The Lordis my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Psalm 23, KJV
The Lord wants to escort you to someplace wonderful, it’s where there is a rich rest and a sweet intimacy– in spite, of conflict. It is revealed in Psalm 23; it is more than poetry. It is a way of life.
There is a preciousness just beyond our ‘status quo.’ It is an abundant life for eternity. When you have apprehended it, you will understand what I am talking about, and wonder why you’ve missed it for so long. Eternal life has already begun even though many of us don’t walk as if it did. We have eternal life, here end now!
There is a place which we can enter into where Jesus is all there is. His dear presence pervades everything, and there is no doubt about His lordship. He rules completely, and He is “all-in-all.”
There is real evidence when you have appropriated this deeper life. There will be a surrender of all you have, and you will fully understand what it truly means to be His follower. There will be a complete renunciation of all rights to yourself. You will give it all up, with an insurmountable joy, just to walk with Him.
Live on earth as if you’ve already died, and are now living in heaven with Him.
There must be a definite place where you turn your rights over to Him. Perhaps His love has already pressed you into this. Often there will be a disillusionment and cynicism with this planet and its ugly ways. You want to escape all its dullness and jadedness. You will step into ‘life-effervescent.’ He intends to walk you through many issues, but if He is close I will suggest you trust Him fully.
If you are struggler with a mental illness: clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety issues, or schizophrenia, I want to reassure you, you are not a “lesser” Christian. And my comments include you. You are not on the ‘scrap heap’ of the Spirit. In so many ways, you can enter in while the ‘norms’ will struggle. And you do need to step into this, and discover a life worth living.
A “Psalm 23 life” is yours for the asking. Take it up, humbly and true. It’s your birthright to be with your Shepherd forever.
The Gospel of John describes a wonderful image of the vineyard— branches and vine. This illustrates our relationship with Jesus. We must abide and remain in him to be fruitful. He is the vine, and we, we are merely the branches. He is the sole source of everything.
Notice the clear implications of John 15.(Come to Me, remain in Me, stay connected to Me.) He didn’t advise or suggest we attend a seminar, go to Bible school, or attend a prayer meeting.
He said, “Come to ME.” He, and He alone is the one we are to center on. He insists that He is to be our total focus. There is no other (Matthew 11:28.)
This is either an egotistical religious fanatic intoxicated with His power and self-importance, or He really is reality.C.S. Lewis comments,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus insists that we worship Him. That much is clear. “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. I am the only way to the Father.” And of course, “He who believes in Me has eternal life, and he who doesn’t is condemned”(John 14:6.) We just breeze through these verses and never truly grasp the ramifications. A mere man could not say these things (at least not with straight face) and be considered sane.
He either was what He said He was, or a liar or lunatic. And we must decide who He really is.
As believers we need to realize Jesus’ His rightful position. The One who sits on the throne is the center. All things derive their life, meaning and essence from Him. We must not forget that He is the Risen Lord. We need to realize that He has asked us to worship Him. Point blank.
Many of our struggles come when we try to reduce Jesus to something less than what is real. If He really is the only way to the Father, we had better pay attention.
“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”
“When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.”13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13, NLT
These two verses are a challenge. They fit together like old watch mechanism, small gears and wheels in precise motion, keeping time in a treasured grace. My father had an old one, used once by a train conductor. It was made of gold, and had been used for almost 100 years.
The complexity of these verses were never meant to confuse the disciples. But for them it is simple, “to go and learn.” Certainly, there are times we will be ‘schooled’ in what we learn. And really the only way to approach this is in humility. Trying to extract the truth will take patience and a broken heart.
Jesus states the truth of being a doctor, and there is a singular work that a doctor does. It is serving all who come to him with sickness or injury. Jesus clarifies a truth that has to be in place.
“Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, `Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” v.13, CEV
“Go and learn!” This implies that there are lessons for us, classes that we need to take in order to grow-up and touch sick and desperate people. Funny, but it’s all about mercy, and nothing to do with “sacrifices.” Mercy is what matters. “I want you to be merciful to others.”
I admit that I’d rather be merciful, than to be right. (It’s good to be both.) But mercy– and gentleness should be our driving impulse. These attitudes assist us to move us forward. “Go and learn.”
The last verse reveals the thinking that Jesus has. He has come to help those of us in trouble. The good people don’t understand, after all, isn’t their ‘sparkly goodness’ enough? As his disciples, we share our faith to all; but maybe we should consider the weak, poor and the sick already prepared for the words of Jesus? “Go and learn.”
