Depression, Doldrums

In the doldrums?

In the doldrums?

Have you ever experienced the doldrums? Doldrums is a word that comes from an area of the ocean near the equator where the wind can practically cease or be so light that boats which run by sail can be trapped for weeks waiting for wind to move them along. Applying the word doldrums to Christianity refers to a mental slump, depression, inactivity, or state of restless unhappiness. How is it that Christians experience doldrums? To what stages of detriment will this lead? How should we respond to doldrums?

Often I hear brothers and sisters in Christ express dissatisfaction about the world around them. They may be dissatisfied with political events, immorality in society, the level of education their children are receiving, or a host of other items. Certainly, there are a great number of things of which we must be aware and express disapproval and dissatisfaction. What is disappointing is when the dissatisfaction is directed at the Church. Still, we are human and though striving to meet the perfection of Christ in our lives, we fall short. When this occurs, we have a duty to express our love to our brothers and sisters and aid them in their times of need. Heb. 10:24 tells us we must stimulate one another to love and good deeds and verse 25 tells us to encourage one another. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 instructs us to gently correct erring brothers so that they will remain within the arms of God. The point to understand is, within the church and the world, there are going to be moments of disappointment.

Returning to the idea of doldrums, many Christians complain of this problem in their lives. There is nothing inspiring about services. They don’t feel uplifted anymore. They feel down and restless and just don’t feel like coming to all the services or classes. They need “me” time to rest and recuperate from busy day or week. Their critical eye can point out the problems that are being experienced within the congregation. “Why can’t these people get it together and commit themselves to Christ”, is often stated in the mind or increasingly to others who are experiencing similar feelings.

How is it that Christians experience doldrums? There are four evident stages through which the doldrums seem to progress: discomfort, verbal expression, destructiveness, and termination. For reasons I hope will become clear, we will alternatively name the stages of doldrums, spiritual stomach cramps.

Stage one doldrums are manifested by dissatisfaction, disappointment, or restlessness within the individual as mentioned above. As with any item detrimental to proper advancement of acceptable behavior for an individual in Christ’s body, the church, immediate diagnosis of the problem is important. What is the perceived cause of the stressors? 2 Cor. 13:5 points us to our first and foremost responsibility in discovering stressors. That is we must examine ourselves. Luke 6:42 is another scripture which demonstrates the need for us to look within before putting on armor to vanquish the sins of others. Many Christians express difficulty in knowing what it is that is causing the feelings they are going through. This is why we have shepherds/elders. Acts 20:28 charges them with responsibility for the church and yes, for themselves. They may very likely be able to aid you with the emotions you are experiencing. We will further examine the cure or response for Christian doldrums later in this article.

Stage two doldrums begin to act themselves out in the form of verbal expression. This often is manifested by grumbling, crankiness, or a fallen countenance. “Why does the preacher talk to so long”, “I wish people would stop asking so many questions in class”, “That song leading was atrocious”, “I am so tired of hearing children cry during services”, “Where is the excitement?”, etc. Grumbling is something we probably all have done and something none of us should do (Phil. 2:14, I Pet. 4:9). Grumbling and crankiness walk hand in hand. Preachers are an obvious example of how to deal with disappointment. I have seen men pour their hearts into study and presenting a biblical thought, just to have someone tell them they said “um” 14 times during a 45 minute lesson. Most preachers have learned to smile, embrace the criticism, and move forward. The temptation to grumble about how they just wasted a week of effort stands at the ready. Yet, preachers are not the only ones facing such dilemmas. Put yourself into the position of helping out with the yearly VBS program. You work hard to make certain every aspect is covered. Turnout is low and most of the members never showed up. This is where not only grumbling and crankiness can sneak in, but also a fallen countenance. Remember Cain in Gen. 4:4-7. He experienced disappointment. He was cranky and his countenance was fallen (his behaviors were demonstrated his feelings), certainly due to his own actions. The Lord gave him caution so that he would not sin further. Cain did not listen to the Lord and fell further into sin. We must be on guard continually so that our stage one feelings don’t grow into stage two (I Pet. 5:8).

