When God is Forgotten…& When He is Found
We live in a largely affluent Western culture that is spiraling into chaos due to the general loss of transcendent meaning (which we believe comes from a relationship with the Creator God). This has been replaced mostly with secular lifestyles that espouse narcissistic, expressive individualism, effectually stating that one’s personal happiness is the ultimate goal of all things. The results of this is almost too prevalent to miss: skyrocketing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, particularly noticeable among teenagers and young adults.
The 2020 pandemic further complicated the problem that was already there, increasing the emotion of hopelessness to those who had already been led around by their feelings and the comparison game exacerbated by social media. (US suicides increased 30% between 2000-2018). I hear that today, teens who claim they have “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” have increased from 26% percent to 44%. It’s such a concern that last fall the American Academy of Pediatrics deemed the mental health of youth a “national emergency.” But as much as we linger on the bad news, the good news that lines up with the Bible’s consistent message is abundant and available:
A large and growing body of studies (The social functions of the emotion of gratitude via expression - PubMed (nih.gov) shows that exercising gratitude leads to better sleep, improved interpersonal relationships, better stress and hormonal regulation, and even reduced physical pain. One notable study followed over 40 participants seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Half were asked to write letters expressing gratitude before the first few counseling sessions, while the rest formed a control group who attended “therapy-as-usual.” Three months later, both groups were asked to perform a generosity task while being measured by MRI.
Researcher Jarrett writes this: “The participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these ‘profound’ and ‘long-lasting’ neural effects as ‘particularly noteworthy’ ….that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set…. a sort of gratitude ‘muscle’ that can be exercised and strengthened. Best of all, the positive effects of gratitude can spiral outwardly, creating a culture where gratitude becomes easier for others as well. “
What is being noted among the psychiatric community (David Rosmarin, Scientific American, 6/2021), is that the only group to see improvements in mental health last year were those who attended religious services at least weekly! Should this come as any surprise to Christians? The Bible is clear that we were made to worship God: Blessings come to those who follow His Design as His People, and curses to those who reject it (1 Samuel 12:14-15). What we dwell on in our minds has a direct impact to life itself!
Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.”
As G. K. Chesterton put it, “When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?”
Last Sunday we witnessed and rejoiced with those who had found their way off of drugs and alcohol and back into a community of believers who supported each other. Their testimonies were consistent: those feelings of rejection, loss, loneliness, and depression were replaced with hope, acceptance, and purpose once God and a committed family of faith were put back into the foreground. I shared then, and I reiterate here that this theme of scripture is unchanging and reliable throughout: God humbles the proud (those who put themselves first), but He gives grace and lifts up the humble (Isaiah 26:5, Luke 14:11)! I could give you hundreds of examples, but will conclude with just one, by Jesus’ own words:
Matthew 18:1 “... the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
We at Elk River Baptist exist to reorient the wayward soul back to that which honors and glorifies God, which incidentally also brings its adherents back to meaning, fulfillment, peace and joy, IN Jesus Christ!