1, 1, 7-The Spiritual in Life
Read John 13:1-7
Jesus was the model servant and he showed his servant attitude to his disciples. If even he, God in the flesh, is willing to serve, we his followers must also be servants, willing to serve in any way, that glorifies God. Are you willing to follow Christ’s example of serving?
What kind of life did those first Christians live? When they were together, they devoted themselves to four things….
First, they gave themselves to “the apostles’ teaching. “That was every thing the apostles had seen Jesus do and heard him say. Eventually they got it all written down; now we call it the New Testament. Our equivalent today of the “apostles teaching” would be Bible study.
Second, they devoted themselves to the fellowship. That was simply being together for the joy of being together. Why draw your stimuli for life, they must have been thinking, from non-Christians who have nothing to contribute, when you could be absorbing more and more of the life of Christ from within your Christian friends? This was no deliberate cut-off from worldlings to be exclusive. Their fellowship was the strong base from which they reached out to others. But there was far more power for evangelism in this close-knit community than we find today – we, whose spirits are diluted by so much exposure to the world – even though we may say it’s to win them for Christ!
Third, they devoted themselves to breaking bread together. I’m sure this meant Communion, but I think it meant other meals , too. How did it happen? Well, I’ll use my imagination. Here was Thomas with a roomful of new believers in a home together. They were singing, praying, laughing together, sharing their trials, and listening to Thomas teach. Finally one of them slaps his forehead. “I don’t believe it!” he says. “The sun’s gone down, I hadn’t even noticed. The children must be starving.”
Everybody looks shocked and frustrated. The lady of the house says, “Oh, Thomas, just keep talking, and I’ll break out something for us, somehow.”….
My bet is that the meals just happened that way at first, and they added so much to the fun and close feelings, besides extending the time, that they began to be planned for!
Number four ingredient in their new life together: “the prayers.” That’s right, the Greek has the article the in front of it, and the same word as in Acts 3:1: “One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of the prayers.” In other words, “the prayers” were the stated times for worship at the temple, and all believers went together….
No doubt a lot of former activities had to go, for the early Christians. They “eliminated” and they “conceentrated”; they “continually devoted themselves” to these four things.
Friends, let’s check our lifestyles. Have we eliminated a lot of clutter from our lives so that we, and the ones around us who want to go hard after God, can give ourselves to Bible study, to fellowship, to eating together, and to the regular services of the church?
(From Discipling One Another by Anne Ortlund)
Host a party. Spend part of your time praying together. have fun talking. Brainstorm with your friends ways to help the church and community.
Whom can you serve today?
There is a special blessing for those who not only agree that humble service is Christ’s way, but who also follow through and do it.
Specifically, how will you put Jesus’ teaching into practice in at least one relationship this week at home, work, or church?
In your spiritual life, who is one person who has demonstrated what it means to “wash feet”? What did he or she do?
Why do you think people in the church do not regularly practice the equivalent of foot washing?
in your family relationships, what would it mean to practice foot washing?
People are human children of God – who have physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs. Yet when people stand in need of help, they often find their needs divided among specialist in care-giving. Physicians seize the physical; psychotherapist or counselors, the mental and emotional; friends and family, the social. But frequently the spiritual goes begging for want of an available caregiver – or it falls squarely on the already overburdened shoulders of the pastors.
Every Christian’s job description includes being a sister/brother, servant or fellow “Child of God.” By virtue of your Christian faith, you are uniquely equipped to relate to the deep spiritual needs of others. Your “specialist” function, as a Christian training person can ensure that another’s spiritual needs will not be unrecognized and unmet. You are a trainer who rightly integrates spiritual needs into the other kinds of care a person might receive.
Before we discuss ways to minister to spiritual needs as one part of the whole person, we need a clearer understanding of what spiritual needs are. You have made a good start on this, by participating in the QOL-Christian Leadership Training Institute program.
Probably no one else will ask the person about his standing with his God, and the problems of his spiritual needs. As a Christian trainer, you continually need to have your eyes open to the spiritual dimension of people’s concerns, along with other dimensions. Even with this knowledge, obstacles to your reaching out to someone’s spiritual needs could remain.
Obstacles to Training in Meeting Spiritual Needs
Although you intellectually see the importance of recognizing and relating to the spiritual needs of people, there are some common roadblocks preventing meaningful spiritual discussion.
Modern Spiritual Poverty
One ‘stumbling block’ to freely talking about spiritual needs (for both trainers and trainees) is that society in general is spiritually impoverished. Spiritual talk, unfortunately, takes a back seat. People are frequently more comfortable talking about material things than spiritual issues.
Relating to modern general spiritual impoverishment is a second obstacle: spiritual matters are generally thought to have a place (church) and a time (Sunday morning). The rest of the world and the rest of the week are reserved for the secular. Sunday is experienced apart from the reality of the rest of life; Monday through Saturday existence is cut off from the spiritual dimension. Since everyone lives in relationship to God, the spiritual dimension is as much a part of life as any other dimension, regardless of time or place.
Reluctance or Fear
A third obstacle preventing people from addressing spiritual needs is reluctance or fear – on the part of either the trainer or the trainee. Discussing personal spiritual needs with someone else can be threatening, because it includes talk about personal and sensitive issues that might not be accepted by others, and it means wrestling with difficult questions affecting the very heart of human existence. Frequently, people respond to difficult questions with superficial, pat answers. Stock answers are evidence of the difficulty that many people have in meaningfully discussing spiritual matters. Falling back on canned answers prevents people from examining how they feel inside about their relationship with God, what they really believe.
Lack of Knowledge or Education
Many people do not know, or don’t think they know, what to say or do when confronted with others who have spiritual needs. Some people, in fact are unclear about what spiritual needs are.
Opening the Door for Spiritual Talk
Precisely because society is spiritually poor, you, a Christian trainer, need to be ready to open the door for the expression of spiritual needs. The needs are there and must be met. Here are some ways you could begin to initiate spiritual communication.
Provide an Atmosphere of Acceptance
Because people are in the habit of suppressing their spiritual needs and because society in many ways encourages this. You need to help break this habit. It is important that people know it is acceptable for them to express themselves regarding their spiritual life. In a caring relationship they need to feel an atmosphere of acceptance that includes talk about their spiritual concerns.
Communicating acceptance, first of all, means taking the time to listen fully, being especially attentive to peoples hurts and struggles. You might be one of the few who are willing to discuss real spiritual concerns with them. As trust develops, people often become more willing to discuss personal spiritual matters. Your genuineness will also help to create an atmosphere of acceptance. Drawing upon the resources of the Bible and prayer at appropriate times can let others know that it is perfectly all right for them to share their spiritual concerns with you.
Be Alert to Spiritual Needs
Creating an atmosphere of acceptance is a start, but you also need to be alert to detect spiritual needs, expressed or unexpressed. In a training relationship an individual might tend to suppress spiritual discussion, but this does not imply that the person has no spiritual needs. Being alert to what people feel and think (as well as what they say) is important. Your ability to discern the spiritual dimension in the life of a trainee could result in a answering a hidden cry for help from someone involved in a spiritual crises.
Encourage People to Discuss Spiritual Needs
The author of Proverbs wrote: “The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out” (20:5). Just as individuals need encouragement to express their feelings and needs in other areas of life, they also need encouragement to talk about their spiritual needs. When training someone, you will probably ask questions like “How are you feeling?” or “How are things going?” or “What would you like to see happen in the future?” (My favorite) similar questions can also be asked about the person’s spiritual life. For example, you could inquire:
- “How is (a particular crisis) affecting your view of God and life?”
- “Do you see yourself as a religious or spiritual person?” (If the answer is yes, follow this up by an appropriate open ended question).
- “How do you see God fitting into your life?”
- “What values are important to you?”
Another way to encourage people to share their spiritual needs is to ask specific open-ended questions. Unlike the general spiritually oriented questions above, the following questions are prompted by what the person is specifically experiencing. For example, you could say:
- You mentioned that you have been experiencing a lot of suffering recently and that you are wondering if God could be punishing you. Could you elaborate on that?”
- “You say that you’re frequently depressed since you have retired, that there’s nothing left in life for you. It’s almost as if you have lost your sense of purpose.”
