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The Fellowship of This Misery

Severe case of Leprosy
“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Luke 5:12, NLT

Let’s jump right into this passage from Luke 5.  A very sick man desires to become well.  The Bible text reveals that his condition is agonizingly desperate.  His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’  He is completely infected; he is ‘unclean’ and without hope. There is no treatment for what he has, doctors can do nothing, so he comes to Jesus.

We must emphasize this, the leper has no illusions of wholeness.  He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced, or persuaded by anyone else.  It occurs to him, that Jesus the healer (of lepers, and the like) may provide healing, or at the least a morsel of comfort.  This leper approaches the presence of Jesus, with such humility it is almost painful to witness. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except Jesus.

There is a fellowship of misery–some of us are “card-carrying” members.

Our diseases differ, but they have affected us completely.  Our pain, and our darkness vary.  Some have physical pain, others have a mental illness.  When we meet, there should be a secret handshake or a password. We share a comradeship— we are all part of the same community.  We are a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.

How do we measure our pain and desperate darkness?  What do we use to measure it? For the most part, our lives have been destroyed. I think we can understand it by looking up at Jesus.  Lying in the dirt, we believe the unbelievable.  Our faith doesn’t activate his healing as much it guides it to our greatest need.  The presence of Jesus drives away the pain.  His love for us echoes into our emptiness. And he wants to do this!  He has come for us. He carries us through this.

I struggle with deep depression and despondency.  I have been on meds for a long time.  But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all this melancholy is driven out. He comes and injects a true hope into my spirit.  Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship?  I think not.  (My wife could tell you this.)  But isn’t about us becoming “angels”, it’s about us becoming intimate with Jesus.

“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”   

–Mike Yaconelli

The leper would be healed by the authority (and touch) of Jesus Christ. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.

“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.” (v. 13)

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Melancholy in Amber

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Edgar Degas, Melancholy/ c. 1874, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.

This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.

Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.

amberI remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.

Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.

For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.

Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.

There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.

My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.

A few points that have helped me:

  • A main point for me is to doubt the “certainties of despair.” I believe that God’s promises to me contain a “future and a hope.” This is vital. At times I feel too far gone, and completely irredeemable. I must doubt the lies of the enemy.
  • Freedom come through a real faith in God’s grace. I believe that His Holy Spirit empowers the weak. He holds my hand as I stumble in the path. My confidence is in His promises to this “weak lamb.”
  • Scripture tells me that Jesus’ present ministry is one of intercession for my soul.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34.)
  • Jesus has the power to keep His flock. He also gives me a few select companions. I meet with some of “my fellow sheep” at my local church. These know me, and their friendship encourages me. They don’t condemn.

I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:25

ybic, Bryan

 

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When Despair Empties You

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“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.

There is much I can do before  it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).

Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.

People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)

But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.

“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”   

John Henry Newman

Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.

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Preaching (and Listening) to Yourself

By Terry Powell,

Have you ever “preached to yourself?” I’m referring to the act of fighting negative and unbiblical thought patterns with the Word of God. It’s also called “biblical self-talk,” reminding yourself of truth that counteracts Satan’s lies. In Future Grace, John Piper illustrates how the Psalmist battled despondency by preaching to himself:

In Psalm 73:26 the psalmist says, “My flesh and my heart may fail.” Literally the verb is simply “My flesh and my heart fail!” I am despondent! I am discouraged! But then immediately he fires a broadside against his despondency: “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” The psalmist does not yield. He battles unbelief with counterattack.

The poem that follows is a type of sermon delivered to myself. The stanzas are painfully realistic about the hopelessness that accompanies my depression. Yet the poem ends on a more positive note, citing another verse from the Psalms in which the author talks back to despair and exalts God as the object of hope. What makes preaching to myself effective is reminding myself of God: Who He is, what He has done and what He had pledged Himself to do.

Hopeless?

Fleeting, it’s like a bird in flight,

Or like a shooting star at night,

Or lightning that spans the sky—

Gone in the blink of an eye.

Elusive, like the fog that lifts

When morning sun sends its gifts;

Or the zigzagging butterfly

That you can’t catch. No use to try.

That’s my relationship to hope:

It’s like a wet bar of soap

That keeps giving me the slip.

Can’t keep it within my grip.

Hope that a blinding beam of light

Will penetrate my soul’s dark night.

Hope that it won’t seem so strange

That habits of the heart can change.

Can God plant hope within a heart

For peace of mind and a fresh start?

Though right now I am without it,

God shouts “Yes!” Should I doubt it?

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God.”

Psalm 42:11

When inward or outward trials come, what are some Bible truths or text that you “preach to yourself”?

ybic,

Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

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Depression Detectives [Diagnosis]

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There are three types of depression to consider: What type do you have? Sometimes there will be a toxic mix of them.

  1. Guilty depression- when our behavior hasn’t been what it should be (sin), this is the source of condemnation.
  2. Organic depression- when it’s built into our DNA and part of our very being; it is fundamental in your personality. You can compare it to  someone who has diabeties or MS.
  3. Reactionary depression when we react to some bad news or an injury, a car crash, or working too much with no time off

Typically your depression will originate from one of the three kinds. Each will have different methods, but identifying them could help you move through them more gracefully. There can be an overlap, however. Reactionary depression is the most common, and Guilty depression can be the most hurtful to the Christian.

