Anxiety and Depression
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Well I know that you came this morning hoping for another message from the minor prophets but I’m afraid that we have finished all 12 of them
Having said that allow me to reiterate that my goal in each of those books was just to provide an overview and in doing so I have barely scratched the surface of the wealth that is contained in them and so I would heartily recommend reading and rereading them again for yourself
But that means that I had to find something different to preach on today and I have decided to broach a topic that, in one way or another effects each and every one of us
This morning I want to talk just a little bit about anxiety and depression
First allow me to clarify that I am coming at this from a Biblical and Pastoral standpoint and NOT a medical standpoint
I am NOT a mental health specialist and what I DO know about it is dwarfed by what I DON’T know
There is a physical component to mental health just as there is to other types of health, there are chemicals and balances that I cannot and will not speak to for those things should only be dealt with by a qualified professional
But as much as I believe that there are physical reasons that apart from the miracle healing power of Christ are not a spiritual issue I also believe that there are spiritual issues in the realm of anxiety and depression that cannot be dealt with from a medical standpoint
The “Mental Health Strategy for Canada” report put out by the federal government suggests that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime
The Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada places that figure at 1 in 4
The Canadian Mental Health Association however argues for a wider understanding of what mental illness means and so pegs that statistic at 1 in2
The CMHA also has studied the cost of mental illness on society as a whole and they suggest that in 1998 (the latest year for which these numbers were available) between hospital visits, medication, and work time missed among other factors, the cost to society was over $14.2 Billion (Yes with a “B”)
That was 20 years ago so with inflation and with a rise in these issues one could only imagine what that number will be for 2018
This morning I am not going to try and tell you that you just need more faith or that as a Christian you shouldn’t feel this way because neither things are Biblicaly true
Many of the great men and woman described in the Bible suffered from some of these same problems;
My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.
while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
And Jeremiah said,
Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?
And that’s just to name a few, but there’s good news
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
So this morning I make no pretense that I am going to provide the be all and end all answer to these problems but instead I want to offer you 5 practical things that are within your power to do to help defeat and keep away anxiety and depression
These steps come from Paul’s letter to the Philippians the 4th chapter, beginning at verse 4
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Writing this letter from prison Paul fully understood the dangers anxiety and depression represented to the life of the believer and so he presents 5 strategies to deal with it
The first strategy is so imperative that Paul repeats it, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.”
Now notice that Paul doesn’t say to rejoice for the problems as some may lead you to believe, but instead to “Rejoice IN the Lord!”
The word “rejoice is the Greek word “chairo” and it means to “be full of joy”
‘Pastor that’s crazy! You can’t just get rid of depression by “being joyful”’
But you see I am not just talking about putting on a false front of happiness and hoping that the depression or anxiety goes away.
I’m talking about finding joy in God as your source and then forcing that joy to occupy the place in your spirit that was overrun with depression
Remember how I said David faced his own depression times
Well it is suspected that was written when David’s own son Absalom had led a rebellion against his father and had forced David to flee his thrown, listen to a little bit of what he writes,
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
And almost a dozen times in the Psalms David commands his own spirit/soul, “Bless the Lord o my soul and all that is within me praise His holy name”
To be full of joy when we don’t feel like it is not easy but it is a choice that we make to either allow the darkness to occupy that place in us or to replace it with the joy of the Lord
The second strategy is to “Let your gentleness be evident to all”
Now this might not make sense until you understand that the word of “gentleness” is the Greek word “epieikes” and it refers to the character traits of fairness, patience, mildness, consideration
Paul says don’t wallow in your misery, look beyond yourself and spend your time serving others
Don’t allow your problems to dictate who you are making you a miserable person but determine to overcome that desire with evidence of the fruit of the Spirit
Now you may be thinking, ‘That is easier said than done!’ to which I would respond, ‘Absolutely’
If it was easy, anxiety and depression would be such a major weapon of the enemy
He knows that it’s tough and that most people aren’t willing to put in the effort required to do it
Now again I am NOT suggesting putting on a false front and pretending that nothing is wrong
What I saying is be truthful with yourself and others about your struggles but don’t let them define who you are!
The 3rd strategy that you need to do is to pray
Tell God how you feel, tell him how you “REALLY” feel
You won’t surprise Him, you won’t offend Him and you won’t make Him love you any less
And just to clarify, the word that Paul uses for prayer is the word “proseuche” and it refers to an oral prayer
Get alone with God, somewhere where no one else can hear you, maybe at home when everyone else is out, maybe in the car driving somewhere, maybe go for a walk
Wherever it is get alone with God and say what is on your heart
There are many examples of this in the scriptures but allow me to use David once again
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
And what of Gideon who faced overwhelming odds and discouragement on almost every front
He was hiding in a winepress threshing wheat so that he wouldn’t be found when an angel of the Lord appears and says to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Oh how I wish I could spend time on the irony of that but I want to show you Gideon’s reply,
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
The only way to defeat the darkness is to be honest with Him who is the light!
And when we do that Paul promises,
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
The 4th strategy to overcoming anxiety and depression is to fill our minds with the right things
Things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy”!
Any person in the medical field who is being honest with you will tell you just how much they hate the internet
Because of the internet every person who has a sore knee has “chondromalacia patella” or even “osteosarcoma” both of which came up in the first response to a google search for knee pain
The fallen nature of humanity is that we tend to focus on the negative instead of filling our minds with the positive
The author of Hebrews gives us this example,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus knew what was waiting for Him at Golgotha, he knew the physical pain and mental stress that was there, so much so that Luke says ,
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
A very rare medical condition known as “hermatidrosis” where the person is under so much stress that their blood vessels burst under the skin and exit the body through your sweat glands
Yet the author of Hebrews says that instead of focusing on these depressing things, Jesus endured the cross by focusing on “the joy set before Him”
I don’t know what that joy was, if it was the approval of the Father, or the faces of those who would be redeemed but what I do know is that Jesus gives us the example of how to deal with tough times
You can’t overcome a negative situation with a negative mind set, you MUST fill your mind with the right things
Now although Paul says that thinking right was to be the “final” strategy, like any good preacher he gives one more point after saying “In closing”
And that final, last strategy is this,
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Live righteously which has a double effect
First off if you are living righteously the enemy is going to have a lot fewer opportunities to try and play with your mind
In other words if you are living right you are not going to expose yourself to a lot of the sinful behaviours that ultimately will lead you down the road of mental health problems
The second thing that it does is that when the darkness does creep in, being busy about God’s business keeps your focus and attention on something other than yourself
In a way the 5th strategy is just an amalgamation of the other 4 strategies
To make them more than just a medicine for anxiety and depression but to make them a lifestyle that keeps us healthy mentally and spiritually
For, as Paul says, when we make these strategies a lifestyle, “The peace of God will be with us”