You Can Find Comfort in Times of Distress
HOW should we view feelings of distress? If we are dedicated to Jehovah, should we look upon them as strange because of our wonderful hope and our spiritual resources? Do such feelings mean that we are spiritually unsuited for God’s service?
“Elijah was a man with feelings like ours,” wrote the disciple James. (James 5:17) Though God used Elijah in an extraordinary way, even that faithful prophet felt distress. “It is enough!” exclaimed Elijah on one occasion. “Now, O Jehovah, take my soul away, for I am no better than my forefathers.” (1 Kings 19:4) The integrity-keeping man Job, the faithful woman Hannah, and other loyal servants of Jehovah experienced distress. Even the godly psalmist David prayed: “Distresses of my heart have multiplied; from the stresses upon me O bring me out.”—Psalm 25:17.
Jehovah’s use of humans in his service does not make them totally carefree. They still have human infirmities and feelings and may experience distress when under trial. (Acts 14:15) Nevertheless, God’s servants have better help than others do in coping with emotional stress. Let us consider a few Biblical examples to see what helped certain individuals to overcome their mental depression and feelings of distress.
Distressed Apostle Finds Comfort
The apostle Paul knew what it was like to be depressed. “In fact,” said he, “when we arrived in Macedonia, our flesh got no relief . . . There were fights without, fears within. Nevertheless God, who comforts those laid low, comforted us by the presence of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:5, 6) Paul’s depression was caused by several distressing situations occurring at the same time. There were “fights without”—severe persecution imperiling life itself. (Compare 2 Corinthians 1:8.) Moreover, there were “fears within” in the form of worries about the congregations, such as the one in Corinth.
A few months earlier, Paul had written his first letter to the Corinthian Christians. In it he had condemned several very bad conditions in the congregation and apparently was concerned about how the Corinthians would react to his letter. However, Paul was comforted when Titus came from Corinth with a favorable report about their response. Similarly, Jehovah may use one of his present-day servants to bring us good news and allay our distress.
How to View God-Given Assignments
Certain Christians have a measure of distress with regard to their ministry. Indeed, some of Jehovah’s servants have thought that God-given assignments would be too demanding for them to fulfill. For instance, Moses felt unfit to be God’s representative in behalf of the Israelites in Egypt. Among other things, he said that he was not an eloquent speaker. (Exodus 3:11; 4:10) But with trust in God and having Aaron as his mouthpiece, Moses set about fulfilling his assignment.
In time Moses no longer depended on Aaron. Similarly, some initially find the Christian ministry difficult, but they receive training and become skilled evangelizers. For example, many young Witnesses of Jehovah have grown up to become full-time preachers as pioneers and missionaries. It is comforting to know that Jehovah can always be relied upon to qualify Christian ministers and empower them to fulfill their God-given assignments.—Zechariah 4:6; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; Philippians 4:13.
Comfort When Distressed by Regrets
We may be disheartened because we regret that we have not done more in God’s service. A brother who had been inactive for years began to share in the field ministry once more. Shortly thereafter, he fell seriously ill and was permanently confined to bed. The downhearted brother said: “Earlier, when I could have been active, I shirked responsibility. Now, when I want to be active, I am not able.”
Would it not be wise to do our best now instead of expending emotional energy on what happened in the past? Jesus’ fleshly half brothers James and Jude did not become believers until after his death and resurrection. If they had some regrets over this, it did not stop them from being God’s servants and even Bible writers.
Never Neglect Prayer
When depressed, God’s people should pray fervently. In fact, the Scriptures contain many prayers said in times of distress. (1 Samuel 1:4-20; Psalm 42:8) Some may think: ‘I am so depressed that I cannot pray.’ Then why not consider Jonah? While in the fish’s belly, he said: “When my soul fainted away within me, Jehovah was the One whom I remembered. Then my prayer came in to you, into your holy temple. . . . With the voice of thanksgiving I will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed, I will pay. Salvation belongs to Jehovah.” (Jonah 2:4-9) Yes, Jonah prayed, and God comforted and saved him.
Although a sister in Sweden had been a pioneer for many years, she suddenly felt dejected and worn out despite a rewarding ministry. She mentioned her downheartedness in prayer to Jehovah. A few days later, she received a telephone call from a brother at the Watch Tower Society’s branch office. He asked if she could assist there about one day a week in connection with the Bethel extension. This sister later said: “The atmosphere at Bethel and having the opportunity of seeing the extension work and sharing in it gave me the extra strength I needed.”