Stage three doldrums are certain to be destructive to others. Its manifestations may include gossip, divisiveness, and unfaithful participation. It is so easy to express oneself to others about all the problems of the members of the Church. Gossip is a cancer (2 Cor. 12:20, I Tim. 5:13). “Joe sure needs to tell his wife to talk less”, “Don’t they act all high and mighty”, “Did you see what she was wearing”. If you have a problem with someone’s behaviors take it to them (Mt. 18:16). If you are afraid, seek the help of the elders, but don’t share your gossip with others. Frustrations can lead to behavior that is going to divide the church one against another. What was once a small item grows into an issue of colossal proportion (Gal. 5:13-15). Have you ever talked about how sick and tired you are and that only made you more sick and tired? When we begin to grumble, then to share our discontentment with others, it often only makes us more unsatisfied or it gives us a sick sense of brief contentment. Eventually, we start cutting our attendance, because every time we attend worship we feel miserable. This was not the intention of attendance put forth in Heb. 10:25.

The final stage of the doldrums is ultimately leaving the Church. 2 Tim. 4:3 expresses the desire of individuals to have religion served up their way. If it isn’t they hit the road. They are off to greener pastures with folks who “really love the Lord”. They are tired of dealing with “hypocrites”. There are Christians out there who have “joy” in their hearts. Of course, this is often tied to some statement about “legalism”, but from here I digress. It is a shame to see any brother or sister stray from the church it should be our utmost desire and effort to bring them back (see parable of lost sheep and lost coin in Lk. 15).

We can see from this discussion that the doldrums can ultimately lead to the corruption of a good brother and sister at many levels.

How is it though that an individual should respond to spiritual stomach cramps? How can the doldrums be avoided? At the core of most spiritual stomach cramps is forgetting or misunderstanding the purpose of the Church and man. This leads me to the central verse in regard to this topic. That is, Mat. 5:6, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”

Hunger and thirst are mighty desires. When I was a young boy, I would wake in the morning in what I thought was unmeasured agony, because I was so hungry. I could not get to my bowl of cereal fast enough. It wasn’t as if my parents did not feed me, I was just a hungry boy. There were other days, when I would be out working, would come in to the house and couldn’t get enough cold water. Oh, how good it tasted. A boy who hungers and thirsts after food and drink and finds it shall be filled (at least for 10 minutes).

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Our spiritual stomach cramps, the doldrums, are often misdiagnosed. We believe it is others who are creating our problem rather than doing a self examination as expressed earlier. If we don’t believe it is others, we just can’t target where the feeling is coming from. Why? Because it couldn’t be me! Eph. 2:10 tells us the purpose for which we were made. We were created by God to do good works. What are good works? – the righteousness of God. This is that for which we are to be hungering and thirsting. It is hard for anyone to admit to themselves that they are not hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Sure we want good things to happen. We have our hands out in the form of spiritual welfare though instead of staying engaged with the work of a Christian. Again, what does scripture tell us? “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does he require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8. We are to be doing, but instead, we are expecting the other members to be doing, the preacher to be doing, the deacons to be doing, and the elders to be doing. That doing in our mind, is to make us happy, to make us, satisfied, but are we doing any doing?

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” I love the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. Most basketball players want to play. When they play, they are happy. When their minutes are cut back or they have to sit on the bench, there is a reaction. A proper behavior is the hunger and thirst to be back out playing, but focusing on improving self and helping the team. All dissatisfaction is not bad. Hunger and thirst tells you your body needs food. You should not ignore this. In basketball when dissatisfaction grows, it can be visible in verbal expression, divisiveness, a player refusing to play, and ultimately, the player leaving a team – much like unchecked dissatisfaction in the Church. Players want to play, they shouldn’t be satisfied to sit on the bench. Christians should not be satisfied just sitting in the pews Sunday morning. As Christians, we don’t have to wait for a coach to put us in to play. We have a choice. There can never be enough players in the game of serving God.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Psalm 42:1-4, Psalm 63:1-3, Isaiah 55:1-3, Isaiah 65:13, these verses resound with the theme that if we seek God and serve Him, we will be filled. He will not disappoint. So often though, we get out of the practice of seeking and serving. It may be fear, forgetfulness, laziness, daily activity, or a host of things, but we stop being active. Yet, we proclaim we are hungry. We say we are thirsty. James 2:17-18 expresses the fact that our faith is an obedient faith, manifested by activity for God. All the blessings and treasures and riches and luxuries in heavenly places are there… if… you do something. If we draw near to Him, he will draw near to us – James 4:8.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” There are three particular components mentioned so far that protect against the doldrums, but not stated together, in regard to being filled: Do not compare yourself to others, work to your ability, commit yourself to the work of the Church which is righteousness.

