Read at beginning of service:
Romans 12:1-3 (NIV)
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. 3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
Your mind is an amazing creation of God. It handles billions and billions of bits of information. It can process 800 memories a second for 75 years and never get tired. No computer will ever compare with the computing power of your brain. And you will only use a fraction of your intellect during your lifetime.
The Bible tells us “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV) You are what you think. More than anything else, what determines your life are your thoughts. Not your background, not your heredity, not your environment but what you choose to think about has greater influence on your life than anything else than you can possibly imagine. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
If you?re serious about changing something in your life, you have to start by changing the way that you think. The Bible tells us in Romans 12, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The way you are transformed, the way you are changed, the way you are built into something that you want to become is to change the way you think.
New Years is a good time for us to talk about what you?d change in your life. We?ve got a whole new year ahead of us. How are you going to be different at the end of the next 365 days? How will you be different spiritually at the end of this year? How will you be different physically? Will you be in better health or in worse health? How will you be different financially? How do you intend to be different socially or relationally? If you want to make the changes in your life that will help you be more what God wants you to be, you?ve got to start by changing the way that you think.
We?re going to begin a new series this morning that we?re going to go through that is called “Clear Thinking”. We?re going to look at thinking clearly about your future, thinking clearly about your family, thinking clearly about your work, and today I want us to talk about thinking clearly about your problems that you will inevitably face in the new year.
Life is basically a series of mountains and valleys, ups and downs, highs and lows, good times and bad times, obstacles and opportunities, problems and potentials. They both come at you at the same time. In the year 2005 you will have some depressing days. No doubt about it. Days when you feel like, “Why did I get up this morning?” Days of disappointment where you feel like you?re just not making any progress. You?re discouraged and you feel depressed. You will have days of defeat in the year 2005. No doubt about that. Some days you?re going to feel like a loser. You?re going to feel like a total failure. You?re going to feel like, “Why bother?? Why make the effort?? Why keep on trying?? It?s not working.”
And in the year 2005 you will go through some dark days, days where you haven?t the slightest idea where you?re headed, no idea where you?re going. You feel like you?re in a fog, in the dark. And you can?t figure out what to do next.
What do you do in those kinds of days? How do you get through those kinds of problems?
The Bible says it starts by changing the way that you think. You?re biggest problem is your perspective. How you look at your problems is far more important than the problems you actually have. When you have the right perspective on your problem you can handle almost anything. When you have the wrong perspective on a problem you can handle almost nothing. It?s all in the way that you look at it.
Somebody who handled a lot of problems in the Bible was the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 4 he tells us about some of the problems he went through. vs. 8-9 “We are pressed on every side by troubles but we?re not crushed and broken. We are perplexed but we don?t give up and quit. We get knocked down but we get up again and we keep going.” (LB)
Here is a man of incredible endurance. He says I’m knocked down but I’m not knocked out. I just keep on keeping on. Wouldn?t you like to have that kind of endurance, that kind of stamina, that kind of determination in the year 2005? How do you get it? How do you keep from being beat up by your problems? He tells us in the next verse. v. 18 “We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we can?t see. What we see will last only a short time. What we can?t see will last forever.” Paul says the secret of endurance is I focus my mind. Circle the phrase “we set our eyes.” He says there are some things I deliberately choose to focus on when things aren?t going right in my life. There?s some things I turn my mind to, I turn my attention toward, I focus my mind, my vision, on these things when times get tough. I don?t look at the external. I look at the eternal. I don?t look at my problems. I look at God who can solve them. I don?t look at the difficulty. I look at the Deliverer, the one I know who can help me out.
The classic book on learning to think clearly in the Bible is the book of Psalms. Most of it was written by David. Almost every known problem to man is covered somewhere in the book of Psalms. David had all kinds of problems and fortunately he wrote down his prayers. He talked them out to God every time he had a problem. Often his thinking was quite fuzzy, confused. He starts off a lot of the Psalms being very confused, just like you and I are with our problems. But inevitably God helps him work it out and he thinks it through and thinks clearly and comes to the correct conclusion.
