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Spiritual Depression Wednesday Writings

Spiritual Depression: An Introduction

I’m so excited to begin a new series this week! Have you ever heard of the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones? A friend recommended it to me last year, so I bought a copy and read my way slowly through it, marking the pages and taking additional notes.

Oh man. The first chapter alone had me in tears with the many ways it spoke to me, encouraged me, and challenged me in the physical, emotional, and spiritual difficulties I’ve experienced in the valley of chronic illness.

The entire book blessed me so much–in themes of general Christian living and in themes specifically applicable to the challenges of chronic illness–and I can’t wait to share some of these blessings with you.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at a handful of chapters from this book, the ones that speak most directly to the spiritual and emotional issues of living with a chronic illness. Each post will summarize the main points of a chapter or two, draw practical application to us in our valleys, and (hopefully) generate helpful discussion.

In case you haven’t heard of this book, let me introduce it to you with a brief review:

In his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, late minister D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones addresses the heaviness of soul that Christians can experience, what causes this heaviness, and ways to overcome it. Originally published in 1965 as a collection of sermons, this 300-page book remains a valuable exposition of biblically-minded living applicable to all Christians today. Each chapter begins with a passage of Scripture that mentions, implies, or illustrates a type of spiritual depression (fear, lack of faith, false teaching, regret, etc.), delves into a thorough discussion of the depression’s causes and reasons, and concludes with several “cures” or solutions. 

More than anything I found this book refreshing–refreshing in its recognition of the many realities we face as both believers and humans, in its reliance on the authority of the Word of God, and in its equal balance of spiritual and practical discussion and application. (The first chapter alone made me feel as if I were sitting down and having a discussion with a friend I didn’t know I needed.)

I tend to be generous with my ratings, but I think this book fully deserves five stars: it’s well-written and well-organized, Scripturally sound, and immensely practical to a wide range of readers. I’m grateful to have it on my shelf and look forward to returning to it regularly.

I highly recommend you buy this book for yourself if you don’t have it already. You can find it on Thriftbooks.com, Bookshop.org, or Amazon (1998 edition).

This week we begin with Chapter 1, “General Consideration.”

What is spiritual depression?

To illustrate spiritual depression, Lloyd-Jones looks at the first half of parallel verses 5 and 11 from Psalm 42:

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?

He then defines spiritual depression as “this unhappiness, this disquiet, this lack of ease, this tension, this troubled state which is described so perfectly by the Psalmist in this particular Psalm” (11); “unhappiness in the life of the Christian” (121); and the heaviness we feel when we’re grieved, troubled, or made unhappy by suffering (220).

What he describes is NOT medical depression, though, as we’ll discuss later, there can be physical components to this condition of the heart.

In short, spiritual depression is the state of a Christian whose soul is cast down and disquieted.

The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, but who can bear a broken spirit?

Proverbs 18:14

Are you feeling unhappy, cast down, or disquieted? What troubles are weighing on you right now? Are you willing to take steps to combat this condition?

What causes spiritual depression?

Lloyd-Jones gives five general causes of spiritual depression:

1. Temperament

For the fact of the matter is that though we are all Christians together, we are all different, and the problems and the difficulties, the perplexities and the trials that we are likely to meet are in a large measure determined by the difference of temperament and of type.

pg 15

What he calls temperament or constitution we would call personality. He discusses how and why there are different personalities among people (Christians are people too, amen?), focusing especially on the distinction between introverts (more prone to spiritual depression) and extroverts.

Here are a few additional takeaways from this point:

  • Temperament doesn’t factor into the salvation experience but DOES factor enormously into the sanctification process/Christian living.
  • Christians are not the same and aren’t meant to be!
  • It’s biblical wisdom to know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses in order to more effectively fight your battles and live for God.

Do you know your personality, your emotional tendencies, your built-in weaknesses? If not, consider using a tool like the 16Personalities (Meyers Briggs) test or the Enneagram test to learn more about your inner workings.

2. Physical conditions

In other words, there are certain physical ailments which tend to promote depression. . . . Into this group, speaking generally, you can put tiredness, overstrain [stress], illness, any form of illness.

pg 17, 19

Does this relieve you the way it relieved me? Lloyd-Jones points out the example of C. H. Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers of all time who suffered from gout and severe bouts of spiritual depression. We are body, mind, and spirit, the author writes, and we can’t separate the spiritual from the physical.

But we must be careful on all sides in drawing this distinction: because if you give way to your physical condition you become guilty in a spiritual sense. If you recognize, however, that the physical may be partly responsible for your spiritual condition and make allowances for that, you will be better able to deal with the spiritual.

pg 19

Do you recognize the role of your physical condition in your spiritual and emotional condition? While we can’t blame everything on our health, it’s essential to recognize how the state of our body affects the state of our soul. What small steps can you take to try to eliminate some of your physical, emotional, or environmental challenges?

3. Reaction after a great blessing

Lloyd-Jones points to the familiar example of Elijah’s discouragement after the miracle on Mount Carmel (I Kings 19) as well as Abraham’s doubts after his successful battle against the Canaanite kings (Genesis 15). It’s a natural cycle of life to find ourselves in a deep valley after a mountaintop experience, and Lloyd-Jones challenges us to stay on guard after an experience or season of great blessing.

Are you coming down from one of those “mountaintop experiences”? While God gifts us with these experiences, it’s important to recognize that the rest of life–the majority of life–isn’t as easy. How can you adjust your perspective as you return to the trenches of Christian life?

4. Satan

The devil’s one object is so to depress God’s people that he can go to the man of the world and say: There are God’s people. Do you want to be like that?

pg 19

I Peter 5:8 tells us we have an adversary who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” This enemy can–and does–use our personality, our physical condition, and natural seasons of life to discourage us and pull us away from God. While we’re supposed to be shining the light of Jesus to a dark world, Satan will do everything he can to keep that light to a dull, invisible flicker.

Have you accepted the reality of our great spiritual adversary? While Jesus has already defeated this foe, he remains a powerful presence in the world and our lives. How can you use Scripture, prayer, Christian community, and other resources to guard against his attacks?

5. Unbelief

[T]he ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief. For if it were not for unbelief even the devil could do nothing.

pg 20

This is why, Lloyd-Jones writes, the psalmist repeats to himself in Psalm 42, “Hope in God.” We forget God, and when we forget God our faith, our belief in God, our relationship with Him are not what they should be. We need to continually remind our frail, finite, human selves who God is, what He’s promised, and what He can and will do.

Have you forgotten who God is? Do you need to remind yourself of His person, His power, His promises, His presence with you at all times? What verses can you use to keep His reality in front of you?

What cures spiritual depression?

As a general remedy for condition of spiritual depression, Lloyd-Jones looks to the second half of verses 5 and 11 of Psalm 42.

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
(vs 5)

Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
(vs 11)

Now [the psalmist]’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”.

pg 21

The psalmist illustrates the best general remedy for spiritual depression: taking yourself in hand, refusing to listen to yourself, and instead speaking God’s truth to yourself.

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?

pg 20

With the help of God’s Holy Spirit inside us (His self right beside our self) and the conquering truth of His Word, we have to remind ourselves of the beautiful, powerful, sovereign reality of God, who He is, what He’s done, and what He promises to do. Lloyd-Jones calls it preaching to ourselves.

Or, in equation form:

me + God > self

I love how the author finishes the chapter:

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, who is also the health of my countenance and my God”.

pg 21

Are you listening to yourself or the devil more than you’re listening to and reminding yourself of God’s promises? What do you need to preach to yourself? In what ways can you praise God for His help to you?

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