Tag Archives: Fear

Some initial thoughts on depression

I read Spurgeon’s observations on depression today. He took portions of Psalm 23 and took the reader through a journey through the psalm. Each portion of the psalm paralleled a phase in the journey from despair to joy. Spurgeon immersed the despondent soul through each step of the Psalmist’s journey. Here is his paraphrased translation, which captures beautifully the sentiment of the author:

Yea, though I walk through the valley shaded by the mysterious wings of death, and though I know nothing of my way, and cannot understand it, yet will I fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thou knowest the way that I take. There are no mysteries with my God. Thou hast the thread of this labyrinth, and Thou wilt surely lead me through. Why should I fear? Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Gloom, danger, mystery, these three all vanish when faith lights up her heavenly lamp trimmed with the golden oil of promise.

He observed that at times men are driven to loneliness where his loyalty to God is tested.

Spurgeon concluded with this short story:

I have read of a little boy who was on board a vessel buffeted by the storm, and everyone was afraid, knowing that the ship was in grave danger. There was not a sailor on board, certainly not a passenger, who was not alarmed. This boy, however, was perfectly happy, and was rather amused than frightened by the tossing of the ship. They asked him why he was so happy at such a time. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘my father is the captain. He knows how to manage.’

The great Baptist preacher noted that there is a supernatural trust between child and father. The child, though tossed to and fro, still maintains an almost supernatural trust in his father’s ability to protect and direct his life. This type of trust needs to be categorized as a divine trust.

Spurgeon himself underwent profound depression in his early life. The story is told that when he was a preacher at the age of 18 someone in the crowd shouted ‘fire’! The congregation exited the building quickly and in the process one young lady was trampled by the crowd. Her death, it is said, led Spurgeon through prolonged periods of depression. He was largely absent from the pulpit ministry of his congregation.

One can hardly imagine that the greatest Londoner in evangelical history struggled with severe bouts of depression. That episode, in fact, was the valley that Spurgeon walked before becoming the evangelical titan as he is known today. Depression is no respecter of persons. Whether it is referred to “hell on earth,” or “the dark night of the soul,” depression happens and when it does we need to be prepared to deal with it wisely and graciously.  Here are some practical and initial steps in dealing with those near you who reveal the outward manifestations of depression:

First, don’t overwhelm them with words. There is no remedy that works with everyone. Pet remedies to cure depression or cliches that we hear so often do nothing more than accentuate the problem and possibly end the possibility of further progress. It’s important to keep in mind that depressed people are not looking for quick tips on getting over depression. For many, to be depressed is the only place they have been for years and to offer quick solutions is to offend the history that has shaped this individual’s life and led him to this situation.

Second, and this seems very simple, but profoundly fruitful: talk less, listen more. Depressed people have unique stories; these stories need to be told and someone will need to be there to hear them. The story of Job’s friends in Job 2:11-12 who stayed with him for seven days in silence is a remarkable testimony to the nature of dealing with pain. The rest of the story changes our view of Job’s friends, but it’s important to affirm that their silence echoed an important truth. The truth is that to listen is more difficult than to offer our supposed quick fixes.

I once knew a man during my theological training who believed he could  fix his mother’s problems. His mother was in profound pain after the death of her husband. This fellow student thought he had the theology to fix the situation. But every time he tried he only made matters worse. He failed to understand that his mother was not interested in solutions, she was interested in grieving her loss. He should have listened to her, cried with her, and taken her pain as his own.

The sooner we learn this lesson the better. We live in an age where depression is increasing at a rapid rate. Technology, relationships, a world where money moves quickly and where bankruptcy can be declared the day after you gained tremendous wealth, all these things make depression a reality in the lives of many people. This is not to say that some people mistake sadness or sorrow for depression, this happens often I would assume. Some rush to attach a title to their woes to validate their emotions. But we must remember that in most cases depression tears down the life of those closest to us and we must be prepared to be the embodiment of the first aid kit with wisdom, love, care, and tenderness.

Someone depressed may have been the protagonist to their own story of depression, or they may have bee recipient to the excruciating pain that seems to never go away. But you don’t have to know why a person is in pain in order to show mercy. God shows mercy, whether our troubles are caused by ourselves or someone else. a

Finally–and so much more can be said about this–be prepared to go through this process of healing for the long haul. Depression does not generally cease in a day or a week, but may take months or years to overcome. Be patient. Stay active in the person’s life. Read to them. Call them. Text them. Pray with them when they cannot pray for themselves. Encourage walks. Do not allow the slowness of the process to discourage you from persevering. When a strong relationship has been established, when the one depressed understands that you are a friend and not a foe, then be prepared to be honest about details that need to be worked on.

