Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, Author of Jesus on Every Page David Murray blogs on ministry, leadership, preaching, counseling, technology, and theology.
Depression is tough at the best of times. Perhaps it’s the best of times, such as holiday times, when it’s especially tough. The thought of mixing with happy people fills you with dread. The thought of remembering lost loved ones fills you with gloom. How can people be so happy when you are so sad? How can people celebrate when you are in mourning? It jars your soul and scrapes your tender wounds, doesn’t it?
You may want to run away and hide from the noisy busyness and the social obligations. Or you may want to lash out at the insensitive and uncaring people who exhort you to “Cheer up!” Or maybe you just want to drown your sorrows with binge drinking, binge eating, or binge TV-watching. But none of these options—running out, lashing out, or pigging out—will improve your depression. Indeed, they will only make it worse.
Let me propose a better way that will enable you to carefully navigate this holiday season while also contributing to your long-term healing.
I know prayer is perhaps too obvious, but sometimes we miss the obvious. Bring your burden to the Lord, tell him your fears and dreads, and seek his help to push through these daunting days. Lament by saying “Lord, I don’t want to give thanks, I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, and I don’t want to live through another year.” Admit, saying: “God, I can’t stand happiness right now and I can’t abide people.” Confess: “This is wrong and sinful, but I can’t seem to change.” Plead: “Lord, I am weak, I need your power, I need your patience, I need your joy.” Promise: “I will rely on you alone to carry me and even use this time for my help and healing.”
Not everyone among your family and friends understands depression; but some do, as you know. Give them a call, or, better, meet with them, and talk to them about what you dread during this season. Ask them to pray for you and to support you in the coming days. Ask them to stay by your side in social settings, to protect you from those who don’t understand, to accept your silences, and to help you withdraw quietly when you have reached your limits of socializing.
What Companies Can Do to Help Employees Address Mental Health Issues “Most employees we surveyed already actively manage their mental health and consider it at least as important as their physical health. Such a positive attitude toward managing mental health suggests that employees, and in particular millennials, are likely to welcome and embrace training and initiatives at work that help them thrive and recognize when they need help. Much remains to be done. As Prince Williams says: “There’s still a stigma about mental health. We are chipping away at it, but that wall needs to be smashed down.”
When Christ Is the Cornerstone of Your Medical Practice “To be a patient at Cornerstone is to encounter a distinctly different kind of doctor and practice. From the front desk staff all the way to the doctors’ offices, the mission of Cornerstone is to treat people the way Jesus would.”
Beware Emotional Affairs “Here are some questions to help discern if your relationship has morphed into an emotional affair:”
Some Kids Barely Survive Christmas: Celebrating the Son with Special Needs “For children with special needs, the holidays often herald more distress than delight. Kids struggling with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and other neurodevelopmental conditions rely upon predictability to feel safe. Any deviation from the routine, no matter how exhilarating, pitches these children into a whirlwind of anxiety.”
Have you ever been frustrated at the slow rate of growth in your Christian life? Have you ever complained at how all your efforts to break with sin never seem to pay off? Have you ever been depressed at how, despite all the hours and energy you put into your work, you just don’t see your work improving?
Of course you have. We all have. But the result of no results is not only discouragement; it also depresses our continued effort towards growing in grace and mortifying sin.
Well, let some examples in James Clear’s best-selling book, Atomic Habits, encourage you.
An ice cube in a room at 25 degrees does not melt. If we turn up the heat one degree at a time, nothing happens at 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, and 31 degrees. But at 32 the ice begins to melt. Just one more degree and a huge transformation occurs.
Bamboo spends five years underground and then explodes 95 feet into the air in six weeks.
Cancer spends 80% of its life undetectable and then takes over the body in months.
Tectonic plates can grind against one another for hundreds of years with no visible results, until one day an earthquake erupts as the plates rupture the earth.
Similarly, says Clear, habits seem to make no difference for ages until a critical threshold is crossed and a new level of performance is achieved:
“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change” (20).