So today I want us to look at some of the different Psalms and I want us to see from David?s example three important keys to handling the depressing and the defeating and dark days of life.
You may not be in this situation right now. Congratulations. I hope you?re not. But I guarantee you will be in some days ahead. I encourage you to take notes today on what to do with your problems when you face them.
1. When your situation looks depressing, you need to think about the goodness of God.
Depression is always a warning light. A warning light that you?re focusing on the wrong thing. You?re focusing on your problem not the solution. You?re focusing on the negative, not the positive. When you look at all the bad things in your life instead of the good things of course you?re going to get depressed. Of course you?re going to get down. When you get depressed it?s a warning light that you?ve forgotten how good God is to you.
Depression is almost always the result of what I call the All-Or-Nothing thinking syndrome. It?s a trap. This trap of All-Or-Nothing thinking goes like this: Somebody criticizes you and you think, “Everybody hates me!” What have you done? All?Or-Nothing thinking. It?s exaggerating, catastrophizing. It?s making the problem bigger than it really is. You go through a delay or difficulty and you say, “Everything is wrong in my life!” No, it?s not. Something may be wrong. There may be several things wrong in your life but everything is not wrong in your life. But when you do this All-Or-Nothing thinking you get depressed. When you make a mistake you say, “I can?t do anything right!” That?s not true. You can do some things right. But in All-Or-Nothing thinking you?re bound to get depressed.
If I were to go home today after church and turn on the faucet in my kitchen and no water came out, it would be kind of silly for me to go outside and yell in the street, “The world is out of water!” No, the world isn?t out of water it?s just that my faucet isn?t working. Yet you do that all the time with your problems and that?s what leads to depression. All-Or-Nothing thinking. You forget the good things in your life.
Studies have shown that the healthiest emotion known to man is the attitude of gratitude. The more you fill your life with gratefulness, thanksgiving, gratitude, the healthier you?re going to be both emotionally and physically. If you?re depressed ? and by the way a lot of people get depressed this time of year. It?s kind of the let-down of Christmas, New Years, and it?s the darkest time of the year. And a lot of people tend to fall into depression at this time. What you need to do is go count your blessings. You need to go home and get out a piece of paper and make a list of 100 things you can be grateful for. The goodness of God in your life.
That’s a starting point but it?s far more than that. Focusing or thinking on the goodness of God means more than just being grateful for all the good things God has done for you. It also means seriously thinking about how good God really is. God has your best interest at heart. He loves you and He knows what He?s doing and that He wants good for your life even when you don?t understand it.
Let me be clear about this. Not everything that happens in your life is good. There?s a lot of bad things that happen. But God is always good. And God?s plan for your life is always good and God can always bring good out of bad if you?ll trust Him.
Remember the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Here was a guy, and as a young kid he had a dream one night that he would be a great ruler one day and God would bless his life and all of his brothers would give him the respect he was due. He was number eleven of twelve kids. So as the runt of the family he didn?t get any respect. His brothers hated him. They were jealous of him. They didn?t like him. In fact, one day they took him and threw him in a pit. They were just going to get rid of him. Later they took him out of the pit and sold him to some slave traders who were heading to Egypt. So he?s taken captive down in Egypt and he?s sold as a slave to a guy in Egypt. While he?s working there the man?s wife falsely accuses him of rape. He?s innocent. He ends up in prison in a foreign country as a slave accused of something he never did. Everything has gone wrong in this guy?s life. He?s saying, “God, what?s going on here? Why is this happening? This is not the way I planned my life to go.” Have you ever said those words? “This is not the way I planned my life to go!”
But God had Joseph exactly where he needed to be because He had a plan and it was a good plan because God?s a good God. God?s plan was to eventually raise Joseph up, the second in command in the nation of Egypt and he would save not only the nation of Egypt but the nation of Israel from famine. Later on his brothers did come and he saved their lives and they bowed down and gave him the respect that he had dreamed about. In that confrontation when he could have been filled with resentment for all the hurt that his brothers had caused, all the evil that had happened, he said this in that fateful meeting in Genesis 50, “You [talking to his brothers] meant it for bad but God meant it for good.”
