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Posts tagged ‘spiritual depression’

8 LESSONS LEARNED FROM A LONG BATTLE WITH SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION

SOURCE:  Derek J. Brown/The Gospel Coalition

When I came to Christ during college in the winter of 1998, the months following my conversion were a time of spiritual bliss. The glory of God was visible everywhere, Jesus Christ was precious, God’s people were a delight, and personal holiness was a new passion.

In his mysterious providence, however, God soon led me into a season of spiritual agony.

Although I was at a school known for its vibrant community and biblical fidelity, my tendency toward intense introspection and a growing concern over personal sin conspired to create the perfect storm. Only two years after I stepped on to campus, I opted for a semester off because I was convinced I had committed the unpardonable sin. I was in a spiritual tailspin that would last the next few years.

In his kindness, after approximately five years of intense struggle, God gradually drew me out of the mire. Often during this season I asked the Lord for immediate restoration, but that was not his plan. Instead, it became increasingly clear that God was teaching me a few vital lessons for the sake my stability in the faith. If you find yourself in a similar season, please receive these gentle yet earnest exhortations.

(1) Remain in the Bible

When the blackness of spiritual depression is heavy upon your soul, you may not sense a hearty appetite for Scripture, but you must sit yourself at the table anyway. While intentional Bible reading is not the only means God will use to lift the veil, it is indispensible, and it must be used together with other means. Remember that David, who more than once cried out to God in mind-numbing despair also confessed that God’s word “restores the soul” (Psalm 19:7). To pursue a way out of your spiritual woes apart from Scripture will either lead to greater trouble or set you on a trajectory of unstable experientialism. Remain in the Bible.

(2) Stay in the Church

While walking through the thick haze of spiritual depression I remember a brother who shared similar struggles informing me that he was planning a multi-week solo hike to get alone with God. Although it sounded good at the time, I can say with confidence today that this brother’s plan was wrongheaded and dangerous. Although time alone with Jesus is essential, our Savior does not intend to remedy our troubles by removing us from the community of believers. Rather, he has given our brothers and sisters and pastors for our joy and to help us persevere in the faith (Phil. 1:27; Heb. 3:12-15). Stay in the church.

(3) Immerse Yourself in the Gospel

When I say immerse yourself in the gospel, I mean primarily two things. First, do what you can to ground your mind and heart in the doctrine of justification. Dive into books like The Cross-Centered Life by CJ Mahaney or The God Who Justifies by James White. Read until you are convinced that your right standing with God is based on Christ’s righteousness alone and that God justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). Your spiritual troubles are likely to remain to the degree that you are not resting in this foundational truth.

Secondly, seek to understand the doctrine of indwelling sin. When I was first converted, the depth and pervasiveness of my sin often staggered me. Colossians 3:1-11 and some solid counsel from John Owen, however, brought lasting comfort to my soul. The truth I needed to hear was this: regeneration provides me with a new power to fight sin, not an instantaneous eradication of all my inward corruption. If you are unclear on this particular truth, you will be tossed to and fro by temptation and your many sinful inclinations.

(4) Seek Means, Not Just Breakthroughs

While I don’t think it is not wrong to ask God for immediate breakthroughs of light into our spiritual darkness, I am convinced it is far better to seek means of gradual restoration. This approach is preferred because the constant desire for existential breakthroughs can unseat us from sure rock of Scripture and draw us away from the disciplines that God typically uses to grow and sustain our faith. Most often God will use the unheralded means of adequate sleep, exercise, a reasonable diet, regular worship and fellowship, Bible reading, good books, time outdoors, faithfulness in our responsibilities, and profitable ministry to pull us out of the throes of spiritual depression.

(5) Pursue Obedience, Not Just Introspection

Those who tend toward spiritual depression are often those who ruminate incessantly over the condition of their hearts. Some self-examination is good and biblical (2 Corinthians 13:5), but if we are not careful, self-examination can turn into morbid introspection where we relentlessly appraise our motives and evaluate our affections. And, although our introspection may appear super-spiritual, it might become a substitute for obedience. Instead of deleting that troublesome iPhone app and confessing your sin to a trusted friend, you look inside and ask, “Am I really repentant over that recent indulgence in pornography?” But God grants assurance not through introspection, but through obedience. As you actively repent from known sin, you will find far more assurance and relief from depression than if you merely look inward for conclusive evidence that you really love Jesus.

(6) Keep Working

There were many times during my struggle when I was convinced that time alone reading Scripture, praying, and pouring over books was the sole answer to my misery. Because of this, I often approached work as a hindrance to my spiritual health instead of what it really was: a God-given means of renewal and stability. I would even ask my employer to grant me early leave from my workday so I could retreat to my home, close the door, and ponder over the Puritans. It wasn’t until I was forced into work situations that didn’t allow withdrawals into my theological fantasyland that I started to see some break in the clouds. That I found significant help in the simple means of a profitable workday is no coincidence, however. God made us to work, and he intends that we find much physical and spiritual refreshment in attending diligently to our responsibilities.

(7) Fulfill Your Ministry

The weight of spiritual depression will often tempt us to fold in on ourselves. The remedy to our plight, however, is not more turning inward, but turning outward: first with faith to Jesus and the gospel, then to others in good works. You might feel that you are unqualified to serve in ministry in light of your own spiritual troubles. But let your pastor make these decisions as you submit to his leadership, and commit to fulfill your ministry. God has given you a spiritual gift to use for the good of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7) and you might be surprised by how the consistent use of your gift will set you on the path toward renewed joy and steadiness in the faith (see Paul’s description of the faithful deacon in 1 Timothy 3:13).

