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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

ARE YOU IN A SLUMP?

Advice to Those In a Slump




Psalm 55:6, “And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then I would fly away, and be at rest.”

At some point in every baseball player’s life, he experiences what is known as a “hitting slump.”  He swings and swings and swings, but the bat just does not connect with the ball. He practices and practices, but to no avail. This is simply a normal part of every ball player’s career.

Similarly, every Christian hits an emotional and spiritual slump. You wake up one day feeling you are in the middle of a losing streak. The charm of life is missing. You remember the days of being on the mountaintop, but you cannot seem to climb to those heights, again. You realize instead of having a joyous Christian life, you are simply going through the motions. Yet, you desperately want to feel what you once felt and what others are still feeling.

There was a time when your heart would burn as you read the blessed Scriptures; you used to weep over its pages, and you would tingle and rejoice.  Now you no longer feel the same. You once enjoyed your prayer time, your audience with the King of kings and Lord of lords. You realized you were talking with the mighty Creator of the universe. You had a joy and a thrill when you went boldly before the throne of grace to present your petitions and find grace to help you in times of needs. However, something has happened, and that thrill is no longer there.

When the pastor asked you to take a Sunday school class, you were overjoyed with the privilege of teaching the eternal Word of God to the eternal souls of those pupils. Now, however, it is a drudgery to teach that class.  When you brought a bus full of children to Sunday school, you were so excited that they would have the opportunity to hear the message of grace.  Now you wish you could feel that way, again. What is wrong with you?

Maybe you have an overwhelming urge to leave a note on your boss’s door and just disappear. You would like to keep driving into the sunset. You would like to dispose of your spouse, your mother-in-law, and your children. This feeling is not unique to you. It is not unique to preachers or lay people, to men or women, to teenagers or adults. Everyone has similar feelings at one time or another. Some simply have learned to fake it and not let their faces show their feelings.

The great prophet Elijah found himself in a slump.  He stood against 450 prophets of Baal and called down fire on his sacrifice. Afterwards, he directed the people of Israel to slay the false prophets. Then, he called down rain on a parched land.  

Yet, in I Kings 19:4 we read of Elijah, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”

In verse 14 he said, “…I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Moses, the great leader of Israel, also had a slump.  In Numbers 11:11‑12, we find him talking to God. 11“…Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?  12Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?”

Moses was complaining that God had given him the burden of caring for the Israelites.  He was complaining that he had to babysit them and deal with the troublemakers.  Why was he complaining?  He was suffering a time of depression, or, if you please, a slump.

Notice this statement: “The future appalls me. I dare not think of it.”  Can you imagine who would have written such a depressing statement?  It was made by John Calvin, the reforming preacher.  Martin Luther, the man who spearheaded the Protestant Reformation, once said, “I am sick of this life, if it can be called life at all.”

I am not talking about a period in your life when you are overtaken by sin.  I am not talking about being backslidden. You are not getting drunk or running around on your spouse.  I am talking about times when you are going to church and serving God. You are doing the best you can, but nothing seems to be the same.  

You read your Bible and pray, but your walk with God is not exciting to you. Church attendance is drudgery. The thrill has gone out of choir practice.   You feel like you are running around in circles, and you seem to be going nowhere. You are going through a slump.  Here is some advice about what to do while you are in your slump that will help you through this period of time. 

 Do Not Change a Thing

When you are in a slump, you should not change anything. Keep the same schedule. Keep reading your Bible, praying, and going soul winning. God is testing you to see why you really serve Him. He wants to know if you serve Him out of love or feeling. Do you serve Him because you love Him, or because you want to feel that tingling feeling?

This is what separates mature Christians from immature Christians. If you serve God just because you tingle, then when the battle gets hot, you will run. If you serve God for applause, then you will quit when people want to crucify you.
  
You should not read the Bible for the thrill of learning something new; you should thrill because God tells you to read His Book. When the day arrives that you no longer want to teach your Sunday school class, become a mature Christian and continue to teach and build that class. Teach that class because you love God, not because you want a thrill. When your motivation for serving God is based on love for Him rather than a thrill, you are maturing.

