Last Sunday it was my turn to put the chairs out at church. So I had to get up earlier than normal on a Sunday, forgoing any chance of a lie in to go and do my bit to help. I genuinely don’t mind being on the rota – God calls us to serve in all sorts of ways.
Thing is though, I was feeling pretty rubbish last Sunday. I don’t know what the problem was to be honest. Maybe a stressful week, or perhaps I was allowing my mind to dwell too much on patterns of thought that drag my mood down. You know the sort of thing – lamenting the things in life we’re unsatisfied with but can’t change, rather than being grateful for all that we’re blessed with.
Anyway, whatever the reason, I felt bad.
I felt like my heart was made of cold stone and I couldn’t muster a great deal of meaningful love or compassion for anyone, or anything. I’m not talking about a serious clinical depression – that’s an altogether different matter, not to be taken lightly and needing proper care and treatment. But I was in the bottom of a bit of a funk, that’s for sure.
And despite it all, I pushed on through and went to church nice and early.
The worship team were setting up when I arrived and I tried my best to be my usual upbeat self. I don’t know if anyone noticed my poor mood , but I suspect not. My friends at church are a caring lot and I’m sure someone would’ve been willing to listen if I’d wanted to talk.
But we’re just so good at wearing masks aren’t we? I know that I am.
I’d spent ten minutes or so dutifully putting chairs into rows when the band struck up with a rehearsal of one of the songs for that morning. It was a song I know well and as they played and I sang the words through in my head, a funny thing happened. I started to thaw out. That’s the only way I can describe the feeling – I warmed up from the inside out and little by little, I started to feel better and better.
And then, for some unknown reason, my thoughts turned to the fruits of the Spirit. You know the ones Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians:
- Self control
And I was reminded, in the same thought, how little I’d sought to model these characteristics over the preceding day. And actually, how much I’d been falling into some of the less than God-honouring characteristics with which Paul precedes this list.
Tough and convicting, but very true. That’s Paul.
So, once I’d put out all of the chairs, I took my Bible into the quiet upstairs office and looked up that section of Galatians (chapter 5, verses 16-26). Paul’s message about the conflict between our sinful natures and what the Spirit wants to do in us really hit home! I read the passage aloud, a couple of times. And once I’d let those verses sink in a little, I turned to that amazing promise of protection and comfort which is found in Psalm 23.
Over and over.
Feeling warmer and warmer.
Then I spent a little while praying as well. Asking God’s forgiveness and his help to keep my thoughts on track. And I don’t know why I’m surprised, but it worked.
This isn’t the first time that I’ve had this experience of thawing out using scripture and prayer, either. So you’d think that I’d learn, wouldn’t you? The catch is though, when you’re feeling really down it’s so very, very hard to drag yourself back into conscious positive thought.
Like someone in the wild lighting a fire to survive. It starts with the tiniest spark of warmth and then as it catches the tinder, that precious ember has to be nurtured until bit by bit it turns into a blaze.
But however you picture it, my experience has been clear: that there is a real loving warmth to be found when you seek Jesus. That he is there, no matter how messy or cold things feel, just a hair’s breadth away and waiting for us to turn to him. Maybe in prayer, maybe in song, maybe in scripture – whatever works for you and whatever you have the energy to muster.
But he’s there and as he promised in scripture, he wants to take our burdens – all of them – and to replace them with a lighter one of his own:
“Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
Quite a promise, but we have to seek him to claim it.
One day I’ll learn…