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HOW TO TURN FROM SADNESS TO GLADNESS

Who He Really Is

John 16:17-24
12th September 2004

Tomorrow night, the program on ABCTV, “Four Corners” looks at what Winston Churchill called: “The Black Dog” when he suffered from it. It is the condition that causes more disability than almost any other problem. It is depression, a topic full of myth and misunderstanding. Through Wesley Mission’s psychiatric hospitals, our professors and psychiatrists, psychologists and doctors, our social workers and chaplains, Wesley Mission is at the forefront of understanding and helping people afflicted with Black dog.

Recently Leonie Manns, who was not a patient treated at Wesley, said: “I’m a person with a mental illness. My depression has overtaken most of my life. I’ve been hospitalised six times; I’ve seen seven psychiatrists but it wasn’t until I was 40 that I was diagnosed. The first time I sought help I was 19. During the intervening time I had many suicide attempts, was hospitalized, given medications, but I was not told anything at all about what was happening or why I was feeling as I did. I was variously said to be having a nervous breakdown, to be moody, to be female, all of those things were true. But very little true treatment, and very little that made any difference in my life. The search for meaning though never really ended, and I kept thinking there must be something better. I understand perfectly the idea of The Black Dog because it is just like that.” Such people suffering depression often hear families, friends, acquaintances saying ‘If you just pull yourself together you’ll be OK. When are you going to get off the medication?” Few become depressed, but many suffer the blues. So how do you distinguish between clinical Depression and the blues? A good psychiatrist can help you.

Some people do not seek help because they manage to keep up their daily routine, not really knowing what’s wrong. To be clinically diagnosed with ‘major’ depression, you have to have at a number of symptoms that last for a while: depressed mood feelings; loss of interest or pleasure in activities normally enjoyed; significant appetite or weight loss or gain; insomnia; be agitated or slower than usual; fatigued with loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; impaired concentration; indecisiveness, and possibly suicidal thoughts.

While not suffering clinical depression some people suffer periods of depressed feelings, of melancholia, or continued sadness. Frequently shocking events such as the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, the children’s school at Beslan, and at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta cause many people to lapse into prolonged depression. Exactly three years ago when the aircraft smashed into the Twin Towers in New York, I contacted all of our Chaplains and ministers at 3am to report to work in all of our caring centres immediately because I knew that many frail and aged people watching the TV coverage could lapse into profound sadness. We live in a real world and we face real issues here in church. Christianity is no escape from reality to fantasy. It makes people face reality and provides inner resources that enable people to turn from sadness to gladness. Many people are sad in Sydney today. People pay to feel glad. Providing diversions for people in the pursuit of happiness is big business. But bought happiness does not last.

The feeling becomes as flat as stale beer. I pity people who know no lasting happiness, who never know the spontaneous joy and freedom they had in childhood. Many are sad because they lack provision of basic needs. Many are sad because their inner guilt weighs them down. Many are sad because they lack power adequate for living. Many are sad because of poor personal relationships. Many are sad because suffering makes life meaningless. Many are sad because their sins are unforgiven. Many are sad because they feel unaccepted by God.

People try to turn from sadness to gladness by doing things that will amuse them. Some accumulate money in the hope it will make them happy. Many spend money they do not have, to buy things they do not need, to find a feeling that does not last. Many gamble hoping to feel glad. Many eat their way to happiness only to be depressed by being overweight. But there is a simpler way to gladness and a lasting joy. Christianity is about turning sadness into gladness. It is about a happiness that nothing can take from you. If the twentieth century is marked with despair, depression and death, so also was the first century. The religion of the Jews brought strain. The politics of the Romans brought misery. The philosophy of the Greeks brought pessimism. The world was in dark despair when the heavens rang with a new note of joy: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” Jesus brought a note of gladness into the lives of people. Few people realize what a difference Christianity made to the early world. The difference is seen in the writings of the disciples. In almost every New Testament chapter the theme of gladness is to be found.

24 words in the New Testament refer to gladness: joy, rejoice, joyful, exceeding great joy, joyful voice, joyful sound, joyful noise, be glad, glad tidings, gladness, and so on. These words of gladness occur 326 times! This gladness runs throughout the Scriptures. Jesus made the difference! Jesus, when He was about to face the Cross with its painful derision and death, left His closest friends with the most unusual final comment. He declared that they would have, ultimately, deep, lasting gladness that nothing could end nor take from them. Jesus understood the sadness in people, and gave them reason for gladness instead. God made us to be happy, but sin has led to defeat, despair and discouragement. Jesus said to his disciples: “I am leaving you; but I am coming back; the day will come when my reign will begin and my kingdom will come; but before that you will have to go through terrible things, with pain like birth pangs upon you. But, if you faithfully endure, the blessings will be very precious.”