Sometimes after you say something to encourage a person to talk about the spiritual, the individual will answer with a religious cliché, or a general statement that does not really express how he or she is feeling inside. For example, the person might say, “God means everything for the best,” or “I go to church every Sunday” or “Oh, I believe in God.” None of these statements fully expresses how the person feels about his or her life in relationship to God. To move beyond clichés, you may need to ask some follow-up questions that allow the individual to explain his or her feelings in greater detail. Here is a sample excerpt from the middle of a conversation to show how this might be done.
Trainer: You’re facing some major surgery tomorrow, George. How are you feeling right now about God?
Mr. Adams: Oh, I don’t know. I go to church every Sunday, you know.
Trainer: You are very faithful in coming to church, and that’s good. I’m wondering, though, how your relationship with God is affected by all this?
Mr. Adams: I guess God will be with me.
Trainer: You say that God will be with you, could you tell me more about what you mean?
Mr. Adams (fidgeting): Whether I live or die in surgery is out of my control. I believe God is in control and will do what is best. I have faith in him.
Trainer: Would you like to talk to God about that, George? I’ll be glad to join with you in a prayer.
Mr. Adams (dispiritedly): What difference would it make? God doesn’t care what I want.
The trainer has seen a small bit of the spiritual crisis Mr. Adams is undergoing and can work with him in it. The trainer can continue to provide an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement so that Mr. Adams can express his concerns and fears with the trainer, and eventually with God.
Take Whatever Time is Necessary for Extended Conversation about Spiritual Concerns
Occasionally, you and the other person might decide to discuss a single spiritual concern in greater depth. You might even spend an entire conversation focusing onn a particular spiritual issue. For example, suppose you are talking with a man who knows he has cancer and might not have long to live. He told you that he has been struggling to understand his illness and probable death in light of his faith in God. Certainly you will want to spend a lot of time discussing his feelings and thoughts about his illness and his relationship with God. It is important that you take sufficient time to actively listen to him and to understand his faith struggles. Since this is a personal, sensitive matter, the man’s anxiety and tension will probably intensify as he explores his feelings. By taking the time to listen, understand, and discuss, you can enable him to gain new insights into his relationship with God and new growth in his faith as he struggles with his situation.
Pitfalls to Avoid
By staying away from a few common pitfalls in ministering to someone’s deep spiritual needs, you will significantly increase your effectiveness as a trainer.
Avoid One-Way Street Discussions
One of the dangers of discussing spiritual concerns is that the discussion can easily become a one-way flow of words from you to another person. You might have responded well to the needs and feelings of your trainee until a spiritual question was raised. At that point you could be tempted to shift into the role of a lecturer. When this happens, the conversation quickly becomes a monolog in which you do all (or most) of the talking. The relationship is no longer between equals, but becomes that of a superior instructing an inferior. When relating to spiritual needs, the discussion should always be a dialog – a mutual exploration of religious feelings and needs. Talking about God or faith is not taking a funnel and pouring the right words into someone’s head. It is a sharing process in which you will both speak and listen.
Avoid Religious Clichés
There are many religious clichés and pat phrases in common use. Be careful to avoid using them in your helping relationships. Examples are:
- “All you need is faith.”
- “Praise the Lord anyway.”
- “Don’t worry, God loves you.”
Although such might contain some truth, in many contexts they are shallow, inappropriate responses to difficult life problems. Clichés frequently offer little insight and, furthermore, prevent both you and the other person from really speaking meaningfully and to the point. If you do not know what to say, it is better to say so than to resort to a pat religious phrase. When you do have something spiritual to say, don’t use a cliché.
Avoid a Know-It-All Attitude
You no doubt have strong convictions about certain matters of faith. A problem can arise if you are tempted to act as the final authority on spiritual matters and try – perhaps even unwittingly – to force your convictions on others. A rigid attitude on your part can yield negative results in the training relationship.
First, and perhaps worst, the person might passively buckle under to your conclusions, agreeing with you without thinking things through. Second, and attempt to force your views on someone could cause him or her to reject or avoid spiritual matters entirely. Third, trying to force your own understanding on someone could start an argument. This is certainly non-productive for spiritual growth. Feel free to share your insights, but there is no need for you always to justify your beliefs, or worse yet, force your own understandings on another person.
Everyone’s life has a spiritual dimension. God persists in revealing this dimension wherever and whenever he can, despite society’s continual efforts to thwart him. As one who seeks to train others as a effective Christians, you need to be ready to relate to the deep spiritual needs of others. Your readiness to do so will be communicated to others by the climate of acceptance and encouragement you create, by your sensitivity to opportunities to raise the issue, and by your willingness to take whatever time is necessary. The person you are caring for will find you trustworthy because you do not respond with clichés or behave in a lofty, superior manner, and you listen as well as talk. Thus, the door will be open for providing care that is deeply and distinctively Christian.
Training for Emotional Problems
We’ll apply scriptural principles to four major emotions interwoven with many of the problems that bring people to you as a leader-trainer: anger, fear, worry, and depression.
Emotions are to life what pigment is to paint: they make life bright and beautiful or dark and dreary. Indeed, life would be mechanical and lacking intensity without emotions. But when emotions become damaged, just as a river which overflows its banks creates destruction, something beautiful becomes ugly. When a person becomes overwhelmed by his emotions, his family, friends, and acquaintances suffer too. But far more than the suffering which the person causes is the internal turmoil and intensity which he or she must face, often alone and misunderstood.
There is an issue, though, which needs to be confronted as we delve into this issue. Does God really want His children to suffer emotionally?
Is God pleased when we are overwhelmed with worry or fear? Is he pleased when two who once loved each other are continually torn by emotional conflict? Is there anything that glorifies Him about individuals who were once productive but have become stressed to the point of emotional “burnout?”
My question is not whether we ought to face emotional conflict, but rather is He pleased by our succumbing to it? In the upper room shortly before Jesus faced Calvary, He told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The word translated “tribulation” is a word which is also translated in the New Testament as oppression, affliction, or difficult circumstances. All of this spells emotional pressure, or stress, as we often refer to it today.
Paul of course, saw more than his fair share of emotional conflict. His commitment to Jesus Christ and his determination to make Christ known created conflict as does our faith today in some situations. In today’s society a woman who is a committed believer will experience similar conflict with her unbelieving husband about her spending time with a Bible study group or about her giving money to her church.
The letter which we know as 2 Corinthians has been called the “heart of Paul.” In this magnificent letter, Paul laid aside doctrinal concerns which had occupied much of his previous letter and quite intimately shared his heart with these struggling people, so immature in their own Christian experiences. Possibly, Paul wanted them to know that even he struggled with emotional issues and conflicts, but he also wanted them to know that the struggle isn’t the important thing – the victory is. He wrote, “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14).
Ponder these words for a moment:
“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon be daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:24-28).
In the same letter he said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor. 6:10).
What a contrast of emotions; Whatever we face, Paul probably experienced too. Shortly before his death, the tough old warrior wrote to a young man from prison saying, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
That sound-mind principle which Paul spoke of is possible because of these things: a relationship with Jesus Christ deals with the fundamental issue of guilt and forgiveness; the Bible teaches us how to handle the disappointments and hardships of life which are very much part of the broken world in which we live; and faith eliminates the ultimate fear of death, which allows us to focus on living vibrant, meaningful, and purposeful lives.
Paul’s letters echo what he experienced in life; in the world we will face trouble and pressure, but through faith in God we can overcome the emotional conflicts and pressures that are fatal to many.
What Paul chose to do was to refuse to give up when confronted with emotional issues that would have caused lesser individuals to “turn loose” and give up. “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound … I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” and then he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:12, 13).
When someone comes to you for help and you sense that the person’s mind is poisoned with hatred and anger, you understand from the beginning that you are working with a situation which is contrary to God’s will. You realize that you are working in cooperation with the Spirit of God to help that person forsake the anger and restore a relationship.
When you see a mother overwhelmed by irrational fear which keeps her captive within her own home and so destroys her peace of mind that se cannot back the family car dow the driveway and take her children to school, you are dealing with a situation which is not God’s will (remember 2 Tim. 1:7 quoted earlier in this chapter?).
When you talk with a business colleague who has made some poor investments and is so worried about the money that he can’t sleep nights and lives on a diet of double-strength Maalox and crackers, you know you are working with someone who needs the peace that comes through viewing life from the perspective of what really counts.