Are you in a slump? Pray as you have always prayed.  Keep having your devotions every day. Keep going to church and tithing. Keep going soul winning. Do not change a thing. God wants to know if you are real. Do you serve Him out of love and obedience, or do you serve Him just for the thrill of having 100 riders on your bus?  Do you serve Him just because you have 10 baptisms on your bus route or you break your Sunday school attendance record?  Do you serve Him for fun, or because you love Him?

The thrill is a by-product of serving God, but it is not the reason to serve God. Not every week can be a big day. We enjoy the thrills of the campaigns, but not every week will be a thrill. There will be weeks when it is 100 degrees, and no one on the bus has taken a bath for a week. There will be times when you do not want to pray. Nevertheless, do not change a thing; just keep doing what you have been doing.

Do Not Make Any Major Decisions 

Most of our decisions are made when we are in a slump, yet that is the worst time to make decisions.  When you are blue, sick, or bereaved, it is not the time to make any major decisions. When church members are in a slump, they often become upset and quit. They never stop to consider that the problem may be their lack of obedience to God in reading the Bible, praying, going to church, and going soul winning. Many lives have been destroyed because someone made a bad decision while in a slump.

Do Not Run to Anything New

When I was in high school, Dick McCullough, a left-handed player, was playing for the Detroit Tigers.  He held his bat high in the air, and did everything just the opposite of the way it was supposed to be done, yet he batted .298 and .300. When he was playing for the Tigers, they were world champions.

During those years, I was playing baseball, and I was the leading hitter on the team. I hit a bit of a slump, and, deciding to try something new, I tried to hit like Dick McCullough. It did not work, and I could not hit anything. It was a mistake for me to try something new.

The world’s solution to a slump is trying something new. However, if you keep running to something new, eventually you will run out of new things to try. If you have to buy a new toy every time you are in a slump, you will quickly find yourself in trouble. There are not enough things in the world to perpetually keep you out of a slump. That is not the answer to your problems.  Keep doing what you have been doing.

Do Not Blame Anything or Anyone 

If you find yourself in a slump, do not blame your spouse, your parents or grandparents, your foreman, your pastor, the church, or anyone else.  God is the Author of these slumps.  When you point your finger at someone else, you are simply admitting you are afraid to point your finger at God.  Grow up and face your slump; realize God is using it to expose the real reason you are serving Him.

Forget Yourself and Help Someone Else 

When Dr. John R. Rice was six years old, he went to his father and told him he wanted to be saved.  His father told him he was too young, that he could not get saved until he was ten years old.  Rather than mope about the fact that he could not get saved yet, the young Dr. Rice said ok then I will look for children who were ten years of age or older.  He told them about Christ and showed them how to be saved.  He was able to lead about 90% of the children in his school, who were ten years or older, to the Lord before he was even saved.

You can do nothing about the slump you are in; help someone else, and make it easier on him.  Take a bus route and keep people out of Hell. If you are in slump with the Bible, you can still teach your children the Bible and to be decent young people. If you are in a slump about your pastor, you can still learn from the sermons he preaches. Look for something in the sermons rather than slumbering through the sermons.
 
When you are wrapped up in someone else, you will forget about your own problems. Your burdens will not seem as heavy. If you are in a slump, you are thinking about yourself too much and not enough about others.

Everyone falls into a slump from time to time.  Forget about yourself and help someone else. Stay in church. Enter your closet and talk to God about it; He is the only One Who can help you. Then, stand up and face your problem and keep going for God.

 

































Thursday, December 7, 2017

HOW TO FIGHT DEPRESSION

The Valley Of Depression


Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

One day I was counseling with a man who made this statement, “I wish I were like you and I never got depressed. After all, preachers never get depressed.”  He did not realize how wrong he was.  All of us have bouts of depression on the roller coaster of life. Never buy a book that tells you how to avoid depression.  It is a waste of money.  There is no way to avoid depression; it is simply a normal part of life.
 
We must all experience the highs and lows in the cycle of life. Life is not a straight ride without valleys and mountains.  In fact, depression is actually good for you. You cannot enjoy the mountaintop without experiencing the valley. Only by experiencing a cloudy day will you appreciate the sunny days. Depression is only bad if it becomes a permanent way of life.

