Christian Warfare and Depression (Welch)

 Satan and his wicked army often attack Christians and try to get us to believe lies.  Sometimes we believe the lies and our lives go downhill in various ways.  We stumble into sin, we hurt someone, we go through a period of depression, and the list goes on.  What do we do when Satan attacks us with lies and his other strategies?  Ed Welch gives some good direction on this topic:

…What happens in our lives when we simply say to Jesus, ‘Yes, I trust you,’ is that we also trust in his power to stand firm against Satan’s attacks.

  1. Remember you have an enemy.  Follow the lead of wise people who begin each day by actually saying, ‘Today, I must be alert that I have an enemy.’  Realize that you are walking where rebels are known to be in the area.  Their lives are devoted to your destruction.

  2. Assume that warfare rages.  Don’t even bother looking for signs of warfare.  Just assume that you are in the thick of it.  …Are you listening to wise counsel and Scripture? …Listening is a mark of humility, and Satan can’t successfully fight against it.

  3. Don’t think that your case is unique.  This popular lie questions God’s care: all sufferers are tempted to believe that their suffering is unique.  This lie immediately renders all counsel irrelevant because no one understands and no advice applies.  The result is that the aloneness you already experience is now an established fact, and you are given ever more permission to despair.

  4. Know Christ.  Satan’s energies zero in on one point: the truth about Jesus.  If you are growing in an accurate knowledge of Jesus Christ, you are winning the battle.

  5. Humble yourself before the Lord.  Humility is different from feeling low.  It is lowering ourselves before God, and accepting his sovereign will.  Humility says, ‘God owes me nothing.’  ‘He is not my servant; I am his.’  ‘God is God, and he has the right to do anything he wants.’

There is quite a bit more to Welch’s discussion, especially as he relates it to depression in the Christian life.  I’ve summarized these points quite a bit, so I recommend reading the entire section for excellent biblical direction in fighting Satan’s attacks, especially when going through a period of depression.

Here’s where you can find it: Ed Welch, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2004) p. 68-71.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Taking Care of Yourself (Murray)

 In our fast-paced digital world where everyone is always on the move, it happens quite often that we end up not taking good care of ourselves.  We are in a hurry, so we eat convenient foods that are unhealthy, foods that are not good fuel for our bodies and brains.  We don’t have time to exercise or get outside much, so we put on extra weight and lose mobility and flexibility.  We stay up late staring at a screen, so we get less than 7 hours of sleep most nights.  We spend too much time on our phones and social media, so we kill our attention spans and hamstring our mental capabilities.  We have so much to do that we rarely take serious downtime to relax and reflect.  Sometimes all of these things weigh us down to the point of anxiety attacks or depression. At minimum, these things seriously sap us as humans – as Christians – and keep us from having a fuller life.

David and Shona Murray talk about all these things in their excellent book, Refresh.  In fact, one reason they wrote this book is because Shona did experience panic attacks and depression.  Through her experience, she learned the hard way about a more balanced and biblical lifestyle.  I appreciate how the authors note that we are complex creatures, so fatigue, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and the like aren’t always simply a result of personal sin.  There are various other factors that sometimes intertwine.  Shona says that “one of the biggest breakthroughs on the way to healing comes when we take that holistic approach to causes and cures” (p. 49).

This book isn’t a moralistic guide to better living.  Instead, it’s a Christian approach to life that emphasizes the fact that since we belong to Christ – body and soul – we need to manage our lives for his glory.  We have to take care of the body which Christ bought by his death, the body which is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the body in which Paul calls us to glorify God (1 Cor. 6:18-19).  I appreciate how Murray shoots for a good balance in these areas, not calling us to extremes, but thoughtful moderation.  Balance is the key!

If your life is a whirlwind and you really feel cruddy quite often, I’d recommend this book.  Or, if you would like some wise Christian direction for a balanced lifestyle, you’d appreciate this book.  As I said in an earlier post, although it is sort of aimed at women, men can for sure benefit from it as well.  I implemented some of the suggestions in the book, and it has helped my concentration and studies already.  I’m sure it’ll be a blessing to you as well.

David and Shona Murray, Refresh (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Good That I Was Afflicted? (Newton)

Sometimes during a hard and heavy trial there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.  Just when you think the trial may be going away like a storm passing, just when you think the sun might finally be coming out, another dark cloud blows in and the trial is back – sometimes with a vengeance.  That’s when you think, “What’s it all worth?”  That’s when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  That’s when tears come at random during the day.  That’s when you can sort of understand why people might want to just give up and die.