Christian faith becomes the framework of our emotional outlook which is different from the secular mind, as Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Dr. Chris Thurman of the Minirth-Meier Clinic has written an excellent book, The Lies We Believe, to help people understand the secular lies that they accept as truth.
Once a person understands life from God’s perspective, he or she will not be embittered by difficult situations.
Undoubtedly you will encounter people whose anger is out of control. The wife who has been betrayed by her husband is understandably angry, something different from the husband whose temper causes him to strike his wife or children. One is the result of confidence which has been betrayed; the other occurs because the man’s emotions are out of control.
Anger in itself is not sin. It is amoral; it can either be used for good or misused, causing a great deal of heartache.
In the King James Version of the Bible the word “anger” occurs 234 times in 228 verses; the word “angry” 44 times in 43 verses. Many of these situations refer to God’s anger because of the sins of His people. Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because of their unbelief (see Mark 3:5). Obviously, he was angry when he took a whip and drove the money changer from the temple. There is a time and a place for anger, but manifested in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the wrong matter, it becomes sin. That is why Paul urges us to be angry without sin, He says, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26).
You can help people work through uncontrollable or harmful anger if you:
- Determine the cause (if possible) of anger and see if anything can be done to remove its source. This solution may require changes in lifestyle or even environment so that people who cause the anger are no longer encountered.
- If the source of anger can’t be removed, encourage your trainee to evaluate whether it’s cause is worth the emotional energy he or she is spending on it. Vance Havner used to say, “Any bulldog can whip a skunk, but sometimes it just ain’t worth it!”
- Help your trainee find appropriate ways of communicating feelings of anger without saying or doing things that would harm others.
- Suggest ways to relieve the stress which leads to angry outburst. Physical recreation, hobbies, or leisure activities can serve as safety valves to vent emotional pressure.
- Help your trainee realize that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit can tame that temper. Prayer is a means of accomplishing this as the angry person asks God to take control.
Ephesians 4:26 (quoted above) provides leverage for change. Ask him or her to memorize it with you. In the margin of your Bible at Ephesians 4:26, make a note of James 1:19, which gives motivation in dealing with this issue.
Fear of danger motivates a person to take steps to insure his safety; continual debilitating, fear which shackles and robs him or her of peace of mind is not of God an must be overcome. Remember that telling someone how foolish it is to be afraid only intimidates a person and makes the problem worse.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (@ Tim. 1:7).
Most of our fears center around what has not happened but what we fear may happen, and what we do not understand. Men tend to fear things which threaten their male image, such as the loss of employment or the respect of their contemporaries. Women fear the loss of their physical beauty and whatever would rob them of their security.
Understanding that nothing outside God’s will can happen to the child of God who is living and walking according to His purposes removes the feeling of being victimized by circumstances. Jack Morris, a psychotherapist, uses Psalm 23 with patients who are struggling with fear, asking them to memorize the psalm and quote it audibly several times a day. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I will fear no evil; For you are with me” (v.4).
You can help people to cope with circumstances which could otherwise produce devastating fear.. Understanding that safety is not “the absence of danger” but “the promise of the Lord’s protection,” they can live above fear which would otherwise destroy their peace of mind.
No matter how many of us indulge in the practice, worry is sin. No individual can worry and trust God at the same time; you have to help your trainee see this truth if you are to help him or her overcome what has been described as “the acceptable sin of the saints.”
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God; and the peace of God. which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).
The truth of this passage comes through clearly in The Living Bible paraphrase which says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything….”
Some individuals because of their nature and emotional makeup are more prone to worry than others are yet anxiety or worry is not justifiable merely because it “comes naturally.”
When a trainee struggling with this problem ask you, “What do you think I should do about it?” You need to work through several issues. What is the actual cause of concern or worry? What has been done to determine whether or not the issue is valid? For example, if a woman who asks you to pray about “her cancer” has never gone to the doctor for an examination, the first step is to convince her that she needs proper medical diagnosis.
Elderly people usually are quite certain they will run out of money before they die (no matter how much money they have). Getting that person to consult a financial planner or a bank who can help with investments may allay that concern. The person who is worried about personal finances may eliminate that concern by having a budget and learning to stay with it.
Your part as a trainer-leader may be providing emotional support to insure that action is taken. You can also suggest that your trainee read Worry-Free Living by Dr. Frank Minirth, Dr. Paul Meier, and Don Hawkins.
Has the person who is worried made the matter a definitive, concerned issue for prayer? Committing yourself to the keeping of a Sovereign God, believing that He is in control of your life, eliminate worry. You can then turn out the light and say, “God, you take the night shift; no need for both of us to be awake. I’m going to sleep!” It works.
In phase one of the training process you are striving to understand what the problem really is and what is causing it. When your trainee comes to you depressed, your first task is to help him or her evaluate the cause of depression.
Among the causes of depression, look for the following:
- Suppressed anger,
- The feeling of a hopeless situation, or
- Secret habits or problems which result in depression, or
- Physical problems requiring the care of a doctor.
One of the most common causes of depression is the feeling that a person is in a hopeless situation from which there is no escape. For example, a wife with several children and no professional skills, is married to a man who walks out and leave her with no support. Having no family close by, and little possibility of employment, discouragement turns to despair and eventually to depression.
As you talk with a trainee, you begin to determine whether depression is the result of a specific cause (say, when an aerospace engineer, age 47, is laid off because of cutbacks, is overly qualified for menial positions, and can’t seem to get back on with a major company), or you are confronted with an individual whom seems to suffer from chronic depression without apparent cause. Some of the symptoms of depression are lethargy, indifference to responsibilities, neglected appearance, and emotional flatness.
In situations involving chronic fatigue, I always recommend that the friend go for a complete physical with care given to blood sugar and blood composition. If there is still no apparent physical reason for depression, your trainee needs the help of a professional. There is help for the chronically depressed. At time a change of diet or the inclusion of a program of physical exercise in a routine under a physician’s supervision or even a low dose of medication (such as lithium), to stabilize a chemical imbalance in the body, relieves depression.
While depression itself is not hereditary, the predisposition to certain personality. types which are more susceptible to depression or discouragement can be inherited. Telling a depressed individual to “snap out of it” because God doesn’t want the person depressed only drives him or her deeper into depression. Saying that God cares, and that He will never leave or forsake his child (see Key Scriptures), and understanding that a person has been forgiven and is the child of God, helps an individual to break through depression.
Diagnose the problem but minister to the whole person including the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual.
The Physical Body and Depression
When people tell me about depression, you should always ask, “What kind of physical exercise do you get?” and invariably the person gets none or walks around the block thinking “That’s exercise!” If you have any questions as to a person’s physical condition, you should send them to a doctor for his counsel as to what they can handle, and then you should recommend that the person start walking (build up to a brisk walk of three to five miles at least three times weekly) or get exercise which will increase the heartbeat and the rate of respiration.
Depression and Your Spiritual Life
In striving to isolate the reason for depression, you may discover that an individual is living with something which he or she knows is wrong. Gordon MacDonald refers to these people as “secret carriers,” individuals who may be struggling with a sin such as an immoral relationship, an addiction to pornography, or a financial shenanigan which he or she knows is wrong. Bringing that problem to light, dealing with it through repentance, confession, and restitution (when necessary) will eliminate depression.
The depressed individual almost always feels that God is distant and that prayer doesn’t work. Even John the Baptist, languishing in dark Machaerus Prison probably succumbed to doubt and eventual depression, wondering whether or not Jesus was really the Christ. Depressed individuals usually doubt truths which they really know are valid. In their hearts they know that God has not singled them out as victims of attack, yet they feel isolated and lonely.
Matthew 28:20, “Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Also Hebrews 13:5,6, “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'”
Depression and Your Emotional Life
Recognizing that the spiritual cannot be separated from the emotional, it is necessary to point out that the individual who is depressed not only doubts spiritual truths, but he of she likewise finds it difficult to accept other valid realities (My wife really doesn’t love me, or else she would understand how I feel!”). Here you can help your trainee to understand that love is a commitment, and that the husband or wife is standing by the commitment which was made long ago.
An individual’s emotions are controlled by the will, and the decision to hold on to reality goes a long way toward breaking through depression (see Happiness is a Choice by Dr. Frank Minirth and Dr. Paul Meier).