Great Leaders In the Bible Fought depression
 Many great leaders in the Bible have been known for their bouts of depression. Jeremiah became so depressed that he quit preaching. He even refused to speak to anyone in God’s name.  After winning a great victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah fled from Jezebel.  Later he sat under a juniper tree and desired to die.  David became depressed because he thought God had cast him off and would never use him again.  Jonah became depressed after the great revival in Nineveh because the people were saved and God did not kill them. The disciples became depressed after Jesus was crucified, not knowing He had been raised from the dead.

Even great leaders, in more recent times, have suffered bouts of depression. I have seen Dr. Jack Hyles when he came face to face with depressing things. I have seen Evangelist Lester Roloff, Dr. Lee Roberson, and Dr. Wendell Evans battling depressing things in life.  At one point in Charles Spurgeon’s life, when his health was failing and his wife was an invalid, he went to France for a while and sent his sermons back to his church so they could be read from the pulpit. 

I, also, have experienced problems that have brought on times of depression. One Monday morning I went to the airport to fly to a preaching engagement in Atlanta, Georgia.  My wife had just undergone surgery to install a pump for pain control.  She returned to the doctor to have the staples removed, and the doctor found that she had a staph infection. Several years earlier she had suffered a deadly staph infection that never completely left her system, making her susceptible to recurring staph infections. The doctor said he would have to remove the pump. She would, then, have to wait 3 months to have another surgery for a new pump.  That was a depressing time for us.

When our grandson, R.G., was born, the doctors found he had severe physical problems. That was a valley, not just for my son Bob and his wife, Kelly; it was a valley for us, as his grandparents, too.  

Yet, R.G. has been such a blessing to our family. He is so happy, and he thoroughly enjoys life. A few years after the birth of R.G., our granddaughter was stillborn to Scott and Jenny. That was another time of depression for us.
 
God does not tell us, in the Bible, how we can avoid depression.  However, He does tell us that, when those times of depression come, we should not stay in the valley.  The depression should be a visitor, not a tenant; a renter, not an owner.  It can be a tourist, not a citizen; a vagrant, not a dweller; a wayfarer, not an inhabitant; a sojourner, not a host; a guest, not a family member.  It should be temporary.

Depression is necessary for Joy

Psalm chapter 126, verses 5 and 6 promise,   5“They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.  6He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Joy comes in the morning, after the nighttime. The valley increases the joy of the mountain peak. Clouds increase the joy of sunlight. Wintertime increases the joy of summer. There can be no peak without a valley, no sunrise without the setting of the sun, no harvest without a time of sowing.  Depression will come.

Do not think depression is a sin or that you are backslidden. It is part of your emotions. We are in a war in this world, and there is no joy in the loss of soldiers’ lives when they fight for freedom. However, we must find a way to keep depression from staying in our lives. We cannot avoid its presence, but we can avoid its permanence. We need to make sure morning will come and the sun will rise.

The 7th and 8th chapters of Romans are contrasts of depression and mountains. In chapter 7, Paul is suffering from depression. In verse 24 he cries, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  He is in the midnight hour, in the middle of winter.  He is discouraged.
 
Then, in chapter 8, Paul comes out of the depression.  He climbs the mountain and awakes to the sunshine.  He has victory, and it is summertime.  He is now encouraged. He tells us in verse 28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

When depression comes and you are in the valley, start doing what God made you to do. Pick up your rifle and jump back into the battle. Otherwise, you will be finished, and you will be knocked down. If you sit around feeling sorry for yourself, you will never pull yourself out of the depression.

If you do not have any money, go find a job.  If you are having problems with your wife, do what God made you to do and love her. If your grades are bad in school, try studying and doing your homework and if you are in trouble at work, start working harder.

DIVERSION IS NOT AN ANSWER TO DEPRESSION

When you are depressed, diversion does not work because it simply delays the inevitable.  It will not help to go to the amusement park. A wife’s depression is not alleviated when she goes shopping, or when she stays in bed and neglects the housework.  It does not help to watch a video, go fishing, or play ball. The only way you can escape the depression is by doing what God made you to do.  Do not withdraw; attack. Do not go away for a few days; get with it for a few days. Man your post. Do your duty, and carry out your assignment for God.
 
