“Mark, you said sadness is a sin?”

I recently started a blog post by saying that sadness is a sin. I got a couple of responses from two friends who disagreed with me. Actually most seemed to agree with the post but these two friends brought up some points. So perhaps others felt the same. For one, I hope that they didn’t only read the first line. Here’s the blog post I wrote on “Sadness.

I’ve thought about what I wrote and I do feel that I believe it to be true. As I wrote in the article, I fight and pray against sadness every day. I’ve had a very blessed life but there are also things that have happened, prayers that have not been answered up till now and just things that I won’t go into here.

Actually, sadness is sort of a big word, a little like “love”. You can love your car, your dog, your sports team, your country or perhaps your Lord and God. But in English it just all boils down to that simple little word, love. So often “love” needs to be understood within the context and sometimes explained. I think it’s the same with sadness.

I made it clear in the blog post I wrote that I was not just making some sweeping, blanket statement that all sadness is sin. That certainly cannot be supported by Scripture and it’s just not true. But I’ve found in these things that at times we press the limits of how much language can work for us. Have you ever tried to say something that there’s just not words for? Maybe with someone you love deeply, it seems that the language just isn’t full and complete enough to match what you’re trying to say?

So it is with sadness. I went on in the article to explain that senseless sadness, Godless sadness, destructive sadness, empty sadness are the things that often try to befriend us and become our constant companions. I’ve had several people write me to say that they had never had someone understand this the way they read it in the blog post and they were glad to have it explained.

Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of” (II Corinthians 7:10), and I brought up this side of things that “Godly sorrow” is similar to pointless sadness, only it’s not pointless. So, all in all, there are times where we just need to have a greater discerning of things, of what is facing us and what is trying to take root in our hearts. Is it from God and working a good work in us? Or not?

I just yesterday heard of an incredible story of some dears friends who had a loved one come to their room and breakdown in tears, apologizing for the extremely rough time they’d been going through because of the harshness and unloving attitude that this one had displayed towards them for a long time. There was real remorse, real sorry and sadness that there had been such divisions and acrimony for so long. So there was sadness, but it wasn’t pointless, empty, destructive sadness.

As Paul said of one situation he knew of with the Corinthians in II Corinthians 2 of someone who had a mighty repentance and change but also great sadness and remorse was also involved. He told the Corinthians they ought to “forgive and comfort him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow”, going on to bring in what often happens in these things, “lest Satan get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Corinthians 2:7 & 11)

As Paul alludes to here, Satan just loves to pile on us when we are down and sadness is one of his favorite tools. Like I wrote about in “Conviction or Condemnation”, the devil will stop at nothing to destroy us and if he can’t get us lifted up in pride, then he tries to keep us in perpetual defeat through condemnation or maybe what could be called “condemnation-lite”, that pointless destructive sadness that we’re talking about.

So I will stick to my guns when saying that sadness is, or certainly can be, a sin. No, not every single time anyone is sad is that sin. But it’s probably good to really take a closer look at it to see what kind of sadness it is. Some of them really aren’t your friend or are good for you.

Conquering

ConqueringThat word probably leaves a funny taste in the mouth for most of us 21st century folks.  “Conquering” sounds like the war-mongering, triumphalist people we just don’t like or want to be. We’re mostly the peace loving, “can’t-we-get-along” types. But that’s where those of us who believe in God would do well to remember that we need to not look to our personal preferences or the currently most accepted view of “right and wrong”.

As much as we peace-loving people would like it if the whole world was just like us, reality has a way of jumping up and biting us in the butt from time to time. Like King David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalms 120:7). The same King David prayed to God, “Scatter the people that delight in war.” (Psalm 68:30) It’s a sad, reluctant realization that war is an integral part of the reality we now live in. In the golden age of peace that will come with the return of Jesus, “They shall beat their sword into plow shares. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isiah 2:4) But we’re not there yet; far from it.