Following the Death of his wife, a well-known Southern Baptist preacher named Vance Havner published a diary of his experiences as he walked “through the valley of the shadow of death.” Christian experience has three levels, Havner concluded. First there is the “mountaintop days” when everything is going well and the world looks bright. But it is unrealistic to expect – as many people do – that we can spend life leaping from one mountain peak to another as if there were no plains or valleys in between. “Ordinary days,” therefore are those when we work at our usual tasks, neither elated nor depressed. Then, thirdly there are the “dark days” when we trudge heavily through discouragement, despair, doubt and confusion. Sometimes these days string out into months or even years before we begin to experience a sense of relief and victory. When they persist, dark days are days of depression.
Depression (or melancholia, as it was once known) has bee recognized as a common problem for more than 2,000 years. Recently, however, it has come so much into public attention that some are calling our era the “age of melancholy,” in contrast to the “age of anxiety” which followed World War II. Depression is something which everyone experiences in some degree and at different times in life. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association once suggested that more human suffering has resulted from depression than from any other single disease affecting mankind. Depression has been considered as “by far the commonest psychiatric symptom,” and one which is found both as a temporary condition “in a normal person who has suffered a great personal disappointment” and as “the deep suicidal depression of a psychotic.”
The signs of depression include sadness, apathy and inertia which make it difficult to ‘get going” or to make decisions; loss of energy and fatigue which often are accompanied by insomnia; pessimism and hopelessness; fear; a negative self-concept often accompanied by self-criticism and feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness and helplessness; a loss of interest in work, sex, and unusual activities, a loss of spontaneity; difficulties in concentration; an inability to enjoy pleasurable events or activities; and often a loss of appetite. In some cases, known as “masked depression,” the person denies that he or she feels sad, but sad events in one’s life accompanied by some of the above listed symptoms lead the trainer to suspect that depression is present behind a smiling countenance. In many cases the symptoms of depression anger which has not been expressed, sometimes isn’t recognized and – according to traditional theory – is turned inward against oneself.
Depressions can occur at any age (including infancy) and they come in various types. Reactive depression (sometimes called exogenous depression), for example, comes as a reaction to some real or imagined loss or other life trauma. Endogenous depression seems to arise spontaneously from within and usually is found in the elderly. Psychotic depression involves intense despair and self-destructive attitudes, often accompanied by hallucinations and loss of contact with reality. Neurotic depression is mixed with high levels of anxiety. Some depressions are chronic – long-lasting and resistant to treatment. Others are acute – intense but of short duration and often self-correcting. Many professionals would distinguish all of these from discouragement, which is mild, usually temporary and almost universal mood swing which comes in response to his disappointments, failures and losses.
All of this implies that depression is a common but complicated condition, difficult to define, hard to describe with accuracy and not easy to treat.
The Bible and Depression
Depression, per se, is a clinical term which is not discussed in the Bible. The psalmists, however, cried out in words which implied depression and there are several biblical descriptions which suggest depression.
Consider, for example, psalms 69, 88, or 102, but notice that these songs of despair are set in a context of hope. In Psalm 43 King David proclaims both depression and rejoicing when he writes this psalm; which you should read now.
Elsewhere in the Bible it appears that Job, Moses, Jonah, Peter and the whole nation of Israel experienced depression. Jeremiah the prophet wrote a whole book of lamentations. Elijah saw God’s mighty power at work on Mt. Carmel, but when Jezebel threatened murder, Elijah fled to the wilderness where he plunged into despondency. he wanted to die and might have done so except for the “treatment” that came from an angel sent by God.
Then there was Jesus in Gethsemane, where he was greatly distressed an observation which is poignantly described in the words of the Amplified Bible: “He began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed. Then He said to them, My soul is very sad and deeply grieved so that I am almost dying of sorrow….”
Such examples, accompanied by numerous references to the pain of grieving, show the realism that characterizes the Bible. But this realistic despair is contrasted with a certain hope. Each of the believers who plunged into depression eventually came through and experienced a new and lasting joy. The biblical emphasis is less on human despair than on belief in God and the assurance of abundant life in heaven, if not on earth. Paul’s confident prayer for the Romans will someday be answered for all Christians:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Causes of Depression
According to one psychologist, “the prevalence of depression in America today is staggering…. Depression is the common cold of psychopathology and has touched the lives of us all, yet it is probably the most dimly understood and most inadequately investigated of all the major forms of psychopathology.” nevertheless, investigators have identified a number of causes for this common condition – causes which, when understood, can facilitate training.
1. Physical-Genetic Causes. Depression often has a physical basis. Lack of sleep and improper diet are among the simplest physical causes. Others, like the effects of drugs, low blood sugar and other chemical malfunctioning, brain tumors, or glandular disorders, are more complicated. Then there is research which has stressed the importance of the hypothalamus in producing depression.
No matter how good one’s philosophy, no matter how well adjusted one has been, and no matter how ideal the environment may be, when there is a loss of hypothalamic energy, the person is depressed, feels helpless and has no energy…. Only a return of normal neurohormonal energy in the hypothalamus can effect a resolution of the depressive mood.
Although it is not conclusive, there is some evidence to show that severe depression runs in families. This has led to the conclusion that some people innately may be more prone to depression than others, although it must be emphasized that depression in itself is not inherited like blue eyes and black hair.
2. Background Causes. Do childhood experiences lead to depression in later life? Some evidence would say “yes.” Many years ago, a researcher named Rene Spitz published a study of children who had been separated from their parents and raised in an institution. Deprived of continuing warm human contact with an adult, these children showed apathy, poor health, and sadness – all indicative of depression which could continue into later life. In addition, depression is more likely when parents blatantly or subtly reject their children or when status-seeking families set unrealistically high standards which children are unable to meet. When standards are too high, failure becomes inevitable and the person becomes depressed as a reaction to the marked discrepancy between goals and achievements. Such early experiences do not always lead to depression but they increase the likelihood of severe depression in later life.
3. Learned Helplessness. A more recent theory maintains that depression comes when we encounter situations over which we have no control. When we learn that our actions are futile no matter how hard we try, that there is nothing we can do to relive suffering, reach a goal or bring change, then depression is a common response. It comes when we feel helpless and give up trying. This might explain the prevalence of depression in the grieving person who can do nothing to bring back a loved one, for example, or in the student who is unable to relate to his peers or succeed academically, or in the older person who is powerless to turn back the clock and restore lost physical capacities. When such people are able to control at least a portion of their environment, depression subsides and often disappears.
4. Negative Thinking. It takes almost no effort to slip into a pattern of negative thinking – seeing the dark side of life and overlooking the positive. But negative thinking can lead to depression and when the depressed person continues to think negatively, more intense depression results.
According to psychiatrist Aaron Beck depressed people show negative thinking in three areas. First, they view the world and life experiences negatively. Life is seen as a succession of burdens, obstacles, and defeats in a world which is “going down the drain.” Second, many depressed people have a negative view of themselves. They feel deficient, inadequate, unworthy and incapable of performing adequately. This in turn can lead to self-blame and self-pity. Third, these people view the future in a negative way. Looking ahead they see continuing hardship, frustration and hopelessness.
Is such negative thinking a cause of depression or is it a result of depression? The answer is probably both. Because of past experiences or previous training we begin to think negatively. This leads to depression which as we have seen, can lead to more negative thinking.
Such negative thinking sometimes can be used to control others. if there are people who think everything is bleak, others try to “back them up.” A comment, “I’m no good” often is an unconscious way of getting others to say, “Oh, no, you really are a fine person.” Self-condemnation, therefore, becomes a way of manipulating others to give compliments. But such comments aren’t really satisfying so the negative thinking and depression goes on. And if you keep thinking negatively, you are less likely to be hurt or disappointed if some of your thinking comes true.
5. Life Stress. It is well known that the stresses of life stimulate depression, especially when these stresses involve a loss. Loss of an opportunity, a job, status, health, freedom, a contest, possessions or other valued objects can each lead to depression. Then there is the loss of people. Divorce, death, or prolonged separations are painful and known to be among the most effective depression-producing events of life.
6. Anger. The oldest, most common, and perhaps most widely accepted explanation of depression is that it involves anger which is turned inward against oneself. Many children are raised in homes and sent to schools where the expression of anger is not tolerated. Some attend churches where anger is condemned as sin. other people become convinced that they shouldn’t even feel angry so they deny hostile feelings when they do arise. A widow, for example, may be angry at her husband who died leaving her to raise the children alone, but such anger seems irrational and is sure to arouse guilt in the person who thinks such thoughts about the dead. As a result, the anger is denied and kept within.
What happens, then, when one is frustrated, resentful and angry? If the anger is denied or pushed out of our minds, it festers “under cover and eventually “gets us down.”
Perhaps most anger begins when we feel hurt, because of a disappointment or because of the actions of some other person. instead of admitting this hurt, people mull over it, ponder what happened, and begin to get angry. The anger then builds and becomes so strong that it hides the hurt. If the anger is not admitted and expressed and dealt with, it then leads to revenge. This involves thoughts of hurting another person – either the one who caused the original hurt, or someone else who is nearby.
Revenge sometimes leads to destructive violent actions, but this can get us into trouble, and violence is not acceptable, especially for a Christian. As a result, some people try to hide their feelings. This takes energy which wears down the body so that the emotions eventually come to the surface in the form of psychosomatic symptoms. Others, consciously or unconsciously, condemn themselves for their attitudes and become depressed as a result. This depression may be a form of emotional self-punishment which sometimes even leads to suicide. It is easy to understand why such people feel that they are no good, guilty and unhappy.
Some people use their depression as a subtle and socially acceptable way both to express anger and to get revenge. psychologist Roger Barrett describes this clearly.
Resentment … is the accumulation of unexpressed anger. And, resentment … is the most destructive emotion in human relationships and in personal well-being …. Some depressed clients … wallow in depression as a means of hurting others, as if the depression itself becomes an indirect expression of hostility. It’s almost as if they were saying, “I’m depressed and there’s nothing you can do about it, but it’s all your fault, and if you don’t give me attention and sympathy, I may get even more depressed or do something desperate.” It’s a kind of psychological blackmail.
Suicide attempts (which most often occur in depressed people) not infrequently have this characteristic. There’s a kind of “see what you made me do” or “now you’ll miss me” quality to the notes or communications surrounding the tragedy. They blame others for their bad feelings.
Depression often hides underlying hurt, anger and resentment which then are often forgotten. it should be emphasized that this explanation does not account for all depression, but undoubtedly it explains some.
7. Guilt. It is not difficult to understand why guilt can lead to depression. When a person feels that he or she has failed or has done something wrong, guilt arises and along with it comes self-condemnation, frustration, hopelessness and other symptoms of depression. Guilt and depression so often occur together that it is difficult to determine which comes first. Perhaps in most cases guilt comes before depression but at times depression will cause people to feel guilty (because they seem unable to “snap out” of the despair). In either case a vicious cycle is set in motion (guilt causes depression which causes more guilt, and so on).
The Effects of Depression
No one really enjoys having problems, but problems sometimes can serve a useful purpose. When we are physically sick, for example, we are excused from work, people shower us with attention or sympathy, others make decisions for us, or take over our responsibilities, and sometimes we can enjoy a period of leisure and relaxation. The same is true when we are emotionally down or distraught. Neurotic behavior, including depression, may not be pleasant, but it does help us to avoid responsibilities, save face, attract attention, and have an excuse for inactivity. Eventually, however, emotionally hurting people realize that the benefits of depression are not really satisfying. Such people begin to hate what they are doing and, in time, they often end up hating themselves. This, as we have seen, creates more depression.
Depression leads to any or all of the following effects. In general, the deeper the depression the more intense the effects.
1. Unhappiness and Inefficiency. Depressed people often feel “blue,” hopeless, self-critical and miserable. As a result they lack enthusiasm, are indecisive, and sometimes have little energy for doing even simple things (like getting out of bed in the morning). Life thus is characterized by in-efficiency, underachievement and an increased dependence on others.
2. Masked Reactions. In some people, the depression is hidden even from themselves, but it comes out in other ways including physical symptoms and complaints (hypochondreases); aggressive actions and angry temper outbursts; impulsive behavior, including gambling, drinking, violence, destructiveness or impulsive sex; accident proneness; compulsive work; and sexual problems, to name the most common. These symptoms of “masked depression” occur in children and adolescents as well as in adults. The person is smiling on the outside but hurting on the inside and expressing this hurt in ways which hide the real inner despair.
3. Withdrawal. When a person is discouraged, unmotivated, bored with life and lacking in self-confidence, there is often a desire to get away from others (since social contacts may be too demanding), to daydream, and to escape into a world of television, novels, alcohol or drug use. Some people dream of running away or finding a simpler job and a few even do this.
4. Suicide. Surely there is no more complete way to escape than to take one’s own life. Suicide and suicide attempts are especially prevalent in teenagers, people who live alone, the unmarried (especially the divorced), and persons who are depressed. Of course, not all depressed people attempt suicide but many do, often in a sincere attempt to kill themselves and escape life. For others, suicide attempts are an unconscious cry for help, an opportunity for revenge, or a manipulative gesture designed to influence some person who is close emotionally. While some suicide attempts are blatantly clear (as when a man leaves a note and shoots himself), others are more subtle and are made to look like accidents. While some people carefully plan their self-destructive act, others drive recklessly, drink excessively, or find other ways to flirt with death.
All of this illustrates the pervasive and potentially destructive influence of depression. it is certain to appear repeatedly in the experience of every Christian trainer, and it is not the easiest condition to train successfully.
Training and Depression
Depressed people are often passive, nonverbal, poorly motivated, pessimistic and characterized by a resigned “what’s the use ?” attitude. The trainer, therefore, must reach out verbally, taking a more active role than he or she might take with most other trainees. Optimistic reassuring statements (but not gushiness), sharing of facts about how depression affects people, patiently encouraging trainees to talk (but not pushing them to talk), asking questions, giving periodic compliments and gently sharing Scripture (without preaching) can all be helpful. Confrontation, probing questions, demands for action, and nondirective approaches should all be avoided, especially in the beginning, since these techniques often increase anxiety and this creates more discouragement and pessimism.
It does not follow, of course, that the trainer talks and does not listen. As the trainee becomes more comfortable and begins to talk, the trainer should listen attentively. Watch for evidences of anger, hurt, negative thinking, poor self-esteem, and guilt – all of which might be discussed later. Encourage the trainee to talk about those life situations that are bothersome. Avooid “taking sides,” but try to be understanding and accepting of feelings. Watch, especially, for talk about losses, failures, rejection, and other incidents which may have stimulated the current depression.
As this occurs, trainers should be aware of their special need to be dependent. Ask yourself, “Am I encouraging dependence in an already depressed dependent person, so that I can build my own feelings of power or importance?” “Am I encouraging anger or negative thinking?” “Am I making so many demands that the trainee feels devastated and thus needs to cling?” unaware of these tendencies, trainers sometimes increase the depression inadvertently instead of contributing to its relief.
Training the depressed can take different directions, many of which you may want to use with each trainee.
1. Medical Approaches. Psychiatrists and other medical doctors often use antidepressant drugs to help change the trainee’s mood and make him or her more amendable to therapy. More controversial is the use of electroconvulsive (shock treatment) therapy in which a pulse of electrical energy is passed through the brain. This leads to convulsions and a period of confusion, followed by a brightening of mood. Although widely criticized, this remains a popular form of treatment for the severely depressed, the actively suicidal, and those people who, for medical reasons, cannot take drugs. All of this helps with symptom relief but such techniques are only temporary if they are not followed or accompanied by training which deals with the sources of the depression.
Nonmedical trainers may want to contact a psychiatrist or other physician who could prescribe drugs for the temporary relief of a depressed trainee. Also, if a trainee has physical symptoms, referral to a psychologically astute physician is extremely important. The non-medical counselor is not qualified to decide whether or not a trainee’s physical symptoms are psychologically induced, and neither should the nonphysician make evaluations about whether or not the depression itself has physical causes.
2. Evaluating Causes. Training is always easier if we can find the psychological and spiritual causes which produce the symptoms. Prior to the training session, or shortly thereafter, review the causes of depression listed earlier in this lesson and then try to discover – through questioning and careful listening – what might be producing the depression.
Is there low self-esteem with which you could help the trainee? If so, training may involve identifying, discussing, evaluating and challenging ideas and attitudes which trainees have learned about themselves and about the world in early childhood.
is there learned helplessness? If so, you can help trainees learn how to accomplish things – beginning with small tasks and moving on to the more difficult. You can discuss the inevitability of uncontrollable events and can help trainees to see that God is always in control, even when we are not.
