Avoiding a Troubled Heart
Don’t Worry Be Happy
Pop singer Bobby McFerrin received a Grammy Award almost 15 years ago for his recording of a popular song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The song had a catchy tune and a rather simple message. It advised the listener that no matter what happened in life, simply don’t worry. Whether your life is filled with trouble, or you become homeless, just be happy. The song had as much substance as a meatless “Wonder Bread” sandwich. “Between the two slices of bread – ‘don’t worry’ and ‘be happy’ one has to ask ‘Where’s the beef?”i I suppose the skeptic might accuse Jesus of offering the same advice.
The Lectionary Reading has transplanted us back to the upper room. The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities had been intensifying. John refers to these leaders as “the Jews.” The disciples have heard that “the Jews” want to arrest Jesus. They probably felt the tension in the air whenever a scribe or Pharisee asked a question. It was a few days before Passover and the festival was always a stressful time for the people of Jerusalem. Each year they wondered if the Messiah would appear. On the night that our Scripture lesson takes place, Jesus has gathered the Twelve together in the Upper Room. He has already begun his farewell discourse. He has already washed their feet. Judas has left the room but none of the other men know why or where he was going. Peter has pledged his steadfast devotion and Jesus responded with the prediction of the fisherman’s denial. The mood of the evening was very somber. Jesus may have seen the worried looks on the faces of the disciples, so he said to them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Jesus knew the pain of a troubled heart. The Greek word for trouble is a strong word. It means, “to shudder” or “thrown into confusion,” near shock. When he stood before the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus, John records that he was deeply moved and troubled. (11:33) John would again use the term to describe his master’s feelings over the betrayal of Judas. (13:21) Jesus not only knew the pain of a troubled heart; he also knew its prevention. In the face of disturbing news, in the midst of turmoil and confusion, how would it be possible for the disciples to calm their hearts? Jesus tells them, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” The skeptic may accuse Jesus of offering superficial advice but when properly understood we discover their profound sense of power.
The word, believe, conveys the sense of unqualified trust. The first time a climber scales a rock wall or a tower they are elated. However, her joy often turns to fear after she realizes that she must rappel down the face of the rock wall by leaning completely backwards, as if she is falling. The hardest challenge for the novice to master is to trust in the rope. As she inches, backward over the edge she must transfer her dependency from her legs to the rope. At some point, she must totally and completely trust both the rope and the person holding the other end. That moment of transition is quite scary for the beginner. Sometimes she must be convinced by the instructor that she can do it or encouraged by her friends. Until the climber is able to put her unqualified trust in a few strands of woven nylon and the reliability of another person, she cannot descend the face of the rock wall. Like the climber, the disciple must learn to place their unqualified trust in God. Until the disciple transfers trust from their own resources to the promises of God, they will never be able to walk through a crises with confidence and an inner peace.
Two elements of Jesus’ admonition are very important. The first element is the disciple’s responsibility. Belief is an action of the will that the disciple must choose to exercise. It is not a sensation that sweeps over us. Frank Minirth and Paul Meier wrote a book entitled Happiness is a Choice: The Symptoms Causes and Cures of Depression. Their argument throughout the book is that people choose how they will feel based on their beliefs, values and perceptions of the world, themselves and others. The authors contend that by understanding the source of our depression, we can overcome it by choosing what we will believe and do.ii While the authors focus on one particular dimension of mental health, their theme is applicable to every dimension of the Christian life. We are not slaves to our feelings or the circumstances of life. Trust, faith, confidence, and hope come through the exercise of the will not from an outside source that takes control of us. Each person has the freedom and power to choose whether they will exercise their trust in God and believe in the promises of Scripture.
The Timing of Faith
The second dynamic essential to avoiding a troubled heart is to understand that we must exercise our responsibility to life by faith in good times and bad.. The poet Piet Hein wrote an insightful poem in which he says
Faith like bravery can only be expressed in times of uncertainty, in times of danger, when the outcome remains unknown. I would compare a disciple who believes in God only when everything is going smoothly, to a sports fan who only watches their favorite team play in the World Series or the Super Bowel on videotape. Their act is a shallow portrayal of faith.
In London’s Westminster Abbey, one of the first graves a visitor sees upon entering the grand cathedral is that of the famous missionary David Livingston. On the granite headstone marking his grave are the words from a verse from this passage: “ And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring….” (Jn 10:16) Dr. Livingston had been sent to Africa by the Church of Scotland and served as a missionary-physician for more than three decades. During his ministry, a mission society wrote him a letter stating their interest in sending some men to assist him. However, they wanted to know if there was a good road leading to Livingston’s mission post. In his response, the physician wrote, “If you have men who will come only if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road.”iv
Faith is not exercised when the way is known. Belief is not expressed when the mystery is proven. Trust is not demonstrated when the outcome is certain. Faith, belief and trust are only displayed during troubled times.
You Have a Home
After admonishing the disciples to believe in God, even during times of difficulty, Jesus offers his disciples two reasons why this would enable them to overcome a troubled heart. First, they would be assured that they have a future home. Jesus said to them,
The need for the security of a home is one of the most basic of the human psyche. Julia knew the pain of never having a home. Her parents died when she was just a baby. Julia was one of those children that slipped through the cracks of the social service agency. She bounced around from one foster home to another. For some reason no one ever adopted her. When she was 14, she was sent to the home of another family. At first, Julia was a little apprehensive. She had been let down so many times before that she was too scared to believe that maybe this time, this family would be the one.
After a few weeks, Julia began to enjoy the family. She began to let down her guard and get involved with her new “parents.” She began to develop friends at school and in the neighborhood. Soon she realized that this was the best family that she had ever lived with. A change began to take place in Julia. She was happy for the first time in her life. She loved her new family.
Then one day, Julia came home from school and found her suitcase packed and standing by the front door. Her family had decided not to adopt her. They were sending her back to the orphanage. Despite the pain of rejection, Julia eventually found her home in Christ.v
By using the image of many mansions, Jesus intended to remind the disciples that God would always have a place for them. They may end their lives homeless, wandering the highways of the forsaken places of the world, but God had already prepared a home for them.
Only One Way
The second reason that the disciples were not to have a troubled heart was their certainty in knowing the way to the Father. Jesus makes it very clear – there are not many roads to God. You will know the Father by knowing the Son for Jesus and Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the light.
Karl Barth was lecturing to a group of students at Princeton. One student asked the German theologian “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?” Barth’s answer stunned the crowd. With a modest thunder he answered, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”vi
We are now at the radical center of the gospel. God does not offer the hope of salvation and strength for the battle through a religion but in a relationship. We are to find the courage and confidence to deal with the trials of life not through a lifeless theology or repetitious rituals but through a living relationship with the Son of God.
Ambiguity and perplexity, problems and struggles are the stuff of life. The way is not always clear, the choices often complex. During moments of doubt, difficulty, and danger, how do we avoid a troubled heart?
By believing in both the Father and the Son
By understanding our responsibility to exercise our faith
By exercising our faith in moments of danger and doubt
And by knowing that we have a sure home because the relationship we share with the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
i Glendon Harris, Pulpit Resource, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” Vol. 17, No. 4, p. 13.
ii Frank Minirth and Paul Meier, Happiness is a Choice: The Symptoms, Causes, and Cures of Depression, (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 1994).
iii Quoted by Brother David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), p. 199.
iv Glendon Harris, Pulpit Resource, “Enough To Go On,” Vol. 18, No. 2, p.25.
v Keith Miller, reference unknown.
vi Earl Palmer, The Intimate Gospel, (Waco: Word, 1978), p. 124.
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