Why is Christmas so Depressing?

Many believers and unbelievers alike anticipate the ‘holiday season’ with heaviness and anxiety.  While personal reasons for depression vary greatly, the fleshly sensation of Christmas accentuates every grief in our heart.  However, rather than masking our heart with a pretense of joy, why not consider that the Lord Himself shares in that grief? 

Many believers stifle controversy in their heart over this holiday.  They know that Jesus was not born in December and find sentimental reenactments of His birth inaccurate,  often serving as spiritual entertainment.  For sure the Apostles never engaged in any such rehearsals of the Lord’s birth and the early Christians and Puritans rejected establishing this event.   None of the founding fathers would dream of shopping for gifts to each other – especially if they lacked nothing. 

The unmistakable spiritual truth of Christmas is this:  when believers and unbelievers alike can join together and celebrate a spiritual event, it is laden with worldliness and idolatry.  

Thankfully,  commercial ‘joy’ and ‘peace’ elude most folks – the only thing worse than a false joy is building a foundation upon it.  The world accepts and celebrates a god they deem benign and vulnerable but rejects a reigning King to Whom they must give account.

empty manger

He is no longer here!  Our hope lies in His power to deliver and redeem us.  

If we are outsiders to the flashing lights and tinsel that ‘deck the halls’ and the holiday cheer that reeks of cliché, we can certainly find consolation and hope in this – Jesus is on the outside as well.  He never engaged in falderal or worldliness – never lost His focus of the cross.  He never said to look backwards but forward, living each day in the reality of His promised return as Judge and King.

God’s burden for the lost was born into a manger but the proclamation to the world is this, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”.  That is the message rejected by man – without it, there can be no joy, no peace, no reconciliation with God at Christmas or any other time. 

Gathering with family and friends and enjoying traditions is a good thing but if we believe that worldly celebrations, gift giving or ‘the most wonderful time of year’ is ordained by our holy God we will be rightfully disappointed in Him.

Unlike the world, the Savior Jesus invites,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29)

“There will be terrible times in the last days”, warned the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 3.  The call for believers to separate from the world is not to prevent fun or celebration but serves as an intrinsic warning that this world is temporal and any hope rooted therein is a poor and foolhardy investment.   

Depression, sadness, and disappointment is not crazy during Christmas but often true reflection of this dark world….perhaps a true alignment with the heart of Christ.  I pray to seek the Lord in greater measure and hear from Him through His word.  But I also pray for those who ‘celebrate’ but refuse to repent, the many who celebrate Christ’s birth but reject His mandate to us, “You must be born again.”

He is not in that manger.  But He promises,

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”  (John 14:23)

This is the true celebration that the world cannot give and cannot take away. 

 

When God Puts You on Hold

When a service provider or agent puts us on hold, our flesh rises exponentially with each passing moment.  Of course, we can hang up, yell in the phone, and even write bad reviews online….“Bad customer service, was on hold for 10 minutes!”

But for followers of Jesus Christ, our lives, our hopes and expectations,  can be put on hold for days, months, even years.  “We belong to God” does not imply membership but ownership, we’ve been bought with a price.  God heard our cry for deliverance, for healing, for financial breakthrough, for a call to serve – for purpose and fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God – and yet oftentimes He puts us on hold.

Noted English evangelist Leonard Ravenhill speaks of God’s “University of Silence” in his book, ‘Sodom Had No Bible’.   Many spiritual giants endured years of ‘silence’, such as Joseph imprisoned for many years and Moses’ 40 years of shepherding.  Jesus Himself lived 30 years, seemingly silent, while observing religious hypocrisy and all kinds of human suffering.  Noted in Matthew, Jesus surely had divine wisdom and discernment at a young age. But even as God incarnate, Jesus maintained perfect obedience as a Servant – waiting for the Father’s perfect timing to reveal Him as Savior.

As servants ourselves, we may find our particular ministry with its passion and calling, come to a season’s end.  It is a tremendous loss as nothing compares to ‘co-laboring in the fields with the Father’ with the joy of God’s Spirit moving.  Yet, there are times when our assignment lies only on the sidelines, waiting for God’s perfect timing, His open door and call to service.

“Most of us hate to be under-rated.  We may not seek to head the parade, but – and this is our pitiable weakness – we must be in the parade.”!  (Leonard Ravenhill)

The ‘University of Silence’ separates us, not only from the world, but often from broad fellowship with believers.  God desires an intimacy that comes from separation – often a separation unto Him brought about by loss and suffering.  Why separation?  Why loss? Why suffering?  Why should our hopes and expectations be on hold?

How long should we wait at life’s juncture before God opens the door, reveals His will, or leads us to those “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”?   Obedience requires that we wait indefinitely, faith requires that we hope expectantly!