“Discipleship is a lifelong process and journey rooted in a relationship with Jesus, whereby we become more like Christ.”
Professor Mitchell, what is the difference between being depressed and just feeling bad about yourself?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference; sometimes you’re not certain. I look for clinical indicators of depressive illness: whether the person’s life is becoming impaired by these bad feelings, when it’s starting to interfere with people’s sleep, appetite and weight, when it’s interfering with their work and concentration, they’re having suicidal thoughts, they can’t buck up. Those symptoms help me to sort out whether it’s just life problems or whether it’s more.
So depression is an illness?
Yes. Even though there are both psychological and physical parts to it, it makes sense to think of severe depression as an illness. There are good medical and psychological treatments that can help people get out of it.
What proportion of the population is depressed?
Figures vary, but over a lifetime about 15% of the population are prone to getting depression on at least one occasion. So it’s relatively common. Some people only have one episode, but for at least half of those who suffer depression once, it is a recurring experience.
Is depression the sort of thing that certain personality types are likely to suffer?
I think that’s true. Anybody is vulnerable to becoming depressed, if things get difficult for them, but some personality types are more prone than others. For instance, if you tend to look for your own failings and weaknesses, if you expect disasters, you are prone to becoming depressed. People who have fragile self-esteems are prone; people who are excessively perfectionistic can be thrown when things don’t go quite right; people who have long-term high levels of anxiety.
Can you describe what it is like to be depressed?
Patients find it quite hard to describe. They often use analogies, like there is a ‘black cloud’ or a ‘weight’ on them. They say that they just can’t enjoy things any more, that they can’t get the drive to do anything; they stay in bed because they just have no energy or enthusiasm. They tend to ruminate and think about their failings, their hopeless situation. But many people find it hard to communicate the experience; even very articulate people have told me how difficult it is to communicate the experience to other people.
On the other side of the fence, what is it like to be close to someone who is depressed?
I think it’s very wearing. It never ceases to amaze me how couples stay together, particularly when it’s prolonged. Even with the best of good will and human kindness, long-term depression can be a very tiring experience for a spouse or close friend. You may get little response from a depressed person, little enthusiasm, withdrawal. They don’t want to interact socially and sometimes they can be quite irritable. Within a marriage, tension may be increased because the depressed person has no interest in sexual activity. So these things exacerbate the problem.
I sometimes hear it said that depressed people ought to just ‘snap out of it’. Can they do that?
Not when the depression is severe in the way we have been talking about. If someone can snap out of it, usually they have by that stage. In general, a depressed person doesn’t like the experience and if it was a matter of just getting on and doing something, they would have tried it. Sometimes people need to learn psychological ways of getting out of the depressed state. But sometimes there is a biochemical process going on that means the person isn’t physically able to snap out of it, without professional help.
Often there is a mixture of the physical and the psychological. It’s very rarely one or the other. The more I see depression, the more I see a complex interplay between personality, the biology of our brains and our life experience.
So depressed people can’t snap out of it, but they also can’t explain very easily what is actually troubling them. It’s a very frustrating illness!
Absolutely. It’s hard for people who haven’t dealt with it professionally to have any idea what it’s like to be depressed. So people have this difficulty understanding it, and this tendency to think that the person should be able to get out of it, and the depressed person has difficulty explaining the experience and feels frustrated and stigmatized when people are telling them to snap out of it, because they know they can’t snap out of it. There is enormous tension.
I suppose the big question is, for both the depressed person and those around them, can depression be cured?
Most people with depression can either be cured or significantly helped by available treatments. These days, we have very good treatments. We can’t help everybody, but we can help the vast majority of people we see.
Is it always a long-term cure, or can it happen quickly?
It varies. Often within a few weeks many people have benefited significantly. Some forms of depression require more long-term psychological treatment, others respond very quickly to medication. And there are grades in between.
Is depression like alcoholism, where you can get it under control but never really be beyond its reach?
For most people, that’s probably a realistic comparison. I tell people that they are always going to be prone to becoming depressed, so they need to be wary about relapses in the future. They need to be sensible about their medications, learn techniques to help them, think about whether there are aspects of their lives that they need to change. We can’t always prevent future episodes, but we can usually make them less likely.
