Spiritual Depression Wednesday Writings

Spiritual Depression: Fear and Faith

Last week I introduced you to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s book Spiritual Depression and brought out the main points from his first chapter, “General Consideration.” This week we’re going to look at some immensely relevant ideas from Chapter 7, on fear, and Chapter 10, on faith. 

What Do You Fear?

Coming after a chapter on regrets from the past, Chapter 7 is titled “Fear of the Future” but can apply to any kind of fear. The key verse Lloyd-Jones discusses is II Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 

The young pastor of Ephesus, Timothy, was struggling with fear of the future, and for this reason Paul wrote to encourage him and help restore his faith. In the same way, many of us find ourselves in a spiritual depression because of our fear of the future. May Paul’s words encourage us today too. 

Lloyd-Jones points out two main causes of fear of the future: temperament (again) and fear of failure. As we saw last week, temperament plays an often-underestimated role in our Christian lives. Some of us are physically, chemically, and emotionally more prone to nervousness, anxiety, and fear than others. Not that this excuses our choices, but it is a part of the equation that we can’t ignore.

Lloyd-Jones then describes those of us who may be afraid of failure, afraid of disappointing our Heavenly Father or letting down the Christian cause. When we dwell in those “what if”s or “would I”s of the future, however, we render ourselves ineffective in the present. Not a healthy place to be, for ourselves or those around us.

The Cure

Lloyd-Jones begins with a general principle: we have to learn “where to draw the line between legitimate forethought and paralyzing forethought” (98). While it’s wise and biblical to think about the future, it’s foolish and unbiblical to worry about and be controlled by the future. We can find many Scriptural equivalents to the common phrase, “Don’t cross that bridge until you get to it.”

Then, writes Lloyd-Jones, we have to follow Paul’s example and both reprimand and remind ourselves. Remind ourselves of what? That we have the Holy Spirit. 

The principle, the doctrine here, is that our essential trouble, if we suffer from this particular manifestation of spiritual depression, is our failure to realize what God has given us, and is giving us, in giving us the gift of the Holy Ghost.

p. 99

The Holy Spirit gives us a new way of thinking and introduces one of the most powerful words of all language into our minds: but. As Paul writes, God has not given us the spirit of fear, BUT. This is what’s going on in my life, BUT–I have the Holy Spirit. I am weak, BUT–God is powerful. 

The verse continues to tell us that we–all believers–have the Holy Spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind. Lloyd-Jones reminds us that fear is ultimately rooted in and focused on self, and the best antidote for this kind of depression is love: love for God, love for Christ, and love for others. This “sound mind” will also chase away fear with “the Spirit of control, the Spirit of discipline, the Spirit of judgment” (104). 

Instead of allowing the future and thoughts of it to grip you, talk to yourself, remind yourself of who you are and what you are, and of what Spirit is within you; and . . . you will be able to go steadily forward, fearing nothing.

p. 105

Where Is Your Faith? 

The passage Lloyd-Jones draws from in Chapter 10 is Luke 8:22-25, when Jesus falls asleep in the boat on the Sea of Galilee and a terrible storm arises. 

And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. But He said to them, “Where is your faith?”

vv 24-25

Lloyd-Jones writes that many Christians find themselves in a spiritual depression because, even though they believed on Jesus and His salvation, they don’t fully understand the nature of faith. While there is the faith exercised in the act of salvation, there is also the faith practiced in the walk of salvation. We need to understand both if we’re to live the abundant life God designed for us.

How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ lack of faith in the boat? He rebukes them, not for their natural alarm, not for their human fear, but for their lack of control in the face of their circumstances. 

The Christian is never meant to be carried away by his feelings, whatever they are–never.

p 138

The lesson for us is that we Christians should never lose control of ourselves. Why? Because this state implies a lack of faith in God. As the author writes, unbelievers ought to be able to look at us and see that we have something they don’t, that we’re different from the rest of the world. If we’re freaking out and losing our mind and making ourselves sick with worry, we’re communicating that knowing God makes no difference in our lives. 

[A]nything that comes across our path and puts us in difficulty, at once shows whether we believe in Him and trust in Him, by our response and reaction to it.

p. 139

After looking at this key passage, Lloyd-Jones dedicates the rest of the chapter to three main points: the trial of faith, the nature of faith, and the value of faith.

The Trial of Faith

The theme of faith on trial fills all of Scripture, Old Testament and New Testament. “God gives the gift of faith and then the faith is tried” (p 139). From Genesis to Revelation, through both example and exhortation, God makes it clear that His people do and will experience physical, external hardship so that their spiritual, internal life and faith can be purified.

As Lloyd-Jones points out, the true trial of faith for us is not when bad things happen but when God seems unconcerned, just like Jesus sleeping in the prow while the storm threatened to capsize the disciples’ boat.

This feeling of being abandoned or ignored hurts, but as we’re about to see, it’s just a feeling–a poisonous one at that–with a powerful antidote drawn from the little mustard seed.

The Nature of Faith

Lloyd-Jones begins with what faith is NOT. First, faith is not a feeling. Feelings come and go, dependent on our circumstances. If faith were tied to those feelings, when things in our life go wrong, there would go our faith.

Second, faith is not automatic. It’s not something that acts on its own, like a thermostat that, when the environment fluctuates, automatically kicks in to regulate the temperature. Faith is not a hands-off, self-running machine inside our hearts.

Then what is faith?

It’s an activity. It’s an exercise, a hands-on operation, something we do. Lloyd-Jones tells us we have to apply our faith to our situations. How do we apply our faith? First, we refuse to be controlled by the situation. (Lloyd-Jones describes faith as “a refusal to panic” and quotes another writer who calls it “unbelief kept quiet” [143]). Second, we remind ourselves of what we believe and what we know. Third, we bring this knowledge to our present situation.

You have to focus your faith on to events and say: “All right, but I know this about God, and because that is true I am going to apply it to this situation. This [situation], therefore, cannot be what I think it is, it must have some other explanation.” And you end by seeing that it is God’s gracious purpose for you, and having applied your faith, you then hold on.

pp 145-46

For this reason we see that faith is a matter of the whole person: mind, intellect, and understanding. Faith is, in its simplest form, a response to truth. And as Lloyd-Jones writes in an earlier chapter, the way we receive truth is through our mind (not our feelings).

I also love how he describes faith here:

That is the way faith reasons. It says: “All right, I see the waves and the billows but”–it always puts up this “but”. That is faith, it holds on to truth and reasons from what it knows to be fact. That is the way to apply faith.

p 144

We saw in Chapter 7 how the Holy Spirit gives us a new way of thinking, a “but _____” to throw up against the assaults of life. Turns out this “but ______” defense is faith in action!

The Value of Faith

Lloyd-Jones concludes the chapter by pointing out the good thing in the disciples’ panicked response during the storm: they still came to Jesus. Even if they failed to apply their faith to their situation, they still knew where to go: to the loving, sovereign wisdom of the Creator.

That is very poor faith you may say, very weak faith, but it is faith, thank God. And even faith ‘like a grain of mustard seed’ is valuable because it takes us to Him.

And just as He did with the disciples, when we come to Him, even with our little faith, He won’t turn us away. He’ll always receive us, He promises. Yes, He’ll rebuke us, but He’ll also bless us and give us peace, because He’s good like that.

Are you living in fear or in faith? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit of power, love, and discernment (and “but”)? How can you apply your faith to your chronic illness?

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