At times all our work seems wasted because we make no breakthrough. But it’s not wasted. It’s just being stored for release at the moment of breakthrough.
Moreover, the Christian has even more incentive than behavioral science to persevere in our pursuit of growth, holiness, and talent multiplication. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, we have hope in God to encourage us, and we have the almighty sovereignty of God that can effect breakthrough moments far sooner than anyone might expect or predict
So, keep persevering Christian. You may be just one degree away from a life-changing breakthrough in growth, in sanctification, and in usefulness.
Suicides have spiked so much that Ron Wyden wants a 3-digit hotline “In 2016, almost 45,000 suicides took place in the United States, up from about 30,000 in 1999, according to CDC data. Rates rose by more than 30% in half of all U.S. states since then, according to the CDC. Having a single, easy-to-remember phone number for mental health issues could make it easier to remember in a crisis, similar to how people know to call 911 in an emergency”
SELF-Control as a Fruit of the SPIRIT and Implications “I was recently struck by the tension represented in the reality that self-control was a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Something we can only do by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is attributed to the self as its means of expression. The Bible gives us a positively-connoted, Spirit-empowered, self-hyphenated word. How does this work? ”
Why Your Online “Church” Isn’t Enough “We don’t see things correctly. The idle often think their weak. The faint-hearted rebuke themselves for idleness. We need another set of loving eyes to come alongside us and properly apply the gospel. And for that you need a local church. And for that to actually “work” and matter and do what it’s supposed to do—you need to pursue being known and to know others.”
The Mentally Afflicted Christian “If as Christians we are primarily concerned with correcting the woes of others, while conveniently avoiding helping the suffering sinner or giving a reason for hope, who will show this person the love of Christ, if not the Christian?”
James Clear, a promising High School baseball player, suffered a fractured skull and brain damage in a baseball bat accident while at High School. In his bestselling book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, he explains how he reconstructed his life while at college through building good habits in every area of his life. This started in small ways by tidying his room, but eventually spread into his studies, resulting in straight A’s in his first year.
He eventually achieved remarkable sporting and academic honors in his final year. Although he never fulfilled his dream of playing professional baseball, he says that in these college years, “I accomplished something just as rare: I fulfilled my potential” (6). His book is based on the belief that good habits can help us fulfill our potential as well.
Clear defines a habit as “a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and, in many cases, automatically” (6). These changes, he says, “that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years” (7). His basic thesis is, start small, make small steps of progress, and big challenges can be met and big obstacles overcome.
This might seem like a really obvious point, but in a day when so many are trying to achieve overnight success, or take shortcuts to achievement, it’s a healthy dose of realism. It’s also encouraging to those of us who are plodders, because it says, “Take multiple small steps, and over time you will eventually cover big distances.”
I was enticed into reading the book by a seminary student who told me how much the book had changed his life. I ordered it with a view to reading it through a biblical lens. My primary interest, of course, was not so much about how to be successful but how to be sanctified. And, as sanctification is so much concerned with changing habits (as well as hearts), I wondered if this book might help advance personal sanctification?
Now that I’m well into the book, I’ve identified a number of ways in which this book can help us live the Christian life better. For example, there’s the basic point about aiming for steady progress over time through small steps rather than overnight success by a great leap into holiness. In my early Christian life, I remember going on a solo camping trip in the middle of Hungary with the plan to read the whole Bible in five days. I think I gave up after one hour. I was deeply disappointed for a time. But then I read a quote (can’t remember now who said it): “The way to increase in holiness is to slowly increase your ordinary daily devotions rather than to attempt one-off extraordinary devotions.” I’ve found this to be 100% true.
Clear also challenges his readers to break down everything they do into small components and then improve each part by 1%. The end result when all the 1%’s are added up is a significant increase. We can apply this to many areas of Christian service, such as preaching a sermon or even writing a blog post. Clear’s case is that instead of massive success requiring massive action, we should see the importance of making small improvements on a daily basis. Although improving by 1% is not especially noticeable, if continued over the long run, the end result will be a massive difference: “If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done” he asserts (15).