1. THE REASON FOR SADNESS.

Jesus understood why the disciples were sad: “I said, ‘In a little while you will not see me, and then a little while later you will see me’. Is this what you are asking about among yourselves?” Jesus understood the reason why they were sad. They felt His leaving would end their friendship, their dreams of God’s Kingdom, and their hope of helping people. Death was the end. Jesus recognised death, but knew that death itself could be defeated and its impact last only “a little while”. No matter how black that first Good Friday looked, Easter Sunday was coming!

Jesus understands the reason why we are sad today. People are still defeated by death: their death, death of a marriage, death of a relationship, death of meaning and purpose in life. The real reason is the emptiness within that people try to fill with money, possessions, status, success, things. But nothing we have can fill the aching void within. He understands that.

2. THE REJOICING OVER SADNESS.

“I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad.” Imagine people rejoicing over Christians being sad, despairing, or depressed. But that is a fact. The world the unbelieving, untrusting, antagonistic and agnostic world, rejoices whenever a Christian is caused to weep. The world outside of God cannot stand the Christian’s inner joy, the absolute certainty, the peace that passes understanding. So when the Christian becomes sad, the world is glad. With the disciples, it was the physical departure of Jesus that made them sad. They would weep as He was taken by brutal soldiers, weep as He was lashed, weep as He was forced through the city bearing His cross, weep as He was nailed to the Cross and as He was raised up before the mockery of the crowds. They would weep in the garden of Gethsemane, weep at Gabbatha, the Judgement Seat of Pilate, weep at the foot of the cross on Golgotha, weep at the Garden of Joseph of Arimathea, weep at the entryway to the tomb and weep when they saw the stone, the guard and the seal. It was the end! Sadness overwhelmed them. Today we weep for ourselves because of our need, because of treatment by family or friends, or because of our lack of faith that leads to despair.

We weep for our city when we see the impact of the wicked and the sinful. We weep for the needy, the poor and the homeless. We weep for the spiritually lost and those who are dying within. But the thoughtless, the selfish and the greedy laugh at our concerns. We weep, but the world laughs. But the Son of God brings the great reversal.

3. THE REVERSAL OF SADNESS TO GLADNESS.

Jesus said: “You will be sad, but your sadness will turn to gladness. When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world.” The analogy of the change from sadness to gladness found in every woman’s experience of giving birth to a baby seems to be very apt. After the birth pains the amazing release and relief and rejoicing at the safe birth of a child! That was the description Jesus chose for the great reversal of feelings Christians can experience. The very things that caused sadness can become translated into the very things that cause joy. That same baby turns sadness into gladness. God transforms our sadness into gladness. “That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you.” The disciples were sad until they saw Jesus after the resurrection. Then gladness filled their lives forever. That promise applies to us today. Jesus understands the reasons for our sadness and promises us a great reversal: “Your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you.”

Those who know the risen Lord in His power find their tears turned to laughter because Jesus is in our midst. Our tears because of our need, or because of treatment by family or friends, are turned to joy at God’s provision. Our tears for our city are turned to joy when we see how God is converting the wicked and the sinful. Our tears for the needy, the poor and the homeless are turned to joy when we see God supplying their every need. Our tears for the spiritually lost and those who are dying within are turned to joy when we see the lost coming home and those who are dying finding life abundant. The thoughtless, the selfish and the greedy laugh at our concerns but our joy within makes their laughter hollow. The Son of God brings the great reversal.

No other religion gives to its followers such a sense of joy. Christianity is a singing religion. Islam is mute. Buddhism provides no help to those who despair. Hinduism has gods which scowl. But the Christian’s joy is lasting: “the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you.” Jesus alone brings happiness that nothing can take from us: We are glad our sins are forgiven. We are glad we are accepted by God fully as we are. We are glad we are provided with all we need. We are glad we are free from guilt. We are glad we are in a personal relationship with God. We are glad we are people of Holy Spirit power. We are glad we are people who find purpose in pain. We may not have the things the world believes makes them glad: material possessions, abundant food, vast wealth, social status, business success. But we have an inner happiness for our “hearts are filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you.”

REFERENCES

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed.
  • Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 

Wesley Mission, Sydney.