When my wife was in the hospital with the staph infection, the doctor decided to discharge her at noon on a Saturday. I called one of my staff men to take over the Saturday meetings at church so I could pick her up.  The hours went by, but she was not discharged until 5:00 in the afternoon. While I was waiting, I went to Subway to buy a sandwich. I approached a family who was eating there and gave them the Gospel, and several people were saved.
 

Highs and lows are a normal part of life.  When you hit a bout of depression, learn to pull out of it and climb on topside. Do what God made you to do. Go soul winning, tithe, and attend church.  You can pull out of it if you want to.

Friday, December 1, 2017

THE DANGER OF LITTLE THINGS

Trivial Pursuit

Esther 3:5 “And when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath.”

Haman is one of the most hated individuals in the history of the Jewish people. When his name is mentioned in the Orthodox synagogues, the men will shout, “Let his name be blotted out!”  Some of the more religious Orthodox Jews will even hiss. If they have canes, they will beat them on the floor at the mention of Haman’s name.

Haman was the prime minister of the mighty, affluent nation of Persia.  He was the favorite of King Ahasuerus.  Mordecai was a Jew who had been taken captive out of the city of Jerusalem. When Haman walked by, everyone was commanded to bow before him. Mordecai, however, refused to bow, or to show reverence to him. While thousands of people bowed before Haman, Mordecai stood alone and refused to bow.
 
Haman was furious at the audacity of this Jew who refused to show reverence to him. He became so infuriated that he went to King Ahasuerus and asked his permission to massacre all of the Jews. Since Haman was the king’s favorite, his request was granted.  King Ahasuerus decreed that every Jew in the kingdom was to be put to death on a date specified by the king. Can you imagine such a terrible thing?  Because one Jew refused to bow, every Jew was to be put to death!

Haman hated Mordecai so much that he wanted to be personally responsible for Mordecai’s death. He began the construction of the gallows to hang Mordecai.
 
One night the king could not sleep, so he commanded his servants to bring him the records of the kingdom.  While he was reading these chronicles, it was brought to his attention that Mordecai had once saved his life by reporting two gatekeepers who had planned an assassination. According to the records, he had never been rewarded or honored for this noble act.
 
While the king was reading this, Haman just happened to be standing outside his chambers, waiting to see him. The king called him in and told him someone in the kingdom had done something great for the king and deserved to be honored. He asked Haman for some suggestions of ways to honor this person.  Since he did not mention Mordecai’s name, Haman assumed the king was talking about him. Haman suggested a parade in this person’s honor.  This person could lead the parade riding on the king’s own horse, wear the king’s own apparel, and the king could tell everyone to bow down before him.

The king told him the person he wished to honor was Mordecai and Haman was mortified! He realized that he would have to honor the man he so greatly despised.  On the day of the parade, Haman gave the king’s clothing to Mordecai and helped in the ceremony held to honor Mordecai. He had to instruct everyone to bow before Mordecai. After the parade was over, he went to his house in mourning, humiliated before the man he hated.  

In the end, Haman’s plot to kill the Jews was exposed, and he was hanged on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. I am sure, when the king’s men hanged Haman; he realized Mordecai’s insubordination had not been worth his anger. He probably wished he had simply ignored Mordecai.
 
There are several lessons we can learn from this story. We can conclude that God protects His own, that a person’s sin will find him out, and that pride cometh before a fall. However, most people miss the main lesson in this tragic story; Haman’s fall was caused by his obsession with a little thing. He was upset by one little thing, by one Jew who, when thousands of others bowed, stood alone and refused to bow. 

Haman was oblivious to the fact that thousands of other people did bow before him. He could only see the one man who refused to bow. The silence of Mordecai was louder than the cheers of the masses.  Haman’s anger toward one person caused him to lose his honor, and it finally caused his death.

