Heart-Trouble

Over a hundred and forty years ago, J.C. Ryle wrote that “heart-trouble” is the most common thing in the world.  He also said that no one is exempt from it, and that there is nothing that we can do to avoid it.  The world has changed quite a bit since Ryle penned those words, but his observations remain true as ever.  If anything, this past year has served to confirm them as the pandemic has prompted an upsurge of worry, fear, panic, anxiety, loneliness and other forms of heart-trouble.

So how do we handle heart-trouble?  John 14 provides some answers.  In this chapter, the disciples are confused and anxious because Jesus had just told them a number of unsettling things.  He said that he was going to leave them, that one of them was going to betray him, and that Peter was going to disown him three times.  In fact, all of his disciples were going to desert him.  None of this made sense to them.  It was contrary to all that they knew and believed.  And so, they were troubled by it.  Jesus could see that by looking at them, which is why he says to them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  But how do we do that?  How do we not let our hearts be troubled?

Upon seeing the troubled look in his disciples’ eyes, Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”  He doesn’t say to believe in yourself or to think positively about your situation.  He also doesn’t say to believe in something.  He says to believe in him—that is, to trust him.  That is how we are to calm our troubled heart.

Imagine for a moment that you have been falsely charged with murder.  Somebody has set you up, and they did a terrific job of it.  You are now on trial, and if you lose, you might receive the death penalty.  To make matters worse, the best prosecutor in the country has taken your case.  Understandably, you are distraught.  Your lawyer, however, is extremely confident.  When he notices that you are white as a ghost, he leans over to you and says, “Don’t worry.  Trust me.  I got this.”

What would happen if you truly believed your lawyer?  How would you feel if you trusted him to win your case?  Surely, you would feel more at ease.  You still might find the whole affair emotionally difficult, but it would not overwhelm you.  The same is true if we trust Jesus.   We need to believe that Jesus has got this when our hearts are troubled. 

But trust Jesus to do what?  When the lawyer says, “I got this,” he means, “I will win your case for you.”  When Jesus says, “I got this,” he means at least two things.  First, he will take us home.  Second, he will be with us until we get home.

Trust Jesus to Take You Home

Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  In these verses, Jesus uses a common cultural practice to teach us that he will one day take us to our eternal home.  A son in those days didn’t leave the family home when he got married.  Instead, he would build a new addition onto his father’s house.  Once it was ready, his new bride would come to live with him there.  Jesus is saying that he has gone to build a new addition (a room or place) for us at his Father’s house.  When it is ready, he will come back and get us so that we might be where he is.  He will take us to our true and eternal home in the new heavens and new earth. 

Jesus’ promise to take us home doesn’t mean, of course, that our current troubles will all suddenly disappear.  It doesn’t even mean that they will get easier.  In fact, they might get worse.  The disciples’ troubles certainly did not go away.  Peter was still going to fall into temptation and disown Jesus.  And the disciples were still going to be persecuted.  Trusting Jesus to take you home doesn’t take away the pain, but it does make it bearable.  Trusting Jesus for our future enables us to endure in the present (Ps. 42:5; Heb. 11:9-10; Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17).

A father holds his young son’s hand as they walk together to the front door of the school.  It is the son’s very first day of school.  As the father bends down to hug his son, he sees the worried look in his eyes.  Before he can say anything, the son says, “Daddy, I don’t want to go.  I want to go home with you.”  The dad says, “Son, you can’t come home with me right now, but don’t worry. I will come and pick you up after school and take you home with me then.  Now, I know that school might be hard at times.  You might get teased.  Some kids might be mean.  You might fail a test.  You might get hurt on the playground.  But don’t be troubled.  Trust me.  I will come back for you.  And we will go home together.  We will have your favorite dinner, eat your favorite ice cream, and play your favorite games.”

We are in the school of this present evil age, which can create all sorts of heart-trouble.   But we don’t have to come apart at the seams, because Jesus is coming back for us.  Trust him to take you home.  

Trust Jesus to Be with You until You Get Home

Although Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, he hasn’t abandoned us.  He told his disciples that he would not leave them as orphans, but that he would come to them.   How is this possible?  How can Jesus be in heaven and yet be with us on earth?  The answer is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is another “helper” like Christ, which means that he is Jesus to us.  To have the Spirit dwell in us is to have Christ dwell in us (Rom. 8:9-11).  Jesus, therefore, came to us on earth when he sent his Spirit to be with us forever.

But that is not all.  The Father joins his Son to dwell with us by the Spirit.  The great Scriptural promise is that God would dwell among his people.  This promise won’t be fully realized until Christ comes back and ushers us into the new heavens and new earth.  However, we experience it in part now, because by means of the Spirit, the Father and the Son make their home in our hearts.  Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  Jesus has gone to heaven to prepare a home for us in the Father’s house while the Spirit has come down from heaven to prepare a home for the Father and the Son in us. 

If all we had was the promise that Jesus was coming back for us, we could endure the heart-trouble by clinging to that promise.  It would be hard, but we could do it by God’s grace.  Yet, that is not all we have.  We have the promise that Jesus will be with us always, to the end of the age.  We are never truly alone.  Our friends and family may leave us, we may be separated from them because of COVID-19 policies, or we may have to walk through a dark valley where others are unable to join us.  Regardless, we will not be overcome by heart-trouble because we are not alone.  The Lord is with us; his rod and his staff will comfort us until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

D. Patrick Ramsey (@DPatrickRamsey) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He is a co-author (with Joel Beeke) of An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants and author of A Portrait of Christ.


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