TITLE: “Causes and cures for spiritual depression”
DATE: 20/ 09/2009
Depression is not only a common human condition, it also commonly found among God’s people. We see it reflected in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. Here we see godly people struggling with their problems and with themselves .We thank God for those insights for they are very helpful, not only in terms of helping us to understand the causes of depression, but more significantly – the cure for depression.
There are many competing theories for the ‘causes and cures ‘ of depression on the market. John White has written a book entitled, “The masks of melancholy“. In one of the chapters , he outlines at least 10 major secular schools of thought which attempt to deal with the cause and cure of depression. I am not going to enter into a debate with these. They may all have some valid insights into the causes of depression.
My primary argument is that the Bible is an inspired collection of 66 books revealing the nature of God our Creator and the nature of man – and particularly fallen man. The Bible is a book that deals with the soul (Gr. psuche) of man. What interests us in particular is the fact that the Bible speaks prolifically about the causes and cures for depression in the life of a Christian!
In this regard we need to understand that modern psychology is in competition with the Bible as it too attempts to discover and heal the ailments of the human soul , - but without bringing God into the picture .
Paul Vitz , Associate Professor at New York University , in his book “Psychology as religion : The cult of self worship “ (1977) argues that “ psychology has in fact become a religion… a form of secular humanism based on the worship of self .”
I am convinced that careful reading and prayerful meditation on the Scripture will give us a sufficient picture concerning the causes and cure of depression, precisely because it brings God our Maker into the picture.
In my reading of many books on this subject, I have found particular benefit from the writings of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones.
For those of you that have never heard or read of Martyn Lloyd Jones ( 1899 – 1981) : He was a promising young doctor , born in Wales. He was tutored by Lord Horder, physician to the king of England. He sensed a call to the ministry, left his promising medical career, and became the pastor of a humble church in Wales. After 11 years of remarkable ministry there, he became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, where he served almost until the end of his life . He used his great diagnostic skills ( learned from Lord Horder) with respect to the causes and cures of illnesses of the physical body , and applied these diagnostic skills to the cure of souls .
In order to make a good diagnosis of any physical illness, you need to understand the anatomy and physiology of the body. You need to understand the effects of various diseases upon the body.
Lloyd Jones used his acquired diagnostic skills effectively in the application to cure of souls.
In order to be a competent physician of the soul, one needs to have a good grasp of the whole Bible. Furthermore, one needs to have a good grasp of theology – e.g. what the Bible teaches about the nature of man (anthropology); the nature and effect of sin ( hamartiology) ; the work of Christ in salvation ( Christology ) by which man may be redeemed from the power and consequences of sin.
Lloyd Jones was unwaveringly committed to the authority of Scripture. He was a great student of the Bible. He read theology ( he leaned heavily on the Puritans) ; he was widely read in history , and he continued to read medical research and journals throughout his distinguished pastoral career.
His was a rare and powerful combination of piety and scholarship, and the Lord used this man powerfully in my life (and the lives of so many other pastors) in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
He preached a series of sermons on depression and these were edited and subsequently contained in a very helpful book entitled “ Spiritual Depression - its causes and cure “ .
In his foreword he writes : “ … unhappy Christians are to say the least , a poor recommendation for the Christian faith …” And in his first chapter , which is an exposition of Psalm 42 , he writes “… it is very sad to contemplate the fact that there are Christian people who live the greater part of their lives in such a condition . It does not mean that they are not Christians , but it does mean that they are missing a great deal…” ; “… in a sense a depressed Christian is a contradiction in terms , and he is a very poor recommendation for the gospel …” ; “…. nothing is more important therefore than we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people looking at us the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad , to be morbid ….” “…. Therefore for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the glory of Christ whom we believe I, we ought to represent Him and His cause, His message and His power in such a way that men and women … will be drawn and attracted as they observe us , whatever our circumstances and condition . We must so live that they are compelled to say : Would to God that I could be like this ….! Obviously if we are depressed we are never going to function in that way …”
Last week we saw that the Psalmist in Psalm 42 was depressed. He says so three times: “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (42: 5, 11; 43:5). I showed you that at least 4 factors contributed to this depression : Deprivation ; Exasperation ; Desolation; Isolation .
These are the causes of his depression, but what is the cure?