Question: What have other people meant for bad in your life? Surely you?ve had people who have mistreated you. There are people who want to hurt you. There are people who want to lie about you. There are people who want to mistreat you. There are people who will stab you in the back. They?ll reject you. They?ll cheat you. There will be people who will politic about you where you work and say all kinds of things that aren?t true. And they mean it for bad. They mean it to hurt you.
But God means it for good. And God is good. He?s bigger than the problems you?re going through. If you?ll stop focusing on how people have hurt you, you?ll stop being depressed. Instead, if you?ll start focusing on how God wants to use it for good in your life, you?ll start being happy again. It?s all in the way you think about the experiences of life. You can?t control your experiences but you can control how you choose to think about them.
This principle that I’m talking to you about this morning, the principle of focusing on the goodness of God when life doesn?t make sense, has helped me more than any other principle personally in handling the disappointments of life. Life is full of disappointments! Full of them! Things just don?t go as planned. There are big disappointments and there are little disappointments. What do you do when you face those depressing days? You focus, you think about, the goodness of God.
Psalm 31, “How great is Your goodness. You have stored it up for those who honor You. You do good things for those who trust You.” (ICB) Life is filled with disappointments ? big one and little ones ? but nothing happens in the life of a believer without the heavenly Father?s permission. If you are a Christian, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you?ve committed your life to Him, nothing ever happens in your life by accident. Nothing. Even the bad things that other people cause, God means them for good in your life. Jeremiah 29:11 says “?For I know the plans I have for you,? says the Lord. ?Plans to prosper you, plans for good, plans for a future and hope.?” They are good plans because God is good!
God doesn?t have bad plans for your life. He?s a good God. In fact the Bible tells us in Romans, “All things work together for good for those who love God.”
The oldest temptation known to man, the one that got Adam and Eve and got us all in trouble, is the temptation to doubt God?s goodness. When God makes a rule, if you don?t understand it, Satan?s going to try to get you to start doubting that God really has your best interest at heart. Why would God make up that rule? For instance, God said in the Garden of Eden, “You can eat of any tree, Adam and Eve, except this one.” Satan comes along and says, “He must not be a very good God. What kind of God would limit you and say you can have all but that one? That?s probably the really good one. He?s saving that one for Himself. That?s the best and the most tasty one. In fact, if you eat of that one you?ll be God too.” See what he?s doing? Getting you to doubt the goodness of God.
Anytime that you don’t follow what God says to do in His word, you?re doubting God?s goodness. When God says things like, “Sex is to be reserved only for marriage,” He means it. Why? Because He is a good God and He knows what?s best for you. When you say, “Forget God?s rule. I’m going to do what I want to do,” you?re saying, “God is not a good God, He doesn?t know what He?s talking about, I know better than God.” No, you don?t. And you always get into trouble when you doubt God?s love and goodness. When God says, “There?s a thing called tithing. The first ten percent you give back to Me,” and you say, “I couldn?t do that. I could never live on ninety percent,” you?re doubting God?s love. You?re doubting God?s goodness. You don’t really believe God. You don?t believe that He?s got your best interest at heart, that He knows better than you what will make you happy than you do and that He?ll take care of you.
In 2005, you?re going to find out that things don?t always go as planned. When those situations don’t go as planned, Satan is going to try to get you to doubt God?s goodness, “If God?s so good, why did He allow this to happen?” He let a loved one die. He let me lose a promotion. Something went wrong. I was in an accident. “If God is so good?” You?re doubting God?s goodness.
In those times of life, when life doesn?t make sense, when you can?t figure it all out from your little brain, when you don?t understand it, when it actually seems like a senseless tragedy, that?s when you most of all need to think about and trust that God is a good God. He really is a good God! And He knows what?s best for you. And He knows what you need most. And He knows what will make you happy more than you do. He sees what you don?t see and He knows what you don?t know. Trust Him.