Conversely, we can create possibilities, try to ‘make things happen’ – but that is not a call of God.  That’s the ‘call of King Saul’ who lost the kingdom through his own willfulness.  Saul lost his kingship when he ‘appointed’ himself priest and later, void of all spiritual discernment, lost his life after consulting a witch.

When God has us ‘on hold’, when we’re stuck at some juncture, God’s word assures us of His sovereignty and purpose over our lives.  He also warns us though, of acting outside His will – it is the dependence upon Him and the surrender to Him that undergird a life pleasing to God.

It is actually an honor to be in God’s ‘University of Silence’.  When we are living right and yet He calls us out of the parade and away from all that seems fruitful and winning, He’s calling us to Himself.  Being obedient in the everyday ordinary and sitting at the feet of our Lord is not a demotion, it’s a preparation.

God may keep us “on hold” but will never hang up.  He is working in that silence, in that wilderness, even in an undeserved ‘prison’.  I pray, in these last days, to walk with obedient patience, and yet with living expectancy of God’s call into a new season.

The Secret Strength in God’s Heroes

Anchored in the Cross Ministries is a site that daily exhorts and encourages readers in the word of God.  Without fluff, challenging encouragement gives life to the Proverb, “…a word spoken in due season – how good it is!”.

On The Burning Lamp, ‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed  this Texan brother offered a beautiful comment, nailing a strength found only in the Holy Spirit, the very essence that undergirds every spiritual hero.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it, but I know we need it more and more…holy grit!

I will not ‘google’ the words or analyze them.  If faith is believing, then holy grit is what gives life to that faith when everything unravels, darkens, and fails.  When bleak circumstances are magnified before us, holy grit determines to magnify God and His unchanging word.  Through the Holy Spirit, holy grit empowers us to move forward no matter how heavy laden our feet.

Thank God, our spiritual forefathers walked in this power, determined to go on with God in spite of raging armies, undeserved imprisonments, betraying ‘friends’, and painful afflictions.  When crushed by God, natural strength proves useless – only holy grit undergirds us to stand, however distressing the juncture.

There are spiritual heroes today whose holy grit truly inspire and encourage.  Bill Sweeney at Unshakable Hope  is one such believer.  Although his life went from utterly perfect to completely ravaged, he stands in victory with a ministry brought forth as oil crushed from olives.  An unspoken hero, his wife stands by his side, a faithful testimony to the call of ‘helpmate’.  I pray that others will visit Bill’s site.

Knowing the word, even believing the word is not enough – “even the demons believe and tremble”!  It is the determination to stand on God’s word, no matter what fiery darts fly at us.  Holy grit per se is not mentioned in the Bible.  But I believe it’s there, in the hearts of heroes and in the exhortations of God.

Perhaps it is the unction that arises within us, compelling us to “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand…”  Perhaps it is holy grit that emboldens us to stand for God’s honor in this dark world.  May the Lord compel us in this steadfastness,  determined of His sovereignty and faithfulness, through every desperate trial that threatens our faith, “…and having done all, to stand.” 

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  1 Corinthians 16:13

Only He can enable us.

 

When God Lifts You Up

I wrote most, if not all, of the posts on this site from a season of intense trial and emotional pain.  The details of personal loss, deep betrayals, and painful unraveling remain vague as  my intent is never to expose people, especially those who are forgiven.  I hope, rather, to share this reality:  God allows, even orchestrates, painful crushing in our lives for the purpose of molding, maturing, and changing us for His service and glory, conforming us to the image of His Son.     The Lord may lead us into a confusing wilderness, strip away all personal foundations, and take away our health, ministry and possessions.  We may cry a million tears, be wrapped in anxiety and turmoil, and sojourn alone but our confidence must lie in the sovereignty of God and His utter control over every circumstance.  For quite sometime I gripped onto this truth:

“Grain for bread is crushed but no one threshes it forever.”

I did not die during those recent years although some emotional pain was so intense I feared brain damage or heart attack.  No counselor, friend or elder brought relief, only clinging to the Lord, shutting away with Him in prayer, searching and studying His word. 

Then, one day I took off my wig – (did I mention that my hair fell out?) and saw and felt…could it be…that, after two years of wearing wigs my hair was suddenly coming back?  With much trepidation, “Yes, I think so!”  While gradual inner healing and restoration came from the Lord, this was a personal touch from His hand – and the hair that grew back was better than what I lost!

