In my ministry work, it's not unusual for me to hear from people who are dealing with sadness, depression, and despair. My heart goes out to them because there have been many times in my life when I've struggled with these same emotions myself. Even though walking with the Lord has brought me more joy and peace than I ever dreamed possible, there are still times when I'm tempted to despair. One such example occurred when my pet mallards, Sam and Lazarus, flew away. My family and I had hatched them from eggs left on our back porch. We had tenderly nurtured them and cared for them day and night. And even though I had prayed that they would fly off on their own at the proper time, when they left, I experienced intense feelings of loss and rejection. If you've ever nurtured pets or children, or if you've ever invested a lot of yourself in a relationship with someone, you know how painful it can be when they are no longer a part of your life.
When I began to experience a profound heaviness in my heart after Sam and Laz left, I strongly sensed the Lord warning me to resist it with all the Holy Spirit power He had equipped me with. During my regular times of prayer and Bible reading, God began instructing me to begin praising Him whenever I was tempted to despair. Since every duck feather I encountered around my house became a painful reminder of my departed pets, I began praising God each time I found one. When I began to believe that it was the Lord's will for us to have new pets, I started praising and thanking Him in advance each time feelings of despair threatened to overwhelm me. I'll be honest with you. It wasn't easy to practice this strategy that God gave me, especially in the beginning. But as I persisted in praising Him and giving Him thanks, I began to feel lighter, more at peace, and more hopeful. And I believe that the new baby ducks that God blessed us with a week later were one of my rewards for being faithful and thankful in the midst of my troubles.
Until I began studying the Bible, I didn't realize how critical it was for me to guard my God-given joy. Once I began reading joy-related verses, I discovered how important it was for me to resist the downward pull that depression and despair tend to create. These negative emotions can cloud our thinking and distort our perception of ourselves, our circumstances, and others. Proverbs 15:15 (AMP) says, "All the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances]." Unlike the worldly form of happiness which depends on favorable conditions, joy born of the Holy Spirit will continue to spring up inside of us even in times of adversity. But often, we need to cooperate with the Spirit of God by consciously resisting negative emotions and praising the Lord when we would rather be depressed and feeling sorry for ourselves. Proverbs 17:22 (AMP) says, "A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones." That's why a notable Christian doctor states: "The most important thing [to having good health]ůmore important than vitamins, minerals, the food we eat and the water we drink--is having a merry heart."
The Bible makes numerous references to the connection between joy and good health. If you want to live a healthy life, one of the best things you can do is to strive to keep your joy level high. I have discovered over the years that many of my worst illnesses followed periods of disappointment and sadness. It's also true that sadness can drain our energy. Luke 22:45 (NIV) says that Jesus found the disciples asleep, "exhausted from sorrow." This shouldn't surprise us, because Nehemiah 8:10 (AMP) says: "Be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold." It's no wonder that Satan works overtime trying to steal our joy. He knows that if he can keep us feeling discouraged, defeated, and depressed long enough, he can prevent us from fulfilling our God-given purpose, stealing our productivity and our progress.
Psalm 77:4 (TLB) says: "I am too distressed even to pray!" If you can relate to this psalmist's state of mind, take heart in the fact that you can defeat the enemy and rise up in victory by lifting your praises to God. Even if you don't feel like it at first, trust that your feelings will follow as you persist in rejoicing in the Lord. Before you know it, the joy of the Lord will bubble up inside of you and lift you above your circumstances. Remember--when you're too distressed even to pray--then praise!
Prayer: Lord, teach me how to resist despair as soon as it comes against me. Show me how to use the power of praise to defeat the enemy of my soul. Remind me that David said, "I will praise the Lord no matter what happens." (Psalm 34:1 TLB) Thank You that as I take my stand against depression and despair, no one will take away my joy! (John 16:22)
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