Is there negative thinking? Ask the trainee to state some of these thoughts. Then ask, “Is this a valid conclusion? Could there be another way of viewing the situation? Are you telling yourself things about the world, yourself, and the future, which really are not so?” All of this is designed to challenge the trainee’s thinking and to teach him or her a habit of evaluating negative ideas and learning to think more positively. The truth of Philippians 4:8 must become the theme of both trainee and trainer: “whatever is true … honorable … right … pure … lovely … of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
Is there stress, especially that which concerns a loss? Encourage the trainee to share his or her feelings about this and discuss the practical details of how life can go on.
Is there revenge covering anger; anger covering hurt? If so, these emotions must be discussed and expressed – even if they seem irrational. Hurt can be deeply embedded and sometimes is uncovered only after considerable probing and a lot of careful listening.
Is there guilt? What is its cause? Has the trainee confessed the problem to God and perhaps to others? Does he or she know about divine forgiveness? What about forgiving oneself?
In discussing these issues, the trainee often gains insight into the problem. At other times the trainer may, in a tentative way, want to give some of his or her own insights and observations. If there is time to discuss these and to get the trainee’s reactions, this can contribute to a better understanding of the problem and of the depression-producing influences in the trainee’s life and thinking. Such understanding often leads to change and improvement.
3. Stimulate Realistic Thinking. Most people do not “snap out” of depression. The road to recovery is long, difficult, and marked by mood fluctuations which come with special intensity when there are disappointments, failures or separations.
At such times trainees should be encouraged to ponder their “automatic thoughts.” When problems or disappointments come, what does the trainee think? Often he or she thinks “this is terrible,” “”this proves I’m no good,” “nobody wants me now” or “I never do anything right.” These are self-criticism which most often are not based on solid fact. If a person fails, for example, it does not follow that he or she is “no good” or unwanted. Failure means, instead, that we are not perfect (nobody is but God), that we have made a mistake and should try to act differently in the future. Effective training must encourage trainees to reevaluate depression-producing thoughts and attitudes toward life.
Writing inn a popular magazine, one writer suggested that her depression came from an attitude which said, “I should be a perfect hostess, parent, wife, and friend. I should not fail. I should contribute to the community by serving on committees and making contributions to everyone who asks.” This lady had set up high expectations which were impossible to reach. When she failed, she became depressed.
A similar attitude permeates Christianity. We convince ourselves that we must always be spiritually alive and enthusiastic but never angry or discouraged. As a result of these expectations we can bee crushed when failure comes, as it does inevitably.
Trainees must be helped to accept human frailty. “We all need to make a list of our priorities and then figure out how much we can do without become angry, frustrated, exhausted or sorry for ourselves” when we fail.
The trainer tries to help trainees evaluate attitudes, expectations, values and assumptions. We should help ourselves to see which of these ideas are unrealistic, nonbiblical and harmful. Since such thoughts are often well entrenched, sometimes resulting from a lifetime of thinking, it may take repeated efforts to help people reevaluate and change their attitudes toward life and themselves. When people are depressed they want to feel better. But feelings by themselves are difficult, if not impossible to change. Telling a person “You shouldn’t feel depressed,” does nothing to relieve the depression and often adds guilt since most of us cannot change our feelings at will.
To change feelings we must change thinking (this we discussed in the previous section) and/or we must change actions. Inaction is common in depressed people, who find it easy to stay in bed or to sit alone brooding and thinking about the miseries of life. But this doesn’t help with the depression. Gently, but firmly, therefore, depressed people must be pushed to take actions – to get involved in daily routines, family activities and recreation. Start by encouraging activities in which the trainee is likely to succeed. This increases optimism and interrupts the tendency to ruminate on negative ideas. When the trainee does take action, do not be reluctant to give encouragement and compliments.
4. Change the Environment. Trainers cannot do much to change the depression-producing circumstances in a person’s life, but it is possible to encourage trainees to modify routines, reduce work loads, or take periodic vacations. Family members can also be urged to accept the trainee, to stimulate realistic thinking, to challenge negative thinking, to encourage action in place of inactivity, and to include the depressed person in family activities. When the family is accepting, interested, and involved, trainees improve more quickly. Trainers can stimulate this supportive environment.
5. Protect the Trainee from Self-harm. People can harm themselves in many ways – by changing jobs, for example, by quitting school or by making unwise marriage decisions. The trainer must be alert to a tendency for people to make major long-lasting decisions when they are in the grip of depression. Helping trainees decide if they “really want to do” what they are proposing, helping them to see the possible consequences of the decision, and urging them to “wait a while,” can all prevent actions which could be harmful.
Suicide is one action which is contemplated by many depressed people. Since most of these people give prior clues about their intentions, the trainer should be alert to indications that suicide is being considered. Be alert, for example, to any of the following:
talk of suicide,
evidence of a “thought-out” plan of action for actually killing oneself,
feelings of hopelessness and/or meaninglessness,
recent environment stresses (such as job loss, divorce, or death in the family),
an inability to cope with stress,
excessive concern about physical illness,
preoccupation with insomnia,
evidence of depression, disorientation, and/or defiance,
a tendency to be dependent and dissatisfied at the same time,
a sudden and unexplainable shift to a happy, cheerful mood (which often means that the decision to attempt suicide has been made),
knowledge regarding the most effective methods of suicide (shooting, drugs, and carbon monoxide work best; wrist slashing is least successful), and
history of prior suicide attempts. (Those who have tried before, often try suicide again.)
Trainers should not hesitate to ask whether or not the trainee has been thinking of suicide. Such questioning gets the issue into the open and lets the trainee consider it rationally. Rather than encouraging suicide (as is commonly assumed), open discussion often reduces its likelihood.
Periodically, most trainers are involved in potential suicide situations. At such times, take the threat seriously, be supportive and understanding, and try to be available at least by telephone. At times you may need to take direct and decisive action, like taking the person to the psychiatric ward of a hospital, contacting the family doctor or contacting relatives. If someone calls to report that he or she has taken a drug overdose, or is about to commit suicide, find out the person’s location and then call the paramedic rescue squad. Police departments, suicide “hotline” counselors, psychiatric hospital units, and emergency wards are all listed in the phone book and usually are prepared to deal with suicide emergencies. If a drug has already been taken or if other physical self-harm has occurred, such medical intervention is essential.
In all of this, expect failure. if a person is really determined to commit suicide the trainer may delay his or her action but there is little that can be done to prevent suicide. Sometimes their is value in sharing this fact with trainees. Even the most dedicated trainer cannot take responsibility to prevent suicide forever. It is well to remember this when a suicide does occur. Otherwise the trainer may wallow in guilt because he or she was unable to prevent the trainee’s death.
Can depression be prevented? The answer probably is “no, not completely.” We all experience disappointments, losses, rejections and failures which lead to periods of discouragement and unhappiness. For some people, these periods are rare and brief. For others, the depression is more prevalent and long-lasting. It may not be possible or even desirable to prevent times of discouragement, but long-lasting depressions are preventable. There are several ways in which this can be done:
1. Trust in God. Writing from prison, the Apostle Paul once stated that he had learned to be content in all circumstances. Knowing that God gives us strength and can supply all of our needs, Paul had learned how to live joyfully, both in poverty and in prosperity. Through his experiences, and undoubtedly through a study of the Scriptures, Paul had learned to trust in God and this helped to prevent depression. As in the time of Paul, a conviction that God is alive and in control can give hope and encouragement today, even when we are inclined to be discouraged and without hope. If modern people can learn this lesson, and if church leaders and Christian lifestyle trainers can teach it, then discouragements need not hit as hard as they might hit otherwise.
2. Expect Discouragement. The second verse of a famous hymn proclaims that “we should never be discouraged” if we take things to the Lord in prayer. This is a popular view for which there is no scriptural support. Jesus warned that we would have problems and the Apostle James wrote that trials and temptations would come to test our faith and teach us patience. It is unrealistic to smile and laugh in such circumstances, pretending the we’re never going to be discouraged.
Consider our Lord at the time of the crucifixion. he was “deeply distressed” and openly acknowledged his agony. One can hardly imagine him smiling in Gethsemane or on the cross, trying to convince everyone that he was rejoicing and “bubbling over” with happiness. Jesus trusted in his Father, but he expected pain and wasn’t surprised when it came.