God’s promises speak to this.  Although they don’t take the storm of trial away, they do provide shelter during the storm of trial.  God’s promises don’t always immediately show us the light at the end of the tunnel, but they do give us a firm reminder that there is a Light at the end of it!  God’s promises give us reason to get up and go on with life by his grace and strength.  John Newton talked about this well in a letter he wrote to a Christian friend facing a hard trial.  These words are for all Christians facing affliction:

“Many are the trials and exercises we must expect to meet within our progress; but this one consideration outweighs them all: the Lord is on our side.  And if he be for us, none can be against us to harm us.  In all these things we shall be more than conquerors through him that loved us. Afflictions, though not in themselves joyous, but grievious, yet, when sanctified, are among our choice mercies.  In due time they shall yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness, and even at present they shall surely be attended with seasonable and sufficient supports.”

“One great desire of the believer is to understand the great word of God more and more; and one principal means by which we advance in this knowledge is the improvement we are enabled to make of our daily trials.  The promises are generally made to an afflicted state, and we could not taste their sweetness, nor experience their truth, if we were not sometimes brought into the circumstances to which they relate.  It is said, ‘I will be with them in trouble’; but how could we know what a mercy is contained in these words unless trouble was sometimes our lot?  It is said to be the believer’s privilege to glory in tribulation.  But we never could know that this is possible unless we had tribulation to glory in.”

“However, this is a matter of joy and glory indeed, to find peace and comfort within when things are disagreeable and troublesome without.  Then we are enabled to set our seal that God is true, then we learn how happy it is to have a refuge that cannot be taken from us, a support that is able to bear all the weight we can lay upon it, a spring of joy that cannot be stopped by any outward events.”

“A great part of the little we know of our God – his faithfulness, compassion, his readiness to hear and answer our prayers, his wisdom in delivering and providing when all our contrivances fail, and his goodness in overruling everything to our soul’s good – I say, much of what we know of these things we learned in our trials, and have therefore reason to say, ‘It was good for us to be afflicted’ (Ps. 119:71).”

And, as the Lord has brought us safe through thus far, we have good ground to trust him to the end.  We know not what is before us.  Perhaps we may meet greater difficulties by and by than we have ever yet seen.  But if we keep in mind who has delivered us from the lion and the bear, we may face the Philistine also without terror.  God will be with us, and strengthen us with strength in our souls.  It is our wisdom to keep close to him, that, when the evil day comes, we may have confidence before him in all our troubles.”

John Newton, Works Volume 6, p. 35-6.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

To Christians Who Suffer

Some Christians suffer more than others.  God, in his mysterious sovereignty, has given some of his children a more difficult lot and heavier load than others.  Depression, chronic illness, handicaps, intense family conflict, mental illness, and other trials are the hard lot of some Christians.

Abraham Kuyper reminds us that St. Paul had a very difficult lot as well.  The apostle called it a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  Kuyper says it was a trial that felt “as though a demon assaulted [Paul] and beat him with fists.” The thorn was given to Paul so that he might stay humble and also experience the sweetness of God’s grace.  Kuyper notes that Christians who suffer should remember from Paul’s experience that God’s fatherly plan for us in suffering is a gracious one.  This way we won’t despair when our prayers for relief are not answered in the affirmative.

Kuyper also writes that sometimes suffering is long, intense, and doesn’t let up.  It seems like suffering is our permanent state of existence.  To the sufferer,

“Every morning the affliction is new, and every evening he pours out again his complaint before his God.  Ineradicably the sense that we were not created to suffer continues to struggle against the pain that restlessly accompanies him upon his pathway through life.”

Often what happens at this point is that the sufferer looks around at others who are happy and healthy.  Then who can stop this “sad complaint” from arising: “O, My God, why am I not as they?”  On top of this Satan comes and tempts the sufferer to grumble: “If you are a child of God, where is your heavenly Father to help you?”  Satan mocks: “Where is your God?”  The suffering continues, and some believers at this point seriously backslide in the faith.

But Kuyper said it can be otherwise.  Sometimes the suffering child of God realizes that the Lord can use the suffering to “reveal in him the majesty of His grace.”  Prayers for deliverance continue, but the soul becomes convinced “that in such suffering God intends something different with us.”

“That such suffering does not come upon us by chance, but comes to us from Him, and that He chose us to bear this suffering, that in this our suffering it might become evident, even with suffering most prolonged and bitter, what sacred medicine of soul grace is.”

