Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: despair

On suicide and despair

This past week, a news story caught my attention.  A young New York dietitian committed suicide.  By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life.  She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field.  She had friends and co-workers that valued her.  Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world. 

And yet, she felt empty.  Here’s part of the note she left behind:

I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired. 

I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?

Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness.  Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point.  We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.  “Absolute futility.  Everything is futile.”  What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…

All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say.  The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…

There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.

These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed.  They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years.  If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage. 

However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective.  It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again.  But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied.  And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.

Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us.  This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty.  But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.

If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus.  You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings.  Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective.  We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone.  Your family is here for you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

What's pursuing you?

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our] life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

From despair to hope

While Jesus hung on the cross for six hours, whether He felt like time passed quickly or agonizingly slow…there’s no indication in the Biblical text.  What we do know is that the Romans were experts in torture and the administration of pain.  Death on a cross didn’t come from having your hands and feet nailed to wood.  Instead, a person died slowly as their body weight pulled against the nails, making it difficult for the victim to breathe.  Over the next few hours, they would fight to keep upright in order to continue breathing, but as their strength failed, they would slowly suffocate.  Additionally, any trauma or blood loss both before and during crucifixion would lead to cardiac collapse as the heart muscle was no longer supplied with oxygen-rich blood.  This type of death sentence was so horrific, the Latin word for “cross” eventually became the root word for word “excruciating” in an attempt identify the level of pain one would endure while being crucified.

As the sins of humanity were placed upon Jesus, He experienced the worst of everything He had endured.  As great as the physical torture was, we can only guess at the magnitude of His spiritual torment.

Matthew 27:45-46 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land.  At about three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

As the end of His life neared, Jesus’ cry to the Father, His prayer at the moment was the beginning of Psalm 22.  The first half of that prophetic psalm tells us so much about how Jesus felt while He endured the horrifically painful events of the cross.  However, the text also transitions from the agony of the moment to a complete reliance on God the Father.

What began as a cry of anguish has ended in a shout of praise.

Psalm 22:25-31 I will give praise
in the great congregation because of You;
I will fulfill my vows before those who fear You.
The humble will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him.
May your hearts live forever! 

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations will bow down before You,
for kingship belongs to the Lord; He rules over the nations.
All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust will kneel before Him –
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
Descendants will serve Him; the next generation will be told about the Lord.
They will come and tell a people yet to be born about His righteousness –
what He has done.

Jesus was absolutely focused on His purpose.  His death didn’t just happen to Him, rather He chose to take the punishment for humanity’s sinful betrayals. 

As Psalm 22 transitions from despair to hope, it ends with the assurance of what Jesus’ mission would accomplish.  He most certainly was thinking about the future generations, of those He prayed for in the garden – the ones who would eventually believe the apostles’ message.

We are among those who were yet to be born and have now been told about the Lord.  Keeping Jesus’ purposeful sacrifice in mind, let’s continue the mission and tell the next generation what He has done!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Not alone

Both Matthew and Mark both record that at the end of His crucifixion, Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1.  It’s likely that by His statement, Jesus was also a referencing the Psalm as a whole.  We have a similar practice when we refer to the First Amendment and only reference “our right to free speech”…but in reality we are quoting more than just those five words.

Taking a continued look at the psalm which Jesus quoted near the end of His six hour crucifixion, we see many predictive parallels between David’s feelings about the oppressive situation he was writing about and the crucifixion of Jesus 1000 years later.

As you read this section of Psalm 22, read it slowly – and do your best to feel as they felt, see what they saw, and think like they thought:

Psalm 22:12-28 Many bulls surround me; strong ones of Bashan encircle me.
They open their mouths against me – lions, mauling and roaring.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax, melting within me.
My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me.
They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.

With the whole world against Him and His body slowly failing, there was no physical reason to have any hope.  It’s times like these that feelings of despair start to settle in deep within us.  Jesus fought against these feelings by taking His focus off of the torment pressing on Him and seeking the Father:

Psalm 22:19-24 But You, Lord, don’t be far away.  My strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver my life from the sword, my very life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen.
I will proclaim Your name to my brothers;
I will praise You in the congregation.
You who fear the Lord, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him!
All you descendants of Israel, revere Him!
For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted.
He did not hide His face from him, but listened when he cried to Him for help.

My favorite line in this section – For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted – contains so much hope and such a greater perspective.

God doesn’t hide from us when we hurt.  The Father doesn’t abandon us when we are in pain.  He won’t throw up His hands in frustration because He doesn’t know what to do with us next.  The Father did not leave David or Jesus in their darkest hour.  And God won’t leave us, either. 

We are not alone in our affliction.  When all else is crashing in, God is listening for our cries.  We can look to Him for rescue, just like Jesus.

Keep Pressing,
Ken