Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Depression (page 1 of 2)

Preaching in Pain

In 1 Kings 18 we have the marvelous account of Elijah’s mighty encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. What a victory! What a vindication of the Lord’s name!

In 1 Kings 19 we have Elijah’s breakdown. He is threatened by Jezebel and flees for his life.

On day #1 of his depressed flight, he prays, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (19:4)

On day #41 of the same distraught struggle (v.8) Elijah has reached Mt. Horeb and prays, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (v.10)

At least the prophet is no longer asking God to kill him! But he isn’t much better off—full of self-pity, myopia, and wounded pride.

So here’s my question: If Elijah had been a local church pastor what would have done on those intervening five Sundays?

What would he have preached on those Sundays? Could he have preached on those Sundays? With what spirit would he have done so?

The average senior pastor has to preach at least every seven days, if not multiple times a week. He doesn’t have the time or the freedom to process freely some of life’s harder issues without needing to stand before God’s people as “the man of God.”

How is the pastor to keep pastoring when in the way of Elijah?

Here are a few questions to continue our exploration of this difficult topic:

  • How authentic is a pastor to be in the pulpit?
    • To what degree and at what depth is a pastor to publically acknowledge or share his own struggles—be they personal, spiritual, emotional, mental, relational or otherwise?
  • What is the precise calling of the preacher/prophet?
    • When does one’s personal struggle disqualify one from fulfilling a responsibility to faithfully preach the word of God?
    • Is a pastor in the midst of a personal crisis being faithful when he chooses to forge ahead in expounding the word to his people without dragging those struggles into the pulpit? Or is he being hypocritical in failing to acknowledge his own struggles and appearing to be something that he, in that moment, is not?
  • What role do the preacher’s emotions play in his faithfulness as a preacher? What about his doubts? His depression?
    • Are they irrelevant and to be ignored so he can be faithful to God and His Word?
    • Are they signally relevant and to be at least acknowledge publicly lest he be hypocritical and phony?

Paul could say to Timothy, “Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!” (2 Timothy 3:10)

How could Timothy have “followed” Paul’s “faith” and “patience” and “perseverance” and “persecutions and sufferings” without being witness to his struggle as well? And how could he have been witness to how “out of them all the Lord rescued” Paul?

How does the local church pastor “preach the word” and “be ready in season and out of season” to do so when those seasons include things like Elijah faced? (2 Timothy 4:2)

There are few easy answers here, but it would seem that wisdom is found somewhere in the tension of holding these two points together:

  • If I am struggling significantly, someone needs to know. That is not the same as everyone needing to know. In my struggles I need the fellowship of solid, mature believers. But the exhibitionism of “telling all, all the time, to everyone” is helpful neither to me nor my people.
  • My people need to see me struggling in faith. What I show them needs to be a model of how they too can handle honestly and authentically their challenges as those living yielded to God and under the authority of His Word.

I’m sure there is a great deal more to be said on this topic. Please feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts.

Walking Through Depression

When Darkness Falls: Walking Through Depression

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We recently completed a six-week series on depression at our church. Here are the audio, the PowerPoint, and outline files for each message. As you can see I was joined by two dear men for a couple of these messages. May the Lord use them to bring light to you in times of darkness, despondency and depression.

Fading Light: When Darkness Sets in            Psalm 42-43                 John Kitchen

Fading Light: PowerPoint

Fading Light: Outline

Failed Light: You’re Not Alone in the Dark  Psalm 88:18b                John Kitchen

Failed Light: PowerPoint

Failed Light: Outline

Shared Light: Help for Those who love the Depressed                     David Teare

Seeking Light: Help for the Depressed                                              Dr. Donald Lichi

Seeking Light: PowerPoint

Finding Light: Helps Along the Way             2 Corinthians 4:1-18   John Kitchen

Finding Light: PowerPoint

Finding Light: Outline

Full Light: The End of All Depression          1 Peter 1:13                 John Kitchen

Full Light: PowerPoint

Full Light: Outline

Time to Listen. Time to Speak.

“We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us … most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself …”

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“You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must … upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself … instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. … this self of ours, this other man within us, has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp.20, 21)

Photo credit

Resources on Depression

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Here are several resources (with annotations and web-links where available) I have found helpful in dealing with depression personally and helping others.

