In St. Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonian church, he instructed them as follows: "Be joyful always..." [1 Th 5:16]. Millions of people living in the world suffer from varying degrees of depression. Just take a stroll through your local grocery store, library, or mall, and you’ll see the sadness and misery on people’s faces. Check out the faces of those with whom you work. It seems that depression and sadness are everywhere, even in the church. I don’t think there’s anything more heartbreaking than to see someone sitting in Mass with a countenance that defies the very faith he or she professes to have in Christ, and yet, we see it all of the time, don’t we? Why is this? How can this be? How can there be depression even among those who are in Christ?
While some depression may be attributed to a genuine physical problem, I am convinced that most cases are the result of a deficiency of another sort.
The joy that Jesus wants us to experience is not based on our outward circumstances. If it was, then none of us could be expected to walk in joy, could we? We all have problems. We all have storm clouds of different shapes and sizes looming over us. Some are struggling in their marriages. Others may be experiencing heartache and frustration where their children are concerned. Others may be enduring difficult circumstances on the job. Many are facing economic hardships. The list goes on and on.
The secret to Christ’s joy is to live obediently before Him. In speaking to His disciples, Jesus instructed them as follows: "If you obey My commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." [Jn 15:10-11]. In these two verses, Jesus made two things very clear. First, if we desire to remain in His love, we have an obligation to walk in obedience to His commands and teachings. Being a follower of Christ entails more than just baptism and weekly Mass attendance. Through our baptismal call, each of us are called to love God, obey God, and serve God using the various gifts and talents He has given us to do so.
If we are called to live in obedience to the Word of God, then we must be willing to spend time in that Word, studying it, meditating on it, and praying over it. How can we put into practice that which we aren’t willing to diligently study? How can we grow in our knowledge and understanding of God and His will for our lives if we do not take the time to open up His Word each and every single day in order to meditate and reflect on it?
Thoughtful meditation as we read the Word of God on our own brings us closer to God, renews our minds, lines our thoughts up with Heaven, and teaches us exactly how He desires us to live. As we study God’s Word, we also see how He moved in the lives of others who were going through difficult times, yet trusted completely in Him.
If we want to remain in Christ’s love, then we must obey what He commands. And if we want to obey His commands, we must be willing to study and meditate on God’s Word on our own so that we will know exactly what it is that He commands.
I’m harping on obedience to God’s Word because it’s a key ingredient that must be in our lives if we desire to experience Christ’s joy and peace. The Lord Jesus Christ made it very clear in John 15:11 that to the extent we are walking in obedience to the Word of God is also to the extent we will experience the deep, inner joy of the Holy Spirit in our lives. "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." [Jn 15:11].
If we are not living obediently to the Word of God, we cannot expect to have Christ’s inner joy welling up within us. When we violate God’s commandment to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, when we refuse to walk in obedience to the Word of God, and when we refuse to give Christ supremacy in our loves, we grieve the Spirit of God within us, and I am convinced that it is this supernatural grief which is often the source of men’s depression. Pills won’t take this kind of depression away, only repentance will. We are God’s creation. We were created by Him and for Him. When we live lives that are for ourselves, rather than for Him, we end up frustrated, discontent, anxious, unhappy, weary, and worn out.
Many who identify themselves as Christians are not experiencing the joy of the Lord because they are not putting Him first in their lives or living in obedience to His Word. If I, as a believer, spend all of my time working, playing, and sleeping, yet give no time whatsoever to prayer, the study and application of God’s Word, or holy service to Him, then I am going to end up bankrupt when it comes to Christ’s joy and peace in my life because I am not living out the vocation for which I was created.
Sometime ago, I found myself enduring a very frustrating situation that was causing me tremendous grief and heaviness of heart. But through it all, I continued to pray, study the Word, obey the Word, and serve others using the gifts that Christ has given me to write and teach His Word. I didn’t allow my circumstances to stop me from doing the things which I knew I needed to do if I wanted to walk victoriously in Christ. Even though my heart was heavy because of my circumstances, as I walked around the grocery store one afternoon, I felt a deep inner joy welling up within me. I felt the presence of Christ all around and within me! I was comforted by this awesome presence, which caused my inner joy to well up even more. I found myself smiling at people, making pleasant conversation with them, and going out of my way to assist them, so empowered and encouraged was I by the joy Christ had given to me.
Prayer and study of God’s Word don’t change our circumstances; these things change us! And as we are being changed, we find ourselves able to endure whatever circumstances God allows into our lives. Not only do we become empowered to endure our circumstances, we also receive the grace so desperately needed to be changed by them and to learn through them as well.
The Lord wants His joy to remain in us and to be complete, but we must be willing to do our part if we want to receive it. The Lord isn’t going to wave a magic wand from heaven in order to impart joy to us while we live our lives as we see fit rather than as He commands. We are called to put God first in our lives. We are called to prayer, obedience, and holy service. If we reject this calling upon our lives, we cannot expect to experience Christ’s joy, because we are not functioning in the holy capacity for which we were created.
It is impossible for anyone to experience true, inner joy apart from obedience to Christ’s commands and a right relationship with Him. This is why so many people, even those who are wealthy, are not experiencing joy and satisfaction in life. Their lives are not lined up with the will of their Creator; they are functioning offline, and the result is dysfunction, emptiness, dissatisfaction, and despair.
Feeling depressed these days? Tired of living in a perpetual state of misery and despair? Struggling with fear and anxiety? I want to encourage you to spend time each and every single day praying to Christ from your heart. My favorite way to pray to the Lord is with an open Bible in front of me. As I read the Word, learning how God wants me to live, I incorporate what I read into my prayers, asking the Lord to help me put into practice what I am meditating on. This is how God’s Word becomes alive, relevant, and meaningful to me.
Don’t just stop with prayer and the study of God’s Word. Look for ways in which to serve others at your local parish or in your community. Do a work for Christ using the gifts and talents that He’s given to you. Do all of this, my brothers and sisters, and see if Christ’s joy doesn’t begin to well up within you regardless of your circumstances.
If we want the recipe to turn out right, we have to use the ingredients called for in that recipe, do we not? This same principle must be applied if we desire to experience the joy and peace of Christ.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with us all, enabling us to utilize those necessary ‘ingredients’ so that His joy may be in us...
... and our joy may be complete.
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