Poetry Saturday—Mental Depression

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Depressed and weary sank the mind in gloom, 
Gloom deep as night in which there is no moon; 
      Times rushing down its darkening cloisters past
      Conflicting thoughts, unhindered, blast on blast,
Until the very brain did shriek and rave in turn,
Reason’s control in madness by it spurned.
      Sudden it ceased, one mighty wrench, then fled
      And stillness o’er the whole its silence spread;
Whilst from the fullness of the immortal soul
Deep tender music did its charm unroll.
      Lifting the burden from the anguished heart
      Sent forth its floods and healed the inward smart;
So! in the midst is heard the Saviour’s voice,
Soulfully sweet, inviting to rejoice;
      And there resounds divinely full and free,
      “Sad, weary heart, be still and come to Me.”
Soon in the soul the sound of quiet rest
Breathes real and low and draws us to His breast,
      Where Jesus, looking in our faces smiled,
      Soothes us to sleep because He loves His child. —Oswald Chambers
 

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People Of The Word

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Haggai appears on the historical scene for just five months, but what a bright light he shines! He is the first of three post-exilic prophets to encourage the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem.

Before we talk about Haggai’s ministry, we need a brief grammar lesson. Specifically, let’s look at two prefixes: un- and non-. Both of them ultimately mean “not,” but there is a distinction that we need to consider when it comes to the Bible: 

    • unbiblical would mean something contrary to the teaching of the Bible 
    • non-biblical is something that may or may not be correct, but it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible 

Let me give you an example from my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. Chris asked me whether I preferred the title senior pastor or lead pastor. This is a non-biblical issue; that is, it doesn’t really matter to me because neither of those titles are found in the Bible. Technically, the word pastor isn’t in the Bible either. The word that is usually translated “pastor” is really a herdsman or a shepherd. 

The problem is that if we put too much focus on non-biblical things, those things can end up becoming unbiblical pursuits. Like when Jesus took the Pharisees to task for their focus on traditions over Scripture (see Matthew 15:1-6). I wrote Shepherd Leadership mainly to get pastors and church leaders to spot non-biblical metrics which may have sneakily turned into unbiblical pursuits, so that they could return to pure biblical principles. In the Preface of my book, I wrote—

“My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define ‘success’ for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry.”

Haggai calls God’s people to return to God’s Word. This is the second-shortest book in the Old Testament (at just 38 verses long), yet Haggai says something like “this is what God says” 28 times in these 38 verses! 

Haggai also records five times that God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” This phrase literally means to take a strong hold on each thought and examine it intensely. This idea is always connected to a phrase like, “This is what the Lord Almighty says” (1:5, 7; 2:14-15, 17-18). In other words, we are to thoughtfully examine our lifestyle with God’s Word being THE standard of measurement. 

Paul made a similar connection in the New Testament: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

Jesus did this too. When speaking to the religious leaders, He said, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power” (Matthew 22:29). And even with His own disciples, He had to open their minds to see how the Scriptures pointed to Him and were fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). 

Indeed, the phrase “it is written” is used 75 times in the New Testament! 

That’s why Haggai’s words still ring true to us today: “Give careful thought” to how you live in light of how God says you should be living. Christians need to…

  1. Hear the Word of God every day 
  2. Consider their lives in light of the Word of God
  3. Obey what the Word of God is saying to us 

(check out Acts 17:11; Psalm 139:23-24; 1 Samuel 15:22) 

We must become people of the Word of God or else we run the very real risk of letting our non-biblical decisions spiral downward into a sinful, unbiblical lifestyle that grieves the heart of God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Poetry Saturday—Affliction IV

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

Broken in pieces all asunder,
                      Lord, hunt me not,
                     A thing forgot,
Once a poore creature, now a wonder,
               A wonder tortur’d in the space
               Betwixt this world and that of grace.

My thoughts are all a case of knives,
                     Wounding my heart
                     With scatter’d smart,
As watring pots give flowers their lives.
               Nothing their furie can controll,
               While they do wound and prick my soul.

All my attendants are at strife,
                     Quitting their place
                     Unto my face:
Nothing performs the task of life:
               The elements are let loose to fight,
               And while I live, trie out their right.

Oh help, my God! let not their plot
                     Kill them and me,
                     And also Thee,
Who art my life: dissolve the knot,
               As the sunne scatters by his light
               All the rebellions of the night.

Then shall those powers, which work for grief,
                     Enter Thy pay,
                     And day by day
Labour Thy praise, and my relief;
               With care and courage building me,
                Till I reach heav’n, and much more, Thee. —George Herbert (**spelling is 1663 English**)

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Biblical Mindfulness

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

I have always been mindful of Your unfailing love…. (Psalm 26:3).

The dictionary defines “mindful” as simply being aware. Unfortunately, many psychologists today have constricted this term to mean simply being aware of the present moment, especially one’s own emotions in the present moment. 

