I came across a wonderful quote in Dallas Willard’s admirable book, Renovation of the Heart (p.228).
“A depressed and hopeless man came to John Wesley to inquire what message he gave to the multitudes of hearers he regularly addressed, morning and evening. Wesley replied,
You ask, what I would do with them: I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves, and useful to others. Whither would I lead them? To heaven; to God the Judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love; the law of kindness brought to light by the Gospel. What is this good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves; to make them like God; lovers of all; contented in their lives, and crying out at their death, in calm assurance, ‘O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be unto God, who giveth me the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.’
No talk here of ‘the crushing burden of piety,’ as it has been called, or of religion as a ‘life sentence’ instead of a life. Our walk with Christ, well learned, is a burden only as wings are to a bird or the engines are to an airplane.”
Why are people so depressed and hopeless today? What would John Wesley say any differently if he were to preach amongst us today? Do we find it difficult to be easy in ourselves and useful to others? Do we find it hard to enjoy God and ourselves; to be lovers of all, contented in our lives, and assured in death? Why do we find these things difficult if we believe in the good news of Jesus?
A study has found that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age who were studied in the Great Depression era. (Martha Irvine, AP, Florida Times-Union, January 12, 2010) One conclusion is that they have high expectations which are recipes for disappointment. When we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others, we are setting ourselves up for a sense of failure. When we rely upon our own smarts to be self-sufficient and to succeed in life skills, career and relationships, we are heading for a fall.
We cannot find a contentment and assurance until we have seen our lives as given us in trust by God to fulfill his purpose. We cannot attain the goals he has for us until we have learned to turn to God our Judge and Redeemer. Unless we enjoy God, we cannot enjoy ourselves. Unless we ask the Spirit to fill our lives with his love, we cannot be easy in ourselves and useful to others. We have to start with the expectations of God, and his provision in the Gospel of Christ for our need.
The world and people will let us down. All of us experience failure at one time or another in our lives. But God will never let us down. Christ and his love will always be with us. His kindness will pick us up and embrace us, and give us the courage to carry on. This is what we believe. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory, through my Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)