‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
According to a Mental Health Commission of Canada report one out of five working Canadians live with a mental illness each year. It is widely accepted among health professionals that one in every six adults will experience an episode of depression during their lifetime. The World Health Organization predicts that within twenty years more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem. According to a survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors 2016 marks the seventh year in a row that anxiety has been the top complaint among students seeking mental health services.
In 2016 Dr. Bob Cutillo, a medical doctor, published his book Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age. He contends that in rejecting God and choosing a life based on our own assessments humans have lost something essential for healthy existence. With only yourself in charge of you, “every uncertainty, every contingency that makes the world less predictable and more beyond our control, is a source of great dis-ease. This places intense pressure on the reliability of our personal decisions, thus making us uniquely anxious in our choices. No wonder we plan incessantly in order to minimize chance and contingency.”
Generation Z (also known as Post-Millennials) is the demographic cohort with birth years that range from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Besty VanDenBerghe, a young writer from this demographic, published an article in the March 2017 issue of the journal First Things titled Generation Z: Desperate for Rules. When it comes to having some sort of moral compass, she noted hearing one minister liken the experience of many young people today who grow up as if driving in a blinding snowstorm with no lines on the road. She concluded with this note: “But every once in a while, we do, with some trepidation, lay down the rules. Somebody’s got to do it.”
Today is the day on our calendar designated as Mother’s day. It is a day to honour our mothers. Yes, there is joy in being a mother—but don’t’ those “little joys” themselves also sometimes become the source of anxiety? Even when they are adults?
Mental illness, depression, anxiety, uncertainties, unpredictability, no lines on the road. We live in a world with much that makes for troubled hearts. In that upper room when Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” isn’t his word there also of contemporary relevance for us? To be sure Jesus was addressing the specific anxiety of these disciples because Jesus announced “I am with you only a little longer.” They are reeling because they cannot imagine how to go on without him; everything they are hoping for is because he is present. Still, Jesus word to the troubled hearts of these disciples in the turmoil that was theirs is a word for any of his disciples in the specifics of what might be the reason for troubled hearts in our lives. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It is a word from our Lord for us too.
1. Do not let your hearts be troubled. This word translated trouble means to agitate, to disquiet, to unsettle, to perplex. Our Lord knows that our hearts are at times troubled. He knows that this is reality for us. There is a stigma in our world regarding these inner turmoil or wounds of our being. There is little place to talk of such things like depression or anxiety or even grief. Our Lord talks to us about them. The Psalms speak of troubled hearts, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (Psalm 42:5) Remembering that the Psalms are prayer we note that God is one with whom we are invited to speak about such trouble.
Furthermore, Jesus knows something about the experience of a troubled heart. When he calls us to not let our hearts be troubled he isn’t speaking as if we have nothing to be troubled about or that the agitation within were simply dispensed with.
Recall that Jesus gives this word to his disciples in the upper room at that last meal before he will give up his life for us. This is part of what we call Jesus’ farewell discourse. Twice in this final week John’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ heart was troubled. The agitation of heart caused by the looming cross periodically bubbles to the surface for Jesus.
John’s gospel tells is that some Greeks came to the Passover festival and asked for an audience with Jesus—their request triggers thoughts of what he will bear for them at the cross such that Jesus said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (John 12:27) And then, at this last meal with his disciples, as Jesus thought about the one who would betray him we are told “Jesus was troubled in spirit.” (John 12:21)
The word that is used to speak of our Lord’s troubled heart is the one Jesus uses with his disciples. “Do not let you heart be troubled.” Could we not also imagine that Jesus, in some measure, shares this trouble of heart with his disciples? He too is troubled in contemplation of the fact that where he is going they cannot come. This is not the word of someone aloof from the pain as if his command were to say “suck it up” to his disciples. Our Lord does not run rough-shod over these anxieties as if they were nothing.
But neither does he want us to remain captive to them. The verb here is in the imperative. This is a command. Jesus believes that there is deliverance for his disciples. Also remember that our Lord’s commands are covered promises. He would never command us to reach for something that was not there; he facilitates in us what he commands for us. But how do we keep his command? It is all well and good to say “don’t let your hearts be troubled” but how do we jettison the trouble? Do we just ignore it hoping to wish it away?
2. There is a second part to our Lord’s command. In the face of anxiety His command wasn’t, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” period!” (Full stop.) The second part of his command is crucial. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” In that Psalm we noted a moment ago expressing heart trouble, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me”; it too has a crucial second part. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” (Psalm 42:5-6a) Clearly Jesus knew this Psalm.
