Relief for Troubled Souls
Mondays are typically days that I feel energetic and optimistic.
Perhaps the dogs’ restlessness kept me from getting a good night’s sleep, I thought while sipping my second cup of coffee, waiting for the caffeine to kick in.
It’s more than a lack of physical energy I’m experiencing. I recognize my soul is troubled.
In the last few weeks, I’ve listened to and prayed with pastors and church leaders who feel the same.
[If you haven’t prayed for your pastor/priest, please do. They are not immune from the stress and pressures you and I face.]
Many of my Christian friends in Belarus and Armenia (two countries where my wife and I minister) are under heavy oppression and attack. The citizens of these countries are in great turmoil and grief.
Here at home, I’m aware of the non-stop rancor between political opponents, challenges of a pandemic, uncertainty about the future, and the pain of loss due to fires, hurricanes, and floods. All of this — and more — are contributing factors that fuel despair.
I need to pay attention to what I’m feeling, I thought. I have to be careful.
In the past, I’ve battled depression. I’m thankful for the support of doctors, counselors, and pastors who have walked with me through times of hopelessness.
I’m most thankful to God who — through scripture (Old and New Testaments) — shows me that depression isn’t unusual. That’s encouraging to me to know that others can also face that sense of “hopelessness.”
The apostle Paul was familiar with despair:
“…For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8b).
Listen to the Psalmist David as he wrestles with his anguish:
“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes” (Psalm 6:6-7).
Weary, weeping, grieving, exhaustion!
These are symptoms of a heavy soul. These are common expressions of those who desire HOPE when clouds of gloom obscure optimism.
Possibly you can identify with some of these symptoms. But here’s great news:
A troubled soul is not confined to depression.
My soul needs encouragement today. Perhaps your soul can benefit from discovering HOPE in a depressing world as well.
Here are three things that will help:
1. Recognize that a “troubled soul” is an opportunity to rely on God.
Paul recognized that his despair was an instrument to help him rely on God. He remembers that God has the power to raise the dead, and deliver one from deadly peril. And because Paul recalls the surpassing power of God, he resolves:
“On him [God], we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (See 2 Corinthians 1:9-10).
2. Review what God has done.
We’re quick to forget God’s involvement in history. I’m prone to see today’s problems while failing to remember God’s intervention in the past.
When depressed, the Psalmist says: “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12).
When we reflect on God’s actions on our behalf in the past; confidence, assurance, and HOPE displace discouragement.
3. Renew and center your vision on God.
It’s difficult to focus on God when you’re in the midst of chaos. The prophet Elijah was overcome with gloom (1 Kings 19). He’s afraid, fearful for his life, and wanting to die. After nourishment provided by an angel, he journeys to the mountain called Horeb.
[If you’ve never read this story, it’s fascinating and inspiring.]
Still, Elijah stays in a cave in anguish when the LORD asks: “What are you doing here?” The prophet’s answer reveals his great despondency (vs. 10). Then, God asks Elijah to stand as the LORD passes before him. He observes a great wind that tears the mountain apart. Then an earthquake, and then a fire. But it wasn’t until Elijah hears a low whisper that he’s able to leave the cave.
To hear the “whisper” of God, we must become still.
Depression can be as loud as a strong wind, as frightening as an earthquake, and as destructive as a raging fire. However, when we renew and center our vision on God, we discover how God consoles our troubled soul.
Like Isaiah, we also can find comfort when life is chaotic, and our soul is troubled:
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” (Isaiah 26:3-4).
LORD, in your mercy, we pray:
Bring peace to our friends in Belarus and Armenia. Give them comfort and HOPE. Protect their men and women who are in conflict and suffer.
For our nation that’s divided, we pray you will bring constructive conversations that offer a balm of healing. May love triumph over hate. May our eyes be turned to YOU, and may we be willing to confess our sins, turn from our evil behavior, and remember YOU.
Console those who have lost loved ones and those who are struggling with the severe effects of COVID.
Help us stop, stand, and listen to your whisper that displaces “hopelessness” with HOPE.