“And if the eye might but open to this, O, then each day brings experience of new grace; till finally the spirit made willing in us begins to cooperate with grace, to triumph over this suffering and to show Satan and the world, that the happiness God’s child enjoys, is too rich and too abounding to be shadowed even by severest suffering.”

“And so at times sufferers have been seen, who were so gloriously disciplined by grace and in grace, that at the last it seemed, as though they had become insensible to their trouble, yea, that they took pleasure in it, with a heavenly smile upon their face to mock their suffering.”

If you are suffering, I pray God gives you the eyes of faith to see that his grace is sufficient for you in your weakness even right now.  As Paul said in his trial, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Suffering is so hard; it is a heavy, heavy burden.  But God’s grace lightens the load, shines light on the path, and makes it possibly for us to joyfully make it through suffering.  And remember, your trial will not last.  When Jesus returns, he’ll renew your body and you will no longer have any pain, sorrow, trials, or tears (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4).

The above quotes and thoughts are found in Abraham Kuyper’s 23rd meditation of In the Shadow of Death (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1929).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

 

 

Focusing on Feelings?

Christians Get Depressed TooHere are some helpful words from a helpful book:

“One of the most common tendencies for those with depression is to focus on feelings and to base beliefs and conclusions on those feelings.  This is especially true of Christians.  For example, they may feel forsaken and conclude that they are forsaken.  Also, in an effort to restore true feelings, there is the tendency to read Bible passages that address the feelings.  But such a focus on the subjective tends only to make things worse.”

“We should encourage the depressed person to move away from the realm of the subjective and to instead think on the objective truths of Christianity, things that are true regardless of our feelings: justification, adoption, the atonement, the attributes of God, and heaven, for example.”

Well stated.  This is also one more good reason for us to know biblical doctrine (such as justification, adoption, etc.)!  It helps keep us standing on the unchanging promises of God rather than our changing feelings and emotions.

The above quote is found on page 97 of David Murray’s book, Christians Get Depressed Too.

Shane Lems

The Happy Christian – A Review

I try to be a positive Christian with a positive outlook on life.  Generally speaking, I look on the bright side and press on in the Christian life with hopefulness because Christ is on the throne.  But sometimes I fall into a rut of gloom, cynicism, and I think the cup is “half empty,” so to speak.  From time to time I can identify with Christians who are always gloomy, pessimistic, and critical.  The question is, how can we get out of the rut of gloom?  We should want to, since the Christian faith is not one of gloom, doom, and extreme cynicism!

David Murray answers this question in his new book, The Happy Christian.   In ten chapters, Murray tackles gloom armed first with Scripture and secondly with some helpful scientific studies and insights about pessimism and optimism.  If I can make a generalization, Murray is basically calling God’s people to a Christian optimism, or a biblical optimism based on the truths of Scripture.  The book is just over 260 pages.

The chapters go like this: To gain a more positive outlook on life 1) focus on facts more than feelings, 2) avoid so much bad news and focus on good news, 3) focus on the fact that Christ’s work of salvation is finished, 4) focus on the strengths of other Christians instead of their weaknesses, 5) focus on the blessed future we have in Christ rather than the past, 6) Find God’s common grace in the world instead of sin and evil, 7) Find things to praise people for instead of critique them, 8) give money and things away instead of hoarding, 9) View your work as a calling instead of a job, 10) be around people of different ethnicities instead of one ethnicity.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and much of it made perfect sense.  I appreciated Murray’s call to focus on the facts rather than be led by feelings (I’ve learned that over the years!), and I appreciated his emphasis on the gospel (chapter 3), which leads us to joyful freedom and service instead of a constant negative guilt for sin.  I also appreciated Murray’s call to stay away from so much news/media, since the news tends to focus on the negative and then makes us negative (I agree; I quit following the news years ago and it has helped me be more optimistic).  Murray was also dead-on when he encouraged churches to aim for joy, grace, and a spotlight on the Good News.  His chapter on praising others was also a good reminder for me to work harder to encourage and bless people with my words.

There were a few things in the book about which I was less enthusiastic.  First, Scripture citations are endnotes rather than written in the text or as footnotes (minor,  I know, but endnotes kill my reading optimism!).  Second, there was a ton of information covered in this book.  I was almost overwhelmed at times, since Murray did quite a few bullet point type lists/paragraphs.  For one example, in his discussion on the benefits of Christian hope (p. 95ff), Murray lists twelve benefits followed by eight ways to grow in hope.  The notes were good, but it was almost an information overload for me since there were many lists/paragraphs like this (e.g. ten parts of constructive criticism, ten ways of learning to praise others, nine ways to give biblically, eight ways to pursue diversity personally, ten ways for a church to pursue diversity, five truths about giving in leadership positions, etc.).  I realize all readers are different, so perhaps this is subjective, but those lists sort of bogged me down in the reading.