We conquer mountains, and then we stumble over anthills. We are not overcome by boulders, but by tiny pebbles. Most of us become more upset over trivial things than we do over important things. I have seen couples bury a child in the cemetery and then quibble over a towel left on the floor. They receive great answers to prayer, but they tremble at the need of daily bread.

The same is true of churches and nations. I have seen churches that weather satanic storms and then split over the color of the songbooks. They fight the state government, and then they divide from within.

The nation of Israel crossed the Red Sea, and then balked at the tiny Jordan River. The United States of America, the greatest nation of our generation, rose up to conquer Germany and Japan, and then it trembled over the smaller countries of Cuba and Vietnam.
 
Elijah prayed down fire from Heaven and severed the heads of the prophets of Baal, but then he ran from one woman who had threatened him.

Most of us are like the proverbial elephant that is not afraid of the beasts of the jungle, yet flees the tiny mouse.  We must not let a trivial thing destroy us when we have so many things going for us.  We must thank God for the good things in our lives.

In churches everywhere you will find people who have been destroyed by trivial matters.  Someone quits the choir because of a quibble with the choir director over a trivial matter.  Someone gets mad because the usher did not seat him where he thought he should be seated.  A bus driver becomes angry because he did not get the bus he wanted to drive, or a bus captain becomes angry because he was not given the bus route he wanted.  A Sunday school teacher becomes angry because she was not given the class she wanted to teach.  People become angry over things that are not worth “a hill of beans.”

Some college student gets upset over a little rule in the handbook.  He, or she, will be distraught over a scolding by the Dean of Men or the Dean of Women.  If they become so upset over a trivial matter, they will never be successful in the ministry.  College is just an examination to prove a person’s character for real life.

PROTECT YOUR SPIRIT
  
Be careful to protect your spirit, for those trivial matters, those little irritants, are everywhere. They are the everyday problems in your marriage. Sometimes, your spouse will not put the cap on the tube of toothpaste or will not put the lid back on the milk or the peanut butter.  Clothes and towels will be left on the floor. The toast will be burnt. The children will leave out the bicycles and tear up the grass in the front yard. You will lose the joy of marriage and the joy of raising children over trivial matters with little meaning, so stop building the gallows that will hang you.
 
Trivial pursuits will destroy you. Your nerves will be shattered, your life, and the lives of those around you, will be destroyed. You will break friendships of a lifetime over a minor statement or action.  A lifetime of good is destroyed because someone’s feelings are hurt over a trivial matter.

Who is the Mordecai in your life?  What little thing will not bow to you or work the way it is supposed to work? What trivial matter has angered you? What trivial matter has caused your blood pressure to soar? You are angry with God for something insignificant. You are mad at the church, the bus captain, the choir director, or the youth director over some trivial matter. You have fallen in love with your church, but then you walk away from it over a minor problem or issue. It is such a trivial thing, such a little thing, but it will cause your downfall.

For some reason, we cannot associate God with taking care of trivial matters. Somehow, we have the idea that God only carries the big burdens; He only answers the big problems. We look to Him to work miracles, but we never ask Him to take care of the minor things.  Because of that, we pray down millions of dollars, but we cannot pay our rent.  We pray down great miracles, but we starve to death because we do not ask Him for the trivial matter of our daily bread.
 
The same God Who answered Elijah’s prayer and caused fire to fall on Mount Carmel is the same God Who fed Elijah, and He is the same God Who will take care of us. He is willing to take care of every problem, small and large, trivial and life-changing.

It is time to realize that life is not perfect and some things are simply trivial matters. For example, if a baseball player gets one hit out of three times at bat, he is considered Hall of Fame material. If a basketball player makes eight out of ten throws at the free-throw line, he can become All-American. Mickey Mantel did not make a hit every time he came up to bat. Wilt Chamberlain did not make all of his free-throws.

Of course, you want ten things out of ten to be perfect, but it will not happen. Accept that fact and thank God for those things that do go the way they should go! Do not let trivial pursuits take over your life.  Do not let a Mordecai ruin your life.
 
What is the problem that will not bow?  Who is the person who will not bow?  Put away your hammer and nails, tear down the scaffolding and the gallows you are building.  Start thanking God for those things that do go the right way, and stop playing trivial pursuit!