What happens when I focus, when I think about the goodness of God instead of focusing on the problems?
Thank God for His goodness. Pray a prayer something like this, “Father, I believe that You are a good God. Not a mean God. But a good God. I believe that You love me and that You always have my best interest at heart. I don’t understand all the things that happen to me and I don?t understand all the things that You ask me to do. Sometimes they seem difficult. Sometimes they seem unreasonable. Sometimes they even seem impossible. But I want to obey what You say because I believe You are a good God and You want what?s best for me. Father, this year, when I face disappointments, help me to remember that You?re good and that You?re worthy of my trust. When I face tragedies or things that don?t make sense, instead of questioning or demanding an explanation, I want to rest in the knowledge of Your goodness and that You?ve got a good plan for my life. In Your name I pray. Amen.”
Not only are there situations which look depressing, there are also situations that come into all of our lives that look defeating. We feel a sense of failure about. What do you do when you feel defeated?
2. When your situation looks defeating you think about the greatness of God.
What a great God He is. The fact is, you will fail at many things in life. You failed last year and you?ll fail this year. Failure is a part of all of our lives. Things don?t always go as we expect it or as we planned. Because of those failures, because things don’t work the way we want them to work we often run out of energy and we don?t know where to turn next. We feel like giving up. We begin to think things like, “I?ve tried and I?ve tried but nothing changes. It?s hopeless. What?s the use of even trying?”
Maybe you?ve tried and tried to change your marriage. And still it?s the same and you feel defeated, you feel like a failure. Or maybe you?ve tried and tried to connect with one of your kids ? you?ve talked and talked ? but nothing seems to be changing and you feel that sense of failure. Or maybe you?ve prayed and prayed about a health problem and you?re still facing it one more year. You feel that sense of failure and defeat in your life. Maybe you?ve worked and worked at a career and it?s still the same. And you know the sense of failure. Or maybe it?s about yourself. You?ve tried to change yourself, become a new person. You look at yourself and think, ?It?s the same old me in a new year. Here I go again!” You wonder how am I going to change?
What do you do with this sense of failure that comes into our lives?
One of the occupations in which failure is the least acceptable is that of a trapeze artist. But even a trapeze artist when they miss the bar, what do they have at the bottom? A net. And the minute they miss the bar they start thinking, “I’m guaranteed about the net.” They?re grateful for the net. They thank God for the net.
Some of you feel like in your life right now that you?re working without a net. One more defeat, one more failure, one more fall and it?s over for you. That?s how you feel. But I’m here to tell you, you are not working without a net. The greatness of God is that His hands are great enough to catch you no matter what the failure in your life, no matter how many people you?ve let down, no matter how disappointed and devastated you are in yourself, no matter how ashamed you are, God?s hands are there to catch you no matter what the failure in life. That?s the greatness of God.
Psalm 147, “How great God is. His power is absolute. His understanding is unlimited.” (LB) Stop focusing on your problem and start focusing on God?s power. Stop focusing on your situation and start focusing on your Savior. Stop focusing on what you can?t do and start focusing on what God can do.
God?s power can be seen everywhere. One of the places that?s evident is in His creation. Look at what He?s made. You look at the mountains, a thunderstorm. How vast the universe is. You look at God?s power even in the tiny atom. But you and I have to take the time to notice it.
I remember a couple years ago I was driving along the 401. I can?t remember where I was going but driving down the freeway I came up over a hill and just as I came over the hill, right in front of me there was the most beautiful double rainbow I?ve ever seen. It just went right over the freeway and it was so close you felt like you could touch it. Brilliant colors. It was so beautiful that everyone on the freeway slowed to almost a stop just to enjoy the thing.
Except this one guy. He was going in and out between cars with one hand on the horn, honking. The other hand was out the window pointing with one finger. He wasn?t pointing at the rainbow. It was a different kind of pointing!
