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The Happy Christian and Sad Christian: David Murray Conference

July 3, 2017 Leave a comment

In the last year I have come to appreciate David Murray, for his Reformed Christian perspective on Christian counseling, including his blog as well as his conference lectures on the topic of Christian emotions and counseling.   Last fall I listened to a Christian worldview conference which included one message from Murray; recently, my podcast feed brought another interesting series from him, the “2017 Heritage Conference” – a three part set done this May.  The set includes the introductory message on “Christian Emotion,” then “The Sad Christian” and “The Happy Christian.” Based on his books on these topics (which I have not read), these three messages contain a lot of good and helpful information.

While attending a work-place communication training class this past week, I recalled this series from David Murray; he provides a good reminder that we can learn some things from secular scientists and their studies – and expand on them to encompass a Christian worldview.  Murray mentioned the negativity bias that we all have (as a result of our sin nature), which was also referenced in the secular training class.  “The science of happiness” comes from recent secular studies which note the positive effects of happiness, and the connection between being happy and our overall health and success in life; we as Christians have greater reasons for joy/happiness, as well as more resources for overcoming sadness/depression.  The “happiness science” notes that 50% of happiness comes from our genetics; some people are naturally more happy, others more serious and sad.  Another 10% comes from our life circumstances.  The remaining 40% is our response to the events in our lives, the 40% that we have control over, our attitude toward life.

Among the highlights from these lectures:  the contrast between the creation, pre-fall perfect emotions, and our now disordered emotions.  We still have the same positive emotions, plus negative ones that were not experienced before the fall, yet in our fallen state, these emotions come up at the wrong time and place (happy at seeing something bad happen to someone else), or in excess/extremes: hedonism and stoicism.

A catchy formula:  “ES + IP = ER” – External Situation + our Internal Perception = Emotional Response

God gave us our emotions in the first place; God’s work in our lives includes His redeeming our emotions, to restore them:  adding to our positive emotions (love, joy, peace) – multiplying them, enhancing them, and using them; as Nehemiah found, the joy of the Lord is our strength.  God also uses our negative emotions to help us: to keep us safe in this dangerous, fallen world, to reveal our true heart values (we can measure our treasure by our feelings), and to highlight our sin and bring conviction of sin.

Christians get depressed, too — studies show that 20% of adults, at some point in their life, will experience depression.  Christians have more resources to deal with it, but also more reasons to become depressed (conviction of sin, and the notice of Satan).  Happiness, or joy, is not something that just happens without effort; as the US. “Declaration of Independence” even says, it is “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  A biblical definition of Christian happiness: A God-centered, God-given, God-glorifying sense of God’s love, that is produced by a right relationship in Christ, and is sustained by loving worship of God and loving service of others.

The discipline of happiness includes recognizing several contrasts (ten in his book, of which several are listed in the “Happy Christian” lesson), between one thing that is greater than the other; neither is to be ignored completely, but one should be more prominent in our thoughts.

  • Facts > feelings — reference Psalm 77
  • Good news > Bad news — reference Philippians 4:6-8
  • Done > Do
  • Christ > Christians
  • Future > Past
  • Encouragement and praise > criticism
  • Giving > Receiving
  • Diversity > Uniformity  (biblical diversity:  people from different backgrounds and cultures, being together as a community of believers)

 

 

Concluding Thoughts on Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression”

September 30, 2016 1 comment

A follow-up to this previous post, now that I have completed reading this classic work, with some observations.  As Dan Phillips noted, Charles Spurgeon from the previous century was also helpful and said many of the same things; MLJ’s contribution is the full work as a series on the issue, material compiled together in one place, ideas that with Spurgeon are found in various places while reading his sermons.

Lloyd Jones’ content is arranged in chronological progression of the believer’s walk and maturity, beginning with the basics of having correct doctrine, and Lloyd Jones here gives “the benefit of the doubt” by positively regarding such individuals as really being saved, just confused.  Some of the earlier chapters relate to stages from my early Christian years, things that I “figured out” over time, in the very way here described: study the Bible, work out for yourself what you believe, understand it.

The later chapters in particular are helpful for the mature believer, in dealing with trials, chastening/discipline, and general perseverance and keeping on as life continues.  Along the way are many excellent points about the importance of rational, active thinking as contrasted with mere sentiment and a passive approach to faith and the Christian life.  He notes the idea we tend to have, that faith somehow acts automatically, like setting a thermostat and faith will just automatically work when needed:

Faith, however, is not something that acts magically or automatically.  If it did, these men would never have been in trouble, faith would have come into operation and they would have been calm and quiet and all would have been well.  But faith is not like that and those are utter fallacies with respect to it.

He similarly addressed the idea of the “sentimental approach” to God’s word:

There is nothing that I so dislike and abominate as a sentimental way of reading the Scriptures. There are many people who read the Scriptures in a purely sentimental manner. They are in trouble and they do not know what to do. They say, ‘I will read a Psalm. It is so soothing—“the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”.’ They make of it a kind of incantation and take the Psalms as another person takes a drug. That is not the way to read the Scriptures. ‘The word of exhortation reasons with you’, argues with you. And we must follow the logic of it, and bring intelligence to the Scriptures. We can never bring too much intelligence to our reading of them, they are not meant merely to give general comfort and soothing—follow the argument; let them reason it out with you.

How we deal with life experiences always involves our reasoning out what we believe, and “talking/preaching to ourselves.”  As Lloyd Jones notes, this is what we have to work out individually – not Christ working through the “I” (self) as a passive vehicle:  The Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all things through Christ’.