(8) Don’t Stop Moving

Those of us who tend toward spiritual depression may begin look for a remedy that removes the need for further action on our part. We may also conclude that the slowness of our recovery is reason for more despair. But both of these tendencies obscure the truth that our Christian life is best likened to a marathon. Occasionally we may sense that we’ve hit our stride, but often we will enter stretches where the weight of our burden is enough to bring us to a crawl. But continue we must, for God has set along our course all the refreshment we need to remain in the race. Don’t stop moving.

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Derek J. Brown (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is adjunct professor of Christian theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastoral assistant at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley. You can visit his blog at DerekJamesBrown.com.

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When The Path Is Darkest

SOURCE:  Octavius Winslow

SLOUGH OF DESPOND

The causes from where mental suffering arises are many. With some of the Lord’s people the origin is hereditary, with others it is natural, and with yet more it is religious. But, from whatever it may arise, mental suffering in some form is the discipline appointed by God for many of His people. Think not that your case is singular, or that you are an especial object of your Father’s displeasure, because he has so afflicted you.

I will not pause to inquire the cause of your mental depression; it is enough for my purpose in penning these remarks to know that yours is a mind depressed, needing a gentle, yes, a Divinely healing touch.

He who created your mind, who has hitherto proved its Sustainer, knows the cloud that veils it, the tumult that agitates it, the imaginations that play around it like hideous spectres- all is known to God!

And do you think that Christ is either ignorant of, or insensible to, the spiritual exercise through which your mind may be now passing? Far from it. If there is any stage of our discipline for heaven with which the Lord Jesus more closely sympathizes than another, it is our spiritually-mental stage. Can He ever forget the mental conflict of the garden, the soul-travail of the cross; the blood-sweat of the one, the soul-sorrow of the other?

Child of God! walking in mental gloom, passing through deep waters of soul exercise- doubting, fearing, despairing, sinking- look up! There is One who knows your sorrow, and has come down to rescue you. His eye of compassion is upon you, His wing of love is around you, His arms of power are beneath you, His heart is your pavilion, His wounds your refuge, His precious promise the word upon which He invites you to hope!

Dwell upon the solemn thought that your Lord and Savior trod this identical path before you; that, if there is one cloister of His heart deeper and warmer than another, in that cloister He hides you while passing through this mental eclipse. Fear not that He will abandon you to total darkness or endless despair. Your soul will emerge from its present obscuration, all the brighter for its temporary darkness. Tempest-tossed, you will be all the more firmly rooted and grounded in God’s love. The Lord by this process is deepening the work of grace in your heart, consuming the dross with the fire, and scattering the chaff with the flail of His discipline, that had too much, and unsuspected by yourself, mingled with your Divine and heavenly nature.

Deem yourself not a child of God, because you are the subject of mental disquietude and of spiritual exercise. Were your soul still locked in the sleep of death, it would be Satan’s policy to keep you so. But the mental and spiritual exercises through which you are now passing are indices of soul vitality, of an awakening out of sleep, of the possession of that spiritual life, which is linked indissolubly with the life which is to come.

Suffering is the royal highway to glory. It is royal, for the King of Saints Himself trod it; it is royal, for the royal children all walk in it; it is royal, for it leads to the kingdom of heaven.

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Octavius Winslow stood out as a one of the foremost evangelical preachers of the 19th Century.

Depressed? Talk to Yourself!

SOURCE:  From an article by Tim Challies

Here is a wise word from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from his work Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure.  It will help to know that the biblical context for what he is writing here is Psalm 42.

The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self.

Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?

Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you.

Now this man’s (the writer of Ps 42) treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’-what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’-instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way.

And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

The Dark Night of the Soul (Sproul)


by R.C. Sproul

The dark night of the soul.  This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time.  It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears.  It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.”  It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him.  This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute.  We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates.  We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy.  Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness?  It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness.  A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head.  The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression.  The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

In writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, Paul commends to his readers the importance of preaching and of communicating the Gospel to people. But in the midst of that, he reminds the church that the treasure we have from God is a treasure that is contained not in vessels of gold and silver but in what the apostle calls “jars of clay.”  For this reason he says, “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  Immediately after this reminder, the apostle adds, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7­-10).

This passage indicates the limits of depression that we experience.  The depression may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal.  Notice that the apostle Paul describes our condition in a variety of ways.  He says that we are “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.” These are powerful images that describe the conflict that Christians must endure, but in every place that he describes this phenomenon, he describes at the same time its limits.  Afflicted, but not crushed.  Perplexed, but not in despair.  Persecuted, but not forsaken.  Struck down, but not destroyed.

So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us.  We may be confused and perplexed, but that low point to which perplexity brings us does not result in complete and total despair. Even in persecution, as serious as it may be, we are still not forsaken, and we may be overwhelmed and struck down as Jeremiah spoke of, yet we have room for joy. We think of the prophet Habakkuk, who in his misery remained confident that despite the setbacks he endured, God would give him feet like hind’s feet, feet that would enable him to walk in high places.

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians gives them the admonition to be “anxious for nothing,” telling them that the cure for anxiety is found on one’s knees, that it is the peace of God that calms our spirit and dissipates anxiety.  Again, we can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair.

This coexistence of faith and spiritual depression is paralleled in other biblical statements of emotive conditions.  We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believers to suffer grief.  Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  Though grief may reach to the roots of our souls, it must not result in bitterness.  Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness.  In like manner, we see that it is a good thing to go to the house of mourning, but even in mourning, that low feeling must not give way to hatred.  The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression; however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to the brightness of the noonday light of the presence of God.

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