I showed you that he answers that himself - 3 times he says : “ Hope in God ; for I shall again praise Him …” ( 42 :5, 11; 43:5) . Please note that his hope is grounded and expressed in practical ways. Here are 5 things that we can learn from the Psalmist - 5 aspects which may lead to a cure our depression:
1. He expresses His thirst for God: (42:1) : Note that he (unlike so many) does not give up on God. Quite to the contrary, he thirsts for God. He is longing for God. He knows that his experience of Deprivation; Exasperation; Desolation; Isolation will be solved once he knows that God is back at the centre of his life. Once you know that God is with you ‘in this’, you are able to withstand the fiercest attacks of the enemy. But when we don’t know, don’t see , and don’t feel his presence we become tentative and uncertain. So it is right to go to God and say to Him: “Oh God - I need to experience you!” That is the Christian's ‘default position’, and nothing but a living encounter with God will take care of this! So, in practical terms, the last thing that you must do when depressed is to withdraw from God and fellowship. If anything, your longing must be intensely expressed by taking your grieved, wounded and lonely soul to God in worship and into fellowship with your brothers and sisters.
2. He questions God: When? (42: 2) and Why? (42: 5, 9, 11; 43:2, 5).
Why is the process of questioning essentially not a bad thing? Well, it shows that the Psalmist is in a relationship with God. God is his Father; God is his strong Abba (his ‘daddy’) – his refuge (43:2). So he is asking his heavenly Father, "Why am I being kept back from the place of worship? Why are my enemies taunting me? Why am I feeling so alone and isolated? Why have you forgotten me ?"
“Why?” , is a legitimate question for the child of God? God generally does not chastise a person in the Bible for asking “why”. Think of Abraham (Gen 17:17) who questioned God when told that he was going to have a son of the covenant at the age of 100! Think of Moses who did so much questioning of his divine calling (Ex 3:11 ff). Think of Mary who was told that she was going to be the human mother of God’s son , and questioned the angel of the Lord in this regard ( Lk. 1: 34 ). People are never rebuked by God simply for asking why – except when people are deliberately defiant or unbelieving (e.g. Zechariah – Lk. 1:20 ) .
Let me encourage you then by the use of this example, not to retreat intro passivity when you are depressed. Engage your Heavenly Father. Ask Him. Plead with Him. Talk to Him. "Ask, seek, knock and the door shall be opened to you … " (Matt 7:7-11)
3. He remembers the past: v.4 “these things I remember …” : He remembers the past. The Bible is full of past recollections of God’s triumphs (e.g. Psalm 44:1-5). What he remembers in particular are the times of corporate worship. We could say so much here about the importance of corporate worship in our lives. Don’t take these times together lightly ! What we do here gathered as God's people in worship on the Lord's day is significant, and very often our experiences in worship today preserve our faith in later times. It is important to draw upon one’s spiritual fat when the lean times come. How the Psalmist had previously feasted on God in corporate worship. And right now he is missing it. O how much more serious we should be about corporate worship. It is a sure means of grace.
4. He talks to himself - as he preaches the gospel to his own soul! (Vv 5, 11) : “Why are you so cast down oh my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? “ . He addresses himself. He is talking to himself. He is having arguments with Himself – arguments that are no doubt informed by his rich knowledge of God.
Listen to how Martyn Lloyd Jones put this: “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 are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s 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 depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”
As he talks to himself he reminds himself of the steadfast love of the Lord (v.8). When depressed you must never loose your grip on the great truths about God. Therefore learn to soak yourselves in the Word of God. Underline and memorize the promises of God. Let them speak to you when you lie awake and afraid during the watches of the night (Ps 63:6)
5. He sings and prays God’s Word (v.8): Make no mistake. This is not a joyful song. This is a deep , heartfelt pouring out of biblical truth in rhythmic , poetic , musical form . Music and poetry is a wonderful gift from God , making it easy to memorize truth. Paul and Silas, with lacerated backs and imprisoned in stocks were singing songs in the night (Acts 16:25). When we sing our songs in the night, they are nothing but an expression of prayer – the language of dependence upon God. When depressed, sing songs of faith and hope to yourself.
SUMMARY & CONCLUSION:
When you are in the slough of despondency , it helps to do these 5 things:
1.Cry out to God ( Pray!) that He might restore your fellowship with Him ;
1.Cry out to God ( Pray!) that He might restore your fellowship with Him ;
2. Do not be afraid to ask Him questions ;
3. Remember God’s goodness to you in the past ;
4. Talk to yourself – don’t let lies rule your thinking . Be transformed by the renewal of your mind;
5. Continue to pray and sing – even though you do not feel like it right now.
And the God of Grace will come to you at the right time – and never too late! Amen.