David Powlison once told the following story:

A thirty-five-year-old man had struggled with depression for almost a year, and it was beginning to show in his physical appearance. When he came to church he was unwashed and unkempt, and, as a result of his indifference, his clothes where so mismatched that they called attention to him. Everyone at church saw these outward signs, but no one said anything because he was “clinically depressed.” Yet one friend who saw him on a particular Sunday was loving and honest. You look horrible! Your hair is a mess, you are gaining weight, and your clothes look like you are a street person. Tomorrow I am going to pick you up at 9:00 in the morning. I’m going to take you to the barbershop, then we are going to go clothes shopping.

The depressed person later stated that that comment of concern was what marked the turning point in his life.

That comment made  a difference because of an established relationship of trust. Depression is pain. Those who suffer in depression need to see that their situation is not beyond hope. And you are the embodiment of that hope to him. Be that hope. Show that hope. And live that hope to him. In God’s grace he will learn to live his days in the house of the Lord forever.

  1. See David Powlison on depression; Journal of Biblical Counseling  (back)

About Killing Dragons

We were chatting about something. It was common. But then he brought out the uncommon. “Daddy, I’ve never killed a dragon. Have you?” It caught me by surprise. I wish I had a handy answer for that one. I looked at him for a second and pondered what was going through his mind. It was so honest and pure. One of those out-of-the-mouths-of-babe moments. “I have never killed one, but I know who did,” I answered. “Who?” he asked enthusiastically. “Jesus.” I know as a trained theologian that when in doubt Jesus is the answer. And what an answer He is.  I told my son about that old Serpent, Satan, who abandoned heavenly glory because of his deception. I told him that this dragon is the father of lies and how he loves to draw children’s hearts away from God. I told him that this dragon wanted glory for himself.

“Does he know how to fight? Does the dragon know how to hurt Jesus?” “He does. He certainly does,” I answered. I was now willing to develop this a bit. It doesn’t take long to get a preacher going. I said that the dragon/serpent knows how to grieve our Lord when he draws away those whom God created. He is a liar. So, when we lie we are being bad representatives of Jesus. Does the dragon fight? Yes, he does. He fights like a coward. He would love to shoot people on the back without having to look at them in the face. “Well, will he hurt us?” “No, he will not. Because Jesus also knows how to fight.” Now, I’ve reached common ground with Batman’s greatest fan. Every child is invested in hero admiration. He wants to be a hero, but more importantly, he wants to be on the side of the hero who wins.

“Did they ever fight?”

“Did they ever?” This is where I got really creative and probably a little too creative for his comprehension. But biblical narratives are powerful little things.

God had promised many centuries earlier that Jesus would bruise Satan’s head, and that Satan would  bruise Jesus’ heel. It was a big, cosmic fight. The dragon thought he had the upper hand, so he tried for centuries to kill off the seed of the woman. He kept women barren and killed little infants by using wicked men to do his bidding.

But it was hopeless for him. God had promised and when he promises something it will happen.

There was a story about a little boy named David. We had read that story many times. The kids love to hear about the giant’s–the dragon’s–taunting of the people of God and how David took courage to fight on behalf of God’s people and not let the name of God be corrupted. That crazy, gigantic, dragon/creature was a little Satan. He loved to mock God’s people just like the dragon. But God will have none of it. His name will not be mocked. He send Davids and new Davids to defend His Name. And at the right time, He sent the final David. “Jesus?” he inquired. “Yes, Jesus!” He will defeat His enemies and not allow God’s Name to be mocked. That same Jesus will kill the dragon. He will crush the dragon’s head. He will protect and defend His father’s name and He will protect us, his children. And we are His children.

“Will the dragon ever come to our house?” “No!” I said emphatically, but not too emphatically for fear of waking up his little brother. God put the dragon in a big hole. “Will he ever come out?” “Yes, in the great eschaton he will come out, but for a short while before He will be crushed again for ever (Don’t worry. I didn’t use the word eschaton).” 

He was concerned that the dragon would pay us a visit. So, I made that question worth it. “The dragon,” I said, “will never pay us a visit.” That old serpent looks around and sees all the homes that are baptized with Jesus’ Spirit. “Are you baptized?” “Yes, remember, daddy?” “Of course, I remember!” It was a wonderful day for our whole family. Do not fear that the devil will get you. Jesus is in our house and in us protecting us from harm. We are baptized with His Spirit and the dragon fears Spirit-indwelt-people. But there is one lesson for us. Just like we don’t go near a barking dog, neither should we go near the dragon. We should always stay away from him.

I could tell the conversation was getting long and the information was getting heavy. It was wonderful to see him thinking through these issues. He said he didn’t want to tell his siblings the story for fear that they would be scared. “Maybe we can tell them together.” He was satisfied with that answer.

