Sunday, 24 April 2016

A Troubled Soul - Mark 1:35-39 and Jeremiah 20:7-18

Jesus did a life on life training course for his disciples. His habits would be a model for them, one bed-rock habit being withdrawing to pray. In Mark 1 he does this, and when the disciples come after him he is not simply drawn to the needs of the crowd but instead demonstrates the discipline of OFF and follows a call to minister elsewhere. His prayer time seems to set an inbuilt metronome ticking with the presence of God.

Jeremiah also prays on his own, but here it is quite different. The people don't like the God-given messages he brings, and he finds himself in all kinds of trouble. So in verse 7 Jeremiah starts by complaining to God, pointing out how God compels him to speak out ... which leads to yet more trouble - it is a pretty miserable existence!

Jeremiah goes on to declare truths about God (v11 & 12), which forms his lifeline. Thats the same metronome ticking, enabling him to raise his mood to praise (v13). Yet in v14 he plummets to new lows. Cursing the day he was born, it is clear Jeremiah has sunk into a form of depression, in fact practically bipolar dis-order! This is not the only chapter where Jeremiah is down, and he is not the only biblical character to suffer poor mental health. In our times too the straightforward fact is that depression is reality for many people.

It may surprise us: after all Jeremiah gave us verses like 29:11 and 33:33 - favourites that we buy as posters, fridge magnets, or post on Facebook for others to like. In the 1800s Spurgeon, known as the Prince of Preachers, would preach block-buster sermons to crowds of 1500 people in the London Metropolitan Tabernacle. The Spirit would move powerfully, yet despite all this wonderful God-blessed activity, Spurgeon also had boughts of deep depression which he struggled with for most of his life.

These apparent contradictions add to the mountainous question of 'WHY?'. We are left asserting two things: 1) we have to honest and admit there is still much we simply do not know about mental health, with huge theological questions in the mix; and 2) following Jesus and receiving His Spirit is no guarantee that we will be immune from such health issues, so we simply cannot promise all will always be well for our earthly lives.

Yet we can be sure that in following Christ and receiving His Spirit people will discover that God is faithful, that Jesus will draw alongside, the Spirit will comfort. There maybe times when you cannot see it or feel it ... but God will nevertheless be there. Our own bed-rock habit of prayer can set a metronome ticking within us, that even in the bleakest of days can still tick (perhaps albeit sub-consciously) reminding us of God with us.

That metronome is further encouraged to keep ticking by friends drawing alongside to both listen and quietly pray, seeking Jesus on behalf of the affected person - for Jesus wants to heal body, soul and mind. At the time our efforts may well feel fumbling and bumbling, but we should quietly continue to pray for healing. We can hope for Kingdom life to become apparent once again, albeit recognising that healing may prove to be a long road.

Jesus took time to pray, and that set the basis for his ministry, doing the very things that Jeremiah's climax of praise mentions (second half of v13). Let us have the discipline to take time to pray also, seeking to be ever closer to Jesus, open to the Spirit working through us. That work may well include drawing alongside those whose soul is troubled, seeking Jesus and being open to Spirit-given healing possibility. Yes we will likely fumble and bumble, but we can trust in God's faithfulness, Jesus' desire to heal, and the Spirit who can release Kingdom life.

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