The poet Les Murray recently has been very public about coming out of his depression. It’s interesting that some of the best poetry is written by people who have been depressed. Look at William Cowper, a Christian poet and hymn writer who wrote some of his most moving material during periods of profound depression. So depression can be both creative and destructive.
This raises an important issue for Christians. How do we connect our mental and our spiritual lives?
Cowper became very doubting at times, during his depression. One thing many Christian patients say is that God seems very distant during such periods. I’ve come to accept that as part of the depressive experience rather than a problem with their faith. I’ve seen people with a very deep faith, who yearn to be close to God, and who when depressed feel very barren and remote from God. For instance, J. B. Phillips, the Bible translator, was profoundly depressed for much of his adult life. He has described this sense of distance from God.
That is very distressing for Christians. They begin to worry that it is a lack of faith or lack of spiritual growth. But having seen it enough, I think it is just an expression of the depressive experience. Many Christians also feel that depression is a sign of weakness, of spiritual inadequacy, and they have a strong sense of guilt. Unfortunately, I think that often the church, explicitly or implicitly, has encouraged that—that if you have depression, it’s a reflection on your spiritual life. This adds an incredible burden to people who are already feeling guilty and self-critical. It’s a bit like Job’s encouragers, who basically made him feel worse.
Why does there seem to be a large number of depressed people in our churches?
It’s often the more sensitive people who become depressed, and there are often a lot of obsessional and sensitive people in churches. My experience is that there is a lot of depression in our congregations and that we don’t handle it at all well. We often infer, explicitly or implicitly, that the Christian shouldn’t have the experience of depression—that it’s not part of the victorious Christian life. And that causes enormous guilt and makes people less likely to talk about it. I think we have a lot of silent suffering going on in our churches. People just aren’t getting helped, because they feel guilty about having depression. We need to bring out into the open the fact that depression is a common experience, even within the church. And that being a Christian doesn’t stop you from getting depression. And that having depression is no more a failing than having diabetes.
In general, the church deals very badly with mental illness. In the middle ages, it was considered demon possession; in the late 20th century it’s considered a symptom of spiritual inadequacy. But it isn’t necessarily either of these things.
Are people in very demanding ministries especially prone?
They are prone; I don’t know about especially. They are in line for so many of the factors that contribute to depression: burn-out, demoralization, excessive demands, not looking after your own emotional needs, not having time to yourself. I see some of the casualties, and often by then it’s too late because someone has resigned from the ministry or become completely disillusioned. And it’s all too hidden, too hush-hush. We’re dealing with it no better than the secular world; in some ways we’re doing worse.
What then are the ways that a depressed person can be helped, both by individuals and by the church?
Well, especially in the early days, one can be supportive, help people get back into their lives—those normal things of friendship and support, being a sounding board, willing to listen to difficulties. These things might be sufficient to alleviate the early experience of depression.
But if we’re looking at a fully formed depression that’s been going on for a while, the person should be encouraged to seek proper professional help. That doesn’t always mean a psychiatrist; it might mean a GP or a counsellor. Just someone with the skills and training to help. So that’s the first thing, when the support networks have been stretched to the limit.
While that process is happening, it’s important to be around for the depressed person, accepting the fact that it might be a frustrating experience until that person picks up. Not feeling that you have to do everything yourself. There has to be a point where a friend accepts that they can’t provide everything the person needs. That point is usually indicated by signs like someone crying constantly, their work falling apart, withdrawing inexplicably, perhaps losing weight. These things indicate that the depression is getting severe.
Finally, do you think depression has become more of a problem today than it used to be?
It’s an area of debate. There’s no doubt that depression has always existed. The old Greek medical writers are clearly describing patients with depression. There was a book written in the 17th century called The Anatomy of Melancholy which described what we would call depressed patients. So it goes back through the ages; it’s part of the general human experience.
The issue is whether it has become more frequent. People have looked at the occurrence of depression in groups of people born in different decades in this century, and the frequency of occurrence seems to go up as the decades continue. People born in the 60s are more prone to depression than those at similar ages, but born in the 30s. Now, the significance of that is debated. It could be that people in recent decades simply have become more willing to admit to their depression, hence the higher rate of reports. Or it could be true that it is becoming a more common experience, and presumably that reflects changes in society. What those changes are is a very difficult question to answer.
So it’s hard to say whether the loneliness of urban living is a major factor?
