Friday, December 29, 2017

Taking Captive the Winter Blues

It happens every year about this time. It is below zero for a month straight. The wind howls. The sun doesn’t come up till almost 8 am and it sets around 4:30 pm. We are cooped up in the house, and it gets old quickly.

As a highly active go-getter, winters are hard. I spend a few months every year sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see trees budding and grass sprouting with the promise that warmer and longer days are on their way. 
Last night after dinner, I was just ready for winter to be over and hoping for something different, something better; wishing dinner could be followed by playing in the yard with the kids or going on a family walk. These moments usually aren’t that bad and I wouldn’t even describe them as depression, but last night was different. In the midst of feeling the winter time blues, I was also reading of a dear Christian brother who is dealing with what may well be the loss of his wife to cancer. As I was reading, I found myself heartbroken for the man and his family who would most likely be separated from someone they love so dearly. 

My own sinful mind soon took a godly empathetic sorrow down a trail of anxiety and fear. I started thinking of all the heartache that is yet in my future. I started putting myself in the shoes of many of the people I have counseled with over the past few years and realized that the real hurts and problems they have gone through may yet await me. My wife will one day die. My children may neglect their souls and allow themselves to slip into a Christ-less eternity. My children may die very young. I may never get a good night's sleep again. I may lose my mind and go bonkers. Our church could lose it vitality and shrivel up into nothing, leaving years of labor with nothing to show. Suddenly I was caught in a mental tornado of anxiety, thinking about all the terrible things that could happen down the road outside of my control.

As my mind was swirling around in that tornado of fear, doubt, and anxiety, I soon retorted, “Where is God when it is cold, windy, and dark? Where will He be tomorrow? Where was He yesterday? God does not cease to be God when it is cold and dark.” I soon realized the anxiety I was creating was leading my mind down a sinful path of unbelief and fear, and I needed to respond.

Last week I was helping a friend pack an elk out of the mountains, and once we loaded the meat onto a horse we started the three-mile walk back to the truck. I was leading the horse with meat on it, but on the steep downhill portions of snow-covered grass, I found the momentum of the burden-laden horse was much faster than I could go in the slick grass if I wanted to remain on my feet. Wanting to be out of the way if the horse fell, I tied the lead rope to the pack saddle and let the horse go ahead for a while because he knew his way back to the truck.

In a lot of ways that is how I have been viewing the winter blues. I had surrendered the lead rope of my mind and allowed it to go as fast and far as it wanted, but it wasn’t going to the truck; it was going further into the mountains of anxiety.

I needed once again to grab the lead rope of my mind, slow it down, and direct it back into the way of truth. And there were two primary truths I need to continually remind myself in battling winter-time blues and anxiety.

1                 1. Who is My God?

The first step I needed to take was to remember who my God truly is.

Isaiah 46:8-11 reminds me, “Remember this, and show yourselves men; Recall to mind, O you transgressors.  Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it.”

In Isaiah 46, God is contrasting Himself with the dead idols of Isaiah’s day. Although they are held in honor and called out to for help, all the false gods do not hear (v. 7). They do not answer. They cannot do anything for their worshipers because they are man-made objects with no life in them.

But in contrast to those dumb idols, our God reveals Himself as a God who is like nothing we can compare Him to. He is absolutely sovereign, and whatever He desires to do, He does. The birds are under His sovereign control. Men are under His sovereign control, and by implication, so is everything else - the length of daylight, the temperature, my health, my children’s salvation, and anything and everything else I may fear.

That is who my God is. The same God who was there in Isaiah's day orchestrating by His sovereign decree every detail of all His created order is the God who lives today still sovereignly working all things according to His plan which has our good in mind. He is a God I can trust. In the midst of anxiety when it is windy, dark, and cold, when those closest to me are dying, when my children are rebelling, there is a God in Heaven who is working all of those things according to the counsel of His will and He is good. He is loving. He is a God who I can trust with my present circumstances as well as my future. And years ahead when I meet those things I fear most, He will still be sovereign. He will still be there and He will continue to orchestrate all things according to His plan which has my greatest good in mind.

                   2. The Gospel

Not only do I need to confront my anxiety with truth about God, I also need to confront it with the truth of the gospel and be reminded of my salvation.

In Habakkuk 3, the prophet is also dealing with anxiety. His anxiety is because God has warned He is going to bring chastening judgment against Judah and destructive judgment against the Chaldeans. Part of this judgment even affected the forces of nature like the mountains (v. 6), rivers and animals (v. 8), and the sun, moon, moon and stars, most likely symbolic of all the created order (v. 11). God was both judging the wicked and chastening His people, and as Habakkuk saw God moving in the forces of nature both to discipline and destroy, it caused him to be so anxious. 

He wrote in v. 16,

When I heard, my body trembled;
My lips quivered at the voice;
Rottenness entered my bones;
And I trembled in myself,
That I might rest in the day of trouble.
When he comes up to the people,
He will invade them with his troops.

Habakkuk knows God is about to act, but the details of God's action are as terrifying as they are uncertain and he is very anxious.

But Habakkuk confronts his anxiety by reminding himself that the same God who judges and disciplines is also the God who saves, and in the midst of uncertainty and fear, it keeps him on the trail of faith. 

In v. 17-19, Habakkuk replies to himself and says,  

Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food;  though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls— yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.

In the midst of fear and uncertainty about the future, Habakkuk is strengthened and kept in the faith by the truth that God is the God of his salvation. Habakkuk looks beyond the darkness of his present situation to his salvation and the God of his salvation and the reminder that no matter what may come, he is held safe in the Hand of God and kept from judgment. His salvation causes Habakkuk to rejoice in the darkest times. 

I need the same reminder that though the trees may lose their leaves and the winds may blow drifts of snow against the back door, though there is no green grass growing because it is -30 degrees F; though there is not enough light in the day to get out of the house, I have ample reason to rejoice and put my hope in God because He is and has provided for my salvation.My greatest fears may yet come to fruition but there is a day coming when they will all yield to my salvation and I will be delivered to an eternal rest with my savior.

I still hate winter but I am fighting it with the good fight of faith. I am fighting it with the truth that God is still on His throne and His sovereignty extends as far as the curse is found. I am fighting it with the joy that however long the winter lasts and whatever it may take from me, I am eternally held safe in the hands of a God who loves me.