We desire peace, long for it and don’t naturally incline to war (many of us anyway). But we can’t get away from the Scriptural injunction that is part of the definition of the times and age we live in, that we should “war a good warfare” (I Timothy 1:18). Paul said, “No man that wars, entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who has called him to be a soldier.” (II Timothy 2:4)

Persecution picture-flattenedReluctantly, we have to admit that we’re called to be soldiers. We may be peacemakers and that’s our desire. But we face an Enemy who wants to defeat us. And we face continually our Enemy’s forces and loyalists who defy and mock our Commander and who want to destroy our faith.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t that way? Yes, it would be nice. But we can’t just sit around and “imagine”.  We have to be realists. Our dear Lord Jesus is the future ruler of this earth, physically. He told us “I will come again.” (John 14:3). Daniel told us in that most simple first chapter of his prophecies that Jesus’ Kingdom to come will “break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” and nations of this earth that His Kingdom will replace at His coming. (Daniel 2:44)

We must conclude that to conquer is part of the calling we have when He told us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) If we are to “win souls” (Proverbs 11:30), who are we to win them from? The answer is clear: they’re to be won from the powers of Darkness that rule this earth right now. Paul said that God, “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Collossians 1:13)

Jesus conquered. Maybe He used me or you as his tool or instrument to help “win a soul” for Him. The forces of darkness were defeated. A battle took place. If you’ve ever been involved in personal witnessing and winning souls, you know how totally real that can be. It’s often an incredible fight and you can sometimes almost literally know, see and contend with dark forces that hold people in a grip of unbelief and pride, restraining them from reaching out to receive the new life Christ offers. And, lest there be any room for misunderstanding, how do we conquer? How do we win? Through love, like our Commander did.

jesus on horseRevelation chapter 6 talks about a rider with a crown on a white horse who “goes forth conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)  In our times, modern church scholars have somehow attributed this figure to be a picture of the Satanic Antichrist of the endtime. But from the Early Church up till modern times, this figure on the white horse in Revelation 6 was always considered to be Jesus of Nazareth. The forces of God from the first century till now have followed Him into all nations, winning through His leadership the lost souls of this earth, gathering them into His eternal fold and contending with the devil and the forces of darkness who now hold sway over the nations.

We’re to be conquerors with Him. He defeated death on the cross of Calvary. He is the risen Savoir, the mighty Conqueror who now leads the forces of His saved ones, through the Holy Spirit, in this time of battle for the hearts and souls of the people of the earth. We’ve already passed the point in time which He spoke of when He said “This gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14) That’s already happened over the last 100 to 150 years.

Soon the crowned Rider on the white horse that we see at the beginning of the Christian era in Revelation 6 will become the visible Lord from heaven in Revelation 19, leading the forces of heaven in a reconquering of the earth as He retakes this world from the clutches of the Devil and we experience the first days of His Kingdom come on earth.

We are sheep. And He has said He is our Shepherd. But we look forward to the Lion of Judah, the conquering King of Kings who will lead us as conquerors with Him in His soon return. In the meantime, we need to remember that we are, perhaps even reluctantly, called to be conquerors, fighters and triumphant (but still meek and humble) fighters with Him at this time. “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalms 37:11)

Rampant, predatory males

There’s a lot in the news about predatory males and a culture of rape. Doubtless, this is real but it’s hardly even news until some big shot really gets caught with his pants down. ( 🙂 ) But, you’re right, it’s no laughing matter at all. Cyberspace is abuzz with discussions about what can be done and who is to blame. I read an article in the New York Times that actually it’s just all men who are to be blamed; all of them are like that.

Well, this can get pretty wild, discouraging and extreme real fast. Again, there’s no doubt that this is a problem, there’s no doubt that countless people have been more than just hurt. They’ve been damaged, they have been ravaged not just in their bodies but in their souls and virtually irreparably messed up. And, as some bring out, it’s not just men doing this to women. Men, some at least, sexually attack other men also.

“Oh Mark, nice people don’t talk about things like this! You shouldn’t even be writing about things like this!” Well, it’s very real, very timely and it’s like one of the many onslaughts of the devil that engulfs our present world. Calls are ringing out for change. Guilt is being liberally apportioned and abundant shaming of males is the order of the day.

