An Open Letter of Hope for the Hopeless Believer


I remember the first time I met Rachel Cantrell. She hobbled on crutches into the Village Deli in Wake Forest, NC, for an interview for a position at the YMCA where I was working as the Director of Middle School Programs.

I don’t always remember the first time I meet someone, especially when the first time is a job interview, but since that spring day in 2007, God has knit our hearts together for mutual edification, accountability, encouragement, friendship, and partnership in what we’ve come to call “messy ministry.”

While there are no easy ministry jobs, we do jobs that even ‘ministry people’ tend to shy away from. Rachel serves as a crisis counselor for a suicide hotline and I serve with a ministry for people dealing with a variety of issues concerning sexual brokenness. Not exactly ministry work people that are clamoring to hear about.

Neither of us intended to be in these lines of ministry; but God knew His plans for us and equipped us for it long before we knew what He had for us.

For six weeks in the Fall of 2008, Rachel and I spent 12 hours walking through Ephesians together, two hours a week in a coffee shop. Those 12 hours taught me about life-on-life discipleship and community, and it has shaped how I do messy ministry to this day. Ministry is about stepping into the mess with the person and being willing to get dirty with them so that they can see they are not alone, that they have hope, that there is a way out. Those six weeks modeled messy ministry (which is, really, just biblical discipleship) for me, and have been the model I use to teach others how to disciple people through the messes we all encounter in this life. 

In recent months, both of our areas of ministry, mental health and sexuality, have been forced to the forefront of our society’s collective consciousness. From mass shootings to the political fervor surrounding the same-sex marriage debate, we’ve talked and processed through a lot of our “messy ministry” recently.

The church has done a poor job addressing depression and hopelessness in the believer, often prescribing a “here’s a verse, read it and pray more” approach to mental illness.

Or we go to the other extreme, focusing only on the mental health, outsourcing the hurting individual to a psychological professional to treat a disease.

Both extremes neglect the intertwined complexities of the human being, created in the image of God. Issues of depression and identity and hopelessness and despair are not “either/or” concerning the physical and the spiritual. They are “both/and issues”, and the whole person must be considered when wholeness is the goal.

The following is a letter Rachel recently wrote to believers who are facing the despair of hopelessness. We have both been praying for the right time for God to use this letter to minister, both to those contemplating suicide, and to those who are involved in the messy ministry of walking alongside believers who courageously submit their depression and their impulses of self-harm to the hope of Christ on a daily basis.

With the tragic news today of the suicide of Rick and Kay Warren’s son Matthew, the complex issues of depression and suicide will be discussed widely in the coming days in both the evangelical and secular worlds because of the high profile involvement the Warrens have in multiple areas of ministry and social awareness.

We are all praying peace and comfort for the entire Warren family, but pray also that even now, what the enemy surely meant for evil, God will use for good by providing opportunity for these issues to be addressed openly, in grace-filled and loving ways.

Dearest Believer:

Perhaps you feel even less than a believer today, feeling as if you have lost all hope in God, in people, in this life.  I am writing to you today to help you find hope again.  I am certainly not the answer, nor do I hold all of the answers to the sometimes debilitating and horrific circumstances one encounters or experiences in this life.  

You, yourself, can attest to these circumstances, can’t you?  They are overwhelming, consuming, and leave you feeling hopeless and helpless.  Sometimes you can’t breathe, and sometimes your body aches with physical pain because the emotional pain is too much to bear.  Some days you feel that your body or your mind may just explode, and you think, maybe that would help people understand.  

But most days, you feel isolated, alone, and afraid.  You are certain that no one knows your pain, and those who may know certainly have no real understanding of all that you are feeling and all that you have been through; and you have no words to even begin to explain what is happening inside of you.  It feels like words don’t exist to explain such pain, pain so deep that ending your own life feels like it must be the best decision.  

You tell yourself often that you should not feel this way.  You punish yourself for even entertaining the idea of suicide, because you are, after all, a believer who should have great hope in a great God.  But hope left a long time ago, and was replaced with sorrow, fear, and depression.  