One other question I had about the book is the chapter on diversity.  I fully agree with Murray’s emphasis on breaking racial barriers down, since Scripture calls us to love others and since Jesus died for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  However, I didn’t quite see exactly how diversity increases joy; does this mean that the less ethnic diversity there is in a person’s life, the less joy he or she has?  Many house churches in China can’t really be diverse; the same can be said about a church in a tribal jungle location or in some rural parts of other countries.  Also, if I have a handful of good Christian friends, can’t they increase my joy no matter what ethnicity they are?  Maybe I’m missing something; and I am honestly open to correction here!  And again, I agree that Scripture does call us away from racism and it calls us to love others based on the gospel and God’s love for all sorts of people.

In summary, I’m glad I read this book, The Happy Christian.  The church for sure does need more emphasis on the true, the beautiful, and the good since she usually talks too much about what is wrong with the world.  I’m going to incorporate some parts of this book into my own actions, conversation, and Christian teaching.  It’s always a good thing for me to be pointed in the right way of Christian optimism, since Jesus does reign!  God treats us, his people, like sons and daughters, therefore “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees (Heb. 12:7, 12)!”

[As a side, it was neat to learn that David Murray is a Reformed pastor and seminary professor.  I’m thankful he put so much time and energy into this helpful resource!]

David Murray, The Happy Christian (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015).

((I received this book from the Booklook blogging program; per FCC rules, I need to note that I was not compelled to write a positive review.))

shane lems
hammond, wi

Some Reasons for Pastoral Burnout

On the Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor Clay Werner, a pastor in the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America), has been through the pastoral wringer and lived to write about it in his new book, On The Brink: Grace for the Burned-Out Pastor (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2014).  If you’re a pastor who feels overwhelmed with the workload, difficulties, disappointments, and hardships in the ministry, you’ll need to read this book.

Perhaps our readers who aren’t pastors may sometimes wonder what causes pastors to face burn out?  Werner explains a few (I’ve edited these to keep them brief):

1) Prolonged Exhaustion.  Prolonged exhaustion can be driven by the expectations of others in the church and also by our own prideful motivations.  Others may expect you to be present at every committee meeting to make decisions, every hospital room to pray, every church event to participate, and in everyone’s living room for conversation and dessert….

2) Delight Turned to Duty.  Delight can turn to duty in our own personal relationship with God and also in our calling to minister to others.  There is an enormous temptation in ministry, because you are around the Word of God so often, to begin to treat it as something common and eventually unnecessary.  …There can be an emotional deadness of soul that begins to make you wonder if God is really there.

3) Mild Discouragement to Severe Depression.  Most leaders have great expectations of how God is going to work in and through them and how God is going to transform the community of which they are a part.  More often than not, our expectations are not met to the extent or in the time-frame we hope for. …When we lose hope that God will work, it is easier to walk away from the situation.

4) An Older-Brother View of Ministry.  [This is when the pastor thinks,] ‘God, I’ve been through so much and done so much for you, and this [tragedy] is what I get?’  See Luke 15:28-30.

5) Anger.  …If you stay angry long enough, you may begin to think that others are not worthy of your ministry or that people are impossible, so you might as well give up.

6) Fear, Anxiety, and Worry.  If our ministry experiences have involved a lot of interpersonal conflict or congregational chaos, we may begin to be controlled by fear.  If someone asks to come and talk to us, we know for sure that it’s because he or she is angry at us for doing something or disappointed in us for not doing something.  We fear being exposed, humiliated, or rejected, and so we may stop visiting people, encouraging or correcting others, or making necessary phone calls.

7) Sinful Self-Indulgence.  …We [often] are unaware that we are not rooting our ultimate and deepest joy in Christ, so we try to find joy in the  midst of ministry, and if we don’t find it there, we look for it somewhere else.

Werner notes that this list isn’t exhaustive, of course.  He also goes on to talk about the power of God’s grace in the pastoral ministry, and how pastors are to rest in his grace to make it through the difficulties of pastoral ministry.  I’ll come back to some of these themes later, Lord willing.

For now, I recommend this book for tired and weary pastors who need some encouraging words of grace.  Also, if you’re a parishioner whose pastor has a heavy workload, I’d say get this for him – and pray for him while you do so!

Clay Werner, On the Brink (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2014).

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi