If I were a performance oriented Christian, I would have to say that this week was a total bust. I did not demonstrate the joy of the Lord most of the time, and I encouraged very few with my words. In fact, I suspect I brought a few people down, and maybe even fed some doubt in others. I got caught up in my troubles, and though I have repented and moved on toward what I hope will be better days, I can't seem to shake the nagging thought that I should be better than this by now. I should be able to catch these thoughts earlier and put them to death by prayer and the Word. But this week, I was not.
Here's my question for you today: Does there come a point in our lives as believers where we are just no longer subject to long periods of sadness over our circumstances? I once had a Christian friend who said, "You're allowed to have a pity party, but only till the pizza arrives." Fifteen minutes or less was her standard for stumbling. Is this right? As mature, seasoned believers, should we be reaching a point where we just don't struggle like we did in our greener days?
The first thing that comes to my mind is a list of very mature believers I know of who struggled terribly with depression and pain. Charles Spurgeon is the first one I think of. He suffered terribly with gout and other painful conditions, and I can see from his sermons and devotions, even very late in his life, that he struggled with depression. I can't be certain that it was related to the pain he suffered, but surely that played a role. Martin Lloyd-Jones is another great writer who struggled with depression. I have known many in my own life who are far ahead of me on the path to holiness, yet still struggle at times with sadness over their circumstances, sometimes doubting God's goodness or struggling to understand His ways. These times of sadness can go on for long periods for them, as they do for me.
So, it cannot be true that as we mature in Christ, we "should" no longer struggle with sadness, even the kind that lasts for days or weeks. As I look back on these last few days. I see that the Spirit's conviction of my sinful self-pity led to true repentance, which is always pleasing to the Lord, and always plants my heart deeper into His. The Lord allowed me to sink into the mire of sadness only so far--not too shallow, so that I would think I pulled myself out, but not too deep, that I might fall into despair. He knows all my thoughts, and more than that, he knows my heart better than I do. (Jer. 17:9) His ways are not my ways, nor are His thoughts my thoughts (Is 55:8). I am so thankful for this, because if I were in control, I would not allow a single heartache. Without these painful circumstance, I would be a shallow Christian, far from the cross and self-sufficient.
We need not be ashamed of our struggles. God has ordained some suffering for each of us, and it is He who orders our thoughts. Our only duty is to keep repenting of sinful self-pity, keep begging the Lord for mercy, and keep praising Him in everything. When we do these things, He will be faithful to answer, and to help us.