PREACHER: REV. ADRIAN HALLETT
READINGS: PSALM 88 & 1 PETER 5:1-7
TITLE: “WHEN IT ALL GETS TOO MUCH”
Where do you go when it hurts? What do you do when you get low, when you find it hard to cope? What do you do when you feel as though you are on the treadmill, just about able to survive?
We all have these struggles from time to time. We can’t avoid them. It’s part of life in which we been told by Jesus that we will have trials and tribulation. That was certainly true of the psalmist who wrote Psalm 88. If you didn’t feel depressed before you read it, you certainly will by the time you finish it!
This man was very, very low. He felt alone, he felt defeated and he felt dejected. You can’t help but pick up on his mood of depression as you read that Psalm.
Reading our newspapers and the coverage that is now being given on depression, we could be led to believe that depression is a modern day illness. But depression has always been with us and it has affected all sorts of people, including Christians down through the ages. Martin Luther, responsible for initiating the Reformation in the 16th century, suffered from depression…. Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century Baptist preacher, often referred to as ‘the Prince of Preachers’, suffered from depression. More recently, David Watson the vicar of St Michael le Belfry, York, influential in introducing Renewal into the church and the author of several Christian books, and who died of cancer in 1984, also suffered from depression.
At a more personal level, the vicar I served under during my curacy, an excellent preacher, also suffered for depression. Hazel’s brother, instrumental in bringing so many in the family to Christ, suffered from depression and other mental illnesses. I could go on. The reason I have mentioned these people is because I think it helps us to know that other Christians have suffered in this way. We may not suffer from clinical depression, but we do all get ‘low’ on some occasions and just knowing that we are not alone, can make a huge difference. It can make it easier to forgive ourselves in case we think in some way we have ‘failed’. It can ease the sense of disappointment in ourselves because, as Christians, we think this shouldn’t be happening…. it can ease our sense of frustration and guilt.
At least these days, we are being made aware that it is a common problem and there is now a willingness and an openness to talk about such things. As many of you know, I love my sport, and it has been interesting to see how some sportsmen are now are now talking openly about their struggles with depression – Marcus Trescothic, Somerset and ex-England cricketer and Jonathan Trott, Warwickshire and ex-England cricketer, to name just two.
The attitude to depression and mental health is changing and more is now known about the causes of depression. It can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and if that is the diagnosis, then it is right to make use of the many different medications available so that the condition can be corrected.
Sometimes we get depressed or just feel depressed for more ‘mundane’ reasons – there can be many other causes. It could be as a result of some perceived ‘failure’…. it could be as a result of some personal loss or crushing disappointment… it could be as a result of an inability or unwillingness to forgive ourselves…. it could be down to ‘overload’…. too much work, no spare time, resulting in an inability to cope with all the modern day pressures.
There are many causes and equally there are many things that can help – music can help lift out hearts and our spirits. Art and literature or long, regular walks in God’s beautiful world can all certainly help. Just to be taken out of ourselves and to get a new perspective can put us on the road to recovery.
The support and fellowship of friends is also extremely important. It may have been the loss of friends and close companions which were the root cause of the psalmist’s depression – (Ps. 88:8 & 18). When we are going through it, there is no doubt that the support, understanding and encouragement of those closest to us is invaluable.
But having said all that, in the end, when it all gets too much, when there appears to be no end in sight and nothing seems to ‘work’, there is another very important thing we can do. Turn to the Lord. Now I know that can sound a bit simplistic, but I believe that is the place the psalmist had come to, because there was nowhere else for him to go.
What do we do when circumstances get too much for us…. when we get so low that we don’t know where to turn? What do we do, or where do we go when people hurt us and let us down and we feel isolated, hurt and rejected?
If you are anything like me, it’s very easy to develop a severe case of the POM’s – the ‘poor old me’s’. Start to feel very sorry for ourselves…. see ourselves as ‘the victim’…. focus on the injustice or the unfairness of it all…. bemoan our lot, get locked into a victim mentality and never progress.
We may well develop unrealistic expectations of others who we think can and should help us. They may well do what they can to help us, but we may think they haven’t done enough…. could and should have done more…. we feel let down and our sense of isolation increases…. we grumble and complain, because that’s all that’s left for us to do.
This is where the psalmist’s situation helps us. He is struggling…. he can’t make sense of it all… he can’t understand what God is doing…. he cannot comprehend why God has allowed this to happen to him. Read the Psalm again and you will see just how dark is his mood…. you can tell he is at the end of himself…. that a severe case of the POM’s is about to break out. He can’t make sense of it all…. he can’t resolve the dark enigma, but there is one thing he can do – plead his case… appeal to his saviour God. He does that several times in this Psalm – ‘O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you’ (v.1). ‘I call to you Lord, every day; I spread out my hands to you’ (v.9). ‘But I cry to you for help, O Lord; (v.13).
Sometimes that is the only remedy for you and me too. We don’t understand , we can’t make sense of it all, we don’t know why God is allowing this to happen to us, we doubt perhaps that he’s even in control – but there is always one thing we can do. We can cry out to our Saviour God… we can plead our case… we can lay all our troubles, cares and anxieties before him, knowing that he hears…. knowing that he cares…. knowing that, in his time, he acts.
In this life we will face many things we will find very hard…. we find it hard especially when there are no answers and we just have to live with the questions. It’s then that the temptation is to become all negative, focussing on the things we don’t know… the things that frustrate us, the things that cause that depressive mood to sweep over us…. it’s so easy to give into the ‘POM’s’, but we resist that temptation and we cry out to him.
Rather than focus on the things we don’t know…. the things we can’t know, learn to focus on the things we do know about our Saviour God. The God who has promised ‘never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Heb.13:5) – the God who tells us that ‘nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom.8:39) – the God who is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’ (Heb.13:8) – the God who urges us through the Apostle Peter ‘to cast all your anxiety on him’, why? ‘because he cares for you’ (1 Pet.5:7)
We don’t have all the answers, and so we do have to live with the questions, but what a difference it makes when we can plead our case before our gracious, generous, caring Saviour God!