The Unwelcome Beast of Depression (You’re Not Alone)

Chief of the least

A few months ago, I wrote about an elephant dwelling in the back of our church sanctuaries. That post was about the prevalence of “porn” in the American church, and it included a short lament regarding our tendency to keep it a dirty little secret rather than shedding the gospel light on it. I called porn an elephant because when an elephant is in any room it must be acknowledged. Yet so many church leaders have taken the ridiculous stance of acting like the “porn elephant” is not seated among their own congregations, when statistics clearly show it is.

The porn elephant is not the only unwelcome beast in our midst that no one is talking about. Apparently, we have given a second elephant residence in our congregations while applying similar silent treatment towards it. This elephant’s name is “Depression.” While no one is really talking about it almost…

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The Unwelcome Beast of Depression (You’re Not Alone)

A few months ago, I wrote about an elephant dwelling in the back of our church sanctuaries. That post was about the prevalence of “porn” in the American church, and it included a short lament regarding our tendency to keep it a dirty little secret rather than shedding the gospel light on it. I called porn an elephant because when an elephant is in any room it must be acknowledged. Yet so many church leaders have taken the ridiculous stance of acting like the “porn elephant” is not seated among their own congregations, when statistics clearly show it is.

The porn elephant is not the only unwelcome beast in our midst that no one is talking about. Apparently, we have given a second elephant residence in our congregations while applying similar silent treatment towards it. This elephant’s name is “Depression.” While no one is really talking about it almost all struggle with it. Many take prescription meds to numb the mood or escape from self for a short drug induced vacation. Many try to tough it out while wallowing in guilt because they believe they shouldn’t be feeling this way. Even worse, others turn to alchol and hard drug abuse in a vain attempt to soothe the inconsolable longing of their wounded psyche.

But let this resonate within your sorrowed soul if you have (or are) experiencing such a cloud: You are not alone.

This depressed kitten should cheer you up....

Despondent saints are not a new trend in the church or bible history. Depression and doubt runs a thread through the life of almost every hero of our faith. Fruitfulness in ministry and the power of the Holy Spirit does not make one immune to deep bouts with the disease.

Nearly every publicly powerful leader on our spiritual pedestals have dealt with privately pitiful periods of despair (say that five times fast).

Job was the most righteous man on earth. Yet when all hell broke loose on his life he had some probing questions regarding the purposes of God.  In cursing the moment of his birth instead of the birth itself, Job barely skirts what would have been blasphemous and suicidal language (Job 3:1-4).

The prophet Elijah just called down fire from heaven and saw the slaughter of every false prophet of Baal in a mighty display of God’s power and glory.  The very next chapter of his life he is in a cave of despair doubting God’s providence and regretting his very existence (1 Kings 19:4, 10).

The prophet Jeremiah was made certain of his calling and election by God Himself (Jeremiah 1:5). After preaching God’s given message, Jeremiah saw no fruit in his ministry and only unrelenting torrents of judgment are poured out on the nation he loves. Jeremiah, broken and depressed, likewise curses the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14).

Have you ever despaired over your life, even questioning the purpose of your existence? So it was with Job, Elijah and Jeremiah for a time.

David killed lions, bears, and giants as a scrawny youth through God’s power. He was divinely chosen as Israel’s anointed king, lauded by his countrymen, and slaughtered every pagan army he faced through God’s might. Yet read the Psalms and you will see a man marked by dark bouts of depression during significant spans of his reign (Psalm 42:3, 9, 69:1-3).

Do you feel your tears are your only food and consolation? So it was with David for a time.

CH Spurgeon, the prince of preachers and hero of little reformers everywhere, was susceptible to this grim grip of despondency. Spurgeon saw his depression as his “worst feature.” “Despondency,” he said, “is not a virtue; I believe it is a vice. I am heartily ashamed of myself for falling into it, but I am sure there is no remedy for it like a holy faith in God.”

You’re not alone. Most people in the church just don’t have the spiritual backbone to admit their weak estate. But with admitting should not come a wallowing, but rather a warring against such strongholds in us (2 Corinthians 10:5). Many saints have stayed in this dungeon for a time, but they made it their aim to never make the depths of despair a dwelling place.

Self pity and self despair are just symptoms of self worship. We are not depressed because we hate ourselves so much, we are depressed because we love ourselves so much. It is natural to be fixated on self, that is why we need to ask God to supernaturally aid us in fixing our eyes on Christ (Eph 1:18). Christ is the end of self worship for everyone who takes up their cross and follows Him (Matthew 16:24-25).

Depression, doubt and despair are not the unforgivable sins. Your current mental/emotional/spiritual state is not beyond the scope of God’s eternal grace. Chemical imbalances, genetic dispositions, difficult circumstances, and scarred childhoods are no match against the love of Christ and His Comforter being shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Family history must bow down to King Jesus in the end (Phillipians 2:9-11).

All of our bouts with depression this side of eternity are temporal bouts (2 Cor 4:17). We can take heart, for no current state of depression is ultimate. Surely, there is a despair that is ultimate. Eternally ultimate. But those who are in Christ will never taste it. The Son of God bore the eternal despair we deserved on the cross. In Him, we will never ever have to utter these words:  (Matthew 27:46): “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  

We may lament, mourn, and be depressed this very moment. But we can say with David, our fellow despondent doubter, in the very next breath:

“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.”