Well yes, and it’s a very interesting area of debate. The World Health Organization has released predictions of the impact of different illnesses over the next century. They are saying that depression will be the 21st century’s most disabling condition, in terms of the impact on the individual, frequency and cost to society, on a worldwide basis. That survey included all medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease. So there is a recognition that it is a very prevalent condition, and that it is a very disabling condition to have. Whatever is causing it, we’re going to have to deal with it.
Philip Mitchell is a Professor at the School of Psychiatry, Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
“Jesus replied, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. They can’t fast while the groom is with them.”
This whole idea of celebrating is often at odds with religious sensibilities. “Too much liberty and too much freedom, and not enough control. People won’t know how to behave, and it’ll ruin everything.” This argument has been used for generations, and will continue to perpetuate itself.
People just don’t know what to do when the presence of Jesus becomes activated in their midst.
There is a wedding! Like all weddings this alters the present status-quo. “We interrupt life for this special announcement– JESUS is getting married!” He has attached Himself to a bride, she is simple, and yet beautiful. Room is made for the outcasts and mentally ill. For she is the Church, made up of rascals and ragamuffins who have had their many sins forgiven! All are invited.
We are limited our religious duty of fasting. It is definitely not appropriate in the light of this good news. Simply put, we cannot advance our religious reputation in this new environment. It’s not about us at all! Joy has taken over, and we can do nothing but stand in wonder. Jesus Christ has become “all, and in all”.
To follow Jesus must mean we are people of joy and celebration! The old concepts of religious effort are nullified, plain and simple. It really isn’t required, but it is understood that we will rejoice. We will begin to party!
Joy is to infuse our understanding, and it will lift us to the place where life becomes infected with the contagion of heaven. It is an epidemic spreading to every believer. The Universe has become the stage when worship is the only solution to the history of man.
His Presence has tipped the scales, and He has formulated Himself as the center of the whole ‘kit and caboodle.’ A joyful romance is at the very essence of everything. C.S. Lewis once said that “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”
When it all comes down, we are transferred into the status of the amazed. What has happened has caused us to take a breath, and step back in wonderment. Jesus is the Revolution! We are brought to the place where we belong, we are nothing more than witnesses and participants in His exaltation. We must rejoice in the joy of the Bridegroom!
Clyde Kilby’s Resolutions for Mental Health and for Staying Alive to God in This World
Once a day I will look at the sky and remember that I am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
I will suppose the universe is guided by an intelligence.
I will not fall into the lie that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding 24 hours, but rather a unique event, filled with wonderful potential.
I will prefer reality to abstractions.
I will not demean my own uniqueness by envying others. I will mostly forget about myself and do my work.
I will open my eyes and ears by at least once a day simply staring at a tree, a flower, a cloud or a person. I will simply be glad that they are what they are.
I will often remember back to when I was a child and think about my dreaming eyes of wonder.
I will frequently turn to things like a good book and good music.
I will enjoy each moment, not always worrying about what the decade before me will demand from me.
I will bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic but rather acknowlege that each day strokes are made on the cosmic canvas that in due course I will understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.
” Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise.”
Clyde Kilby, who is now with the Lord in heaven, was my teacher in English Literature at Wheaton. He did as much as any other teacher I have had to open my eyes to the ministry of God in the skies.
Scripture is completely saturated with singing. There a whole a lot of people who think the Bible is full of sin, wrath and judgement. But that is not a fair assessment. It’s misguided, and side tracks many.
“And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:
“Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”
Revelation 5:13, NLT
The culmination of the total history of mankind, ends up in this song. All of the history books, and college lectures and symposiums are merely setting up for this massive choir. It is what we are all about.
In the Old Testament, it seems everyone sings. One finds melody everywhere. Moses sings, the Children of Israel sing. Miriam sings, Deborah sings. David sings, the Levites in the temple sings. Most of the Psalms sing. Mary sings, the angels sing. And when the curtain falls on history, everyone sings. (God’s people are quite melodic it seems.)
“Next to theology I give to music the highest place and honor. And we see how David and all the saints have wrought their godly thoughts into verse, rhyme, and song.”
But where does this take you and I? A common denominator is when one comes to a revelation of God. With a deeper understanding there is a wider capacity to sing. Another commonality is responding to a miraculous deliverance, from sin or enemies. These are just a couple of the reasons we should “join the choir.”
“Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me. At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.”
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”
Col. 3:16, NLT
So sing. Sing alone or in a group. It’s the will of God, that pleases Him immensely.