Today we are talking about Depression. Depression is characterized by longer-term sadness, lethargy, and melancholy which can overwhelm you. Depressed people may also feel unusually sleepy, a general sense of apathy, and may have thoughts doubting whether life is worth living. Depression has been shown to cut across societies, status, race, genders, and religions. So, like the rest of society, a good number of Christians experience depression.
But Jesus clearly promises his followers joy: In John 15:10-13, Jesus tells us to follow his commandments and to remain (abide, live in) in his love, just as he has abided in the father’s love. So that his joy may be in us. Later in John 17:13 he says these things so that full measure of his joy will be completed in us.
And yet, we know many suffer from depression. How can this be? Why are we not feeling the joy of Christ? As an illustration, we watched two clips of the movie Frozen. Elsa is about to be attacked and Anna jumps in to save her, but in doing do, Anna freezes and dies*.
*But wait! There is more to the story! Elsa, upon realizing that her sister was willing to sacrifice herself for her, is filled with love for her sister and this love brings her back to life, and thaws out the world. The point is this: Where you stop the movie makes all the difference!
We are told in John 15:10-11, that abiding in God’s love brings joy.
The word here for abide is the Greek word men?, which means “to stay, remain, live, dwell, abide; to be in a state that begins and continues, yet may or may not end or stop.” Abiding in God’s love is to be completely surrounded by it, and to dwell in it, to be filled by it to the point of overflowing.
When we abide in his love, we feel joy. This joy is stronger than sin and death and condemnation or failing. Stronger than the devil himself. If your joy is associated with that love, then it can’t be taken away. Living in his vast love means external circumstances can’t affect us. Fortunate circumstances, while they may make us happy, will not bring us joy; likewise unfortunate circumstances may make us sad, but they will not have the power to take our joy away.
Looking at the “extended narrative” beyond current circumstances is the key to this. In Hebrews 12:1-2 we are told that for the joy set before him he endured the cross. The cross was designed to bring maximum pain and humiliation, so obviously he was not happy about it. And yet he had joy. Joy is different than happiness. He had a vision that went beyond the cross. It didn’t stop at the cross. It went past that event, on to resurrection and millions of people being saved.
Similarly we know that bad stuff happened to the disciples, they were warned of as much. They suffered imprisonment, beatings, execution. But they didn’t live in that narrative alone. They believed in the extended narrative that lies beyond this moment, and so they had joy. That’s why Paul tells us in Romans 8:35-39, that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Not famine, being poor/naked, death by sword, or being slaughtered like sheep. When bad things happen they can’t separate you from the love of Christ. Focus on the extended narrative and you will find joy there. Some of these “extended narratives” the disciples saw which fueled their joy:
Eph 1:10. He set out a long-range plan before us, and there will be unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Col 1:19-20 He will reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Everything will find its proper place without crowding. People and things, animals and atoms, are fixed. He will weave together all that is lost and broken, and put it all back together. Rev 21:3-5 The enthroned one said “Look! I’m making everything new!” He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. –Hallelujah! So you see, where you stop the movie makes all the difference!
It is Greg’s hope (and the hope of this church) that you live a long and blessed life. Maybe you will. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe our world might enter into a world war or maybe we’ll be hit by an asteroid. But even if the worst possible outcome should befall us, if you zoom out and run that film a little longer, you have a mind-bogglingly wonderful future ahead of you! As does the whole world! Don’t stop at the short term crucifixion. Look past it to the resurrection and redemption of all things to the one holy God. This story, no matter where you are in it, Christ has promised us, has a very happy ending! The love of God is beautiful, stunning and Marvelous. Live in that.
Neuroscience has shown us that all emotions are associated with the stories and narratives we tell ourselves. They are not directly caused by external events. This is why the same event can cause two people to react completely differently from same event. It’s because of the different stories we tell ourselves. We are constantly telling ourselves stories and running movies in our mind — it’s called thinking. Most of it is unconscious. And we assume these movies are true. But they key to getting this sermon series is knowing that the stories we tell ourselves are NOT necessarily true! Our brain is an organic computer, programmed to the patterns of this world. But the world is fallen, so your programming might be corrupt. But here is the all-important truth: we have the power to override this program and change our minds. (Recall the “polka-dotted banana” exercise from last week’s sermon.) This is why Paul tells us to take our thoughts captive.
2 Cor 10:4-5. We read that we are to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God. “Arguments” here could be translated as “a reasoning process”. Any thought that contradicts the truth of the love of God, we are to demolish. This mental discipleship is how we engage in spiritual warfare. We have the capability and the responsibility to fight!
Now, this is not meant to oversimplify depression. Chemical imbalances can cause it, and if that is the case, then you should seek treatment. But even if it is chemical, whatever the cause, all kinds of depression have one thing in common: They all end with tragedy. The rape, the divorce, the loss, Anna dying in the movie, Christ dying on the cross. And this story becomes “frozen” in this point in time, and we interpret everything through this lens. Not to be trite, but of course the world looks sad when you view it through this lens. Don’t stop your story there! There is way more to the story. Always remind yourself of the end of the story.
The intensity with which you envision this “extended narrative” is important. Last week we learned that Faith is a reality-like vision (hupostasis) of what you hope for or anticipate (elpiz?) that creates the feeling that it is so (elegchos) even though you haven’t experienced it yet.
Use the immense power of your imagination to truly SEE the extended ending of this story. And then catch yourself when you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about a “premature ending” of a story. Catch that and add a minute to it, to include the *real* ending of the story. Even if you suffer from anxiety and die in the narrative you are telling yourself, well, what happens then? Then you get to meet God and bathe in his divine glory! No story’s ending can be bad when we know the real and eventual outcome.
Three assignments for this week:
1) Practice. Regularly exercise Faith in the unending, always-victorious love of God. Watch your thoughts as they unfold and ask yourself which ending this story implies. And then extend it, when necessary, to weave in “the rest of the story.”
2) Serve. Put “abiding in God’s love” into practice. Let it fill you completely and you will overflow it toward others. One of the characteristics of depression is that it can cause us to become self-focused (always thinking about how bad we feel). Serving is a way to break this cycle. Serve at homeless shelter. Serving is God’s Prozac. Give his love away, and it will bring you joy. You aren’t too depressed to serve. Not serving is what keeps you depressed!
3) Don’t go solo. The insidious thing about Depression is that it makes you want to isolate, but this is the worst possible thing you can do for it. We have a support group here called “Heavy Hearts” Join that, or get out and be around people, talk about it, let people in.
Life is a tiny little blip in a longer story. Keep your mind on the *real* show. And nobody in hell or on earth can take it away.
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