Hopelessness is defined as having no expectation of good or success.  Your hopelessness feels deeper than this, doesn’t it?  You feel, as a believer, more like the third explanation of hopelessness in the vast list of definitions: “incapable of redemption or improvement.”  Incapable of redemption, that’s what you tell yourself, right?  How could God possibly redeem or rescue you from this, from what was, from what is, from what could be? Does He even know how you feel?  Does He understand?  

Surely He could not, and He must only be angry at your sinful heart and all of its considerations of suicide.  Suicide is so stigmatic, isn’t it?  People say you’ll go to Hell because surely it’s the unpardonable sin.  Suicide is horrible.  It ruins lives, destroys relationships, and leaves quite a wake in lives left behind.  

But it seems right to you.  It makes the hurt go away, the problems stop, and it quiets your ever-so loud world.  Suicide is, in itself, the end.  It will be the last decision you will ever make.  It will be the final say in all of the lies, the voices, the pain.  And it screams loudly, doesn’t it?  Perhaps there are plans for how you intend to take your life.  Perhaps there are just thoughts, painful thoughts of ways to go about silencing this life.  Maybe you have tried before, unsuccessfully, and as a result, today, you know that you cannot make that mistake again.  Today, the choice is to live or to die.

Please let me help you make the choice to live.  I cannot make this choice for you, and I do not, and will not, feel responsible if you choose death; but I would love just a few moments, to share some words of life with you; one last chance to attempt to instill some real and lasting hope.  In this offer of hope, you will hear truths that you know clearly.  Let me ask you, while you read them this time, acknowledge them.  This is very different than just knowing them.  Let them confront and comfort your broken heart, your hot soul, and your chaotic mind.  This letter holds no magic pill, no magic words, and no hope within itself.  It will not heal you.  Hope is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Healing is found in His words, redemption is found in His cross, and life is found in His resurrection.  

“Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”  These are words we have all sung, and these are words that we know well.  Read them again.  “Sin had left a crimson stain…..”  Be it your own sins committed against our holy God, or perhaps sins committed against you by others (which also are sins committed against our holy God); they run deep, don’t they?  

You cannot atone for them.  You, alone, cannot rid yourself of them.  You cannot even stop thinking about them.  Chaos reigns in your  mind, day in and day out.  Sin is literally a crimson stain, a stain that you cannot clean from your soul.  Maybe it is blatant sin: alcoholism, the abuse of drugs, self-injury, promiscuity, pride.  Or maybe it is sin committed against you: physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, betrayal, verbal abuse, bullying.  

How could you possibly atone for all of these things?  What inside of you is enough to clean such a stain from your soul?  The answer is nothing.  Nothing inside of you is enough.  But Jesus, Jesus is enough.  He took the weight that you feel, and more.  He bore that weight, that pain, that heartache, that sorrow, that trauma, that anxiety, that fear, that shame, that guilt, and He died.  

He was punished so that you don’t have to be punished.  He died, so that you don’t have to. 
He died.  

He willingly took the nails, nails driven deep into his hands and feet so that you don’t have to put that blade to your wrist.  He willingly hung and suffocated, so that you don’t have to do this to yourself.  He willingly was pierced for our transgressions, leaving his heart bleeding out, so that your broken heart could be healed.  

He died so that you could live.

It wasn’t suicide.  

It was sacrifice.

Sacrifice to buy you and me back from the grip of sin, death, and hell.  He knows the pain you feel.  He has felt it.  He felt it and understood that it needed to be put to death, and that you, a mere broken soul, certainly could not bear the weight of it all. The Scripture tells us that He was “sorrowful, even to death“ (Matthew 26:38). Be encouraged that He conquered such sin at the cross.  He put it to death so that you don’t have to.  This certainly does not mean that it ceases to exist.  You know this best.  

However, He conquered such sin, meaning he stripped it of its power over your life.  He conquered this sin, and He conquered death in His resurrection.  He rose in victory, giving us victory over sin in this life (1 Corinthians 15: 56-57).   You know these truths as the Gospel.  You trusted these truths, this God, this Savior to save your very soul from Hell.  Why not trust these same truths to save your life, yet again?  

