviors and sin. Some issues can be both. For instance, I have the genetic predisposition for alcoholism that does not give me license nor an excuse for alcoholic behavior. To consume alcohol is not necessarily sinful, but for me, to consume alcohol leads to drunkenness and other destructive behaviors and attitudes. Once alcohol was out of my life, alcoholism and drunkenness no longer dominated it. But if I ever choose to drink again, the cycle starts all over.
Nicky Gumbel has interviewed hundreds of people around the world who have come to faith in Jesus. The question he asks over and over again is, ‘What difference has Jesus made?’ and the genuine answers given by the people I have quoted are typical. – ‘My life has completely changed. I now look at the world through different eyes… I feel love for everyone and an inner peace that I never imagined could exist.’ – ‘I had been living my life in a dark hole, I was carrying a great weight on my shoulders… that burden has gone… and I am filled with great hope, joy, excitement and love, and all I want to do is to serve Christ in whatever form he chooses.’ – ‘I feel like I have found love and conquered death in one day.’ The difference Jesus makes is massive, eternal, and impossible to fully comprehend.
The hope we find through a relationship with the one true and living God through the forgiveness and sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, and the comfort of the Indwelling Holy Spirit is far better and more beneficial than anything that can be found in a pharmacy, a liquor store, a bar, a dispensary, or a back-alley deal. The hope we have in Jesus is better by far than any relationship or number of relationships we could ever have. But our relationship with God is one relationship that can make all the rest that much better.
Dr. Charles Hodges, an old friend of mine, wrote a book called; Good Mood, Bad Mood, many years ago. At one point in this book on depression and bipolar disorders and the role of faith and hope he says,
Our label-oriented society is struggling under the medical impression that once we are diagnosed with a mood disorder, our brains (and our lives) will never change unless medically altered. It is good to know from recent science that our brains can change in response to our thoughts and actions… The Bible has many passages to support the idea. As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The idea that believers could “put off” old bad habits (sins) and “put on” godly behavior (Eph. 4:22-24) is so vital to Christian theology that denying it leaves the gospel impotent.
God has gifted the human race with skilled doctors. However, the idea that when dealing with the mind and moods that drugs can fix people better than the “Great Physician” while leaving him out of the treatment process is utter foolishness. Romans 12:1-2 says,
‘Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.’
Our circumstances and our moods should not determine our attitudes and actions. However, our godly attitudes and acting out in God’s will can certainly change our moods affect our circumstances and give us a sense of peace, contentment, and joy.
No one recorded in the New Testament went through more hardship and persecution than Paul. Paul was arrested, stoned, flogged, beaten, and shipwrecked multiple times each. He had a long-term illness (thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor. 12:7) that God chose not to remove even though Paul had prayed for its removal several times. There were times and circumstances where Paul had everything he needed and more, but there were also times when Paul had nothing but the clothes, tattered though they may be, on his back. He went hungry at times, but he also had plenty at other times. In Philippians chapter one Paul says,
‘For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. ‘
In the Pastor Joe paraphrase edition, we could say, “I’d rather be dead and in heaven with Christ, but God has work for me to do still so I need to be productive.” He goes on to say the reason he needs to stay is so the Philippians will make continue to make progress and have joy in the faith.
Although Paul longs to leave the physical world to go be with Jesus in heaven, he continues on and in chapter 4 he tells the Philippians a big secret…the secret to living a life honoring God through each and every circumstance he has faced or will face. Dr. Henslin in the book mentioned earlier has also discovered this secret has a profound impact of brain imaging when addressing mood and behavior. The secret is how to have joy and contentment. Joy and contentment are some of those things that philosophers, religions, and psychologists have sought for millennia. Eastern gurus may describe it as bliss. Hindus and Buddhists among others also build this into the idea of nirvana, not smells like teen spirit… Psychologists may call it self-actualization. But in Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization comes at the top of the pyramid after all other needs are met. For Paul and as many Christians, POWs, and others have discovered over the years, this idea is foundational. With contentment and joy, all trials and tribulations can be faced with a godly attitude and God-honoring actions.
Paul says in Philippians chapter 4,
‘I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. ‘
The secret to having contentment is the strength we receive through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are commanded to Rejoice always in Philippians 4:3. We are commanded not to worry in Philippians 4:6-7, but instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving to tell our requests to God and he will give us peace that will guard our hearts and minds.
Dr. Henslin phrases laid-back joy in this way:
Contentment is a wonderful word, related to joy and happiness. By the way, in the scripture, joy usually means a sense of internal delight; happiness is the recognition of how blessed we are…Both bring a smile and are related to feelings that are connected to an inner attitude of gratitude…Contentment contains the habit of being grateful for every possible thing there is to be thankful for, in any and every situation.
Gratitude, thankfulness, praise, worship, rejoicing are all actions and attitudes we keep that all lead to a contented heart that can bring hope and faith into the darkest despair or depression. We have the gift of an eternal relationship with the Creator of all and his power to live through the trials and circumstances we face.
Looking through Philippians, Dr. Henslin suggests there are six keys to creating joy in our lives.
- Reframe your chains- God doesn’t always remove our trials, but he can always use them for his glory. How can you bring glory to God in your circumstance?
- Shrink irritants- You get to choose which voices to listen and pay attention to. If there is a negative influence in your life that only makes things seem worse, limit their time and influence in your life.
- Letting go, looking ahead- Dory, in Finding Nemo, said frequently, “Just keep swimming,” we can let go of past hurts and hang-ups and push forward into the new life that Jesus has in-store for us.
- The remedy for high anxiety- Pray with gratitude and thanksgiving trusting God to work his will in your life.
- A richly stored mind- Paul says, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.’ Philippians 4:8
- Be deep-spirited friends-You need at least one friend who you can be authentic and transparent with, a friend who will also be honest and encouraging toward you that isn’t afraid to correct you when you are wrong. Can you also be this kind of friend for someone else?
Framing our lives in the hope we have through faith in Jesus Christ is the first and most profound step in dealing with depression, despair, and hopelessness. We can find some help through medication, counseling, friends; but without an eternal relationship with our Creator, we are a train running full speed down a dead-end track. The only real hope for the hopeless is found in Jesus.