But, honestly, do you think it will change anything? I sort of don’t think so. Greater hate and division in society will likely come of it but positive change? I don’t think so. But let’s look at two factors in this. First, the man who’s so much in the news now had the job of being virtually the high priest of Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5), as Revelation 17 and 18 say in the last book in the Bible. The modern American “entertainment industry” is the epicenter of satanic filth and immorality that was predicted in Revelation. It says there, “all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (Revelation 18:3)

American “entertainment” has permeated all nations with its evil, Godless, satanic “wine of the wrath of her fornication.” So it almost goes without saying that one of the men who was at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry would have the nature that this man has had, a heartless, marauding, animal-like sexual predator. The Bible talks about “men of the world, who have their portion in this life.” (Psalm 17:14) And there are plenty like that in every field.

Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And Satan said to Jesus, ‘All this power I will give you for it is mine. If you will worship me, all shall be yours’”. (Luke 4: 5 & 6) Thankfully our dear Lord and King rebuked the devil at that offer. But there are plenty of folks around who’ve taken that offer with glee. The devil has given them all this world has to offer and they’ve served the pleasure of Satan in return. The “casting couch” has been a known part of the Hollywood path to stardom for many decades. Why anyone is surprised about any of this is itself a surprise.

But is there any solution? First you have to get to the root of the problem. And as I wrote in “What is Sin?“, basically no one will go there. Because the problem (I know some of you will hate it when I say this) is sin. It’s not males. It’s not sex. It’s sin in the heart. Without the regenerative salvation of Jesus Christ, coming into our hearts to save us from our sins and our powerful sinful nature, it can be said that any one of us are capable of almost any kind of horrendous sin. It’s like Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing, “If the right one don’t get you, the left one will.” If your sex urge doesn’t get you, gluttony will. If gluttony doesn’t get you, violence will. If violence doesn’t get you, depression or drugs will. And on and on it goes.

Jesus said of the last days before His return, that  “men’s hearts failing them for fear” would be one of the signs of those times. But, more on our subject, He also said of the Last Days, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12) Natural God-given human love between a man and woman is waning as demonic interactions abound. Or like Paul said about the Last Days that people would be “without natural affection”. (II Timothy 3:3) People need warm, loving, “natural affection”. They need love, even the Godly, wonderful love between a man and woman.

So, again, is there solution? Probably not one that most people will recognize and accept. The only way to empower men to bring their bodies and desires into subjection is through the power of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”  (Colossians 1:27) That’s the only thing that ever gave me the power over the sins that were destroying me. I hope you have that saving power through Jesus. Then you “can do all things through Christ which strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13), including becoming a loving, mature, carrying man who can truly find and love the woman of your dreams, who God prepared for you. That’s the only hope. Jesus saves.

Sadness

Sadness is one of the greatest of sins. It turns us from the heavenly vision and contradicts the promises of God. Hardly anything so strips us from the power of God as does sadness. Yet it seems so reasonable, so “normal”, so acceptable. Maybe that’s why it so successfully defeats so many of the people of God.

I pray hard against sadness every day. The Bible talks about “the sins that do so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1); well sadness just wants to keep me as its friend forever, if I will. Maybe you had a friend when you were a kid, someone in your neighborhood you hung out with. Seemed like a nice guy and you had fun together. But as you got older, that fellow began to get worse and worse. Started fights, did petty crime at the shopping center and began to get into drinking, drugs and wild parties. That’s how sadness can be. It seems almost innocent at first. “Just feeling a little sad”, you say. But then if you stay in that state, along comes other similar feelings and it just gets worse and worse.

But for Christians, we are just not supposed to allow that, any more than we would the more well known and recognizable sins. This isn’t just about being cheerful and staying upbeat. This is about the fundamentals of obeying God and “walking in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:17) Back in the Old Testament, Nehemiah told the Jews who’d come back to rebuild Jerusalem, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10b).

But, boy, the devil tries to fight that. And of course it isn’t always even the devil that prompts you to be sad. Our own natural human nature is prone to all kinds of things that are just how things are in this world. But for a child of God, we are no longer under the control of this world and its darkened tendencies. Paul said that we are “set down in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)  If you’re a saved, born again Christian, then Christ dwells in your heart right now. You have heaven in your heart right now and the truths, influences, reality and essences of heaven are already very firmly the reality you live in. King David said to God in Psalm 16:10, “In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand are pleasures for ever more.” Not empty, hopeless sadness.

Senseless sadness is not part of the reality of heaven.God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) We are to “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8) And yet, still, sadness is so often and so easily with us. If someone offered us drugs or wanted to get us to commit illicit sex, my how we’d stand up against that! But sadness? We can almost look at it like an old friend, if we don’t watch out. Like the famous song by Simon and Garfunkel with the opening words, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…” Well, I’ll tell you, darkness better not be your friend.