When we are realistic enough to expect pain and informed enough to know that God is always in control, then we can handle discouragement better and often keep from slipping into deep depression.
3. Learn to Handle Anger and Guilt. Some people slide into depression because their minds dwell on past injustices or past failures. This may sound simplistic, but we must ask God to help us forget the past, to forgive those who have sinned against us, and to forgive ourself. When people dwell on past events and wallow in anger or guilt and the misery of discouragement, one wonders if such thinking serves some useful purpose. Churches can teach people to admit their anger or guilt and to show how these can be overcome. If people can learn to handle their anger and guilt, much depression can be prevented.
4. Challenge Thinking. If it is true, as some have suggested, that we each silently talk to ourselves all day, then people should be encouraged to notice what is being said. If I decide, for example, that I am incompetent, then I need to ask, “What is the evidence for this? In what areas am I incompetent? Is it bad to be incompetent in some things? How can I become more competent?” When we learn to challenge our own thinking, and that of others, this can prevent or reduce the severity of depression.
5. Teach Coping Techniques. In somewhat formal language, one writer has compared those who resist depression with those who succumb:
The life histories of those individuals who are particularly resistant to depression, or resilient from depression, may have been filled with mastery; these people may have had extensive experience controlling and manipulating the sources of reinforcement in their lives, and may therefore see the future optimistically. Those people who are particularly susceptible to depression may have had lives relatively devoid of mastery; their lives may have been full of situations in which they were helpless to influence their sources of suffering and relief.
Children and adults can be overprotected. This interferes with their ability to learn how to cope or to master the stresses of life. If people can seem less overwhelming and depression is less likely.
6. Provide Support. Emile Durkeim, who wrote a classic book on suicide, discovered that religious people were less suicide-prone than those who were nonbelievers. The reason for this, Durkheim believed was that religion integrated people into groups. Less lonely and isolated, these people are less inclined to get depressed or to attempt suicide. The church, and other social institutions, can become therapeutic communities where people feel welcome and accepted.
A concerned group of people who have learned to be caring can do much to soften the trauma of crises and provide strength and help in times of need. Aware that they are not alone, people in crises are able to cope better and thus avoid severe depression.
7. Reach Out. Alcoholics Anonymous has demonstrated conclusively that needy people help themselves when they reach out to assist others. This is known as the “helper-therapy” principle. In its simplest form it states: those who help other people, including depressed people, this does wonders to keep ourselves from being depressed.
Of course, the motive for helping is important. Healing is unlikely if someone concludes selfishly, “I don’t care about others but I’ll help if this is the only way for me to get better.” But when there is a joyful reaching out, everyone is helped and depression is reduced. The stimulation of a helping community, therefore , is one indirect way to prevent depression.
8. Encourage Physical Fitness. Since poor diet and lack of exercise by word and by example – to take care of their bodies. A healthy body is less susceptible to mental as well as physical illness.
Conclusions about Depression
Vance Havner, once hoped that his dying wife would be healed through some miracle. But she died and Havner was plunged into grief. Although he did not understand why this happened, he concluded that God makes no mistakes.
Whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analyzed, and correlated with convenient, glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far in this maze of mystery we call life and death…. He has no stereotyped way of doing what He does. He delivered Peter from prison but left John the Baptist in a dungeon to die…. At this writing I never knew less how to explain the ways of Providence but I never had more confidence in my God…. i accept whatever He does, however He does it.
This man was deeply saddened when his wife died, but probably he never became depressed. He had a realistic perspective on his “Quality of Life” and death. This is a perspective which can help both trainers and trainees to deal effectively with the problems of depression.
Quality of Life
Moving People On to God’s Plan
Leaders who take on a new position must ask themselves: Where should this organization be going? This question may seem ridiculously simplistic, but it is amazing how many leaders become so focused on the journey they lose sight of the destination. It’s not that these leaders have no plan for their organization. They may in fact have high aspirations and detailed plans of what they hope to achieve. The problem is that they fail to examine whether these plans will lead them to results that are truly best for their organization. Some leaders confuse the means to the end with the end itself. If leaders do not clearly understand where their organization is and where it should be going, they will be unable to lead effectively. The following are three of the most common , and perhaps most subtle, organizational goals that can disorient leaders to their true purpose.
“Bottom Line” Mentality
What do people want to see happen when they choose a new leader? Results. In religious circles, people establish goals to measure their organization’s success. For example, churches determine their effectiveness by focusing on things they can count: number of seats filled in the auditorium, number of dollars in the offering plate, number of ministries conducted throughout the week. Successful leaders must be people who get things done! This demand for measurable results from leaders puts pressure on people to focus on their accomplishments. What better way to appear successful than to set a goal and then meet it.
Society has changed. Modern leaders cannot and should not do all the thinking for their organizations. New leaders cannot simply arrive at an organization and begin imposing their preset goals and plans. It is critical that today’s leaders develop their personnel in order to build healthy organizations. Depree claims that followers have a right to ask the following questions of their leaders:
- What may I expect from you?
- Can I achieve my own goals by following you?
- Will I reach my potential by working with you?
- Can I trust my future to you?
- Have you bothered to prepare yourself for leadership?
- Are you ready to be ruthlessly honest?
- Do you have the self-confidence and trust to let me do my job?
- What do you believe?
People are no longer unquestioning followers. They have more options, so they will choose to follow leaders whose answers to the above questions best satisfy them. How leaders answer will determine the quality and loyalty of their followers.
When there is no paycheck to motivate followers, what is it that influences people to invest their valuable time, money, and energy? The primary purpose of Christian Leaders is not to achieve their goals but to accomplish God’s will. Leaders can achieve their goals and yet be out of God’s will. Christian leaders do not use their people to accomplish their goals; their people are the goal. Christian leaders have a God-given responsibility to do all they can to lead their people on to God’s plan.
A “covenantal relationship” describes this as a “shared commitment to ideas, to issues, to values, to goals, and to management processes. Words such as love, warmth, and personal chemistry are certainly pertinent. Covenantal relationships are open to influence. They fill deep needs, and they enable work to have meaning and to be fulfilling. Covenantal relationships reflect unity and grace and poise.
Leaders who strive for and even achieve their goals, but whose people suffer and fall by the wayside in the process, have failed as leaders. If a church succeeds in building a new worship center but loses members in the process through bickering and bitterness, the church has failed. In God’s eyes, how something is done is as important as what is done. The end does not justify the means in God’s kingdom. Getting results can make leaders look good. God’s way magnifies God’s name.
“God expects the best!” Indeed, God does have high expectations for his people. For one, he commands them to be holy, as he is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16). For another God wants his followers to be spiritually mature and complete (Matt. 5:48). God expects people to give him their best (Mal. 1:6-14). If excellence is understood to mean perfection in everything one does, then that is not God’s standard. If excellence refers to doing things in a way that honors God, then all leaders should strive for it. There is a difference between giving God your best and giving God the best. Churches that concentrate more on their tasks than on their people are missing what God considers most important.
This is true in all aspects of Christian work. Paul’s focus was on developing people. He sought to take them from their spiritual immaturity and to bring them to spiritual maturity. He led them from disobedience to obedience. He brought them from faithlessness to fruitfulness. His joy was in seeing those he led blossom into the people God wanted them to become.
In order to help people develop spiritually, leaders may have to allow them to make mistakes, just as leaders make mistakes on their road to maturity as leaders. Developing people to their potential is not tidy. Often church staff could do a better job than volunteers could. Allowing amateurs to attempt things may not always be efficient in the short term,, but good leaders recognize the long-term benefits. Both the people in training and the organization benefit when their leaders value developing people over doing everything perfectly. This phenomenon can be especially seen in small churches. If “excellence,” however, means following God’s will and honoring him through our best efforts, any church can be an “excellent” organization!
Bigger, Faster, More
If a leader has grown a religious organization to a significant size, people take this as a sign of God’s blessing. It may not necessarily be so. In the religious sector, leaders who are able to grow megachurches are treated as Christian heroes. They are encouraged to write books chronicling their success, and they regularly appear on the speaking circuit for church growth conferences.
