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Fighting Despondency with Faith

Note: The following is article #24 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here

Chapter 24 of Future Grace is entitled “Faith in Future Grace vs. Despondency.” Studies show that half of all people experience what doctors term clinical depression at some time in their lives.  For some it can be a lifelong struggle.  As a family physician I am well acquainted with these matters of the soul; the tissue boxes in my exam room get used nearly every day. 

There is much that can be profitably said about depression and faith, so in this short chapter Dr. Piper touches three main points: (1) The complexity of despondency  (2) Preaching the promises of God to yourself in despondency and (3) Christ’s response to despondency.

First, he discusses that despondency and depression is rarely a simple matter, but rather a complex intertwining of genetic/biochemical factors, conditioning/social factors, and spiritual factors.  But he correctly agrees with Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones that, “The ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief.”  Many things press against us, but they all ultimately try to undo our belief in God’s grace and goodness in our lives.  Ultimately we must see this as the central root in depression, and this is the root we must attack.

Next, Piper touches on a main theme in Jones’ book Spiritual Depression, that of realizing that re-orienting our thoughts with truth is a powerful weapon.  He quotes the book:

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us! 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 [the psalmist's] treament was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why are 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… Why art thou cast down?— what business have you to be disquieted?… And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who He is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do.  Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

Anyone, Christian or not, can utilize such “positive self-talk” with benefit.  But the child of God has more than mere wishful thinking at his disposal; he can call upon the promises of God with full confidence that what God has promised, that He will do.  Knowing what God has promised His children is a vital reason to closely study the Bible.  I have seen many who become disheartened because they are not aware of God’s promises, and others who become disheartened because they think God has promised them something which He has not.

The last area covered is an examination of how Jesus Himself dealt with despondency.  In Matthew 26 Jesus is contemplating His imminent death:

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

Notice that Jesus was facing a real, horrible situation.  On a human level he was emotionally in agony.  How did He choose to face this crushing weight?

  1. He chose some close friends to be with Him (Matthew 26:37)
  2. He opened His soul to them (Matthew 26:38)
  3. He asked for their partnership and their prayers (Matthew 26:39)
  4. He poured out his heart to His Father in prayer (Matthew 26:39)
  5. He rested His soul in the sovereign wisdom of God (Matthew 26:39)
  6. He fixed his eyes on the glorious future grace that awaited Him on the other side of the cross (see Hebrews 12:2)

When faced with despondency, we can do the same.  With the help of wise counsel we can search the various factors influencing our emotions, we can “tell ourselves the truth” with the promises of God, and we can emulate the steps of Jesus by actively involving good friends and our Father in our journey through the dark times.

O Disappointment Where Is Thy Sting?

 

 

 

I woke up this morning trying to be mindful of what I was thinking and feeling, and I felt it.  That little lump of disappointment floating in my chest. It’s almost like a balloon.  Sometimes it has just a little air in it— I’m disappointed because the alarm went off and I’m still tired, I’m disappointed because I haven’t had the self-discipline to stick to a diet.  Othertimes it blows up so big that it seems like it will blow out of my chest, and it threatens to take over my thoughts and my life.

We all carry it in our chest, disappointment.  A mixture of little things and big things.  We always will, as long as we live in a fallen world.  So, what do we do?  How do we live with disappointment?

Just the way we live with anything, by looking to Jesus.  For the child of God, the reality that Jesus chose me to be His child, and then He lived and died to make my salvation a reality, and now He rules sovereign over all the cosmos, and one day I will see Him and live in His presence, that reality floods my soul and swallows up every disappointment, from the mountains to the molehills, in a torrent of His joy.

Defeating Despair

What is despair?  Even for those who truly believe in God’s sovereignty and His love for His children despair can rear its ugly head and be a giant that imprisons us, as Bunyan put it in Pilgrim’s Progress.

In essence, I see despair as saying to ourselves “I don’t know what God is doing in my life, right now my life is not how I want it to be, and I can’t see how what He is doing now is ever going to work toward good in my life. I can’t see God’s plan.” 

So, how can we defeat this thought?  The key to defeating any lie of Satan is to see where it is a lie.  So, where’s the lie here?  The lie is in the implied assumption that we are supposed to be able to see God’s plan. 

Despair says “Something’s wrong because I can’t see God’s plan!”  Guess what— we’re not supposed to!  God never intended for us to always see His plan. If we could always see His plan then we would be “walking by sight,” when instead God calls us to “walk by faith.”  And what is walking by faith, than not knowing why God is doing what He is doing, not knowing what the future really holds? 

If we look back, oftentimes we couldn’t see God’s plan even when He was arranging good things for our lives, so why do we think that we are supposed to understand the reasons for the hardships?  If you are struggling with despair, it can be a tremendously freeing truth to know that you don’t have to search for the answer to the “why— did this happen?” or the “when— will it end?” or the “how— is God going to fix it?” — you just have to look in faith to the “Who— loves me with an everlasting love.”