OK, is there any balance due here? Sometimes we feel what the Bible calls “contrite”. (Psalm 51:17) We are sorry for our sins, for our foolishness and that brings us to what looks very much like sadness. But here’s a very significant verse about that which I hope you’ll take note of. II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of. But the sorrow of the world works death.” Such light from the Word of God there. Two kinds of sorrow and it could be said, two kinds of sadness. Is your sadness or sorrow one that works repentance in you to salvation? You are sad at your foolish mistakes and you, in your contrition and repentance, strive all the more to walk in the Spirit and to follow the Lord more closely?

Or do you have “the sorrow of the world” which works death? That’s why when folks talk about the gift of discerning of spirits, I always figure the greatest discerning of spirits is to discern your own spirit. Jesus said to His disciples, “You know not what manner of spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) Well, sadness can be one of the most unhealthy and even contagious atmospheres that you can entertain. Like that old friend from childhood that you finally had to distance yourself from, sadness needs to be recognized for what it is and to be fought against as soon as it raises its deceitful head.

What do you do about Godless sadness? First, recognize that it’s not your friend. Not reasonable or acceptable or deserved or inevitable. It’s a subtle, dangerous enemy that needs to have the light of the Word of God and Spirit of God shined on it. Why are you sad? Did something happen? Someone said something that caused this? Even, did the Lord just point out something that you need to change in?

I wrote about that in “Conviction or Condemnation”. If the Lord is convicting you and you feel contrite, that’s where you may be feeling “Godly sorrow”. Or did the Devil try to bring you into condemnation? Was it just an old impulse that’s been a part of your nature all your life? Whatever its source and reason, Godless sadness is dangerous to your heart and is not in the least one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Sing a song, quote a verse or Psalm from the Bible, praise God with your voice or if nothing else, start thanking the Lord for all His goodness to you. Plainly put, the Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) And, yes, sadness can often be straight from the devil.

Otherwise that seemingly innocent little sadness, if left to fester in your heart and mind, will take you down the path of hell and get you utterly defeated and out of the will of God. Don’t let it happen. Recognize it as soon as it raises its hellish head. Resist it, turn from it, go the other direction, stand on His promises and fight the good fight of faith. “Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Does God use organizations? Or individuals?

Ever wondered how God works best, with a group of organized individuals? Or with individuals alone? It does kind of mater. Should we endeavor to find a group of like-minded folks who share the same vision, goals and understanding of the Lord as we have? Or should we concentrate on our personal relationship with the Lord and just follow as best we can the Word and the directing of God’s Spirit?

Of course the best way to find the answer to this is to look to God’s Word. But the answer that comes back may not be conclusively for one side or the other. If you were to say that God blesses and usually wants us to work within some larger organized structure, you could use the example of Israel of old and how He raised them up and blessed them as a nation for centuries. It was their unity, their cohesion and their subjection to His laws and prophets that made them what they were. Or in some cases what they were not. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)

But there were times when this wasn’t the way the Lord blessed or delivered His people. The Lord raised up the shepherd boy David, virtually a child, to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines in his day. Before that, Saul’s son Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6) and then he and his armor bearer routed the Philistines and turned the tide of battle when the larger army and forces of Israel were bottled up and tied down.

“Mark, you’re wrong. God prefers organizations and the safety of the flock.”

Yeah, sometimes He does work that way. But equally, some have traded their insecure liberty in following God individually for safety and security but ultimately bondage in Christian organizations that stopped truly follow God generations ago.

It looks like you can’t make a really solid case that God only works one of these ways or the other. But what about in Christian times? Was the Early Church a highly organized, structured, top-down outfit, demanding subjugation and dominion over all the multitudes who came to Christ in the first century?

Well, back at the time of the Early Church, they did have some organization and they did try to shepherd and feed the tremendous wave of people who kept coming to the Lord from all over the known world of that time. But it was centuries before there was the kind of stultifying, soul-quenching “organization” that the Catholic Church, as well as the various Orthodox churches, came to be by the time of the so-called Dark Ages.

