Wall of signboards at Ebisu Bridge on the Dōtonbori Canal, Osaka, Japan Photographer: Martin Falbisoner
Anxiety, fear, loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness. These are all emotions that can spring to life in the midst of difficult situations. If you have been a Christian long enough you probably know that being a Christian does not exempt you from earthly troubles. If we look at the stats in the US it should come as no surprise many people are affected by these emotions. One out of six Americans are on antidepressants, that is a sixty five percent jump in fifteen years. There is almost certainly a range of factors for these stats, overworking, declining incomes, twenty four hour news cycle which affects perceptions, a growing acceptance of anti-depressants. Many struggle through life, and life is not all rosy for them. For some antidepressants maybe one of the the proper responses to physical and mental depression, however for all Christians there is also some things we can do in the midst of difficult situations.
So what we can do as Christians? First off I would like to show two examples of Christians who had peace in the midst of very difficult situations to show the strength they received from God in tough times. The first one is the Apostle Paul. who experienced a life of hardship while doing missions for Christ. We know that during his
ministry he was beaten countless times, was beaten with rods three different times, on five separate occasions received thirty nine lashes, was shipwrecked three different times, was in constant danger, suffered hunger and thirst on many occasions, and was imprisoned many times as well.*
In the midst of these trials, Paul is imprisoned, and him being concerned for the church writes four letters to churches that end up being books of the Bible. One of these letters was to the Phillipian church where Paul teems with emotion “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”** Paul then goes on to give one of the great sections of scripture in dealing with difficult situations emotionally. We will look into this section shortly.
The second example is Horatio G. Spafford who experienced deep family loss, and in the midst of deep tragedy wrote one of the most well known and enduring hymns “It is well with my soul.” Horatio had a storied past of deep tragedy. He had five children. He lost his son the same year his business was burned down as well as many of his properties he invested in during the great fire of Chicago. His business interests also went into further decline the next year. A couple of years later he planned on traveling to Europe with his wife and four daughters, but got held back by business. His wife and daughters proceeded without him, with the intention of him meeting them soon. The ship his family was on crashed, and all four of daughters died, with his wife barely getting rescued. His wife sent message of the tragedy on arriving to Europe.
Horatio immediately left for Europe, and was shown while on journey the exact place where his wife’s ship crashed and sank. It was in the moment Horatio wrote “It is well with my soul” Unfortunately, this was not the end of tragedy for Horatio. He had three more children one of which later died at an early age of four of scarlet fever. On top of this the church they had been attending saw this as divine judgment. Horatio and his wife left that denomination to start two different movements, one in which played an critical role in serving the hurting and hungry during and after World War 1.
So how can we find peace in God in the midst of difficult situations just like Horatio and the Apostle Paul did? I believe the Bible points to some different things:
•-Phillipians was the letter I mentioned earlier in which Paul declares to the church “Rejoice,…I will say it again rejoice!” Shortly after this passage Paul tells the church to not be anxious about anything and gives some points on what do instead to combat anxiousness. Paul tells them to pray and petition God. This helps us get our minds off ourselves and reminds us that God is big and in control. It reminds that we have a creator who loves us and we will be ok no matter what happens. The very act of prayer also acts as a healing power knowing that we have not only done what we can, we have prayed and given all to God as well, and entrusted a good God with our anxieties. Also, God answers prayers, not always the way we want, but God is always listening, and it is what we are called to do. Don’t push God away in the midst of difficult circumstances, push into Him.
• Paul tells them to be thankful. Being thankful gets our mind off the negative and on the positive. Not only that there are a host of benefits backed by science to being thankful. Being thankful helps our physical health, mental health, helps sleep, among many other things. Paul then says “and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
• Paul then tells the church to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely admirable, excellent, praise worthy and dwell on such things. There is great wisdom on dwelling more on the positive over the negative in life.
• Another powerful verse in dealing with anxiety and difficult circumstances comes in Peter’s letter to the church
where he tells the congregation to “cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” There is great relief in knowing God not only loves us but he cares for us. In this passage we see this and we also Peter’s call for us to cast off our burdens by bringing them to the Lord.
• Knowing that God has not given us a spirit of fear but a spirit of love is helpful in encountering tough situations as well. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
• Know that God is sovereign over all. We do not serve a weak God. He created the heavens and the earth. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke says “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” God is for us and loves us. Worrying doesn’t do anything but add to the trouble.
• Know that Jesus our high priest has also experienced deep emotional pain and anxiety. He was betrayed by a close friend on. On the night before His crucifixion Jesus was deeply anxious. Jesus says in Mark 14:34 ”My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” This night Jesus was literally sweating blood, a medical condition called Hematidrosis when one is coming under an incredible load of stress. Jesus understands and sympathizes with us on a deep emotional level.
•The early church was not only known for going through circumstances, but known for their singing and worship for God. Worship breaks anxiety and all kinds of emotions, it helps us get a reprieve of the focus on self and our situations.
• Knowing that God loves us deeply and our future is secure in Him resolves many deep anxieties. Romans 8:32 says “if God is for us, who can be against us” and goes to tell us nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We may face many anxieties and troubles but God’s judgment is not one of them, we are destined for grace. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
• Focus on thoese worse off than yourself. There is an idea in modern Christianity that basically says you must be healthy and whole first before you can help others. There is nothing farther than the truth, and it is a terribly destructive idea. This kind of thinking caues us to miss ministry opportunities and causes an endless inward search for wholeness. We can not be whole in our purpose until we minister to others, that is what we were created and called to do.
• Finally surround yourselves in good community. Having good community is key to spiritual and also physical, and mental health. A New York Times article in 2016 talks about how Isolation is killing us a people and is growing a problem. “Since the 1980’s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.” The article then goes on detail some of the health problems related to being isolated “Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immmune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increase the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.”*** The writer of the Hebrew’s letter to the church is just as pertinent today to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
*2 Corinthians 11:24-28