If we are depressed, it is good to remember that prayer is one way to fight depression. (Colossians 4:2) In answer to our prayers, Jehovah may open a door leading to greater activity in his service, or he may bless our ministry with increased productivity. (1 Corinthians 16:8, 9) In any event, “the blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.” (Proverbs 10:22) This is sure to lift our spirits.
Distressed by Doubts?
Occasionally, one of Jehovah’s servants may have doubts. If that should happen to us, we should not immediately conclude that we have lost God’s favor. Jesus did not reject the apostle Thomas for doubting eyewitness reports of his Master’s resurrection. Instead, Jesus lovingly helped Thomas to get over his doubts. And how thrilled Thomas was when he realized that Jesus was alive!—John 20:24-29.
By their false teaching, murmuring, and so forth, “ungodly men” who had slipped into the first-century Christian congregation were causing some to have distressing doubts. Hence, the disciple Jude wrote: “Continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire.” (Jude 3, 4, 16, 22, 23) To continue receiving God’s merciful consideration, Jude’s fellow worshipers—especially the congregation elders—needed to show mercy to doubters eligible for it. (James 2:13) Their everlasting life was at stake, for they were in danger of “the fire” of eternal destruction. (Compare Matthew 18:8, 9; 25:31-33, 41-46.) And what joy there is when help is kindly given to fellow believers having doubts and they become strong spiritually!
If grievous trials make us doubt that God is with us, we need to be specific in our prayers. Under such circumstances, let us persevere in asking Jehovah for wisdom. He gives generously without reproaching us for lacking wisdom and praying for it. We must “keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all,” for a doubter is “like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about” in every direction. Such persons get nothing from God because they are indecisive, “unsteady” in prayer and in all their ways. (James 1:5-8) So let us have faith that Jehovah will help us to view our trials properly and endure them. Scriptures may be brought to our attention by fellow believers or during Bible study. Events maneuvered through God’s providence may help us to see what we should do. Angels may share in directing us, or we may receive guidance by holy spirit. (Hebrews 1:14) The main thing is to pray for wisdom with full trust in our loving God.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
Remember That Jehovah Gives Comfort
Paul prayerfully relied on Jehovah and knew him to be the Source of comfort. The apostle wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation through the comfort with which we ourselves are being comforted by God.”—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4.
The God of all comfort is aware of distress experienced by his servants and wants to give them relief. In the case of Paul’s concern over the Corinthians, relief came through his Christian associate Titus. This is one way that we may be comforted today. When we are distressed, we should therefore avoid isolating ourselves. (Proverbs 18:1) Association with fellow Christians is one of the means by which God comforts us. We may think: ‘I am so downhearted that I am not strong enough to be with my Christian friends.’ However, we should fight such feelings and not deprive ourselves of the comfort that fellow believers can offer.
Do Not Give Up!
Some of us may not have experienced a trial having such impact that we have suffered severe depression. But debilitating illness, the death of a marriage mate, or another very trying situation could bring on emotional distress. If that should occur, let us not conclude that we are necessarily sick spiritually. A depressed person may be well qualified for God’s service, even being able to help others spiritually. Paul urged the brothers to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls,” not suspiciously thinking that they had done something wrong and were spiritually sick. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Though depression is sometimes associated with wrongdoing and guilt, that is not the case with those serving God out of a pure heart. Their worship, perhaps rendered with extreme difficulty, is acceptable to Jehovah. He loves them and comes to their aid with needed help and comfort.—Psalm 121:1-3.
Those making up the remnant of spiritual Israel were sorely distressed by trials in the year 1918. (Compare Galatians 6:16.) Their preaching organization was nearly destroyed, some of them were wrongfully imprisoned, and many of their former associates became disloyal, opposing apostates. Moreover, the faithful anointed ones did not understand why God had allowed all of this to happen. For some time ‘they sowed seed with tears,’ but they did not give up. They kept on serving Jehovah and also examined themselves. The result? They ‘came in with a joyful cry, carrying along their sheaves.’ (Psalm 126:5, 6) The anointed now realize that God allowed such trials in order to purify them for their approaching international harvest work.
If we should become distressed because we are beset by various trials, we can benefit from the experience of the anointed remnant. Instead of giving up, let us keep on doing what is right, even if we must do so while weeping. In time, there will be a way out of our trials, and we will ‘come in with a joyful cry.’ Yes, joy—a fruit of God’s holy spirit—will be ours for having endured our trials. For us, Jehovah will surely prove to be “the God of all comfort.”