Can this not be applied to sanctification? Think of 1% improvements in specific graces such as trust, kindness, patience, love, etc., which is especially possible when the Christian depends on the Holy Spirit for this. Habits, says Clear, “are the compound interest of self-improvement” (substitute “spiritual progress” or “growth in grace” for “self-improvement”). There seems to be little difference on any given day, but these small changes deliver huge impact over the long run.
And remember, this also works in the opposite direction!
“We are fortunate to have groups like Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith, working to protect our liberties. In 2018 ADF was at the forefront of a number of important legal cases. Here are their most significant victories for religious freedom for the year:”
“I conducted a two-week, six-hour workday experiment with my team at Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne, Australia. The shorter workday forced the team to prioritize effectively, limit interruptions, and operate at a much more deliberate level for the first few hours of the day. The team maintained, and in some cases increased, its quantity and quality of work, with people reporting an improved mental state, and that they had more time for rest, family, friends, and other endeavors.”
Flourish in How God Has (and Has Not) Gifted You “I work in missions and global theological education. One of the hardest conversations we conduct is with men who have been in ministry 20 or 30 years and want to teach with us, but don’t demonstrate the gift of teaching. We often affirm them in other ways, but for whatever reason, no one in the church has ever addressed this lack.”
“New research funded by the National Institutes of Health found brain changes among kids using screens more than seven hours a day and lower cognitive skills among those using screens more than two hours a day.”
According to the YouVersion Bible App the most shared, bookmarked, and highlighted verse of 2018 was Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
There were a few national variations. For example, the most popular verse in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, and Mexico was Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
In Egypt, India, and Iraq the most popular verse was 1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Do you see the common thread? Fear, anxiety, worry.
This confirms all the stats I’ve been reading and stories I’ve been hearing over the past year. Anxiety is soaring to epidemic rates, especially among teens. It’s the number one issue that middle and high school teachers raise with me when I talk with them. What a need and what an opportunity for the Gospel of Peace!
“My reason was that the latest revelations in the church’s interminable sex abuse scandal had revealed ‘a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin.’”
He predicts that many will make the same move in the coming months and years.
It appears to be the church’s ecclesiology which Linker takes most issue with. As he puts it:
“The Catholic Church does make extraordinarily high claims for itself — not that its priests and bishops and cardinals and popes are angels but that the church as an institution is, of all the churches that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one most fully and rightly ordered through time.”
This, he says, is patently an absurd claim in the light of both ancient history and recent events.
“If you believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected, that he is the Son of God and the second person of the trinitarian Godhead, that his teaching tells us how the creator of the universe wants us to live, then by all means be a Christian. But to believe that this particular church, of all the Christian churches in the world, is the one most fully and rightly ordered through time, over and above all of the others? You can’t possibly be serious.
To react with anger and incredulity to this suggestion isn’t to display unrealistically high hopes or expectations about the church. It’s to respond reasonably to a claim that the church makes about itself — a claim that is flatly implausible on its face.
And that, my former fellow Catholic communicants, is why I have left the church — and why I fully expect quite a lot of the rest of you to be joining me in my unregretted exodus very soon.”
His problem is not primarily the priests’ crimes of child abuse but the church’s response of covering it up and even promoting those who did the abusing and covering up. He highlights the bafflement of Catholics everywhere as to how and why church leaders could have done this, but explains it in the money quote of the piece:
“The behavior is only mysterious if you assume that anyone in their place would respond the way you and I would: with revulsion. But it isn’t mysterious at all if you assume what should be obvious by now to everyone: They just didn’t think it was such a big deal.“
That’s the big deal in this article. That’s the crux of the matter. They just didn’t think it was such a big deal. That’s where the Protestant church must stand out as different. Otherwise, Protestants will start leaving their churches in droves too.