I thought to myself later how much like that guy I can be. (Not the finger pointing part.) I can get so focused on what?s right in front of me and the obstacles that are in my way and getting around the obstacles that I never lift my eyes enough to see the greatness of God. He is greater than any obstacle that?s in your way. When?s the last time you lifted your eyes a little bit above the problem to see what a great God He is? The incredible thing is God?s power is not only visible, it?s available. It?s available to you.
Psalm 69, “God, because of Your great love answer me. You are truly able to save. Pull me from the mud. Don?t let me sink. Do not let the flood drown me.” (NCV)
There are many situations in life where we feel like we?re in quicksand and the failure just keeps repeating itself. Maybe it?s in your marriage, maybe it?s with one of your kids. You feel like the harder you work on the problem, the worse it gets. It?s like quicksand. When you?re in quicksand, the harder you work on it and the faster you move, what happens? The faster you sink. If you?re in quicksand, you need help from the outside. That help for you from the outside could be a friend. For many of you it might be a counselor. But if you miss the point that the help that we need from the outside has to include God?s mighty hand to lift us out of problems, you?ve missed one of the greatest lessons of life. There are some situations of life that you cannot overcome by yourself. That you need God?s hand to reach in and lift you out of. That you don?t have that sense of sinking in the mud for the rest of your life.
If you have that sinking feeling if you?re thinking, “How am I going to get out of this in the new year?” God?s hand is there and His greatness to lift you out.
Look at this verse in Jeremiah. God says, “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is there anything that?s too hard for Me?” (NIV) God specializes in the impossible. You maybe facing an impossible situation in your life and you?re wondering, “How in the world am I going to live with this one more year?” Trust God who can do the impossible. The Bible says, “According to your faith it will be done unto you.” Because we?re putting faith in a God who is the greatest being in the universe. He can do anything. Trust Him to do what you can?t do.
Right now in your mind I encourage you to do that. Right now where you?re seated, in your mind decide, “Instead of focusing on this problem, I’m going to look at that problem and see the greatness of who God is. I’m going to look at God?s greatness so the problem is not what?s overwhelming me but His power.” Decide right now instead of focusing on the failures in your life, you?ll focus on the power of an almighty God. Instead of focusing on what hasn?t gone right in your life, you?ll focus on the wonders that God has to show to us.
So when your situation looks depressing you think about God?s goodness. When your situation looks defeating you think about God?s greatness. He?s got the power to help you out. You?ve got to plug into Him.
3. When your situation looks dark you need to think about the closeness of God.
He?s always with you. He?s never left you. He?s present. He?s there at that very moment, with you and in you.
What are dark days? You?re going to have dark days in the year 2005 no doubt about it. Dark days are days of worry, days of fear. They can be dark days of financial difficulty. Some of you are going to go through dark days of loneliness, dark days of not knowing which way to turn, confusion. Well many of you know that this past month I and my family have had sine dark days. Not only did my Dad go home to be with Jesus over the holidays but 3 of my children and my wife had the flu and then just this past week Zachary, Liam and I have had strep throat. (And, by the way, if I say anything dumb in this service, blame it on the medicine!) Have you ever had a dark week? A dark month? A dark year? When you go through a crisis that takes you months to recover from.
In the dark days and months and years of life, those are the times when you just put one foot in front of the other because you?re doing pretty good just to get that done. Just to get out of bed on a dark day is sometimes a real victory. When you don?t feel, you don?t feel any joy, you don’t have any energy. You?re depleted and you don?t know which way to turn. You?re going to go through those dark days, some of them this next year.
Some of you no doubt are going through dark days right now. Some of you are facing a conflict in a relationship right now that has ripped your insides out. You?re estranged. There?s an emotional barrier. You?re separated if not physically, emotionally from someone you care about. And it?s tearing you up. Some of you haven?t the slightest idea what is your next step in your career or in your finances. Or you?re facing some other kind of health situation. These things are happening in your life. What are you dreading? Are you dreading a conflict? Are you dreading a change that?s going to take place this next year? Some of you will have kids who will grow up and leave home this year and you?re dreading that. What do you do when you face dark days?