Maybe it’s just because there are so many kinds of people. Some, perhaps the majority, are more followers than they are pioneers and spirit-led disciples who can really forge ahead on their own. Admittedly, not everyone is going to turn out like the Apostle Paul or some of the famous missionaries and pioneers of history who just couldn’t be tied down in some daily routine that was supposed to be the fulfillment of their obligations to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

But maybe we should note that the Lord did call individuals to personal discipleship and to even leave behind their present life to be “fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) He said we should pray to the Father that He would “send forth laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Is that best done on a huge scale with much leadership attention to detail, where the laborers need to constantly be checking back with headquarters far away to make sure every move they make is ok with the council of the elders? Or is it best portrayed by Spirit-filled and called individuals who go out, even “not knowing whether they went”? (Hebrews 11:8) I suggest, and I’ve experienced, that this second mode seems to work better, even though it’s rarer and some folks just think it’s almost dangerous.

“How can we just let these individuals out there to roam around, saying whatever they will and with no accountability to anyone?!”

But if you look at the record of God’s Word, as well as Jewish and Christian history, some of the greatest things God ever did, some of the greatest works He ever started were where there was no controlling head but God , no organization but that supplied by the Holy Spirit, no directors or direction except His Word and the leading voice and presence of the Lord.

Sometimes, alone and outnumbered, people of God have had to utterly depend on Him for support, direction, inspiration and just the whole caboodle. But the Lord came through wonderfully time and again. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? With Abraham? With the Apostle Paul and the pioneers of the Early Church? In some situations that might seem weak and unorganized by man, God had some of His mightiest works done through His frail but yielded individuals. I might add that ones like Saint Patrick and many of the highly effective early Celtic Christian apostles were like this. Could we add ones like Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale to this list?

And is there a reason I’m even writing this? Perhaps because in my own life I’ve come to feel that at times when I had no one but God to lean on and direct me, that at those times some of the most amazing things happen. So if you’re feeling quenched and subdued in some kind of Christian organization that is supplying your need for fellowship but is slowly sapping your faith, fire and initiative, perhaps you might find greater blessings in simply doing and living the truth you know in your heart that you realize your religious organization is just not following. Perhaps you need to follow God into greater fruitfulness, greater faith and a closer relationship to Him as you follow and obey the Lord, where so often modern Christian organizations just won’t be taking or directing you.

“Let not your heart be troubled”

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You mean it’s up to us to keep a calm heart? We have some control and responsibility over the state of our heart? Yep. That might be a surprise to some. Because it seems that often people think that our thoughts and emotions are our masters, that we are in thrall to every whim that pops into our minds.

But we aren’t. Jesus was very clear about that and the Bible is full of examples where we are responsible for and even to rule over not only our emotions, but even conditions and circumstances around us, as strange as that may seem. So you don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to be swallowed up in despair, even though things may seem and even are very bleak and rough at the moment. This is another place where the miracle-working power of God commands us to do what seems to be the humanly impossible: to look at disaster or extreme despair in the face and to see “things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).

Maybe you’re wondering if I’m a little off the beam and “out there” on this one. So perhaps an example of this in the Bible might help. In the Psalms, King David could get pretty down and desperate at times. Psalm 77 is an incredible example of his being in despair and at wits end. At first he says things like, “My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You [God] hold mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:2-4)

So what does David do, go jump off a bridge? Go “postal”? Nope. Here’s what he says later in the same psalm. And I said, ‘This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.’”  (Psalm 77:10-12)

David got a grip on himself, on his heart, and then made a strong, conscious effort to “let not his heart be troubled”. This is all similar to what I wrote about in the blog post ”Keep your heart”. And frankly, “with man it is impossible but not with God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

I suppose this is somewhat a sequel to what I wrote about having a troubled mind in “God has given… a sound mind.” Like Jesus said, “Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:28) But when you’re really down, discouraged, despondent and in the depths of despair, one of the last things you want to hear or do is to be counseled to “let not your heart be troubled”. Usually you have gone beyond hope. Things look utterly impossible. But then, God teaches us that “it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle”.

It looked really, really bad for King David there. But he’d grown in the Lord and in His wisdom enough to know that he could, by the power of God, turn away from his despair by making a conscious effort of his heart to, if nothing else, start remembering all that God had done in the past for him. He just kept saying to himself, “I will remember…” all the good things that God had done for him before that time. For us in these times, a similar thing to this would be to just quote comforting, strengthening Bible verses to ourselves in times of greatest difficulty.