Satan is involved in the intenification of each, he condemns and strangles all hope. Worship and the Word “punches his lights out.”

Knowing the type of depression will give you understanding and help you defuse the situation. These things have helped me personally.

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Kings in Chains [Cold Hard Reality]

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“He who masters his passions is a king even if he is in chains.  He who is ruled by his passions is a slave even while sitting on a throne.”

-Richard Wurmbrand

Sometimes, I absolutely need a spiritual ‘wake-up call.’  The last few days for me have been taking on the general theme of freedom.  It’s very easy for me to accept being a slave.  The bait that’s used is very desirable and attractive.  It’s hard to let such wonderful morsel go by without a taste. I will sin– and repent later. But hidden deep inside me there is something very small, but very potent. It is a desire to be free from sin. God has placed that within.

Freedom, or that characteristic of walking unencumbered, doesn’t seem incredibly important, at times.  But it is a question of identity.

As a Christian believer, am I really a child of the King, a prince in a spiritual world?

Royal blood was spilled to set me free.  Is choosing to sin really in my calling?

There are many things that ‘trigger’ my Bipolar depression.  Triggers are those things which set off symptoms, ‘kindling’ a sequence of events that leads to total catastrophe.  All it takes is one–a lie perhaps, or a delusion that gets ‘airplay.’ I just slide right into the ‘paranoid’ trap set just for me. I essentially experience a total collapse of mood and emotion.  Life will crash in all around me. I am left sitting in ashes, in a heap. I have become a ‘king in chains.’

My hospitalizations all have come as a result of giving myself over to ‘twisted thinking.’  My suicidal tendencies are intensified, in part due to becoming enslaved.  I become chained and held captive  to these dark forces.  Meds and ‘talk therapy’ can really help.  They are limited though to what they can do to push back the inky darkness.  But when I use these things, and add to them:

  1. prayer, as intimate as I can make it
  2. reading the Word, searching for insights
  3. and fellowship, anything more than a handshake

I have a ‘recipe’ for freedom. But, I must initiate a believer ‘s response. I would like to suggest that “freedom” and “intimacy” are synonyms. You can’t have one without the other. Is Jesus real to you? Is His presence ‘more-than-life’ itself?

Whoever you are–it’s time to get free. Really free. Fall in love with Jesus again and the chains will fall off. Unless you do they will remain.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:1, ESV

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Recurring Depression and Fruitful Ministry

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Expositors” 1834-1892

DOES RECURRING DEPRESSION PREVENT A FRUITFUL MINISTRY?

The ‘Depression-Prone’ Preacher

by Terry Powell

Long before the proliferation of mass media, he was known and revered throughout the Christian world. Scholars of his era labeled him, “the prince of expositors.” His commentaries, devotionals, and sermons are still being published, generations after his death.

So many folks in London wanted to hear him preach that he occasionally pleaded with church members to stay home so unsaved visitors could get a seat and hear the gospel. The pages of his book, Lectures to My Students, should be dog-eared by every vocational or volunteer teacher of Bible.

Yet, depression dogged Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) most of his adult life. A major bout with despondency occurred in 1858 when he was 24, serving as a pastor in London. That’s when he wrote, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I know not what I wept for.” Repeated episodes spawned these words: “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with…as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.”

What can we learn from this depression-prone, yet outrageously fruitful leader?

  1. Depression doesn’t necessarily hinder ministry effectiveness. He often didn’t feel like serving, yet enabled by God’s grace, he kept giving himself to others. No matter how physically and emotionally drained he was, most Mondays he wrote out by longhand the previous day’s sermon so it could later be published.
  2. The pain of despondency may expand one’s usefulness by cultivating dependency and humility. Spurgeon said that despondency was “my trial, my thorn in the flesh that Satan wanted to use to take me down, and God wanted to use to deepen my dependency on Him.” A favorite verse of his was 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In reference to this verse, Spurgeon said, “My job is not to supply the power, but the weakness. That’s one job I’m good at! It’s God’s job to supply the power.”

  3. Openness about one’s depression may encourage others, and point them to God’s sustaining grace. Spurgeon’s transparency concerning his depression was rare for his day. Knowing how many people suffered in silence with this malady, he preached a message to show others how he coped with it (titled “When a Preacher Is Downcast”). From experience he learned and taught an ironic truth captured in my favorite Spurgeon quote: “God gets from us most glory when we get from Him much grace.”

  4. His life and ministry demonstrate that depression and spiritual maturity aren’t mutually-exclusive. Depression didn’t negate Spurgeon’s godliness, nor did his steadfast use of spiritual disciplines cure it.

Biographies of and articles about Spurgeon don’t always mention his predilection for depression. Yet reading about his accomplishments and ministry output will show you what God can do through a yielded person not in spite of depression, but possibly because of it. Spurgeon also suffered from severe gout in his later years, long before medical intervention could eliminate or minimize the pain.

I benefited enormously from Arnold Dalimore’s Spurgeon (Banner of Truth, 1984). Also, in a chapter of John Piper’s Future Grace, titled “Faith in Future Grace Versus Despondency,” you can read about Spurgeon’s battle with depression. In 2014, Zack Eswine wrote a more thorough coverage of Spurgeon’s despondency: Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression (Christian Focus Publishers)

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.