This time, salvation is not needed to rescue you from Hell; no, that has already been accomplished.  Today, salvation is needed to rescue you from yourself, from the temptation to bring harm to yourself.  Think about it.  You believed that you could have done NOTHING to make yourself right with God, and thus, Christ died to make reconciliation between God and man possible. You believe that.  You needed a rescue, a rescue from separation from God, a rescue from death itself, a rescue from your own self, because you could not rescue yourself and come near to God. Today, there is One who can rescue you because you cannot rescue yourself.  You feel so far gone, and you desperately need a rescue from yourself, from your sin, from sins committed against you, and from this wild, messed up, crazy world.  

Oh friend, cry out to the same Jesus that rescued you from yourself at the moment of your conversion.  Just as you cried out to Him to save you, perhaps so many years ago, cry out to Him again!

Your belief of the Gospel was not a one time event.  We, as believers, must preach the Gospel to ourselves daily.  We need to remind ourselves of the saving power of our God.  We must be reminded often of our redemption, our help, our promise of a future, and of life everlasting, free from sin. Believe the Gospel, breathe it in, acknowledge the Truth.  He will come and save you.  Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”  

Please acknowledge this wisdom.  Run to the Lord, stop running from Him.  You cannot do this life by yourself, it is too hard, too painful.  He is a refuge that you have sought safety in before, and yet now, you are attempting to leave the safety of this refuge.  He is a strong tower amidst the storm.  

Consider this analogy: You are in a small boat out in the Gulf, and there is a large tropical storm sweeping across the waters, soon to capsize your boat, leaving you to drown in the storm.  Waves are sweeping over your head, you are struggling to stay afloat, not to mention stay alive.  You are trying to cover your face, but you are unable to keep from choking on so much water.  You are certain that death is near.

And then you see a light, a lighthouse, a refuge from the insanity.  You steer your boat in that direction, begging God to help you get there, determined that you will make it if you can just get there.  Finally, after much struggle and effort, you arrive, climb the ladder to the top and race in the door, just as waves sweep over the entrance.  You are safe.  You turn and watch the storm all around, waves crashing into the tower, but it is not shaken, for it is stronger than the storm.  The storm doesn’t stop, but you are safe in this tower.  Would you consider leaving this refuge in the middle of the storm? You’ve finally found safety, and the consideration to leave such safety, to only return to fear, and impending death seems absurd, doesn’t it?  

Are you following me?  

Jesus has rescued you from the insanity that is this life.  No, this doesn’t mean that your world ceases to be insane, it just means that you are kept safe amidst the insanity.  He is the tower, the refuge, and yet, here you are, considering leaving such a refuge.  You are considering taking matters into your own hands by ending your life because you have stepped away from the refuge.  

You are back out in the storm, and you are drowning.  

He is calling you to return.  

The still small voice that we call the Holy Spirit; you feel it, don’t you?  That is what has kept you alive thus far.  That is our God, fighting for you and for your very life (Exodus 14:14).  

Do you feel it?  Something won’t let you give in.  

That something is our God and His great love for you.  

He has great plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11).  

He has gone before you in this battle, so that you do not have to be afraid (Deuteronomy 31:8).  

The road will be hard, and you will struggle, but you are not, nor will you ever, be alone.  You will grieve as you think and process your own sin, and the sins committed against you.  

You need to grieve.  

Remember our brother Jeremiah?  Oh how he grieved over the sin of his people.  He grieved and he lamented.  Just read the book of Lamentations.  “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (Lamentations3:16-18).  

These are Jeremiah’s words.  Can you relate?  Grieve my friend, but grieve with hope in a great God who will rescue you.  

Even Jeremiah recalled his hope: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:21-24).  

He is faithful.  He is still here, even in the midst of your wandering, in the midst of your wondering, in the midst of such pain.  

The choice to live is, in itself, an act of worship to your God.  

Choosing life is an act of worship.  You may have to choose each moment of each day, but choose to honor your God.  Choose to worship the One who made you, who knows you, who sustains you.  Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”  

I pray that you would choose life.  

I pray that you would humbly surrender your life, your dreams, your hopes, or lack there of, to our good God.  

I pray that you would beg the Spirit for another moment of strength to choose life.  

I pray that you would consider the Gospel and its application to your life, today.  

I pray that you would acknowledge that “there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  

I pray that you would remember that you are precious and priceless to your Creator (Psalm 139).  

I pray that you would remember that you are precious and priceless to the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-8).  