When we compare ourselves to others we open the door for envy (Gal. 5:19-23). Paul said imitate me, not compare yourself to me. (I Cor. 11:1). Jesus said we shall be rewarded based on our deeds not those of others. This is most evident in scripture with his praise of the widow in Mar. 12:42 who gave two mites (a very little sum) as compared to the many rich. He did not look to the sums, but to the state of the heart in the truth of giving. If the widow had been paying attention to the sums of the rich, she may have been moved to not give at all for fear of not matching up. She could have entered the doldrums. Yet, on the other extreme we see the Pharisee praying on the corner comparing himself to the publican in Luke 18:11. In comparison, he saw himself as much better. When we do such things we open the door for pride and arrogance and tend to sit back and not engage our full potential. Again, entrance to the doldrums was waiting. Do you want to avoid the doldrums, avoid comparing yourself to others.

When we think of our abilities, we should only focus on God’s standard and try to achieve it. This principle is laid out for us in the parable of the talents (Mat. 25:15-30). The Lord gave out responsibility in accordance with ability and reward for those that fulfilled their potential. The individual who did not live up to his ability was punished. The relationship we share with God is fulfilled between Him and us, no other individual enters the equation (Ez. 14:14). A poem I ran across recently appropriately expresses the connection between living up to our potential and sitting on the sidelines watching judging everyone else:

You call me Master and Obey me not.
You call me Light and See me not.
You call me Way and Walk me not.
You call me Life and Desire me not.
You call me Wise and Follow me not.
You call me Fair and Love me not.
You call me Rich and Ask me not.
You call me Eternal and Seek me not.
You call me Gracious and Trust me not.
If I condemn you, Blame me not.

If you want to avoid the doldrums, live up to your abilities.

Committing ourselves to the work of the Church fulfills our purpose. My son and I were handing out flyers for VBS this last month. Mid way through walking in the neighborhoods he said to me, “This sure makes me feel good.” Fulfilling our purpose, brings joy to our souls. It give us peace knowing we are in accordance to the commands of God. It makes the Father pleased to see us walking in righteousness. In Genesis 5:24, it is said “Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” In Heb. 11:5, we find Enoch was taken because he was pleasing to God. When we are focused on the work of the Church, knowing we are pleasing God, how can we be in the doldrums? Will we not be filled from feasting on the righteousness of God? When sermons are “dull”, it is our responsibility to remember we are feeding on the Word of God. When our ears are tricked by what they hear in singing by the congregation, remember we are sending our praise to God. When it doesn’t seem like anyone is working for the Lord, remember, we don’t see all things. Elijah thought he was alone in the work of God, but he wasn’t (I Kings 19). Elijah had just come from a great triumph in the Lord, yet, there was more work to be done. While we are on earth, our commitment needs to be focused on God. In Philippians 1:21-23, Paul contemplated the journey home to Christ, yet, serving his brothers and sisters was more critical. Thus should be our approach to our brothers and sisters, service, not being served. If you want to avoid the doldrums, spiritual stomach cramps, remember: You job is to serve, not be served.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” The doldrums can hit brothers and sisters of all ages. But if diagnosed, they can stop at discomfort and do not have to go through the stages of verbal expression, destructiveness, and termination. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we seek God as a priority (Mt. 6:33), we will be satisfied. This requires us to not focus on how much worse or better others actions are in comparison to ourselves. Satisfied requires us to focus on fulfilling our abilities in service to our savior. Satisfaction requires our being committed to service to God rather than holding out our hands to receive of others. If you want to avoid the doldrums, look to Christ.

John 6:35 – Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

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