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: finding meaning

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

Wanting to know "Why?"

We like to ask the question “Why?” a lot.

Throughout our youth, that one-word question typically came from a desire to learn or understand.  Our fastest rate of learning is when we were less than five years old…simply because we asked “Why?” to everything around us. 

However, at some point during our formative years, “Why?” transitions into questions regarding authority.  And as we experience more of this sinful world, our “Why?” becomes a question that desperately looks for meaning and purpose among the tragedies and difficulties.

The truth is we may never know, on this side of Heaven, why God allows tragedy and evil and tough situations to occur.  When we experience these, we may feel like God doesn’t care.  Even when we trust God through difficult times, we can still feel saddened by the situation.

While we cannot see what the future holds, the apostle Paul gave us an example of how we can handle the “Why?” of difficult times as he makes an appeal for reconciliation between two people he cared about:

Philemon 9-14
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.  I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

Here is where Paul applies the benefit of hindsight to view the heartbreak and anger of the broken relationship between Philemon and Onesimus through a different lens.

Philemon 15-16
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Whatever happened between the two men, it was significant.  It was difficult.  It was an issue that created problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

In the aftermath of their separation, each man would have been tempted to believe that all was lost and what was wrong could never again be put right.  Maybe they did believe it.  Philemon could have asked out of frustration “Why did this happen?”, “Why are we the ones to deal with this?”, or “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?”.

In his letter, Paul shows Philemon that God used his hardship to bring Onesimus to the place where he would accept the gospel.  Philemon likely wouldn’t have thought it could happen when he was in the difficult moment, but God is willing to take both time and tragedy to reach out to people with the gospel.

Maybe, at some date in the future, we’ll get to see how God used our personal struggles, problems, and tragedies for our good and the benefit of others.  Maybe we won’t be able to see the “Why?” until we’re on the other side of eternity.

The good news is that God not only knows the “Why?”, but also the “Who?”, the “What?”, the “Where?”, the “When?”, and the “How?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Nice-sounding ideas about God

We don’t like the feeling of “not knowing”.  We try to figure out a story’s plot and guess who the villain is long before it is revealed.  Riddles bother us if we don’t get them right away.  Not satisfied with the information we’re given, we often look deeper, expecting to find people’s hidden agenda or motivations.

We are bothered the most when we don’t understand our current circumstances – when bad things happen to (seemingly) good people, when natural disasters ravage the land, or when nothing in life goes as we expect.  The desire to find meaning and understanding within the difficulties of life can make a person desperate enough that they listen to almost anyone who claims to have an answer or explanation.

This uneasiness is often preyed upon by other philosophies and religions.  They will claim that someone must go through their secret ritual initiation before they are accepted.  They claim that God is mysteriously distant or uninterested, unless we make ourselves good enough and devoted enough to get his attention.  Preying upon people’s feelings of inadequacy, they claim that only a select few – only those with secret knowledge – could understand the mysteries of God.

While their words may sound like help…they will actually take you hostage.

Paul had the same concern for the believers in Colossae.  He did not want their relationship with Christ to be usurped by manipulative teachers.  As you read Paul’s warning against these false teachers, look for how the Colossian believers are to protect themselves:

Colossians 2:2-4
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.  I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.

A little later, Paul warns them again:

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

There are tons of nice-sounding ideas about God that are floating around the world.  Since most people understand that there is a spiritual aspect to life, many of these nice-sounding ideas pop up in our day-to-day conversations. 

How do we combat them all?  We can’t realistically study each one and find “the perfect rebuttal” to every philosophy and theory that comes along.  Instead, Paul directs believers to focus all of their attention back to one person – Christ.  In Jesus, we will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge

Not in the next Christian-living best-selling novel.
Not in the next formula for how to make God answer your prayers.
Not in the next preacher who claims to heal everyone who has “enough faith”.

Remember that Satan quoted Scripture when he tempted Jesus.  Therefore, just being able to quote Scripture isn’t enough to protect us from false teachers.  Instead, we need to heed Paul’s advice and ensure that our wisdom, our knowledge, and our philosophy of life are based on Christ.

That is the check we need to use.  When presented with a nice-sounding concept about God, take an objective look at it, and ask:

Does this idea match up with who Jesus truly is…or is this idea based on a person’s tradition or maybe even their own wishful thinking?

Keep Pressing,
Ken