This is one of the miracles and secrets of a Godly life, that you can and even must have dominion over your heart and mind. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions or circumstances and conditions. In the case of Jesus and His disciples, He said that to them that they should not let their heart be troubled, just hours before He was to be captured and led away to His trial and crucifixion.

It’s almost unfathomable and incomprehensible the grace, depth and love that Jesus must have had to be counseling and consoling His disciples at a time when He certainly knew that His excruciating death was less than a day away. But He did that so that we could have “rule over our spirits” (Proverbs 25:28), so that we can have victory through Him over, not only outside enemies, but the enemies within own hearts: our fears, our prejudices, our foolishness, our weak human emotions.

Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1)  “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) “I will remember the works of the Lord. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12) These are things we can and even must do in order to survive the terrors, traumas and vicissitudes of this present evil world. Granted, it can seem almost impossible. But then we know it really isn’t. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

 

God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

How to say no to Satan

If we’re honest, we know there’s a lot about us that isn’t as it should be or the way we want. Admittedly, it can get to be discouraging. And then, often, along comes the devil.

It may surprise you to know that the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself that’s horrible, not to mention all the lies. So it can happen like this. You’re already a little down and then the devil points out some weakness you have. The devil is “the accuser of the saints” (Revelation 12:10) but often it starts out with something that you even know is true or at least partly true.

So in your heart of hearts you know you have a problem with lying, or gluttony, or violence, or some form of sexual deviation, or something. And sometimes you’ve tried to resist it. It’s not really what you want to do or be most of the time. But then the enemy pulls out his big guns and best sales pitch. “Go ahead!” he says. “It’s there in your heart! It’s what you really are! You want it!” If you don’t watch out, it’ll almost make sense.

But…, but, my friends, this is where a knowledge of God and His ways is a matter of life and death. Here’s just one verse, a really good one, that can trounce all the drool of Satan. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James 4:7. Folks, there is so much crucial veracity in those few words that I can’t do the subject justice.

Even if the devil has a point, even if you have a tendency or a proclivity to be a certain way, it does not mean you HAVE to be that way. Back years ago you’d hear people say, “The devil made me do it!Nowadays it’s more popular to say, “I was born this way!” I wrote a blog article about that one. Well, to hell with both of those ideas from hell. The devil can’t make you do ANYTHING unless you COOPERATE. And no matter how you were born, the grace of God brings salvation and freedom “from all sin” (I John 1:7). Jesus said to be “born again.” (John 3:3) That’s what happened to me and I was delivered from a whole host of sins, foolishness, iniquities and vanity that had virtually ended my life before I was even 21.

So the first step in these things is to resist the devil. Just know and understand that simply because you have a tendency to some form of sin or evil does NOT mean you have to actually do it. Someone said one time,temptations-and-doubtsYou can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s the truth, isn’t it? Well that’s how sin can be. Temptations can be like birds flying over your head. But you can keep shooing them away. You don’t have to let down your guard and let them settle and nest on your head. All of us know this. And it’s a real analogy to how sin is.

But Mark, I’m so weak! I have so little strength to resist!” OK, I know how that can be. For one, are you saved? If not, I can tell you, sin will “have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14), as it did for me. Here’s the truth that clinched it for me. “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did. I received Jesus into my heart and I strongly experienced receiving inward, supernatural power against sin that I didn’t have before.

But Mark, I just hardly believe any of this. I have so little faith.” Virtually everyone starts out like that; you’re not alone in this. How can you increase your faith? Again we go back to the Word of God.The-Word-of-GodSo then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) It’s the Words of God that will grow your faith. It IS possible. You CAN resist the devil. You don’t have to give into temptations or even the things you know are in your heart but you don’t want to participate in. Read the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, try the gospel of John.

Like I said, if you aren’t sure you’re a saved, born again child of God, start with that. Jesus died on the cross to take our sins, to free us from sin and to defeat the devil. If you have Jesus, then you have that power to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). So don’t give in to discouragement or some perverse form of fatalism that says you’re doomed to be some way you know is not right and not what you want to be.