I pray that you would remember that you have all that you need to live this life, in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:3).  

And I pray that you remember that you can do this life, because you have been given much grace to do so ( 2 Corinthians 9:8).

Choose life today, my friend.  Confide in a brother or sister in Christ.  Ask them to remind you of the Gospel.  Ask them to walk with you in these days, in this season.  

One day, our God will make all things new.  The pain will cease, sin will be no more.  But until that day, let’s walk together.  For you see, He is making all of us new, even now.  Let us walk together in newness of life.  We can do this life together, because He has gone before us, felt the pain, and made a way.  

I love you my friend.

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Jesus and Suicide


5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4

One of the greatest blessings of teaching at a Christian school is that once a week, we worship together in a chapel service. The worship through singing is led by our students, and then we usually have a guest speaker share a message with us. It is a midweek refuge, a time set aside to stop the rush of classes and homework and grading and teaching and discipline and meetings to just gather together around the Throne of Grace and remember that before we are teachers, students, and administrators, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a time I treasure each week.

This week in chapel, a minister named Walt from The Hopeline came to chapel and shared with our students about their ministry. Through his message he gave them a wide open opportunity to begin some real heart conversations about real issues they face everyday: abuse, bullying, cutting, pornography, sex, drug use, and suicide. By just speaking the words with love and compassion, in a church sanctuary, with no judgment, no horror, no hatred of the thought of those struggles, he gave our kids permission to speak safely about the deepest struggles of their lives, and I love him and his ministry for that.

In the course of his talk, he made one comment that has stuck with me. He was talking about suicide and he mentioned in passing that Satan tempted Jesus to “just jump”. He was referring to the three temptations Satan presented to Jesus after His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.

When considering that passage in Matthew, I have thought of Satan tempting Jesus with His trust of God the Father and His Word. He tempted Jesus to jump based on Psalm 91:11-12 in which the psalmist wrote: “11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Satan was essentially saying to Jesus, “Jump. See if your Father really meant what He said in that Psalm.”

I wonder if Satan wasn’t also tempting Jesus to take control of His own life.
Jesus had just spent 40 days in the desert preparing for his time of ministry. I don’t know what the Father revealed to Him during that time. But I have no doubt that, at that moment on the Temple, Jesus understood fully His purpose for being on the planet; to teach, to heal, to save, to confront, to love, to be betrayed, to suffer, and to die. I can imagine that, standing on that highest pinnacle of the Temple, thinking through all He knew he was about to face, this thought could have crossed His mind: “He’s right. Just jump. Why go through all of that if I don’t have to? The Father may want me to sacrifice myself, but it is my life to put down and take back up (John 10:17-18). I can put it down now and avoid all of the pain and suffering I am about to endure.”

Jesus was tempted with suicide. He was tempted to just jump. To take the easy way out. To avoid the betrayal, mocking, fatigue, pain, suffering of life on this planet and return to heaven where He was worshiped and adored.

But He didn’t. He put Himself aside, emptied Himself, denied Himself, and “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He was tempted in the now and said no because He knew there was a greater weight of glory to receive in eternity through the suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So what do you do when the overwhelming “NOW” tempts you to “just jump”?

  • Remember that we have a High Priest who has been tempted in every way, yet without sin.
  • Be like Jesus; quote Truth, take the thought captive.
  • Take the moment to stop the spiral into now and bring yourself back to an eternal perspective. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
  • And tell someone. Expose that temptation to the Light. Call a trusted friend.
  • Call the Hopeline at 1-800-394-4673.
  • Go to their website, www.thehopeline.com, and chat with someone.
  • Text DMHopeline to 63389 and just reach out to someone.

But more than anything, remember that Jesus knows the thoughts you’re thinking; he may very well have been tempted with those thoughts Himself. He understands the feeling of exhaustion and despair and wanting it all to just end. But through His endurance, He provided for us an eternal way out of the pain and misery of being separated from the One True Healer. He gives you the way out of it. He suffered and showed us how to suffer for the glory of God, with a perspective on eternal glory and not temporary suffering.

Do you deal with thoughts of suicide? Do you know someone who does? How could this thought of a Savior who has fought and overcome the same temptation bring comfort and encouragement to a life full of pain and heartache? How does Christ’s victory over death heal our broken hearts?

