Take from the NICHE Newsletter May-June 2006
Used with permission.
Spiritual Depression, Rest, and ASSISTANCE Buttons
by Mike Evans
I have no degree in psychology but the study of the human soul is intrinsic to the work of any true gospel minister.
Forget that, it’s intrinsic to the work of anyone who desires truly to know another person.
Secular psychology is gorged with silly ideas about what makes people tick and tock, weeble and wobble, and even fall down into troubled emotional mud pits.
But the Bible is, among other things, a journal of human psychology from God’s point of view.
If you struggle with depression you bear a difficult burden to be sure, but if you diminish the sufficiency of God’s Word to help in even the most difficult situations of life you are your own biggest beast of burden.
Everyone gets down once in a while, some more than others.
Even the great Reformation leader Martin Luther once spent three days in a black depression over something that had gone wrong.
On the third day his wife came downstairs dressed in mourning clothes. “Who’s dead?” he asked her. “God,” she replied.
Luther rebuked her, saying, “What do you mean, God is dead? God cannot die.”
“Well,” she replied, “the way you’ve been acting I was sure He had!” (adapted from Ray Stedman, The Incredible Hope)
How easy it is for all of us at times to fall into a similar self-made trap.
Since every human soul is created uniquely by God each soul responds a little (or a lot) differently than another…to the exact same stimuli.
One may hear but a word of discouragement directed toward them and he/she emotionally shrinks into a shell for a week, while another may hear the same thing and be grateful for it, take it to heart and move on with no lasting sting pulsating through the soul.
One of my favorite dead theologians, and most of my best theologian friends are dead, is Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He died in 1981 as a spiritual giant and one of the greatest preachers England has ever produced, in my opinion..
Prior to his conversion to Christ Lloyd-Jones was an outstanding young physician with a very bright future in the medical world.
But, rather than pursue a promising medical career, and much to the dismay of some other world class physicians, he responded to the calling of God on his life and left physical medicine for spiritual medicine.
To sit down and read his published sermons is like a protein shake to the soul, like basking in the glory of profound truth (seven volumes just on Ephesians!).
In September, 1964 (the month and year I was born) Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons at Westminster Chapel in London on the subject of Spiritual Depression.
He writes in the forward to his book Spiritual Depression, It’s Causes and Cures, that “…the greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church…Unhappy Christians are to say the least, a poor recommendation for the Christian faith; and there can be little doubt but that the exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity.”
In the introduction he writes about the cure for spiritual depression. He says, “…we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us! Do you realize what this means?”
“I suggest that 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….Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening (emphasis mine) 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 problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you….” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression, p. 21).
Lloyd-Jones then goes on to speak of how, like the Psalmist in Chapter 42, so also we need to speak to ourselves and ask our soul rhetorical questions, and then tell our souls what to do!
Psalm 42:5 says, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Brothers, we need to be constantly reminding ourselves…no, more than this, commanding ourselves to hope in God.
This is far more than secular self-help positive thinking dressed in religious language. This is some of the best counsel that the Bible gives us for these kinds of problems.
Many of our problems in this regard surely come from the relentless onslaught of the daily demands that never cease.
But some can be alleviated simply by taking more time for rest and breathing more air.
C.H. Spurgeon, another of the truly great dead guys, once said to his pastors in training, “Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body. Our Sabbaths are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day we shall break down”
Further, he said, “A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.”
When I first came to this church plant in Earlham in 1995 there was a wonderful and feisty old lady in the church named Roberta. She died at some point in the following two years, but I will never forget her.
One of the things she always asked me when I visited her was this: Are you getting healthy doses of fresh air into your lungs? Then, she would insist that we both go outside and take some deep breaths into our lungs, both demonstrating how and checking to make sure that I was doing it properly. Sufficient rest and good doses of fresh air. Are you getting both?
On Sunday, May fourth, my family enjoyed a great lunch at the Cheesecake Factory in the still new Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines…thanks to a gift card we received.
After splitting both meals and cheesecake we all waddled, like a gaggle of bloated geese, out to the fake lake just south of the mall for a little much needed exercise.
As we strolled around the (surprisingly scenic and tranquil) lake I discovered the missing link, the golden beans, the slam-dunk solution to those moms who just get fed up with it all once in a while and want to throw in the towel of home-education.
As we walked around the shallow fake lake I noticed that about every 400 feet there was a pole with a big sign overhead that read ASSISTANCE.
There was also a life saving ring buoy at each pole in case someone under six inches fell into the pond and couldn’t stand on his/her own legs.
I’m not sure why, but the sight of all these stations struck me as very humorous.
For ASSISTANCE all one has to do is hit the button on the pole and help is immediately on the way.
As I continued to walk along this peaceful path with a daughter’s hand in mine on either side of me, my wife Karla, without warning, burst up to one of the poles and pounded on the ASSISTANCE button.
I stood there with my mouth agape. What is wrong with you I thought to myself? When two security guards arrived two minutes later she pleaded for help….with the dishes, the laundry, the schooling, the disciplining, the housecleaning, time management, for a husband who listens better, who completes the projects she wants done, and a few other things.
The security guards weren’t amused, and it wasn’t because they didn’t help much with the housework either. But then Karla wasn’t amused either.
Actually, Karla didn’t really hit the button, nor did she say any of these things but I have inside information that leads me to believe that she has thought of each one.
Wouldn’t this be a cool gadget to have in every home? Just as you are in the final countdown approaching melt down you run to the nearest ASSISTANCE pole, hit the button, and all your troubles are wiped away!
Well, it’s not going to happen like this. But the good news is that even through the toughest of times God promises never to leave us and never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Help doesn’t come any better than this!
So, the next time melt down looks imminent, pack up your wife, maybe the whole family, take them to the mall, snag some cheesecake, stroll around the shallow fake lake, laugh at the silly poles, then go back home and put your hope in God once again.
Mike Evans is pastor of Crossroad Evangelical Free Church in Earlham, Iowa. He and his wife Karla homeschool their five children.