Below is a summary of the sermon I preached on 10/14/12 in the Leading Our Emotions Series on defeating spiritual depression.
Spiritual depression can be defeated by turning from a private focus on self, to corporate worship of Christ: “Why cast down, O my soul, put your hope in Christ.” Be sure that in Christ we can win.
“He had learned the deep significance of this outward-oriented self-forgetfulness from C.S. Lewis and drew our attention to it often. Mental health is, in great measure, the gift of self-forgetfulness. The reason is that introspection destroys what matters most to us–the authentic experience of great things outside ourselves.” John Piper on Clyde Kilby and C.S. Lewis.
We can only lead our emotions under the Lordship of Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit and the living wisdom of God’s Word that. This is the theme of this preaching series.
Along with all Bible believing Christians, at The Red Brick Church, we confess the verse, which is written on the front of our bulletins (Psalm 19:7a), “God’s Word revives our souls.” This point of doctrine, and the certainty that the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the preached Word, is the bedrock of this sermon series on emotions. Based on God’s Word, we must stop listening to our emotions and start talking to them. Our emotions need to be led. Recall the quote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones I have shared:
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.’
Moving, specifically, to the area of spiritual depression, the point of the sermon preached on October 16, 2012 in the “Leading Our Emotions” sermon series was that a central strategy in the battle depression must be to turn from a private focus on self, to a corporate worship of Christ. Said another way, a strategy for battling spiritual depression is to, “Worship Christ to practice self-forgetfulness.” Where many voices of our age tell us to work through spiritual depression by digging through the rubble of our minds in order to privately find the solution within, God’s Word tells us to run to the baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the worship of Christ.
The biblical strategy of turning to Christ is easily seen in Psalms 42-43 (which should be seen as one Psalm). In Psalm 42-43, the strategy of putting hope in Christ in order to battle depression jumps off the page. It is the repeated chorus (42:5,11, 43:5):
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
While the solution of putting our hope in Christ is theoretically obvious in the biblical text, practically implementing this strategy in life is incredibly difficult. It is a challenge in the first place because the nature of humanity’s rebellion against God is to turn inward on self. Fallen humanity believes that he knows the solutions to our problems apart from God’s help. In his book, The Gospel Centered Life, Michael Horton summarizes the nature of fallen humanity:
Paul and his fellow apostles knew that they were by nature – – like the rest of us – – bent in on themselves. And picking up on a phrase from Augustine, the Protestant Reformers said that as fallen sinners we are all “curved in on ourselves.” Born with a severe case of spiritual scoliosis, our spines are twisted so that all we can see are our own immediate felt needs, desires, wants, and momentary gratifications . . .
Like a branch that has been bent out of shape, we fall back naturally to being curved in on ourselves unless we are being pulled back constantly to raise our eyes up to God in faith as he has clothed himself in the gospel of his Son.
Given our spiritual scoliosis, the first step of defeating spiritual depression must be to be conversion. We must be born again.
Yet, sanctification (being increasingly conformed to the image of Christ) is a process and even Christians continue to battle spiritual depression. It is only as we look at Christ in the Scriptures that we are increasingly conformed to His image, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:16-17).
If our fallen nature, and the ongoing battle of the Christian with the flesh weren’t enough by themselves, turning from a private focus on self to corporate worship of Christ is even more difficult in our day because modern culture indoctrinates with a strategy for responding to mental turmoil that is precisely the opposite of Scripture. Those battling depression are told by the authoritative voices of our day to look inward for the solution. The depressed are to do this by digging through the rubble of the past, the mysteries of the subconscious, the environment in which they find themselves, most often a with a goal of improving self-esteem. As different as the philosophical movements of Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, and Carl Rogers are from one another, what they all three have in common is that they are man-centered. Their explanation of psychology and the treatment of spiritual depression exclude God.
Sadly, godless psychotherapy has largely carried the day in the Modern Era. Hence, Eric Johnson writes:
As a result, by the middle twentieth century, secular psychology and psychotherapy was firmly entrenched as the only legitimate approach to the study of human nature and to soul care. Rightly interpreted, modern soul care should be seen as the chief religious competitor to Christian salvation in the West.
The solutions of secular psychology and psychotherapy are in sharp contrast to the biblical solutions. Individualism rules the day and constantly tells us to turn inward. Man-centered modern psychology insists that the answer to leading our emotions depends on us or on circumstances that can be changed. Dominant worldviews (in which God has no place) have shaped our thinking. We swim in introspective individualism. Self-esteem, in particular, has become the central strategy for battling psychological problem, though it has been shown to be ineffective.
The poetry of modern humanity reads, “Why so downcast O my soul, put your hope in self.” In contrast, Christ invites the weary and heavy burdened to come to Him (Matt 11:28-30).
In contrast to modern psychotherapy,tTo put our hope in Christ can only happen by God’s grace. But our turning to Christ does not happen apart from us also working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). So this matter of turning from a private focus on self to corporate worship of Christ is something we will need to work out (knowing that God will graciously supply us the strength to do so). Hence, when we are weak and turn to Christ, then we will be strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Specifically, here are four ways that those who find themselves turned in on their own emotions can seek to turn to corporate worship of Christ:
(1) Renounce the man-centered heresies of our day. The answer to mental turmoil is not found within. We are not born as blank slates. Self-esteem as defined by the world is foolishness and has shown to be as much. Of course, human beings are of infinite value because we are created in the image of God. We are so valuable that Christ died on the Cross. Yet, this does not mean the solution to our problems is found within. For more, read Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness as well as Dave Powlison articles.