I will leave you with this comforting and hope-filled passage:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4

Do you need mercy and grace to endure in your time of need? Draw near to Him. He knows you pain and suffering, intimately and personally, and knows how to overcome it.

Sex to the Glory of God?


(This post is the first in a series of three addressing specific ideas and principles found in the following passage of Scripture.They will post on three consecutive days.)

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:15-20

People spend hours each week engrossed in television shows whose story lines center around the illicit relationships of the main characters. Teen girls are now intentionally getting pregnant, hoping they’ll be selected as the next “star” of a teen mom reality show. More and more church members are involved in immoral sexual activity or cohabiting, all while the church has historically kept silent on the issue of sex, rarely teaching a godly, biblical theology of sex. Unbiblical sexual activity has become an acceptable sin in the body of Christ. It’s been so normalized in culture that the church has surrendered and thrown up her hands in defeat. The attitude seems to be that we can’t stop people from having sex, so we’ll just hope they use protection and we’ll be here to help them pick up the pieces when their lives explode.

The church ignores the topic of sex as if it has nothing to do with the church or the God we worship. Here’s where the problem comes occurs. Sex was God’s idea, not something he wants to limit, control, or destroy. Here is God’s view of sex. Sex is good. Very good, in fact, according to Genesis 2. But, much like a fine luxury car, sex is best when it functions within the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines.

And, whether we like it or not, God gives very specific guidelines for how sex is best enjoyed and most fully experienced in its original purpose.

God is perfect. He’s the perfect teacher. He not only tells us what not to do, he tells us what to do. He gives us the one right, best way to do things and then gives illustrations of consequences of what will happen when we don’t follow His guidelines.

One of my favorite examples of this type of teaching is the inclusion of polygamy in Scripture. Christians of a more liberal or emerging mindset think along this line of logic: polygamy is in the Bible, so God must be ok with it. Polygamy is oppressive to women, therefore, this must also mean God hates women.

OR maybe he included stories of polygamy in Scripture to show us the consequences of engaging in sexual relationships in ways other than His one, best way. One of my favorite defenses of the Bible and Christianity coming from a Being greater than humanity is that the Bible graphically displays the greatest failures of its “greatest” human characters. Humans tend to cover our faults and deify our leaders. Not the Bible. God ensures we know that it is He who does the miraculous work, not any man.

In my area of counseling, I spend a lot of time pondering relationships and gender and sex, and what God has to say about these issues in the Bible. I also ponder them because I spent so many years struggling with my own understanding of those very issues. Many people go into counseling because they’re trying to figure themselves out, and I guess I’m no exception. But during my time in seminary, I spent more time studying the nature of God than I spent talking about mankind and relationships.

And the more I learned about God, the more I learned about myself and people in general. This is the conclusion that I came to concerning sex and my stance on sex as I learned more and more about God and his purposes for creating humanity and sexuality.

1. God designed sex with a good purpose.
2. God created sex to produce good results– trust, pleasure, intimacy, connection, procreation…
3. God determined sex was so precious and powerful that it was best reserved for only one person.
4. To accurately show God’s image and nature in procreation and diverse unity, sex should be expressed only between a man and a woman.
5. To be a faithful picture of God’s covenant with His people, sex should only only take place within the confines of a covenant relationship, specifically marriage.

These are the guidelines for God’s good gift of sex. Seems pretty simple and straightforward. It gets complicated when we start making exceptions for our own “happiness”. But notice that “it makes me happy” is not included in that short list above.

As believers, we need to remember the statement my mom repeats often: quit expecting people who aren’t Christians to behave like Christians. They aren’t. Our “rules” don’t apply to unbelievers. If unbelievers follow God’s guidelines, their lives will be better, more peaceful, healthier simply because God’s way is best. But it makes sense that unbelievers are concerned foremost with their own happiness; their lives revolve around themselves and their own fulfillment.

I don’t want lost homosexuals to just stop being homosexuals; I want them to meet the only fulfilling Lover of their soul and completer of their heart.

I don’t want heterosexual sinners to just stop having sex outside of marriage, or to break their addictions to porn or self-pleasure; I want them to discover that the pleasure and fulfillment they are seeking in sex or relationships will only be found by fulfilling their souls’ deepest desires in Christ instead hopelessly trying to fulfill their bodies’ most intense urges.

I don’t want lost drug addicts to just get clean; I want them to meet the Most High.

I don’t want lost people struggling with depression to just figure out how to be happy and self-fulfilled, and I want them to discover eternal joy in Christ.
And I don’t want saved homosexuals, sex addicts, drug addicts, or those suffering from depression to just stop their behavior, either. I desire the same thing God desires for them. To stop being so easily pleased with mere happiness and and begin seeking true and lasting joy, found only in seeking after His glory.

So what happens, as believers, to our relationship with God when, through sex (or any other thing), we seek our own happiness instead of His glory? We’ll see the answer to that tomorrow in Paul’s graphic illustration in 1 Corinthians 6.

Encouragement for the Weary Soul


The two disciples who walked to Emmaus and conversed together, and were sad, were true believers. We may not judge men by their occasional feelings. The possession of gladness is no clear evidence of grace; and the existence of depression is no sure sign of insincerity. The brightest eyes that look for heaven have sometimes been holden so that they could not see their heart’s true joy. Be not cast down, my brethren and sisters, if occasionally the tears of sadness bathe your cheeks. Jesus may be drawing near to you, and yet you may be troubled by mysteries of grief.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to the two disciples, and took a walk of some seven miles with them to remove their sadness; for it is not the will of our Lord that his people should be cast down. The Savior does himself that which he commanded the ancient prophet to do. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.” Thus he spake and thus he acts. He was pleased when he went away to send us another Comforter, because he wishes us to abound in comfort; but that promise proves that he was, and is, himself a Comforter. Do not dream, when in sadness, that your Lord has deserted you; rather reckon that for this very reason he will come to you. As her babe’s cry quickens the mother’s footsteps to come to it more speedily, So shall your griefs hasten the visits of your Lord. He hears your groanings; he sees your tears—are they not in his bottle? He will come to you as the God of all consolation.

Observe that, when the Savior did come to these mourning ones, he acted very wisely towards them. He did not at once begin by saying, “I know why you are sad.” No; he waited for them to speak, and in his patience drew forth from them the items and particulars of their trouble. You that deal with mourners, learn hence the way of wisdom. Do not talk too much yourselves. Let the swelling heart relieve itself. Jeremiah derives a measure of help from his own lamentations: even Job feels a little the better from pouring out his complaint. Those griefs which are silent run very deep, and drown the soul in misery. It is good to let sorrow have a tongue where sympathy hath an ear. Allow those who are seeking the Lord to tell you their difficulties: do not discourse much with them till they have done so. You will be the better able to deal with them, and they will be the better prepared to receive your words of cheer. Often, by facing the disease of sorrow the cure is half effected; for many doubts and fears vanish when described. Mystery gives a tooth to misery, and when that mystery is extracted by a clear description, the sharpness of the woe is over. Learn, then, ye who would be comforters, to let mourners hold forth their wound before you pour in the oil and wine.
                                                                                                                –Charles Spurgeon, “Folly of Unbelief”, August 28, 1887

The entire sermon is well worth reading, both for those who need encouragement and for those love to encourage.

Depression and Psalm 102


in Bible study last week I taught on Psalm 102, and our conversation drifted quickly to the struggle of depression and suffering. The following is an article I wrote to follow up our conversation. I hope it may be a helpful reminder and encouragement to those who suffer from times of depression.

First of all, there are many causes for seasons of depression. Whenever I experience a time of isolation or depression I ask myself four questions to evaluate it.

These are four reasons for suffering in the life of a believer (and I would qualify extended periods of depression as a form of suffering):

  1. Is this caused by sin in my own life? Is there something God wants me to do that I am not doing? Is there something God wants me to quit doing and I refuse? Is my depression caused by unrepentance and I am just far from God? Maybe you are depressed because life if not working out according to your plan. Maybe you are suffering because of poor choices you have made. If the cause of your circumstance is something you’ve done, is there anything you can do to improve the situation or do you just need to humbly accept the consequences of your choices and adjust your life accordingly?
  2. Is this caused by the sin of someone else? Am I suffering because of the actions of another? If so, what do I need to do to prevent resentment and bitterness from leading to sustained depression? Examples would be suffering abuse at the hand of someone else, suffering the consequences of someone else’s bad choice, like a spouse that chooses to leave the family or financial hardship brought about by poor decisions of another person.
  3. Is this caused by the presence of sin in this fallen world (natural disaster, disease)? If so, what can I do to lessen the suffering brought on by this situation? Maybe you experience seasonal depression that is triggered by a traumatic event in your life, or the death of a loved one or some other event. If you begin to recognize a pattern to your times of depression, talk with someone who may be able to help you identify a trigger and help you set up some preventative measures to lessen or end your times of depression.
  4. Is this a time of suffering with an unknown cause? If so, am I living in the truth that God is sovereign even when I don’t understand? Many times we overlook the things we can do to help improve our situations and our emotions; we have more control over our minds and our emotions than I think we realize sometimes. But when we take an honest look at our lives and we can find no reason or “trigger”, it may be that God is allowing a time of depression and suffering to prepare us for a time later down the road or maybe it’s to teach us something about Him or about ourselves. Or maybe we could be like Job and our suffering isn’t actually about us at all.

Second, I hope that no one thinks this post is intended to offer a quick fix to depression or other forms of suffering we experience. The truth is that there is no 3 step program to end suffering; sometimes we do all of the “right things” and we continue to suffer. Ultimately, we are to turn to God and worship Him because He is worthy to be worshiped and praised— whether we are freed from our suffering or not. This Psalm is not about how to end depression; the point of Psalm 102 is that we should focus our thoughts and our worship on God in spite of our depression. Job said, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.” If anyone had a reason to be depressed, it was Job! And depressed he was; he sat in his underwear, outside, in an ash heap, covered in boils, grieving the death of all of his children and the loss of all of his possessions. Yet through all of that he still praised God.

In his commentary on this Psalm, Spurgeon gives two lists for us to keep in mind.

First is the relationship between the afflicted man and prayer (Spurgeon’s words are in bold):

  1. Afflicted men may pray. Being in a time of depression does not somehow disqualify us from praying.
  2. Afflicted men should pray even when overwhelmed. In fact, I can’t think of a time when we need to pray more!
  3. Afflicted men can pray—for what is wanted is a pouring out of their complaint, not an oratorical display. God knows your heart, but He still desires you share it with Him!
  4. Afflicted men are accepted in prayer—for this prayer is on record. If God did not want us to pray in times of depression, He would not have recorded a lesson in how to pray when we are depressed.  

Second is a reminder of the things “unbelieving sorrow” makes us forget. Unbelieving sorrow describes those times of depression that are brought about (or sustained longer than they need be) by unrepentant sin in our own lives:

  1. We forget the promises of God.
  2. We forget the past and its experiences. Sometimes we are so focused on the present suffering we forget the healing and saving work God has done in our lives in the past.
  3. We forget the Lord Jesus, our life.
  4. We forget the everlasting love of God. This leads to weakness, faintness, etc., and is to be avoided.

Sometimes we have legitimate reasons to be depressed for a time: grief, chemical imbalances, trauma, stress. But by not working to combat the depression, we stay in it longer that we need to. Sometimes depression becomes our identity and then it becomes an idol. To prevent this from happening, we must continue to remember the things listed above so that the times of depression we cannot control to not last longer than they should.

The point of this post is to remind us (remind me) that we are to continue to praise God through our times of suffering just like we praise Him in our times of joy. Sometimes, the truest worship comes in the times of sorrow and pain and depression. It’s easy for people to worship in the good times; even Judas Iscariot appeared to worship Jesus when the money bags were full and the multitudes crowded around to see and hear Him. But to worship in the bad times, to praise Him in the midst of the storms of life, is to show the depth of your devotion and love for Him. And sometimes, just keeping the focus off of us and on Him, the times of depression just may not be as bad as they could have been. 

I hope this clears some questions people may have concerning depression. I have been known to overclarify things in the past, but I just want to make sure that everyone knows that I do not discount depression or the experience of depression. The Lord created us capable of having the emotional experience of depression which means we must learn how to use it for our growth and for His glory, and I hope conversations like the ones this hopefully begins will allow us to learn how to do that better!