And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away! ~ Isaiah 51:11
A bit of a warning: I think this post is as much me trying to work through things as it is try and edify others. I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately—emailed Dave and told him I was taking a break from writing blog posts and commenting. Didn’t think I’d be back this soon, but lo-and-behold, I get caught up in a comment stream…so I figured I might as well write.
I have a calendar with all the individual and families of my church divided across 28 days. I pray through it monthly, and every other month I mail (yes, I said “mail”) prayer cards letting them know I prayed for them and giving them an opportunity to share requests. Each card contains a verse—the one for May and June is above, Isaiah 51:11. I hand write these verses at least once almost every day, and just finished doing it four times today (Monday)—I slacked on card writing over the weekend.
Isaiah 51 then has been dwelling daily on my mind for the past two weeks. It is a beautiful passage describing how as we look to God and the promises he gave to the father of our faith, Abraham, he will build up our wastelands and give us comfort. He is God, after all…the righteous one, the one who put his law upon our heart, the one who defeats his enemies (and thus ours), and who dries up seas so the redeemed can pass through. He stretched out the heavens and put his words into our mouth. And he spoke to us through Jesus, “You are my people.”
Thus when we come into our eternal Zion it shall be with singing and everlasting joy…
But joy is not merely something that is coming. Somehow, some way, in our struggles through our broken lives in our broken world we are to be joyful people now. Jesus prayed, “I am coming to you [Father], and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (17:14).
Sometime I feel like a statistic—just look at the number of pastors who struggle with depression. I’m there. Funny (sad?) how joy can be so hard to find sometimes in the one “profession” where we should have no trouble being completely centered on the Gospel message of God’s word.
Reading blog comments certainly doesn’t help when you’re in a funk—I’ll admit to some hypertensity (I don’t think that’s a word) when I feel my beliefs are under attack. Look, when it comes to the doctrinal subpoints, I don’t believe what I believe because I’m having daily devotions out of the Institutes or Piper…I believe what I believe because I believe it’s what the Bible teaches.
I have been Southern Baptist all my life, and have been taught over and over we are to be people of the Book. So that’s what I’m trying. I need to learn to be more gracious at all times and also to take my own advice here: if we disagree on the subpoints, let’s let iron sharpen iron and work out our salvation in fear and trembling by actually talking the Scripture, and let’s leave the strawmen and the hyperbolic language in the dirt where they belong.
Permit me to come back from that bunny trail…and since I did mention Piper…
For someone who fits into a young, quasi-restless, and reformed camp (that’s YQR as opposed to YRR, btw)—I have only read two of Piper’s books and only listened to maybe four of his sermons. I think he’s a godly man with a passion for Jesus and the Gospel, but frankly his stuff doesn’t personally excite me that much. But one thing (the main thing) he said in Desiring God does resonate, even if I still struggle with how exactly to live that out. Changing one word of that old catechism to read, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” You can find several places in the Bible where it speaks about God delighting in his people, and we as his people are to delight in him and his word.
That goes along with that joy thing.
I’ve been trying something new. I know the language of “I preach the Gospel to myself, daily” sometimes gets a bad rap, but it seems to be what we need. In the funk, I’ve been trying to return to that central core message of all that I believe.
In my sin, I was dead (Ephesians 2:1-3), I was enslaved (Romans 6:17), I was an enemy hopelessly under God’s wrath (5:6-10), I would never seek God (3:11), and I was completely and utterly unwilling and unable to submit to God and please him (8:6-8). Yet as that beautiful passage in Ephesians 2:4-10 begins, “But God…” He is the one out of his mercy and love who made us alive in Christ, raised us up, and seated us in the heavenly places, bestowing his rich grace to save us through faith as a gift and transform us into his workmanship.
Everything that made us dead, enslaved, and an enemy in complete rebellion against God was placed upon Jesus on the cross, “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). I don’t always feel righteous, I certainly don’t always act righteous, but I am righteous because of Christ.
In Matthew 3:17, after Jesus came up out of the waters of baptism, the Father’s voice thundered from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” As God looks at us through the righteousness of Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross, God says of us, “This is my beloved son (or daughter), with whom I am well pleased.” Beautiful.
That is the Gospel I am now “preaching to myself” each day as I remind myself of it.
The “funk”—that struggle for joy and against depression is more complicated than looking in a mirror, smiling, and saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me.” There are layers upon layers, some emotional, some physical, some spiritual, and some bio-chemical. I don’t know how long mine will last (let alone yours when you go through those down times), but even writing a brief glimmer of the reality of that Gospel truth (reminding myself today of what Christ accomplished through God’s loving plan) is enough to give a glimpse of light through a break in the clouds…
…and that’s what we constantly need.