Notice where Jesus points us for finding help with troubled hearts. “Believe in God, believe also in me.” He points us away from ourselves to him. Let me be clear that I do not have a degree in psychiatry, psychology, or counselling and do not want to give the impression that there is no help to be found in the work that those trained in these disciplines can offer. I would say that the direction our Lord points us is to believe in him. Yes, there can be help in looking at the trouble in our heart. Some self-understanding can be of benefit. But deliverance comes from our Saviour. If all we ever do is explore the trouble in our heart we remain, to some degree, captive to the trouble; within its vortex. Believing in him has you looking outside yourself. (Serving others also help us look away from ourselves; God turns us first to himself then to others.)
I also want to say that solutions and not simple as if “here take two belief pills and the heart ache will be gone.” Believing in Jesus sets us on a course for our living and even though some things are unrelieved they do not separate us from the love of God. We will find help step by step as we walk in this direction. When people come to seek my pastoral help with such heart trouble, I often invite people to write in a journal about how they are feeling each day or from time to time. Our Lord’s help comes for us also incrementally—as we walk with him praying for help for the day before us, he helps. Over a period of time walking in this way things change inside of us but because it happens daily we are unaware. We are hoping for some sudden about face; for the anxiety to flee away. The journal will help you because you can go back and read realizing that you’ve come farther than you know.
I will share with you a personal experience; I do so not to say I am some paragon of virtue but in the hope of being helpful. It is my habit to pray each morning and within that to pray the Psalms appointed that day in the Anglican book of Prayers. One morning, for some reason, I was thinking about dying and there was this feeling akin to the panic of claustrophobia that came over me. It was so pronounced that I got up out of the chair where I was sitting hoping that moving would help dissipate the trouble that seemed to overwhelm the heart.
Psalm 17 was one of the Psalms appointed for that day and as I returned to the chair I read this from the end of the Psalm. “But as for me, I will behold thy presence in righteousness: and when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.” When I read that, “when I awake up after thy likeness” the cloud of that panic vaporized in the light of the resurrected Saviour’s promise. Death has been rendered the doorway to awakening in his likeness. And today, if I asked, many of you would bear witness to some similar experience of how believing dissipates heart trouble.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
3. Jesus points us to believe God and also in him. What is it that we are believing God for? It is in his promise. “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places” and “I go and prepare a place for you.” The connection being that Jesus is securing a place for us in the Father’s house.
Where is Jesus going to do that? He is going to the “place they cannot come”, to the cross. It is at the cross that preparations for you and me are made. Jesus isn’t on his way to heaven as if to complete a construction job; he isn’t going to the Father’s house to decorate each room because he now knows who is coming so wants things to be just right for each of us according to our personal tastes. He is going to the cross where the whole cosmos will be set to rights. He is going to the cross to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead is vindication that his life given achieved all that Father and Son set out to do for us at the cross. Preparations are complete. All is ready. He did come back. First from the dead; and what remains is the fullness of that return at the consummation of all things when he will come again to take us to where he is so we can be there also.
Or as this promise is expressed in Psalm 17, “and when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it;” or Psalm 23, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever;” or as the Apostle Paul wrote, when “this mortal body puts on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54); or as the Apostle John wrote, “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is,” (1 John 3:2-3); or as the Apostle Peter spoke of “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Or again from the Apostle Paul, He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? (Romans 8:32)
Do you have a bucket list? Many of you may have seen the movie that gave a particular meaning to the term “bucket list. It is a term from the 2007 film in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play stricken men who set out to do all the things they've wanted to do before kicking the bucket (dying). The screenwriter, Justin Zackham, says that phrase just happened to be what he called an epic to-do list pinned to his bulletin board. So he used it in the film.
What's on your list? Maybe some places to travel to and see. Maybe you are hoping for a one more family reunion. Maybe there is an event you hope to attend. Maybe having enough to make ends meet in retirement. What should be on your list? World peace? End of poverty?
The point I make with you is that the promise of our Saviour to bring us to the place he has in mind is so beyond our wildest imagination; a place that ear has not heard nor human mind imagined; a place where love only gives way to more love; the question for the believer is do we even need a bucket list? I am not saying that such things are not worthy of consideration. The point I make is that we usually think of these bucket lists in terms of limited time as if this were our only opportunity. The Bible speaks about what is to come in terms of the renewal of the earth. The dross and decay burned away so that only life and glory remains.
Nathan Nielson grew up a rancher in Utah. I want to read a paragraph in an article he wrote. Listen for how he describes the beauty of the land. “I grew up ranching this land. We liked to think southeastern Utah was just God showing off. From atop my horse I could tell this place had won the geological lottery. Water, sandstone and a thousand other elements joined to form canyons, arches, hoodoos, monoliths and towers. Pink and red and orange and white. Sharp, round, soft. Cliff dwellings hang in the sky and haunt the imagination. Voices from other worlds, other times, breathe through every crack and cave.”
For anyone who has driven across Canada you will know that each province has its own beauty. People equally believe the place they love as “God showing off.” Now if God made the beauty of the world we see, though subject to decay, and we can apprehend its beauty think of what will be the beauty in that future that knows no decay.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.