In the New Living Translation, this verse has David saying to God, “I am always aware of Your unfailing love.” God’s unfailing love is an eternal attribute of God, and David says he is perpetually contemplating this attribute. But notice how David applies mindfulness not just to his present moment, but to his past and future as well. In fact, David invites God to examine his heart and mind to verify that David is always properly mindful of God’s love.

Notice the past, present, and future tenses David uses—

Past (v. 1):

  • I have led a blameless life 
  • I have trusted in the Lord without wavering 

Present (vv. 3, 7, 11):

  • Your love is ever before me 
  • I walk continually in Your truth
  • I proclaim aloud your praise
  • I lead a blameless life

Future (v. 12):

  • In the great assembly I will praise the Lord

Notice that between David’s claim that he has led a blameless life and that he is still leading a blameless life, we read his request for God to, “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” David was perpetually mindful of God’s awareness of both his thoughts and his lifestyle.

Being mindful of God’s love means looking back in gratitude to recall God’s past provision, looking around in worship to see God’s ongoing involvement, and looking ahead in hope to anticipate God’s unending grace. 

Unlike modern-day psychology which tells us mindfulness is a narrowing of our thoughts, biblical mindfulness is an expanding of our thoughts. Biblical mindfulness sees God’s past work and His future grace, and brings those to bear on our present circumstances. 

You Have A Choice

“While we may not be able to take every thought captive in every situation we face every day, we can learn to take one thought captive and, in doing so, affect every other thought to come. So what is the one thought that can successfully interrupt every negative thought pattern? It’s this: I have a choice. 

“When we’re spiraling in noise or distractedness, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through stillness. When we’re spiraling in isolation, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through community. When we’re spiraling in anxiety, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through trust in His good and sovereign purposes. When we’re spiraling in cynicism, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through worship. When we’re spiraling in self-importance, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through humility. When we’re spiraling into victimhood, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through gratitude. When we’re spiraling in complacency, we have a choice to shift our minds back to God through serving Him and others.

“If you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, you have a God-given, God-empowered, God-redeemed ability to choose what you think about. You have a choice regarding where you focus your energy. You have a choice regarding what you live for. You are not subject to your behaviors, genes, or circumstances. You are not subject to your passions, lusts, or emotions. You are not subject to your thoughts.

“No fixation exists outside God’s long-armed reach. Because we are a ‘new creation,’ we have a choice.

“When we think new thoughts, we physically alter our brains. When we think new thoughts, we make healthier neural connections. When we think new thoughts, we blaze new trails. When we think new thoughts, everything changes.” —Jennie Allen, from the YouVersion reading plan Get Out Of Your Own Head

9 Quotes From “A Spiritual Clinic”

J. Oswald Sanders gives Christians just the check-up we need in his hard-hitting and highly practical book A Spiritual Clinic. You can read my full book review by clicking here. 

“The greater our weakness, the greater glory will be God’s as we work in His power.” 

“We are busier than God intends us to be if we are too busy to take time for relaxation.” 

“It is characteristic of the earthly mind that it always covets the service of others: it desires to avoid toil and drudgery. This is one of the factors which makes wealth so desirable—it can secure the service of others. The mind of Christ manifested itself in His words: ‘I am among you as He that serves’ (Luke 22:27). ‘The Son of Man came not to be ministered to, but to minister’ (Matthew 20:28). It was His delight to be servant of all.” 

“How are we to obtain the mind of Christ? … Is not the secret hinted at in the exhortation, ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’? It is the work of Another. Is not the supreme work of the Holy Spirit to reproduce in the yielded believer the inner disposition of Christ? What is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) but the mind of Christ? As we willingly consent to the crucifixion of the earthly mind and purposefully yield to the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, He will perform the miracle. Our minds will be transformed in ever-increasing degree by the renewing of the Holy Spirit.” 

“Nothing so tends to inflate a man with a sense of his own importance as the possession of great gifts of intellect and the enjoyment of special and unusual experiences. And there is nothing which more surely disqualifies from spiritual usefulness than spiritual pride.” 

“It will be recalled that the favored three disciples were not permitted to encamp on the Mount of Transfiguration. They must exchange the vision glorious for the convulsions of a demon-possessed boy. So must Paul descend into the valley if he is to be God’s messenger to a distraught humanity. He must learn that the mountain is only as high as the valley is deep. The higher he ascends in spiritual experience, the more deeply must he be identified with his crucified Lord.” 

“Even God’s honored servants cannot break His physical laws with impunity, nor are they immune from the onslaught of despondency. … We must seek physical and spiritual renewal if we are not to be put to flight by our enemy. If we shift our center from God to self, even for a period, we lay ourselves open to this malady of the spirit.” 