But there was more.  This month, as a significant birthday approached, there was talk of a ‘party’.  I had not felt an inner place of ‘celebration’ for a long time and certainly did not care to celebrate just getting older.  Somehow, though, a ball started rolling and would not stop with my protests.  One night anxiety rebounded and woke me, and I cried to the Lord in prayer.  This scripture pressed upon my heart,

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.”  (I Peter 5:6)

Was this party from the Lord?  I believed and accepted it,  peace came over me and I sought to honor Him.  I did not know the details of this ‘party’ but prepared a handout for my guests, most if not all of whom do not know the Lord, many are seniors…”Over the Hill” like me!Scan0062No one except the Lord knows how the evening touched me – real joy took root in my heart.   I had the rare opportunity of addressing all my relatives in one place…

my party speaking

“There’s no need to celebrate me, all I did was get a bit older!  It’s the Lord who deserves all the praise and celebration….” 

 

With the Armenian band and joy in my heart I felt truly festive!

And a fabulous cake as well!

my party close to cake

What Isaiah spoke of Jesus, “…it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer” can also pertain to Christ’s followers who are called to pick up their cross and follow Him.  Trials and tribulations on this journey are purposeful,  with eternal value.  We are His own.  We have every supernatural promise to believe that He will protect us, sustain us, speak to our hearts –  heal and restore.  And what’s more, at the right time, He will lift us up!

 

Nectar and Beauty From Suffering

bleeding hearts 2

Bleeding Hearts are native to Siberia, a place of banishment and abandon

How the Lord brings beauty and life from places of desolation is a true mystery because His work is unseen.  Faith is believing in that work, before we see the fruit.  Our confidence during the battle pleases God because, in the spiritual realm, we are declaring victory solely based on God’s trustworthiness.

Whether our Lord allows debilitating illness, wrenching injury, or emotional anguish and despair the scriptures and the legacy of the saints before us declare that He never afflicts without purpose and sovereignty.  In every fiery furnace, His hand is on the thermostat.

The Bible promises fruits from hardship and suffering, “grief in all kinds of trials”  1 Peter 1:6-7.   ‘Undeserved suffering’, painful chastisement, and mournful grief can thrash the life of a believer but bring utter confusion to the one not girded in God’s word.

We have no power to erase the pain of betrayal, the anxiety and panic attacks from pummeling traumas, nor can we lift the weighty blanket of depression.  But, for the sheep of the Good Shepherd, there is always a life-giving vein that flows to raise and renew us.  Our lives will not be restored to what they were.  We may walk with a limp from the storm,  our head may be singed from the fire…but not without purpose and design.

Whether slow burning or flash fire, what the enemy seems to obliterate from our lives can truly well up an unseen view and yearning for God and heaven.

“I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed… I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes…How my heart yearns within me!”  Job 19:25-27

Misery is the fruit of worldly suffering…not so with our Maker!  Like a grueling chisel, heartbreak and loss can break and crush what we greatly value in this world.  If only our priceless will to choose remains, choose to trust God, He is still in control.      

Bleeding Hearts 1

Flourishing in shade, Bleeding Hearts are planted to brighten up dark areas

 

Unlike the world’s endless quest to pump up the flesh, our Lord uses brokenness for His work and glory.  Trusting our Father opens the door to victory, not the elimination of pain, but the promise of His life flowing through ours as a hopeful light to others.

This is the fragrance of Christ that the world needs.

humming bird on bleeding heart

Living Waters Flow From Afflicted Servants!

The final discouragement to pound the afflicted or fallen believer is the lie that they are inadequate to serve God.   “God is finished with me” is the echoing cry that reaches our ears from the pit of hell.  Believe with me, the opposite is true!  

Whether battling torrents of trials and heartache or clawing out of a miry pit of sin, the decisive heart toward God, willing to believe and obey, opens every opportunity for spiritual victory.  In our weakest, even defeated condition, Sovereign God confounds the powers of hell and prevails over them.

Walking in victory, forging ahead for the Kingdom of God, is not at all contingent upon our physical abilities, mental capacities, finances, or social status.  In fact, those personal ‘strengths’ often prove to be subtle snares, leading us to depend upon our resources.  In whatever the Lord brings upon us, whatever He takes away, whatever He allows inflicted upon us…we must hold on to the truth that He is in charge of this temporary suffering. 

If we continue in faith, no matter how weak it seems, the Lord will use our tears to mold the clay for divine purposes.  In His hands, our suffering has great value!

In his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Afflictions”, Pastor David Wilkerson preaches,

“We want quick-and-easy deliverance.  But our afflictions serve no purpose whatsoever if we do not understand why God permits them.  The truth is that every affliction, trial, trouble, difficulty and disappointment in our life is allowed by the Lord.  And He has a specific purpose behind all of them.  Why?  it is because He is taking u somewhere–trying to accomplish something in us and through us!”  (printed sermon available online)

Whether we are chastised from sin or amidst a storm or wandering in a spiritual wilderness the devil will harass with the same lies, “God has abandoned you”, “You’ve sinned once too many times”, “You are useless and weak, your best days are over and done!”  Not so with God.