The World’s methods however will not build a church. Only Christ can do that. Does this mean that churches should not seek to do the best they can? Leaders must be diligent that they never shift their trust from the Head of the church to the tools of the world. Leaders must continuously measure their success by God’s standards and not by the world’s
Three Worthy Goals
There are at least three legitimate goals spiritual leaders ought to have for their people regardless of whether they are leading a committee, a church, or a corporation.
Leading to Spiritual Maturity
The ultimate goal of Quality of Life is to tale their people from where they are to where God wants them to be. God’s primary concern for all people is not results, but relationship. One of the issues regarding Quality of Life is whether Christian leaders can take people to places they themselves have never been. The goal of leadership is a relationship, then leaders will never move their people beyond where they have gone themselves. Leaders cannot take their people into a relationship with Christ that goes any deeper than they have gone themselves. Thus, Christian leaders must continually be growing themselves if they are to lead their people into a mature, intimate relationship with Christ. Leaders will not lead their people to higher levels of prayer unless they have already ascended to those heights themselves. Leaders will not lead others to deeper levels of trust in God unless they have a mature faith themselves.
A Christian organization will reach its maximum potential only when ever member knows how to hear clearly from God and is willing to respond in obedience. Each believer must learn to recognize God’s voice and understand what he is saying. When this is true simply share with their people what God has said to them and then allow their people to seek confirmation themselves.
The first responsibility of leaders is to “define reality” for their organizations. People do not always readily understand the full implications of what their organization is experiencing. It is a spiritual leader’s responsibility to help people understand God’s activity in the midst of the daily challenges they are facing.
A Christian leader is like the captain of a sailing ship. Christian leaders often have an advantage over those they lead. Leaders may have walked with God for many years. They have come to recognize when the Spirit’s still, small voice is speaking (the wind). They recognize when an opportunity has the mark of God upon it. It is not that they are any more gifted or talented than the people they lead. They have just had more experience walking with God than their people have. So, like the sea captain, leaders do not resign themselves to always being the one who sees where God is at work. Instead, Christian leaders realize that people tend to be disoriented to God, so they teach their people how to know him better (steer, give direction). Once people in an organization know how to recognize God’s voice and once they are able to determine his leading, the organization will have enormous potential for serving God. The ministry of the organization will not depend on one overworked leader always having to decide what God (the wind) is guiding them to do. The entire organization will be excitedly scanning the horizon for the first glimpse of what God has in store next (the port-destination). When Christian leaders have brought their people to this point, they have truly led.
Leading Others to Lead
Leaders lead followers. Great leaders lead leaders. One of the most tragic mistakes leaders commit is to make themselves indispensable. Failing to develop leaders and let them lead in an organization is tantamount to gross failure by the leader, whether by design or by neglect. One of the most common failures of leaders is that they spend little time or effort preparing their organization for their departure. One test of great leaders is how well their organizationns do after they leave.
Developing leaders must be a core value of any leader. Unless leaders are intentional about developing leaders within their organization, it will not happen. While there are many ways leaders can enhance leadership skills in others, there are at least four habits leaders must regularly practice if they are to produce a corps of leaders around them.
- Leaders delegate.
- Leaders give people freedom to fail. If leaders are going to develop other leaders, they must delegate. But when they delegate, they must not interfere. Nothing will demoralize staff faster than leaders who constantly meddle in their work. Once a task has been assigned to someone, it needs to belong to that person. Leaders whose people are reluctant to work for them or leaders who experience difficulty recruiting volunteers should consider whether this is because they have developed a reputation for meddling.
- Leaders recognize the success of others. A sure way to stifle initiative from staff and volunteers is to take the credit for something they have done. Leaders ought to be constantly praising their people for their accomplishments and acknowledging their contributions to the organization. At staff gatherings and special occasions, leaders ought to be known for praising their people for their work rather than for blowing their own horns.
Volunteers need to know they are making a positive difference. The leader can assure them of this. By publicly recognizing and thanking them, the leader is alerting the entire organization that volunteers make a valuable contribution and that they are appreciated. Never will a leader regret having said thank you, but an attitude of ungratefulness will eventually cost the leader dearly.
- Leaders give encouragement and support. If the people fail, the leaders shoulder the responsibility. When people fail in the task they were assigned, this might point to one or more possible problems. Perhaps the leader made a poor choice in assigning a job to someone who was not prepared to handle the responsibility. Maybe the leader did not provide enough support, training, or feedback. Sometimes problems can be traced back to the leader’s communication skills and how clearly the assignment was explained in the first place. Of course there are times when individuals simply do not perform well despite all the help their leader provides. Nevertheless, regardless of the reason for failure, good leaders will support their people even when they fail. Often, they use the failure to help the person grow.
People need to know that their leader will stand by them when they fail. Church members want the assurance that when their leader gives them responsibility, he will also back them up if things get difficult. When leaders come quickly to the aid of a struggling follower, everyone else can relax in the assurance that their leader would do the same for them. The only valid reason for leaving one’s leadership position is that God clearly guides a person to do so. Often, however, leaving one’s leadership position is nothing short of abandoning the people God gave to a leader.
Bringing Glory to God.
There is a third goal leaders should have for their organizations, one which is the ultimate goal of any Christian and the reason behind the first two goals of leadership – to bring God glory. Whether people lead a Christian organization or a family, their goal ought to be to glorify God by the way they lead their organization. Christian organizations affirm their desire to glorify God, but they can become sidetracked in many subtle ways. Churches can become so preoccupied with growing in numbers or erecting buildings or running programs that they incorrectly assume that everything they are doing honors God.
While Christians regularly give lip service to their desire to glorify God, not everything they do necessarily accomplishes this goal. God’s desire is to reveal himself to the world through people and organizations that believe him and obey him. God is not concerned with bringing glory to people. He wants to reveal his glory through people. It is the leader’s goal to keep this task at the forefront of their organization’s plans. The goal of bringing glory to God must always be the impetus behind the efforts of every Christian.
It is no accident that, when Jesus was seeking twelve disciples, he bypassed the professional religious establishment and sought businessmen. Among those he chose were two pairs of fishermen and a tax collector. He found people who understood how the world operated and who were not afraid of working right in the middle of it. He chose people who spoke the language of the marketplace. God does nothing by accident. When God places someone in a leadership position, he has a purpose. A Christian’s first calling is to bring honor to the heavenly Father.
Bringing glory to God is not complicated. People bring God glory when they reveal God’s nature to a watching world. When Christian leaders forgive others, people come to understand that God is a God who forgives. When Christian leaders are patient with those who fail, people come to understand that God is, by nature, long-suffering. When Christian leaders live with holy integrity, people gain a glimpse of God’s holiness. The first glimpse of the true God that many people see will be reflected in the Christians who work alongside them week by week. To accurately reflect God’s nature to others is to bring him glory.
God has a specific plan for every person and every organization. Leaders can only discover God’s will as he reveals it to them through their personal relationship with him. Bringing people to spiritual maturity, developing leaders and, most importantly, bringing glory to God ought to be basic objectives of every leader.
Messages from God
- 1 Peter 1:15-16
- Matthew 5:48
- Malachi 1:6-14
- Colossians 1;28-29
- Exodus 19:4
O Lord, receive me into your loving care. Allow me to dwell in the safety you provide. help me to place you and you alone, at the center of my life. Amen.
1. A had a member of their family they loved very much recently died and you are talking about the funeral yesterday. You are training A. As you do this, encourage A to open up about spiritual issues. You have five minutes.”
2. B, has been feeling very depressed recently and is telling you about this. You are training B and also trying to explore the spiritual dimension of this problem by asking open-ended questions. You have five minutes.”
3. C, whom you are training indicates that they are feeling vague and uneasy about their relationship with God, telling you that the warmth and closeness of that relationship has disappeared.
You are to train C to look more deeply at this situation and to explore different aspects of it.
4. Once When I Was Needed…
What was the need?
Were you trained in this need by God? By other people?
If so, did this training help? State how it helped, or why it did not.
If you were not trained, what training do you wish you had received?
Share a time when you have experienced a deep spiritual need. As you describe this need, try to answer the above four questions.
Read Phil. 2:1-11
Many people-even Christians-live only to make a good impression on others or to please themselves. But “selfish ambition or vain conceit” bring discord. Paul therefore stressed unity. When we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our problems, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first, and we experience unity.
5. How would things change if these verses mark your family life? Church Life? Work Life?
6. How does humility differ from being a doormat?