“Discouragement over the apparent failure of our best efforts, if not met with the shield of faith, will react disastrously on our spirits and degenerate into self-pity and despair.” 

“We seldom give God time to deal with us radically and deeply. Even when we experience conviction of failure and sin, we do not allow the Holy Spirit to work in us so strongly that we are brought to hate the sin. We lightly assent to our sinfulness without seriously and permanently dealing with it. We act as though new results would take the place of heart repentance and renunciation. [see Hosea 6:4] 

Think On This…

Here’s the seed thought for this episode of Think On This

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

Think on this: God has forgotten every sin of mine that He has ever forgiven!

Interrupt Your Anxious Thoughts

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

David taught us how to pray after we’ve been stabbed in the back. Aren’t you glad that you can pray this prayer just once and everything is all better?! 

Oh, wait. It doesn’t really work that way, does it? At least it hasn’t for me. After I’ve been hurt, it takes quite a while to get to a place of healing. We have cliches for this sort of thing—phrases like “Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” 

We begin to react to the past instead of reflecting and responding in the present.  

It’s interesting that those who compiled the Psalter placed Psalm 55 where they did. There is no introduction that gives us a background or setting, but David still seems to be looking for those “Ziphites” that betrayed him to King Saul. 

Here’s an important physiological and psychological truth: Our brains cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. Our physical bodies react the same way in response to any threat. 

It’s interesting to note that both Selahs in Psalm 55 are in the middle of a sentence, almost as if David is interrupting his own thoughts. Which, I believe, is exactly what he’s doing. 

As this psalm opens David is still praying, but he’s praying about his internal threats: 

  • my thoughts trouble me 
  • I am distraught 
  • I notice the conversations and the stares of potential enemies  
  • my heart is in anguish 
  • I feel like terrors of death, fear and trembling, and horror are closing in on me! 

This leads to David’s fight/flight response (although really, it’s his flight response): “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away and stay in the desert.

David has been listening to himself, and he finally at least attempts to put a halt to these distressing thoughts with his first Selah—which means “pause, and calmly think of that.” 

Most of our natural reactions are driven by fear. But fear—by its very nature—is limiting. Fear keeps us tunnel-visioned on the perceived threat. Fear closes us off to accepting any new information. Fear limits our creative responses. Fear perpetuates more fear. 

So David tries a second time to Selah. He is attempting to interrupt his negative thoughts—to stop listening to himself and start talking to himself. To move from a self-preserving reaction to a God-glorifying response requires a Selah pause to reflect. Reflecting on things like:

  • Where will these thoughts ultimately take me? 
  • How has God responded before? 
  • What does God’s Word say? 
  • Could I imagine Jesus responding the way I’m responding? 
  • What changes can I make? 

I love David’s conclusion: “But as for me, I TRUST IN YOU.” He’s saying, “I’m not going to listen to those negative fears anymore. It’s time to put my trust in God.”  

David had to do this “evening, morning, and noon”—again and again and again! Until finally he could say, “I will cast all my cares on the Lord and He will sustain me; He will never let me fall” (Psalm 55:22). 

This is what Jesus promises us, “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access them all by clicking here. 

On Living In A [COVID-19] Age

In 1948, World War II had come to a close and the nuclear age had dawned. The Cold War was beginning to ratchet up and the fear of nuclear annihilation was gripping people’s hearts. 

In this environment, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled On Living In An Atomic Age. I have changed the word “atomic” for “COVID-19,” and I think you will see the relevance. 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the COVID-19 virus. “How are we to live in a COVID-19 age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the COVID-19 virus was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the COVID-19 virus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about viruses. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

For Christians, I would urge you to think in ways in which I am certain C.S. Lewis would agree: 

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8) 

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. (Romans 12:12)

10 Quotes From “The Knowledge Of The Holy”

A.W. Tozer helps us think long and deep about the greatness of God, opening windows of insight that many have not contemplated previously. Check out my full book review of The Knowledge Of The Holy by clicking here. 

“With our loss of the sense of Majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine presence. … The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go along way toward curing them.” 

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” 

“The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters which at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing then all the woes of the world piled one upon another. …

“But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroyed the gospel for all who hold them.” 

“Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. … The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.” 

“The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him—and of her.” 

“When the Spirit would acquaint us with something that lies beyond the field of our knowledge, He tells us that this thing is like something we already know, but He is always careful to phrase His description so as to save us from slavish literalism.” 

“An attribute of God is whatever God has in anyway revealed as being true of Himself.” 

“We might be wise to follow the insight of the enraptured heart rather than the more cautious reasonings of the theological mind.” 

“If we ever think well it should be when we think of God.” 

“The harmony of His being is the result not of a perfect balance of parts but of the absence of parts.… An attribute, then, is not a part of God, it is how God is…. The divine attributes are what we know to be true of God. He does not possess them as qualities; they are how God is as He reveals Himself to His creatures.” 

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