Thursday, January 24, 2008

Spiritual Depression Guest Post

I'd like to thank Ellen Kimbro of Faith Matters at the Jackson Sun for finding my thoughts on Spiritual Depression guest post worthy. Starting last January 14th , she began posting parts of my "essay" on Spiritual Depression. This writing was actually taken from some things I had shared with her through email, and she asked me to edit it into a post. I was humbled to oblige and now that the series has run, I thought I'd post it here in it's entirety.

I posted previously a basic outline of some of my struggle with spiritual depression, and this is a bit more in depth as I share some of what God has and is teaching me through it.

So here it is:

Spiritual Depression is something all Christians endure. You have either gone through a season already, you are currently suffering through one as am I, or you will in the future wander into the dark and dry place. There are different reasons people end up in a spiritual desert and they may include physical ailments, broken relationships, difficult life circumstances, financial trouble, troubling church issues...etc. This post is simply some fairly random thoughts about the spiritual depression I am currently experiencing and is intended to offer hope to the reader. There is hope because spiritual depression is one tool through which God molds you. It is also something that has been experienced by Jesus Himself! I am praying that this post may also offer some practical suggestions on things one may do while in the desert that may help one find a way out.

From my own experience in this desert I can tell you that it wasn't easy for me to finally even admit I was in a dark, dry, and seemingly lonely place. I felt guilt just for having wandered into it, and feel guilt being stuck in it. Now that I have shared my circumstance with some select people, at times it still feels dark and very dry, in fact my soul is parched, but it is not as lonely. Many before me have wandered into this desert place, many will follow after, and I have learned that indeed, there are some in here with me. I am learning to thank God for this desert because it is an experience He is allowing for a reason. I'm just now beginning to understand some of the things He is teaching me.

I want to "go back" to what it used to "feel like". I do have a desire to be "carefree in the Lord" as a friend of mine calls it. I always say "I just wish it could be like it was when I first moved here." One of my spiritual mentors asked me something the last time we met, “You say you want to go back to what it felt like when you first knew Christ and first moved that what you really want?"

Some background: I was newly saved when I moved here in January 2000. Totally ON FIRE for the Lord! I remember driving down the road thinking "this is awesome! The sun is shining on my face, the wind is at my back, and the road is rising to meet me. When you are walking with Him, He makes everything come together and it all works out! Life is good!” Literally! I can literally remember that day I thought that! The sky was a deep blue, the temperature outside was mild, quite a refreshing mild in January when I was used to frigid temperatures having come from the Midwest, and a slight breeze was blowing. You see, once I was saved the Lord led me from IA to TN (long story)...I quit my job with no new one lined up. I left my home, with only a temporary solution once I arrived in TN. Once I got here, I had a new job within 4 days, had a roof over my head, and all was good. I had in mind what God's plan was for me and it was so great! I thought that living as a Christian was going to be a piece of cake and now that I was in the "bible belt", totally surrounded by people of the same faith, it was going to be easy and glorious! I was very wrong about God's plan, or at least about how things were going to unfold. I was so naive.

I answered my friend and said "I understand that my new found faith was very emotional, but it was naive." I don't want my faith in the Lord to be grounded in emotion. It is like any love relationship, it's all "feel good" at the start, but time wears on and the novelty wears off. There needs to be depth for real love to take root. There needs to be fertile soil. The love I want to have for God is a total trust kind of love. A contentment in the fact that God's love for me is for who I am and who He created me to be. There is nothing anyone can say to change God's love for me, there is nothing anyone can do to make Him love me less, and there is NOTHING I can do to make Him love me more. He just loves me. He knows nothing else! He is love!

Christians are blessed with spiritual gifts. They are given by God to edify the body and glorify Him. Unfortunately, when spiritual gifts are not honed and practiced correctly, they can have an "opposite". I've learned that my spiritual gifts of discernment, wisdom and prophecy can actually hinder me in the areas of being critical and judgmental and I am learning to deal with that. (I have a LONG way to go too!)

Those with the gift of compassion have an "opposite" as well...which may be getting pulled into the area of seeing only negative (glass half empty), feeling guilty because you can't help more, always seeing a need...etc. Now, consider Jesus Christ. He embodies compassion. His life on this earth exemplified compassion. His pure heart was troubled by the sufferings of His people. He traveled and taught as much as He could while He was here with us, (Emmanuel), and at times I bet His heart was burdened so much for us that it broke. I wonder sometimes how this reflected in His countenance. I mean, how can a man walk around and see the suffering and injustice that He did and not look downtrodden? The Bible never really says "...and this cool dude Jesus had people following him all over the place because he was so much fun to be around. He was always smiling and just had this way with people. People loved him and wanted to be near him," but, because of the fact crowds followed him...I believe he must have had charisma. He had a magnetic personality and people were attracted to that. I imagine he liked to "play", the equivalent of throwing the ball around today, tossing the Frisbee, and maybe splashing in puddles, just to be with people. That kind of thing makes people like you and want to be around you. He was invited to parties a lot and people enjoyed opening their homes to Him. I think he often wore a smile, after all, He was spending His time with those He loved dearly...although rarely do artist renditions depict a smiling Christ. Now think about that, it is such a contradiction...a man walking around, carrying the burdens of the people He loved so much...carrying them to the extreme, with such a grace and "style" that people flocked to him. He even carried the burdens to the cross! The cross IS EXTREME! (He didn't smile at that point though.) Anyway, how could He do this? How could he present Himself as someone people liked to be around? How could he keep His heart focused? He prayed. A lot. He withdrew. A lot. He had on His spiritual armor.

