Spiritual Depression Wednesday Writings

Spiritual Depression: Feelings

After looking at fear and faith from Lloyd-Jones’ book Spiritual Depression, this week we’re going to look at Chapter 8: Feelings. 

The key verse for this chapter is II Timothy 1:6–“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands”–which Lloyd-Jones ties into the theme of feelings later on. 

He begins the chapter by asserting how important feelings are in our life and suggesting that one of the results of salvation is the proper ordering of mind, will, and feelings in us. Like with temperament, he goes on to write, some people/believers are also more prone to feelings and therefore spiritual depression than others. Timothy, he believes, had one of these more sensitive and emotional natures.  

I suppose that one of the greatest problems in our life in this world, not only for Christians, but for all people, is the right handling of our feelings and emotions.

p 109

(Boy, can you agree, nowadays more than ever?)

Looking at Feelings

Before he digs into specifics, Lloyd-Jones lays out some general statements about feelings and where they belong in Christian living:

1. Feelings must be engaged. 

God created feelings. Like Him, we are emotional beings. So to ignore, avoid, or suppress our feelings is wrong. 

Feelings are meant to be engaged, and when the gospel comes to us it does involve the whole man. It moves his mind as he sees its glorious truths, it moves his heart [emotions] in the same way, and it moves his will.

p 110-11

2. Feelings cannot be created or commanded at will. 

Have you ever tried to make yourself cry? Worked to conjure up an emotional response (positive or negative) that you just weren’t feeling? Wanted to feel a certain way but couldn’t? 

Then you know as well as I do the valuable truth that Lloyd-Jones points out: our feelings are not under our command. They spring from the well of our being, certainly, but with a mysterious freedom from our will. 

[Man] cannot generate or produce feelings, he cannot bring them into being, and to attempt to do so directly is always to exacerbate the trouble.

p 111

3. Feelings are the most variable part of us. 

Our feelings stem from so many factors, respond to so many influences, many of which we never understand. How we feel varies from day to day, hour to hour, and sometimes moment to moment. 

Like our temperament, our individual personalities, our feelings are a gift from God but corrupted by the Fall, leaving us with the need to keep them in their place and control them rather than letting them control us. 

4. Feelings do not determine spirituality. 

Some camps of Christianity place great value in emotional experiences (or lack of emotion entirely) as part of one’s walk with the Lord, spiritual growth, and even usefulness for God. Both these extremes are wrong. God gave us emotions and uses them, but they never determine our spirituality.

Dealing with Feelings 

From here, Lloyd-Jones gives several suggestions for dealing with our feelings. 

1. Make sure there’s no obvious cause for an absence of joy. 

One of the most common causes of feelings of depression, writes Lloyd-Jones, is guilt. Whether over actions big or small, we all understand how easily guilt can sneak in and smother the flame of joy in our hearts.

So if you’re feeling depressed, check your heart. Ask God to help you see if there’s a hidden sin, unrepented disobedience, or a pattern of wandering from Him in your life. If you find sin, confess it and believe in God’s forgiveness. 

[L]et your conscience speak to you; listen to the voice of God as He speaks through the Spirit that is within you, and if He is placing His finger upon something, get rid of it. You cannot hope to solve this problem [of feelings of depression] while you are harbouring some sin.

p 114

2. Don’t focus on your feelings.

Feelings are never meant to take the first place, they are never meant to be central. If you put them there you are of necessity doomed to be unhappy, because you are not following the order that God himself has ordained.

p 114

There is great danger in elevating our feelings or even analyzing them too much. I can’t help but include another great quotation; Lloyd-Jones just puts it so well:

After all, what we have in the Bible is Truth; it is not an emotional stimulus, it is not something primarily concerned to give us a joyful experience. It is primarily Truth, and Truth is addressed to the mind, God’s supreme gift to man; and it is as we apprehend and submit ourselves to the truth that the feelings follow.

pp 114-15

Does this not fly in the face of our culture now more than ever? My sisters, please embrace this truth, not just in your valley of chronic illness but in every aspect of your life. Our culture today wants us to “follow your heart” and “give in to your feelings” and encourages us to hold everything up to the standard of our feelings. 

But this is not how God created man to live, and especially not how He commands His children to live. Don’t give in to the pressures of our culture and its feelings-centered philosophies. Recognize your emotions and their value but don’t let them guide your decisions. 

I must never ask myself in the first instance: What do I feel about this? The first question is, Do I believe it?

p 115

3. Recognize the difference between joy and happiness. 

This is a big one! As Lloyd-Jones points out, we can’t make ourselves happy (emotion), but we can make ourselves rejoice (perspective). For an example of rejoicing he directs us to Paul’s words in II Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

These verses give a portrait of a suffering Christians who are clearly not happy but are still, definitely rejoicing. So we can rejoice in the Lord even if we don’t feel happy.

Curing Feelings

Lloyd-Jones concludes the chapter with a few practical words of advice for what he calls stirring ourselves up, based on Paul’s words to Timothy in the key verse at the beginning. Rather than yield to our emotions, we need to stir up the gift God has given us. 

How do we do this? 

First, we speak to ourselves, just as he outlined in the first chapter. Rather than letting ourselves (or our feelings) talk to us, we talk to ourselves with truth and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Second, we believe. We hold onto the truths God has given us, remind ourselves of them when we need, and move forward in them. 

[T]he child of light is sometimes found walking in darkness but he goes on walking. He does not sit down and commiserate with himself . . . He does not see the face of the Lord at this point, but he knows that He is there; so he goes on.

p 117

I cannot make myself happy, but I can remind myself of my belief.

pp 116-17

Third, we pursue righteousness. Lloyd-Jones exhorts us that the “secret” of true happiness is in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” God’s blessings fill our souls when we seek His holiness. 

Seek for happiness and you will never find it; seek righteousness and you will discover you are happy.

p 117

Fourth, we seek Christ. The ultimate righteousness we can pursue is Jesus Himself. When our feelings are trying to get the best of us, when we’re “feeling sad,” as Maria sings in The Sound of Music, the best thing we can do is turn to Jesus. He is our joy, our happiness, our peace, our life. When we seek Him, as He promises in Matthew 6:33, everything else will come.

Are you more sensitive and emotionally-driven? Do you let your feelings control you? How can you implement these truths to recognize but not surrender to your feelings?

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