I find Lloyd-Jones’ work also keeps the right perspective on the believing individual, in contrast with the present-day Reformed emphasis on the corporate worship service as the most important thing.  Certainly this idea (corporate emphasis) has come out as a reaction to our extremely individualistic evangelical society, the need to point out the importance of the Christian worship as a group, a church body.  But when one’s personal circumstances force one to have local fellowship in a less-than-ideal church, one that does not provide the depth in theological teaching and its application to the Christian life, the individual does need additional help which cannot be provided through the local assembly.  Martyn Lloyd Jones’ work on this topic is a great help in terms of actual life and how to deal with the many things that come against us, externally and internally, and how to work out our ‘own salvation with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12), the ongoing work of progressive sanctification.

A few more excerpts of special note, regarding Christian contentment:

Can I be abased without feeling a sense of grudge, or without being worried, or without being anxious? .. can I be abased in my profession or office or work, can I somehow or another be put down and still remain in spirit exactly as I was before! What a difficult thing this is, to take a second place, to be hurt, to be insulted, to see others suffering in the same way, to suffer physical need or pain—to know how to be abased, how to be hungry, how to suffer in some respect. One of the greatest tasks in life is to discover how to suffer any or all of those things without feeling a sense of grudge, without complaint or annoyance or bitterness of spirit, to discover how not to be worried or anxious. Paul tells us that he has learned how to do that. He had experienced every kind of trial and tribulation and yet he is unaffected by them.” – commentary on Philippians 4:10-14

and regarding our uncertain world and ‘International Politics.’  Here, MLJ’s reference point was the generation that experienced two world wars; ours is an age of even greater need, one in which the world situation is far less stable than then, a time when even the recent world power (the U.S.) has wicked leaders and is quickly experiencing the later stages of national destruction:

The business of Christian preaching is to put this to the people: In this uncertain world, where we have already experienced two world wars within a quarter of a century, and where we may have to face yet another and things that are even worse, here is the question—How are you going to face it all, how can you meet it all? For me to give my views on international politics will not help anybody; but thank God there is something I can do. I can tell you of something, I can tell you of a way which, if you but practice and follow it, will enable you, with the Apostle Paul to say: ‘I am strong, I am able for anything that may happen to me, whether it be peace or war, whether it be freedom or slavery, whether it be the kind of life we have known for so long or whether it be entirely different, I am ready for it.’  It does not mean, I must repeat, a passive, negative acquiescence in that which is wrong.  Not at all – but it does mean that whatever may come, you are ready for it.

 

Martyn Lloyd Jones’ “Spiritual Depression” Book and Series

August 16, 2016 2 comments

I have often heard Martyn Lloyd Jones recommended, though in my studies so far had not yet read anything from him.  Recently I revisited a link to the MP3 collection of his “Spiritual Depression” series.  As noted at the beginning of the first message, the audio quality is not that great, restored as best as possible from old recordings – and so I’m reading the Kindle book version instead.

Dan Phillips provided a helpful review of this work a few years ago, and the ‘chronological qualifier’ comment is spot on, in reference to Lloyd Jones for the 20th century and Spurgeon from the 19th century.  I too have found Spurgeon helpful in this area, one he was so well acquainted with.  The foreward included in the edition that Phillips reviewed, can also be read here (Banner of Truth article).

The introductory chapter, General Consideration, is quite helpful.  As MLJ pointed out (and no real surprise here), some of us have the personality-temperament (of introverts) that is naturally more pre-disposed to depression.  He observed that sometimes depression has a physical cause—and attributed the well-known case of Spurgeon’s frequent depression to his physical problem of gout.  A closer look at Spurgeon’s life, though (see this article), tells us that Spurgeon’s experiences with depression began several years before the gout.  It is generally recognized today that Spurgeon’s depression came from a combination of factors, not just the  gout.  Another cause of depression is the “reaction” that comes after an especially intense moment: the familiar story of Elijah victorious over the priests of Baal, and then downcast and running away to hide is a classic example of this.  (I can also relate to this situation at various times in my life.)

From the biblical material, as well as Lloyd Jones’ experience as a pastor, the problem of spiritual depression is fairly common.  Psalm 42 is a guide to the experience, and provides the key to the cure.  When feeling down, I often sing the familiar scripture words to a well-known praise song, “Why so downcast, oh my soul?  / Put your hope in God.”    Going beyond just a simple song tune, though, the real point here is that “we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us.”

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 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 a  moment.  I will speak to you.’

The following chapters (different sermons) consider many different types of people that experience spiritual depression, relating each to a passage of scripture.  For some, the problem is due to an incomplete knowledge of the doctrines of God, or imbalance in the doctrines, and along the way Lloyd Jones makes strong statements regarding the sufficiency of scripture and the Christian faith, such as the following samples:

The gospel is not something partial or piecemeal: it takes in the whole life, the whole of history, the whole world.  It tells us about the creation and the final judgment and everything in between.

and

It is doctrine first, it is the standard of teaching first, it is the message of the gospel first.  We are not concerned simply to attract people emotionally or in the realm of the will, we are concerned to ‘preach the Word’. …. Truth comes to the mind and to the understanding enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Then having seen the truth, the Christian loves it.  It moves his heart.  He sees what he was, he sees the life he was living, and he hates it.  If you see the truth about yourself as a slave of sin you will hate yourself.  Then as you see the glorious truth about the love of Christ you will want it, you will desire it.  So the heart is engaged.  Truly to see the truth means that you are moved by it and that you love it.  You cannot help it.

This work is well worth reading, for all Christians, as a great book about Christian living and appreciating the truth and greatness of the Christian life.