A note about intercessory prayer: intercessors see all the "ick" of life. Praying people through needs constantly and seeing that needs are never ceasing can be overwhelming. This might even contribute to spiritual depression. I've been there, I am there, praying for someone's needs that never seem to be met, or when they are it seems like there is another tragedy waiting around every turn. But, we must remember that all of these needs do NOT surprise our Lord, nor are they our personal burdens to bear. They are His. We can pray and we can help comfort, but ultimately, we must learn to trust that He is in control and that He will provide. He knows we can't do it which is why He taught us to take His yoke...because He is going to take ours!

We should learn from Him! At times, we need to withdraw! We need to pray! We need to put on our spiritual armor daily! AND we need to trust HIM! Jesus was NEVER on the defensive in this world, never should we be. We ARE ON OFFENSE! We have the ball! The devil is out to destroy us and he is flailing. Just like we know the final outcome, so does he, so he pulls out all the stops! He comes at us relentlessly. We need to learn to be just as relentless in our pursuit of knowing God! Just as relentless in our pursuit of trusting God. As Christians, let us encourage one another to do that!

One way to do that is through transparency. God works through broken people. People who have broken spirits can be used by God. A wild horse bucks and expends a lot of energy with no direction, but once tamed the animal is very useful for work. The same unbridled energy, once focused, is a force for good. People with broken spirits are the best worship leaders because they can encourage others to lift their lives up to the Lord. If a worship leader has it "all together" and can put on a good can God use that? If a worship leader is transparent, unmasked, and prays from the heart and sings to his/her Lord with love and devotion...that is true worship. Worship is when we put God back in the place He belongs, on the throne, and we step out of the way. We are happiest when God receives the praise, not us, but Satan lies and too often we believe the lie that we are really something special because of what we "do for God". No! We are something special because of what God has already done for us!

Christians are forever going to hurt Christians. We will do this over and over and over again. I had a friend tell me once, NEVER trust in man they will ALWAYS let you down eventually. I didn't want to believe this. Again, I was naive. I couldn't understand how it is that God-fearing people could let one another down. I failed to factor in sin. ONLY trust GOD. This is very wise counsel. Man is prone to follow his heart at times, and the Bible teaches that the heart is deceitful above all things.

I've never experienced a church split, but I've heard it is awful and very painful. This is something I hope I never experience. As church bodies we sometimes fail to look to God and Jesus Christ as the Head of the church. We get off track BAD when we look to man...any man, a pastor, a worship leader, an elder, whomever. Popular preachers will sometimes change churches...and it always struck me curious that congregants will leave and follow that preacher. That is spiritual dysfunction. God places us in certain church bodies to use the spiritual gifts to glorify Him and edify the body. If we are following a man from church to church, there is something seriously wrong! God never, NEVER, gave us spiritual gifts to glorify man!

I believe Satan works in the midst of our churches more than on the streets of our cities. The devil's work moves along smoothly in the dark alleys of the city streets because there is no resistance there. Satan is sly, and sneaky, and is on the prowl in the houses of God where he can do the most damage. I don't think many Christians prepare for that because we don't like to imagine that Satan is there, in our houses of worship, but our churches are filled with sin too. When we forget that, we let our guard down, and things happen which leads to division. It is a work of Satan. He knows that divided we fall.

There is good news! God is a God of restoration. Sometimes things must be destroyed in order to be rebuilt. I think some of that "break down" happens in the desert. Praise God! There is hope for those being broken down because that will allow the healing to begin. Nothing that we experience catches God off guard. None of it! While it can come as a sudden shock to us, God knew of it all along and He has no fear. He is also working to see that all things work together for good for those who love Him.

The closer we get to God, the more we see ourselves and can see the "ick". This I understand. We are like Isaiah and when the light is shone on ourselves, we realize how unclean we are. But, we are made clean by His touch! This is a healthy kind of humility. Have you ever felt "false" when you worship? When we understand that we are not worthy of Him, and allow Him to make us righteous, that is good. But, if we are not allowing Him to make us righteous, and just thinking about how "false" and "hypocritical" we are, we are putting God in a box. That is bad. We are not trusting Him to make us clean. We are saying we are "too far gone", or "God can't fix me"...and that is all a LIE STRAIGHT FROM THE PIT OF HELL! I have believed this lie on occasion. Anyone leading worship should not believe this lie. Anyone who seeks to truly worship God in humility should not believe this lie.

It is very hard trying to encourage others when we need encouragement ourselves. I think some of us can do that for a little while, but then we get pulled under by the tide. But, again, our hope should not be in others and how others can make us feel better, it must be in Christ alone. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

I am struggling with bitterness and hurt and much of this stems from problems with "bad christians" having hurt me or people I love, and some I must accept the blame for myself. This is where I am attempting to go to God for forgiveness and help. I think the biggest thing I've done in this struggle is asking others to help me. As Christians we must pray diligently for ourselves and each other. We must be transparent and be able to say "hey...I need to be encouraged" and "I need help".

All Christians will at one time or another experience spiritual depression. Don't give up! Pray and seek Him even when you don't feel like it! Thank Him for this season and how you will grow from it. Be transparent and tell God how you feel. Tell yourself how you feel...admit it! Admit you are in a spiritual desert and invite those who love you to help carry you through it. You will emerge a different person, but it will be a person closer to the image in which God created you. He will be rejoicing about that and you should too!

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