By Contributing Writer, Jeannette Paulson
Let me introduce you to an old friend. I first met Martyn Lloyd-Jones nearly 35 years ago in his book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure. When I feel depressed, I often pull it off my bookshelf. Intensely clear and deep, it never fails to refresh me, and I come away with the blush of romance for who God is and what I am in Him. If I could own only ten books (awful thought, that), this would be one of them.
Of the depressed Christian, Lloyd-Jones says, “He looks as if he is carrying the whole universe…on his back. He is borne down, sad, troubled, perplexed.” This–when God wants us to have fullness of joy. Lloyd-Jones wrote the book to move us from depression to that joy.
What’s at Stake?
The Glory of God is at stake. What kind of picture are we giving to the world if we go about in a depressed state? We make Christ unattractive — to the world, but also to our children. Our God is happy, and he wants us to have a “fundamental joy and certainty in spite of … adversity.”
Causes of Spiritual Depression
Lloyd-Jones says that one of the causes of depression is our temperament. It is important for us to know ourselves. Some people are extroverts; some are introverts. Many great Christians have been introverts, but the temptation of introverts is to go beyond healthy self-examination to making it “the chief end of their life.”
Another cause of spiritual depression can be physical. Do not discount that. We must take care of our bodies.
Then there is the devil. You probably believe in a real devil, but have you felt him breathe down your neck and heard his whispers in your ear? Wishing to discourage us, he will attempt one thing after another. He is prowling around like a roaring lion, and it is YOU he wishes to devour.
The Cure: Talk to Yourself?
Precisely. Lloyd-Jones takes his cue from the writer of Psalm 42:5: “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.”
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?…You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’– instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.
While rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah refused to be distracted. In response to scorn, lies, intimidation, and threats, Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.” Trowel in hand, he kept a sword at his side.
You also are doing a great work. But Sanballat is inside of you; the enemy is within. Learn from Lloyd-Jones to recognize the whispers of the evil one, so that you can refute them with truth and carry on joyfully with the work.
Weapons for the Warfare
Be sure you are not attempting to live the Christian life without having understood the way of salvation. Do not attempt to be sanctified without having been justified? It is like trying to walk without legs. The new birth is essential.
How can we be right with God? Lloyd-Jones says we will never have joy until we have been made miserable by our conviction of sin. We are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength; to make him the center of our life, our greatest treasure and joy.
When we feel the weight of how miserably we fall short of giving God all the Glory, we are ready to hear the good news of Christ’s work. Christ took our sins upon himself and suffered the punishment we deserve. In Him, says Lloyd-Jones, we can be freed from our past and say goodbye to it forever. In Him, we are purified, justified, made alive, and equipped by the Spirit to pursue holiness and happiness. Daily we must be the prodigal turning back to the Father’s house to the welcome and the celebration.
In the last part of the book Lloyd-Jones deals with some specific causes of depression and tells us how to talk to ourselves.
- Fear of the Future. Some of us are anxious by nature. I am. Yet I must remember who I am in Christ. God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power [to obey all he calls me to], and love [to move from self-centeredness to pouring myself out for a glorious cause] and a sound mind [wisdom for every situation].
- Regrets of the Past. Why am I wasting today fretting about that which I can do nothing about? This is to cause failure in the present. ”Is that Christianity?” Lloyd-Jones identifies such a person as “morbidly…preoccupied with self.” Make up for it now instead. Paul acknowledges that he was not worthy to be an apostle but says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” In Christ, I am forgiven; made new. Now I should labor hard, knowing that my labor in the Lord will be richly blessed.
- Trials. It is a superficial view of Christianity that we should have no trials. Peter describes the Christian life as one of greatly rejoicing and yet of heaviness. There are things that deeply grieve us– we are touched by death and illness and loss — yet we rejoice. This is just one of the paradoxes of the Christian life. The world hated Christ and it will hate his followers. Plus God sends trials to try us. When God has a great task for a believer, he first tries him. Consider Joseph in Egypt. Faith is perfected this way. Remind yourself of these truths, and do not be surprised by trials or taken off guard.
Lloyd-Jones also deals with weariness in well-doing, looking at the waves (rather than the master), chastening, feelings, learning to be content, and more excellent topics. Get your own copy if you are curious.
Talk to yourself. Remind yourself of God’s gracious work in Jesus on the cross, his promises, his daily provision of grace, his forgiveness and his delight in his children.
Talk to yourself and be glad.