(2) Preach the Gospel to Yourself every day. Only with Christianity does performance follow verdict and not the other way around. (Of course, if you are not a Christian, then you must first put your trust in Christ). I highly recommend that those who want to learn more read Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, and The Transforming Power of the Gospel.
Tim Keller offers wonderful counsel for those seeking to find their identity in Christ.
Let me say a word to those for whom this is all new. You may wish you believed this. Here is what I would say – some people have never understood the difference between Christian identity and any other kind of identity. They would call themselves a Christian, they consider their behaviour to be on the upper end of the scale, they go to church and they hope that one day God will take them home. Let me say that true Christian identity operates totally differently from any other kind of identity. Self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over. The verdict is in.
But maybe you are in a different position – you believe the gospel; maybe you have done so for years. But … and it is a big ‘but’… every day you find yourself being sucked back into the courtroom. You do not feel you are living like Paul says. You are getting sucked back in. All I can tell you is that we have to re-live the gospel every time we pray. We have to re-live it every time we go to church. We have to re-live the gospel on the spot and ask ourselves what we are doing in the courtroom. We should not be there. The court is adjourned.
(3) Practice Self-Forgetfulness – Don’t keep returning to the spot where you get in trouble, namely the tavern of your mind. Where self-esteem tries to get you to play nice with self in the tavern of the mind, just don’t go to the “bars” – – that is the inner turmoil which gives rise to such internal conflict. Read Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness and John Piper, “10 Resolutions for Mental Health.” This means (1) getting busy no matter how you feel, (2) get yourself sweating physically and spiritually. (3) Establish accountability. See also Piper on Cowper. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book, Spiritual Depression: It’s Causes and Cure is highly recommended.
(4) Treasure regular corporate worship – Interestingly, in the Bible, individual songs of complaint often turn towards a corporate focus (see Psalm 22). It only makes sense, that the turmoil that is by definition individual is countered with a corporate solution. It’s NOT going to work to just have your devotions by yourself. You’ll only become more inwardly focused –turn out from individual depression by means of corporate worship. Be baptized. Observe the Lord’s Supper. Be in church. Recognize the joy of community in all the places it occurs, whether in working at AWANA or at a funeral luncheon.
The causes for spiritual depression are widely varied. Some are spiritually depressed because of tragedy. Others suffer from great physical pain. Others are worried about loved ones. The list is as varied as people suffering from spiritual depression. Given the variety of reasons, all that can be done in a sermon like this is point to general principles. But, be assured, these general principles are powerful. God’s Word has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Hence, we should make every effort to grow in the faith (2 Peter 1:5). If you are struggling in this way, look for God’s solutions to spiritual depression.
 John Piper, “10 Resolutions for Mental Health,” Desiring God, December 31, 2009, http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/10-resolutions-for-mental-health–2.
 Throughout this series, I continue to stress that the goal is not to dispense medical advice. 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 point to dispense medical advice nor is it to downplay the need to see a physician. One of the first things those struggling with their emotions should do is see a medical doctor. We must also seek to eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep. At the same time, 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 a Christ-centered way, Spirit-enabled ways.
For example, there is a relationship between cluster headaches and the equinox. Can anyone doubt that headaches can contribute to a person being angry or down? There is a relationship between hormone levels and emotions. But this does not mean that we are excused before God. And if it is true that pastors and counselors have at times interjected themselves in physical issues, it must also be sure true that too many times we have looked for medical solutions to physical problems.
 David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 21.
 In this context, I am referring to spiritual depression as “sadness of the soul”, Lloyd-Jones definition. More technical detail can be found in Welch’s book, Edward T. Welch, Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011), 16–21.
 Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Franke E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 1–880; Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, ed. David A. Hubbard et al., Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1983); Gerald H. Wilson, Psalms Volume 1, ed. Terry Muck, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002); Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, ed. D.J. Wiseman, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1973).
 Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 20–22.
 Eric L. Johnson, Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 69.
 Os Guinness, “America’s Last Men and Their Magnificent Talking Cure,” in No God But God: Breaking With the Idols of Our Age, ed. John Seel and Os Guinness (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 111–132; Paul C. Vitz, “Leaving Psychology Behind,” in No God But God: Breaking With the Idols of Our Age, ed. John Seel and Os Guinness (Chicago: Moody, 1992), 95–110; David Powlison, “The Therapeutic Gospel”, 2007, http://www.9marks.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598014%7CCIID2340064,00.html; David Powlison, “What Is Wrong with the Therapeutic Approach to Counseling? | 9Marks”, n.d., http://www.9marks.org/journal/what-wrong-therapeutic-approach-counseling. On “moralistic therapeutic deism” see Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 163–164.
 Lauren Slater, “The Trouble With Self-Esteem,” The New York Times, February 3, 2002, sec. Magazine, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/03/magazine/03ESTEEM.html; Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, 1st ed. (Chorley, England: 10 Publishing, 2012).
 Powlison, “What Is Wrong with the Therapeutic Approach to Counseling? | 9Marks”; David Powlison, “The Therapeutic Gospel”, n.d., http://www.9marks.org/journal/therapeutic-gospel.
 Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness.
 Jerry Bridges, The Transforming Power of the Gospel (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012); Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994).
 Keller, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness.
 Piper, “10 Resolutions for Mental Health.”
 “Depression” (presented at the National Association of Nouthetic Counseling Training, Faith Baptist Lafayette Counseling Ministries, 99-2-12).
 John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
 Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression.