Monday, November 9, 2009

“THE CHRISTIAN AND DEPRESSION” #6


TEXT:    Psalm  31
TITLE:   “ Dealing with the Feeling “
DATE PREACHED :     08/11 /2009  

Here is another   problem   which frequently contributes to Christian depression:  A lack of understanding the proper place of the feelings   in the life of the Christian.
To help us to understand the nature and the pitfalls of this problem we turn to Psalm 31. The Psalms  in general  are a mixture  of  thrilling , joyful , God centered  affirmations of faith  and truth on the one hand  , and  on the other  hand they  often reflect    extreme  despair and depression .   Both of these   aspects happen to be found in this 31st Psalm.  Follow me now  in reading the Psalm , and see  whether you can identify   these elements  , before we  consider,  by way of application what  David’s  solution  to his  emotional turmoil   might be.  

This Psalm is an emotional outpouring of David’s soul to God in prayer (31:2, 17, 22).  This is a great example of real prayer. The Psalmist begins with God (v.1) and ends with God (v.24). There is much that we can learn from that in terms of dealing with our emotions before God!

Background to this Psalm
There   appears to be   a group of enemies who have conspired together to kill David. They have instigated a widespread campaign of slander and lies. As a result, his  name has become a reproach, even among his  neighbors and former friends.(v.11)  When they see  him  coming, they turn and  avoid him . Perhaps they fear being identified with him. Perhaps because they think that he is on his way out.  Perhaps they don’t want to be implicated with David by association.
Not only that, but in addition he realizes that many of his troubles stem from his own sin. (v.10) .  So,  in addition to everything else, he is wrestling with guilt.
We note that  this  experience has taken its toll on his health (v.10).   His bones are wasting  away. Wherever he looks, it seems that terror is staring him in his face.
As a result of these problems, he is struggling with depression.

We can’t be sure   what the exact situation behind this Psalm is.   Some  commentators think  that because  David mentions being  in  “a besieged city”  (v. 21),  that this  might refer to the  time  in  1 Sam. 23:7-14  when the  people  of the city of  Keilah conspired to hand David over to Saul, who was trying to kill him.  Others,  like Charles Haddon Spurgeon  think  that  David’s reference to his own sin  in v. 10   points to the fact  that this Psalm  was written in connection with Absalom’s rebellion  in  2 Sam 15 ( which is as a result of a prophecy  spoken by Nathan  in 2 Samuel 12  after  Saul’s  adultery with Bathsheba  ) .
Whatever the  case may be , the Psalm  is here  for  every  Christian to  meditate upon  , to identify  with , and   to  find an answer   for our  own particular  set of  emotional  challenges  that may threaten to  overwhelm us  .

The Psalm in greater detail:  
He begins with the affirmation “I take refuge in you.”  This thought is expressed repeatedly.  In the midst of  his   emotional  turmoil , David declares  God to be  his  refuge (  vv 1, 2,4) ; his strong   fortress ( vv  2,3); his rock  ( vv2,3) .
Incidentally, the Greater Son of David, the Lord Jesus, in His hour of greatest need, in His hour of abandonment upon the cross, as He bore our sin on the cross, uses the very words of verse 5:  “Into your hand I commit my spirit.”  In the hour of abandonment the Son of God does not abandon Himself to fate and uncertainty. He abandons His spirit into the hands of the Father!
That is where the faith of the believer is anchored!   You are not in the hands of your enemy or your emotional trauma. Child of God – you are in the hand of God the Father!

So ,  in  the midst of this emotional turbulence  , David strongly expresses  his  faith in the fact  that he  believes that God has  seen his affliction ; that God knows the distress of his soul  (  v. 7b)  which is caused  by his enemies  ( vv. 8,11,15) . He is not denying that all this causes him great emotional turmoil.
Please note again the effects which this   distressing time has on his physical, emotional and spiritual condition   :
  • V. 7  “ You have seen  my affliction ; you have known the  distress of my soul
  • Vv.9 -10I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also.  For my life is spent with sorrow, and my  years with sighing ; my strength fails because of my iniquity , and  my bones waste away. “
  • V. 12  “ I have  become like a broken vessel

But, it is the thought expressed in vv 21b and 22a that helps us to see   that   David was almost overcome by his emotions: “When I was in a besieged city… I had said in my alarm, I am cut off from your sight…”
We know of course that he says this with hindsight (see vv.21a and 22b to get the perspective), for God has brought him through this time of emotional turmoil.

Verses 23 &24    are a call to believers to take this Psalm and to learn from it. He calls all emotionally battered believers to   “… Love the Lord, all you saints! The Lord preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride. Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. “   He closes this Psalm on the same note with which he began in verse 1.
Understanding the nature and place of the human emotions through Psalm 31
 What do we learn from this Psalm in terms of “dealing with our feeling “?

1.      We begin with the facts: We do have feelings!  We are people created by God with emotions.  David profoundly portrays his emotions in this Psalm. The emotions are therefore an important component of our humanity.  Emotions  and feelings in themselves are not sinful  , and we will never be helped  to cope  with our emotions  and feelings if we  keep suppressing them or ignoring them . God does not resent us sharing our depth of despair with Him.  And the emotion of Christian joy is meant to be an essential part of our Christian emotional experience. You cannot read through your New Testament without seeing that joy is an essential part of your Christian experience. And when the gospel  comes to us , it  engages  us  holistically - all of us – mind , will  and  emotions . So, dear Christian friend, thank God for those emotions and use them for the glory of God – as they were designed to be. 
      Having said that …
2.      We remember   that the fall (Gen 3) has affected us in all spheres of life, including the realm of our emotions and feelings.  The fall has distorted our capacity to live holistically under God’s rule. David was a fallen man, living in a fallen world. Not only did he have to cope with his own sinful nature (v.10)  – which  would cause  some of  his  emotional highs & lows   ;   he also  had to cope with  what was  being done to him  by his enemies( vv 6,11,18 ). Remember,  that apart from God at the centre,  we are  confused  about  who we are ,  and  we are confused about our purpose in  life .   Without God at the center the balance and the   relationship between minds, will and emotion   is lacking and confused.  Frequently therefore, people will interpret life through their emotional   framework.  The opposite extreme to this is people who completely squash the emotions and insist that only the mind   can be a reliable guide.  But they forget that their mind is also affected by the fall.  Both extremes are bound to lead you into emotional trouble.  Therefore we need a biblical framework to cope with our entire being.
3.       The solution:  Bring the mind, will and the emotions under God and his Word. We are specifically interested in the aspect of the feelings.  In this regard    we must  remember that our emotions / feelings are  impacted   and influenced  by our  life situation ( where we have come from) , our  personality  or temperament ( introvert or extrovert  ) , our thoughts ( true and false )  and of course by our bodies ( sick  /  tired or healthy  and fit )  .  Nobody comes from, and nobody lives in ideal circumstances.  Life in a fallen world throws us many “curve-balls“.  We must be prepared for them .  We must be realistic about these things  .  Remember that feelings, while they are real, must not control us. Our feelings are powerful stimuli to our thought life and consequently to our actions. They will easily control us.  David felt   as if he was a in a besieged city, and he felt cut off from God (21b, 22a).  But it was not so!  God was in control, and David gives testimony to the fact that he had been delivered in response to his prayer. The steadfast (covenantal) love    of God did it!  David’s feeling was wrong. He wasn’t cut off!   Think  about your own experiences in this regard .  How many times did you not feel something strongly, and afterwards you find that you were wrong? Do not   let your emotions rule you. They are not meant to rule you. What then  must rule you? The truth contained in the Word of God   as you apprehend it with your mind   must rule you. The truth as it is in Jesus is God’s supreme gift to man. So you must never ask in the first place: How do I feel about this?  The first question is this: What does God have to say about this ? What does the truth of God’s Word have to say about this?  So ,  settle your disturbed soul first by settling the truth in your soul.  That is precisely what David does.   That may not necessarily produce an immediate feeling of peace  or sense of joy. But be assured, that joy will come eventually as you make the right choices. Joy is a by-product of making right choices. 

CONCLUSION
So , when your feelings and emotions are  threatening to get  hold of you  , speak to yourself  and say to yourself : “Who is in charge here ? “  And you tell yourself : “ God is in charge here !
David did that . He was in emotional distress , but  his  prayer expressed in  Psalm 31   teaches us that he does not get lost in his  emotions  and feelings that come   as a result  of  these  terrible trials .
Yes , David  does give free ventilation to his emotions . But  he  does so in the face of the God  of truth  , and  by reminding himself of  the truth . And so  David places  his confidence  in the truthful  God who hears Him – and  who eventually answers him . 

We have seen that this Psalm  begins and ends with the thought of  God .
And from our New Testament perspective  with Christ as the fulfillment  of the Old Testament   we know that  the peace  of God  comes  only  when we have Christ  between us and God . He is our Mediator . He is our peace  , our joy  and our happiness  , our life , our everything . 
He  went  to the cross to bear  your sin and guilt  and shame . He came to  meet  all  your  needs  : physical , emotional  and spiritual .   He is the Way,  the Truth , the Life .  Look to Him  and not primarily to your feelings. 

And now , let us demonstrate  our faith in the finished word of Christ as we draw  near to the Communion table  , as we remember that  Christ  died  for me , the whole of me . Draw near then in full assurance of faith .  Amen .


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