Call out to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Put your will, heart and mind on the Lord’s side. I know this works because this is what happened to me. If you keep up your resistance, the enemy HAS to flee. But also make sure you’re getting filled up with the things of the Lord and turning away from any activities or lifestyles that expose you to the dark side. The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

“Is it not a little one?”

Lot had just been rescued and delivered from the fiery judgments of God which He had rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, his wife and two daughters had to be led by the hand out of Sodom, being warned by the angels to not even look back. Famously, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That might be hard to believe but evidently Jesus Christ believed it. See Luke 17:32.

You might think all this would be an incredible shake-up for Lot. My gosh, that guy is going to walk the straight and narrow the rest of his life, no? Evidently not. And it’s a watershed moment in the history of sin when we read what happened next. Lot turned to the angels as they passed by another heathen town of wickedness and said to the angel, “Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape thither; is it not a little one? And my soul shall have rest.” (Genesis 19:20)

Folks, you can get the soul out of the worldly satanic system, whether it be Sodom of old or the satanic amalgam of metropolises that now dominate the earth. But just like with Lot, it’s not easy to get the satanic system out of the soul. God had “delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” (II Peter 2:7) But was Lot all contrite and trembling before the Lord? Did Lot make a bee line to his Godly uncle Abraham and his family up in the hills and highlands of God, begging to be taken back in like a prequel to the Prodigal son?

Nope, Lot immediately tried to cut a deal with the angels, “reasoning” with them that another little Babylon-like city not far from Sodom would do just fine and he’d really like to get back to some system preserving compromises and worldliness, even after God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah literally right before their eyes.

“Ah,” you say, “this happened 4000 years ago and things are different today.” Really? If you think that, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s like Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As difficult as it was to go through, I’m thankful that God made about as plain to me as He could just how hopelessly sinful and lost I was long ago. My own ignorance, my own willful darkness very nearly took my life except for the totally undeserved, almost strange mercy of God who brought light to my soul when I was writhing in the agonies of the afterlife without God.

“Oh, Mark! Why did God do that to you?! Why did He treat you like that? Why does a God of love send us to hell?!!” Sister or brother, you got it wrong there. God doesn’t send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our willful, stubborn ignorance and choosing the wrong path, away from the presence of God to live in the presence of our choices which we made against His truth and light.

He didn’t have to plead with the angels to let him go to a new manifestation of the worldly system of his day. Lot could have asked to have a place at his uncle Abraham’s table and to learn more fully of the ways of God as evidently Lot did believe in the Lord. But it’s just like how it is for millions and billions of people: sin does have dominion over them. And except for the mercy of God, sin will and does have dominion over every one of us. Lot was like the Prodigal Son but who never “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). And sadly there are a lot of those it seems.

In the last book in the Bible, we are told of “Babylon the Great”, pictured as a wretched prostitute which sits upon many nations and rules over the kings of the earth. And God says, “Come out of her, My people, that you partake not of her sins or receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) But God in a sense has been saying that for thousands of years. He even had the angels take Lot and his family out of the Babylon of his day by the hand. And in the last days before the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth, He is going to destroy the final Babylon the Great, this final Sodom and Gomorrah that has now spread across the earth. Whether or not any of His people will get the message and “come out of her” remains to be seen.

We need to acknowledge our sinful nature and ways every single day and pray desperately and sincerely that God will “withhold you from sinning against Me.” (Genesis 20:6) Because as sure as your garden will start turning up weeds if you don’t diligent tend it, your own human heart and nature will rise up against your Christian convictions and character if you don’t daily “keep your heart with all diligence.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Oh Mark, I’m not going to read your blog posts anymore! I’m going back to Joel Osteen and his lovely wife. They’re so sweet and positive, always encouraging and uplifting, not like you!” Friends, I’m all for being loving, positive and uplifting. But I’m just telling you from extremely hard experience that none of us had better ever get to the place where we forget how much we need the Lord , how much we should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” (Romans 7:24)

Don’t be like Lot. If the Lord has delivered you from your Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t beg the angels to let you off at the next hellish place just down the road so you can continue in the compromised worldliness that is anathema to God’s highest and best in your life. Instead, be like Moses who “forsook Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27) because “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) What Egypt, Sodom or Babylon is God calling you out of?

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.