Leading our Emotions I – Depression

Chris —  December 14, 2017

Depression is such an awful battle. Be assured, in Christ, you can experience mega-joy. — Last week I preached the first sermon in our new series, Leading Our Emotions Through the Holidays. You can listen or read the below summary.

How do we battle depression and sadness during the holidays? We need a series on leading our emotions during the holidays. The season amplifies our emotions. To be sure, most experience more joy at Christmas. But we can also battle depression, fear, wistfulness, and grief. For example, given elevated expectations for the holidays, family disappointments can hurt much worse.

We should avoid being simplictistic about leading our emotions. The relationship between the physical body, spirituality, and the emotions is complex. Without question, illnesses and other physical conditions affect our emotions. At no point in this series, is the goal to dispense medical advice nor is it to downplay the need to see a physician. One of the first strategies those struggling with their emotions should employ is to see a medical doctor. We must also seek to eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. Having stressed the importance of the medical, our spiritual lives and our relationship with God also affect our emotional state. The objective of this series is to outline spiritual strategies for leading our emotions in Christ-centered – Spirit-enabled ways.

Last week we began our series on emotions by first reviewing an overall framework for understanding our emotions.

  1. Our loving heavenly-Father gives us the good gift of emotions. As image-bearers, our emotions allow us to experience life in ways that are consistent with the circumstances of life. Who would not want to know joy at the birth of a child? Or to weep at the loss of a loved one?
  2. The fallen-ness of our world – our own transgressions — but also the situations into which we are born — twists or distorts our emotions. Emotional struggles – such as fear or anxiety — take place when God’s good gifts of emotions are distorted into something God never morally intended. And when such a twisting of our emotions takes place, God’s beautiful gifts of affective experiences morph into cruel tyrants.Last week, I illustrated this point with a consideration of “anger.” God gives humans the gift of righteous anger so that as his special representatives (image bearers) they can be righteously and zealously indignant. For example, anger is a gift God gives to mothers in the face of what threatens her children. However, sadly, we must acknowledge that parental anger can be distorted and misdirected into all sorts of abuse including child-abuse.
  3. Emotions are redeemable. As we believe in Christ, and grow in Him, we are liberated from the bondage of sin and in Christ enjoy the freedom to lead our emotions in the way God intended. Said another way, in leading our emotions, we begin with the gospel and from there grow by grace to be more like Jesus (sanctification).
  4. Jesus modeled how we should lead our emotions. If we desire a more concrete example of how to lead our emotions in a fallen world, we should meditate on Jesus. The more we prayerfully meditate on his beauty, the more we will become like him in all ways, including how we lead our emotions (2 Cor 3:17-18).

We should not expect all our emotional struggles to immediately end. Jesus said that we need to come to him and learn from him, for his yoke is easy, and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). We might compare the journey of leading our emotions to getting in shape physically. On a given day we may learn principles for taking care of ourselves —- less sugar, more exercise, etc. But if we are to see any results, we must adopt a new rythym of life —- likewise, if we are to lead our emotions we must walk with Christ in the warp and woof of life: be in church with other believers, worship Christ every day, pray, rinse our minds with the Word.

We then considered the area of depression or sadness of the soul. (1) Being sad is a gift from God. It is a way that our affections are consistent with the reality of a fallen world. There are times when grief is entirely appropriate. (2) Depression on one level or another is a common experience. That given the brokenness of relationships, our physical struggles, the short days, this is a time of year when our struggle can be particularly intense. (3) Thankfully, we see so much in the Bible about how to deal with our struggles. (4) Indeed, with Jesus we see that he faced the greatest sadness ever known.

We then expanded our meditation on Jesus with eight observations about how Jesus led his sadness (Matt 26:36-46): (1) Accept that we battle sadness in world. (2) Know that the situation of sadness is complicated. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (3) Seek the help of the community of the redeemed. V. 38: remain here, and watch with me. (4) Pray. 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed – (5) Understand that everyone else will (family included) will let us down at points. Do not allow the shortcomings of others to lead your emotions during the holidays. 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? (6) Submit to the will of the Father. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (7) Get moving. Brush your teeth! Staying in bed will not help you lead your emotions.  45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (8) Anticipate mega-joy (Heb 12:1-3).

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“The essence of this matter is to understand that 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. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control. The devil takes hold of self and use it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why art thou cast down? Why art thou disquieted within me?’ Stop being so! ‘Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance,’ He, ‘who is the health of my countenance and my God.’” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones[2]

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“And it must be remembered that in all places where God is mentioned, we are to understand God in the promised Messiah, typified out so many ways unto us. And to put the more vigour into such places in the reading of them, we in this latter age of the church must think of God shining upon us in the face of Christ, and our Father in him.” Richard Sibbes, 1635

[1] Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Pyschology Proposal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 301.
[2] David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 21.

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