No, I never killed a dragon. But I know who did.

Worry: Imagination Used in Futility

“Anxiety was a way of life in the ancient pagan world. With so many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offense you might not even know about, you never knew whether something bad was waiting for you just around the corner.”[1] But Paul makes clear that the God revealed in Jesus Christ will hear you when you call. Anxiety becomes sinful when it is not delivered into the hands of the God who answers us.  The way you stop worrying sinfully is by handing over your concerns to God. When worry is not followed by petition, it becomes chaotic and generally sinful. Paul is bringing these two similar mental activities to mind: worry and prayer. Worry uses the same faculties that prayer uses. In both our thoughts and words are present, as well as our emotions and imaginations. Ungodly worry is imagination used in futility. a Prayer turns our cares and concerns into fruitful reasons to trust in God. Worry without God’s intervention becomes a pagan habit. We become so consumed with anxiety that we lose our appetite or we make our appetite a god; or we become manically depressed; we make ourselves vulnerable to whatever items or false solutions take away our pain. We hide ourselves, whereas Paul says “reveal all your anxieties to God for he will hear you.”

Since worry and anxiety are such daily exercises of the human mind, Christians are then to react to worry as God would have us.

How Shall We Then Live?

We live by transforming and renewing our minds, according to the Holy Scriptures.

It’s all right to be concerned about a loved one’s health, a difficult financial situation, a conflict with your closest friend in the Church, but Paul’s answer to Euodia and Syntyche’s in Philippians 4 is to find a common mind by asking the Lord for one.

A few simple, perhaps obvious, but hopefully helpful applications to deal with our daily worries biblically:

First, we need to address our anxieties to God. Instead of a vague nervousness, name the worry and concern. “Our Father in heaven, I am worried about my son, daughter, and my relationship with this or that person. Name your worry in prayer. Leave the vague generalizations to those who worship false gods. Our God is deeply interested in hearing specifically about your concern.

Second, turn your worry into a specific request. Once you have identified your worry, then make it known to God. “My God, I am concerned for my son’s relationships. His friends are not leading him to godliness. Help me to communicate that gracefully to him, so that he would seek godly friends instead.”

Specific petitions refine us and cause us to think deeply about the things we pray for as we pray daily.

Third, Paul says pray with gratitude, with thankfulness that our God hears us and that unlike the pagan gods of the ancient world, He is not out to get us; rather He is near us to help us.

Celebrate the kingship of Jesus over our affairs in the body.  Let the world know that the way we go about solving conflict in the Church is with grace and gentleness, not with anger and bitterness, and then turn those concerns about relational or other problems into opportunities to ask for intervention from God himself.

Here is the bad news: You may be faithful in all these things, and still the one with who you are in conflict may continue to dislike you and act as if you do not exist. After all the pastoral intervention, that relationship may never be the same again. That’s the bad news! The good news is that by faithfully dealing with conflict as Paul instructs, God will be pleased with you. You will have learned to live through difficult circumstances by honoring God.

Is worry consuming you to the point where you can no longer see the end of the story? If so, refine your prayers, people of God, and make it known to God even now for He hears us.

[1] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone. Prison Letters.

  1. Some of these thoughts come from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermon notes on Philippians  (back)

A Prayer Concerning the Events at the Boston Marathon

Most Gracious Lord,

Holy and Blessed be Your Name forever and ever.

History tells us that evil exists. The bombing at the Boston Marathon is a reminder that the effects of sin live on in this world. And in moments like these creation’s expectation increases for a recreated cosmos.

The Psalmist tells us that evil people are trapped by what they have done. We pray that their traps will swallow them. We pray also that your righteous sword will act speedily in dealing with these unrighteous acts committed by lovers of evil.

We pray especially that those deacons of righteousness would act speedily on behalf of those who grieve. May unrighteousness perish!

We are also mindful of those who lost loved ones. We ask that you would comfort them by your Spirit. As the Gospels attest, we pray for the ultimate triumph of good in this world. And for this to happen your Church needs to act in deed and mercy towards those who weep. May we grieve together and never forget that only Christ can truly wipe away our tears.

We ask that you would provide wisdom to pastors, especially in Boston, as they guide their congregations this coming Lord’s Day in prayer and supplication.

In times like these, we are reminded of our finiteness. We are reminded that we are as vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. So remind us, O Lord, that our days are numbered, but also refresh our hearts in the task before us. May we not grow weary in doing good, and though our days are numbered, your kingdom has no end.

Our prayers are not in vain, because we ask these things in the Name of the merciful Lord; the One who never closes His eyes or ears to the cries of His children. Lord, hear our prayer.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.