The word of God demonstrates the victory of God through fallen and weakened man over and over, too many times to list in post here!  Many of the testimonies of suffering, struggling, defeat and affliction are well known.  But not only must we open the Bible and find these refreshing truths but we must believe that God is ready to intervene in our lives as well. 

When our lives are trampled upon and damaged, the greatest challenge in healing and recovery is finding security once again in God’s love.  All the human effort and intellect may be unable to configure our suffering with ‘love’.  It may seem impossible to believe but there are times when we need only be willing to believe.

The willingness to believe opens the window of heaven.  When our world is rocked, the willingness to believe positions us before the word of God and awaits living waters to pour out upon us and revive us, even if it seems drop by drop.  Our healing comes through our willingness to drink. 

We need not be healed, happy, healthy or prosperous to be victorious servants of God.  In fact, the Lord seems to excel through broken vessels. 

“Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up.”  Psalm 71:20

In these last days, we must decide to ‘face forward’.  Our Savior Jesus Christ won the victory over sin and we are forgiven all.  While in this world however, He does not promise to remove all suffering nor repair all damage.  Given to Him, He is uses all affliction with divine purpose for His Kingdom and glory.

 Let us not wait until we feel whole, totally healed, or even ‘happy’ to avail ourselves to God’s service.  Let us not ‘Waste Our Afflictions’ but present ourselves, in whatever state we’re in, as a living sacrifice unto God.  (Romans 12)  The ‘gifts’ He bestows upon us to serve and honor Him are not at all contingent on merit or ability!

I believe that our greatest healing and restoration comes when, even in our weak and broken conditions,  we position ourselves before God in prayer with a decided willingness to believe in His undying love.  The certainty of God’s love in our hearts opens our faith again, even stronger, and avails His living waters to flow into us and through us into the lives of others.  That is great and profound joy that overcomes the darkness.

 

“This Will NEVER End!”

said the devil.

For those most vulnerable to anxiety and depression, open-ended and ongoing calamities are most difficult.  Chronic illness, marital betrayal and mistrust, serious family discord, rebellion and dysfunctional behavior plow the heart and water roots of anxiety and depression.  If you are a follower of Christ, you have a powerful enemy  whose vested interest goes beyond emotional suffering.  The devil’s trophy comes when we no longer see God as trustworthy, all powerful, and all loving.

The circumstances under which we suffer are secondary to what we believe while  suffering.  As a child of Sovereign God, the devil’s assaults are measured and restricted (although it seems at times he goes full speed!)  Satan cannot increase the magnitude of the circumstance but he makes all effort to magnify it in our heart and mind.  Herein is the essence of the war for our faith.

War Propaganda

Oh Lord, hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked…who aim their words like deadly arrows.  (Psalm 64)

 

Like the airborne propaganda campaigns of WWI and WWII, the enemy strikes a massive assault to: convince us that destruction is imminent, encourage us to abandon our post, and even offer rewards to those who surrender. 

The campaign need only convince us: This will NEVER end!  This will NEVER change!

Yesterday new events erupted in my own longstanding, anxiety provoking circumstance. I sought encouragement from a mature sister and actually blurted out, “This will NEVER end!”.  Moments later I realized that I had repeated the lie of the enemy.

I am grateful that issues in my heart were exposed and saw lies fueling my anxiety.

While not called to be ‘happy-clappy’, we are called to ‘stand our ground’ and ‘stand firm’.  I opened my Bible and began to pray.  Alongside this, I searched for posts in WordPress with words like ‘faith’, ‘anxiety’, ‘God’ and, after some scrutiny, found real encouragement from brethren with similar battles of faith.

Alone with the Lord, He spoke to my heart.  Firstly,  “NEVER” is not a word for any circumstance in this temporary world.  Our lives are but a vapor and our eyes should be fixed toward ETERNITY, which shrinks and deflates any ‘never’ in this world.   Secondly, refreshing my heart with Biblical truths and the testimonies of brethren reminded me that God is the supernatural game changer, even when it looks like things will never change!  But more than any change in circumstance, my heart must rest in the assurance of His love, His faithfulness, and sovereignty.   God is in control.

Oh Lord, root us in this truth, that You don’t waste our afflictions as we trudge through this temporal world…but You use them like refining fire to change us….preparing us to live with You for eternity. 

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” Your love, O Lord, supported me.  when anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  (Psalm 94:18-19)