Audio:

  • Dr. Terry Powell: “What I’ve Seen in the Dark: A Story of Depression and Faith.” Dr. Powell, a veteran professor of over thirty years at Columbia International University, in this authentic, transparent testimony offers insights learned in his personal battles with depression as a follower and servant of Jesus Christ. Link
  • Dr. Allan McKecknie and Dr. Terry Powell: “Hope in the Midst of Darkness.” Dr. McKecknie, Professor of Ministry Care at Columbia International University, interviews his fellow professor, regarding his struggles as a servant of Christ with the darkness of depression. Link
  • John Piper: “Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity.” In this biographical review of the great 19th century English preacher, John Piper also discloses his own struggles against despair and despondency as a pastor. While this is geared toward preachers, there is much encouragement to be found by all who face these battles. Link

Article:

  • Nathan Hatch: “The Gift of Brokenness: The Outrageously Fruitful Ministry of My Father.” Christianity Today (November 14, 1994, Vol. 38, No.13). Dr. Hatch writes this piece as a tribute to his father at the time of his 80th birthday. The life of James “Buck” Hatch was lived quietly and fruitfully for the Lord despite a life-long battle with despondency and depression. A very encouraging read for those who think depression must minimize your effectiveness as a servant of the Lord. Link

Books:

  • New Light on Depression: Help, Hope and Answers for the Depressed and Those Who Love Them. David B. Bieble and Harold G. Koenig (Zondervan, 2004). This book bears the endorsement of the Christian Medical Association and seeks to offer medically reliable and Biblically sound insight into the matter of depression. It is encyclopedic in its breadth, but written in a readable and accessible fashion as a help to all. There is a lot of help here. Link
  • Overcoming Depression. Neil T. Anderson (Regal Books, 2004). A shorter, simpler book that helps the struggling one identify the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues that contribute to and compound one’s struggle with depression. Link
  • Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Help for Those Who Suffer from Depression. Zack Eswine (Christian Focus Publications, 2014). Eswine’s PhD dissertation focused on Spurgeon, so from his depth of research he is able to recount the story of Spurgeon’s struggle with depression in a way that offers hope and help to all, pastor or layperson alike. Link
  • When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While we Wait for God. John Piper (Crossway Books, 2006). What do we do when simple answers do not seem to clear the darkness of depression? In this brief book Piper offers godly, sensitive counsel for those mired in ongoing depression, whether their own or that of someone they love. Link

My prayer is that these resources and the things shared during our upcoming series on depression will prove helpful and hopeful for those struggling with the darkness of despondency and depression. Thank you for praying with me that “Light dawns in the darkness” for those mired in despondency, and that all together will taste and see that God “is gracious, merciful, and righteous” with those who suffer (Psalm 112:4).

When Darkness Falls

Summer is turning to autumn. In fact, as I type these lines, today’s the day. For some time now darkness has been stealing the light from us. Here in Northeast Ohio we lose forty-nine minutes of daylight during the month of September. Since summer solstice we’ve lost three full hours of each day’s light.

Had you noticed? Perhaps by now you have, but it happens so incrementally that it is nearly imperceptible. Then one day you awaken asking where the sunrise has gone. One evening you have to head inside sooner than you’ve been accustomed to.

Darkness falls. It’s the way the world works.

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Darkness falls. It’s the way some lives unfold. Darkness encroaches, and I’m not speaking only of the celestial kind.

If statistics prove true—and we have no reason to believe they won’t—the darkness of depression has already fallen on about ten percent of the people that moved in and around your life today. Did you notice? If your life intersects in some way with twenty other people today the probabilities are that two of them are currently experiencing some significant level of depression. Did you see them? Notice them? Detect their struggle?

Maybe you find yourself asking, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”  (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).

Depression is a reality that inserts itself into every life—if not in personal experience, then in the experience of someone in your family, school, workplace, neighborhood, and, yes, even your church. It’s true: followers of Christ deal with depression too. Sadly, some feel shame for even being in the struggle, which only serves to deepen the darkness.

Depression is a wide river. In places it narrows into angry rapids, and in others it broadens into slower moving doldrums. It is deeper in some places, more shallow in others. It is fraught with hidden snares and snags hidden beneath an otherwise serene surface. Powerful currents remain unseen by most, but they grip and refuse to release those caught in their power—dragging them ever downward, deeper into despair.

All that is to say, depression has commonalities wherever it is found, but it is experienced personally and uniquely. Depression may manifest itself differently in each life, but it is darkness all. Solomon was right: “The heart knows its own bitterness” (Prov. 14:10a) . . . and the rest are left only guessing and trying to imagine.

Beginning in November I’m going to begin a series of six messages on Sunday mornings that address the all-too-common reality of depression. I would surely appreciate your prayers. Pray not only for me, but also for the other two men–a psychologist and a trained clinical counselor–who will each take one of the messages. Pray that these weeks and our messages will truly be healing for the wounded, burdened folks who will be present.

Here’s how I’ve outlined the series:

When Darkness Falls: Walking Through Depression

  • Fading Light: When Darkness Sets In (John Kitchen)
  • Failed Light: You’re Not Alone in the Dark (John Kitchen)
  • Shared Light: Help for Those Who Love the Depressed (Mr. David Teare, M.Ed., Ed.S., LPCC-S)
  • Seeking Light: Help for the Depressed (Dr. Donald Lichi)
  • Finding Light: Helps Along the Way (John Kitchen)
  • Full Light: The End of all Depression (John Kitchen)
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