(Psalm 42:11)

Bryan Daniels

Porn: The Vile Invisible Elephant in The Church

[For the sake of time, sanity and honestly laziness, I have some previously used material I’d like to share from time to time: let’s call them “regurgitations.” I have a few saved posts I wrote that were previously shared on the late great blog “Enabled by God” (shout out to Kyle if you’re reading). These were mainly devotional in type, and I believe they may be beneficial to someone somewhere in the E-World. Enjoy.] 

There is a giant elephant in our church sanctuaries. He sits in the back. Vile and unassuming. The deacons, choir, congregation, and even the pastor knows he’s there, yet they all try to ignore him. Meanwhile, he discreetly wreaks havoc on the soul of the church.

This lurking elephant’s name is porn.

It’s estimated a solid majority of young men (18-30) in the church view sexually pornographic images at least once a month.  Even a disturbing amount of young women are becoming more fascinated by it. Depending on what statistics you’re looking at, it is not improbable this sin is ravaging the very soul of your pastor.

Now before we go too far let me give a disclaimer: I know the statistics of the “true church” (born-again-blood-bought-bride-of-Christ) do not emulate those of the world. I know most statistics on “the church” include anyone who warms a pew and casually confesses Christ. That is a valid argument. But even after the goats are separated from the sheep, I personally believe the statistics of porn abuse in the “true church” would still be surprisingly high. If I can be intensely personal and honest: My most fatal bouts with pornography occurred after I came to Christ. And even though I have experienced some victory regarding the specific sin of porn (by the grace of God), the general battle of lust still rages ever onward within.

Yes, that's why He wants them to repent

Porn is a multi-billion dollar industry (with a “B”). The revenue one can make in defiling God’s temple, abusing the gift of sexuality, and objectifying women is staggeringly sickening. What once seemed to be a seedy underworld, is now being thrust upon us in the open arena of modern culture. Given the chemical reactions and “high” the brain experiences while a person views sexual images, porn is as addictive as any drug on the streets. While the American church is spending much of it’s resources lambasting the sin of homosexuality and opining over lost constitutional rights, we’ve let a dark ugly elephant take up residence deep within us.

Jesus, in his ever-penetrating way, sheds His light directly into our darkness. Let’s see what He said on the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:28-30
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

The self-righteous Pharisee’s jaw would have dropped at Christ’s interpretation of the law. They thought they had a corner on the religious market, but Christ blew their whitewashed attempts at spirituality out of the water. An outward appearance of religiosity could be sustained for a time, but not absolute perfect purity of heart. Christ was attempting to drive his listeners to repentance by displaying all men as guilty before God’s impossible standard of righteousness. Their (and our) only hope was casting themselves upon the mercy of God in Christ. That would be Christ’s word to those who believe they are relatively good compared to the home wrecker, harlot, or man whore; yeah, but are you perfect? If not, repent.

There are also some haunting words here for the red blooded American male who already professes Christ. Life is war. It’s a furious struggle with self. The sinning eye must be violently removed. The transgressing hand must be brutally dealt with. Eyes and hands are both good gifts from God. But even good gifts must be abandoned if they interfere with our service to the King and his Kingdom. Relationships, cars, careers, reputations, retirement homes, and political agendas are good things; but God may be calling you to unleash a Samurai sword of sacrificial love and obedience on these good things for His sake.

You may look like Lieutenant Dan in the end, but it’s infinitely better to be a warrior who sacrificed, than to be a spectator who compromised.

These are also haunting words for the American female who professes Christ. For our female readership (all two of you!), this means there are some legitimate questions you should be raising to yourself before you ever even begin a day. Maybe questions like:

-Am I going to act and present myself in such a way as to encourage my Christian brother’s battle against adultery?

-Is what I am wearing going to take a Christian brother’s eyes off of Jesus and on me?

-Is my body going to be the diversion that helps cause another Christian man to become a casualty in his war against sensuality and lust?

-Should I be more careful what photos I post on Facebook, Myspace, etc.?

Ladies, before you slap a legalist stamp on my forehead let me explain to you an unfortunate secret: Your non-Christian male coworkers, classmates, church members, internet lurkers, passive bystanders and neighborhood perverts in general are already looking at you lustfully. Your Christian brothers are the only ones in the world who are really trying their God given best not to. I speak for most of them when I say: Help a brother out!

It would be remiss to characterize the battle of lust as mainly dealing with simple behavior modifications. We have a much higher calling on our lives than merely not looking at porn. We must replace that passion with an immeasurably greater one. Namely, by fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:1-2) By seeking his mighty right hand, where there are ceaseless pleasures (Psalm 16:11). By thirsting for His sweet and holy presence, where we can truly taste and see that He is the only lasting good (Psalm 34:8).

May our pursuit of the deceptive shallow delights of this world be blown away in the light of His radiating redemption. And may His face alone be where true beauty, fascination, and satisfaction are found. Forevermore.

Bryan Daniels

Tim Challies has recently posted a “Prayer for Those Struggling with Porn.”  by Pastor Scotty Smith. It would benefit you to check it out.