Psalm 112 tells us what to do. “Praise the Lord. For all who fear God and trust Him are blessed beyond expression. When darkness overtakes him, light will come bursting in. [That?s a promise.] Such a man will not be overthrown by evil circumstances. God?s constant care of him will make a deep impression on all who see it. He doesn?t fear bad news nor live in dread of what may happen. For he has settled in his mind that God will take care of him.” (LB)
You know what the antidote is to dark days? Settle in your mind that God is going to take care of you. You don?t have to have all the answers when you know that God does. You don’t have to figure it all out when you know that God?s got it figured out. When you?re going through dark days you need to remember you?re not going through them alone. Remember and focus on the closeness of God.
As I said, some of you are going through this right now. Here?s what God wants to say to you, “I am with you.” Are you going through a tough time right now? God is with you. You?re not facing this on your own. God is with you. He understands. He cares. He is aware. He knows the struggle in your heart, the hurt in your heart and He is with you. In fact, the Bible says that in those moments when you feel the most alone, when you feel the most isolated, when you feel the most misunderstood, when you feel the most abandoned, it?s at that very moment that God is closest to you.
“The Lord is close [circle “close”] to the brokenhearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He hasn?t abandoned you. He?s still with you. He is aware and He cares.
We don?t like dark days because in dark days you can?t tell where you?re going. You can?t tell where it?s going to end up. That?s kind of scary. It?s scary to be in the dark. But you lose your fear when Jesus is near. And when you remember, “I’m not going through this alone. God is holding my hand in the dark,” who cares if I can figure it out or not? One plus God equals a majority. I may be in the dark but God?s with me so I don’t have to worry cause He can handle anything I face.
What do you do when your heart is breaking? What do you do when there?s nothing you can do?
You just keep on trusting God. He is a good God. He is a great God. He is close.
“Don?t be impatient for the Lord to act. Keep traveling steadily along His pathway [in other words, do the right thing, keep on doing what you know is right to do whether you feel it or not. Keep doing it.] and in due season He will honor you with every blessing.”
What do you do when your heart?s breaking? Keep on trusting.
Now sometimes things happen that we have no control over ? but then sometimes things happen that are the result of our own bad choices. We don?t give cheap answers at HPC and we don?t give false hopes. You need to hear this clearly. The problem that you?ve got yourself into, you didn?t get into it overnight. It took a while for you to get that messed up or into that bad of a situation. You?re not likely going to get out of it overnight. It?s going to take a while. Why? Why doesn?t God just heal me and bam all my problems are solved! Why doesn?t God just come in and fix up the situation ? after all I realize I made the bad choices and I repent of them? Why? Because there were some lessons that need to be learned.
Get this: God is more interested in your character than He is in your comfort. He?s not going to immediately remove all the problems in your life the moment that you have them. God?s goal in life is not to make life easy for you. It?s to make you strong. It?s to build character. It?s to make you like Jesus Christ. There are some things you only learn in the dark. You don?t learn them anywhere else. You certainly don?t learn them when things are successful, when things are happy, when the good times are rolling. You only learn them in the dark days. You need to trust God. He is a good God and He has a good plan and He sees what you don?t see and He knows what you don?t know. He will help you but it?s on His timetable. “Keep traveling steadily along His pathway and in due season [circle “in due season” That?s God?s timetable.] He will honor you with every blessing.” (Psalm 3:34; LB)
While you?re waiting on God, don?t ask why, “Why is this happening?” Ask What? “What do you want me to learn in this dark day?” Be confident even when you?re just putting one foot in front of the other. Be confident that He is with you every step of the way. Be patient and keep traveling and wait for the timing that God has on your life.
The ultimate expression of the greatness, the goodness, and the closeness of God is seen in what Jesus Christ did for you at the cross when He gave His life for you. The problem is we often forget what Jesus did on the cross. We don?t think about it much. It just doesn?t fill our minds. So Jesus Christ gave us a symbol to remember what He did for us on the cross. It?s called Communion or the Lord?s Supper. We?re going to begin this New Year together by taking communion to remember the goodness, the greatness and the closeness of God.