Spiritual Depression: General Causes & Treatment

spiritual depression causes treatment

Last week I wrote about the need for Christians (including myself) to have a more consistent joy. I mentioned that I would be working through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s book Spiritual Depression in order to help this pursuit.

This week we look at the first chapter.

Chapter 1 Summary

Lloyd-Jones kicks off Chapter 1 with a look at two general considerations:

  • General Causes of Spiritual Depression
  • General Treatment of Spiritual Depression

The rest of the book looks at specifics, but chapter gives a general overview.

Spiritual Depression

Why is it important to face this particular issue of spiritual depression?

1. For the sake of those in this condition, that they may be delivered from this unhappiness, this disquiet, this lack of ease, this tension, this troubled state….

It is very sad to contemplate the fact that there are Christian people who live the greater part of their lives in this world in such a condition. It does not mean that they are not Christians, but it does mean that they are missing a great deal, missing so much that it is important.

2. Because this sort of Christian is ultimately a walking contradiction, a “very poor recommendation for the gospel.”

Nothing is more important, therefore, than that we should be delivered from a condition which gives other people, looking at us, the impression that to be a Christian means to be unhappy, to be sad, to be morbid, and that the Christian is one who ‘scorns delights and lives laborious days’. There are many indeed who give this as a reason for not being Christian, and for giving up all interest they may ever have had in the Christian faith. They say: Look at Christian people, look at the impression they give! And they are very fond of contrasting us with people out in the world, people who seem to be so thrilled by the things they believe in, whatever they may be.

Causes of Spiritual Depression

1. Temperament: “But while I emphasize, with all my being, the fact that temperament does not make the slightest difference in the matter of our fundamental salvation, I am equally anxious to emphasize the fact that it does make a very great difference in actual experience in the Christian life, and that when you are trying to diagnose a condition such as that of spiritual depression, it is something with which you should start, it is something to put at the very beginning.”

There is nothing more futile, when dealing with this condition, than to act on the assumption that all Christians are identical in every respect.

We have:

a. Introverts: “There is the type of person who is generally looking inwards and the type of person who is always looking outwards, and it is of the greatest importance that we should realize not only that we belong to one or the other of these two groups, but furthermore that this condition of spiritual depression tends to affect the one more than the other. We must start by knowing ourselves and by understanding ourselves.”

There is the type of person prone to spiritual depression. Always looking inward, blaming and analyzing oneself. The danger is that such a person will become morbid.

b. Extroverts: The extroverts must also be on guard of what his nature brings.

2. Physical Conditions: There are certain physical ailments that tend to promote depression. There is tiredness, overstrain, illnesses, chronic fatigue,

You cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical for we are body, mind and spirit. The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time and there are great illustrations of this in the Scriptures.

3. The devil who can use both our temperaments and our physical condition.

The devil’s one object is so to depress God’s people that he can go to the man of the world and say: There are God’s people. Do you want to be like that?

4. Unbelief

The ultimate cause of all spiritual depression is unbelief. For if it were not for unbelief even the devil could do nothing. It is because we listen to the devil instead of listening to God that we go down before him and fall before his attacks. That is why this psalmist keeps on saying to himself: ‘Hope thou in God for I shall yet praise Him. . . .’ He reminds himself of God. Why? Because he was depressed and had forgotten God, so that his faith and his belief in God and in God’s power, and in his relationship to God, were not what they ought to be.

Treatment of Spiritual Depression

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance (Psalm 42:5).

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance and my God (Psalm 42:11)

What is the treatment in general? Lets look back to the Psalm (Psalm 42). The psalmist does not lie down and sulk and bask in his sorrow, he instead does something about it. What does he do?

But he does something which is more important still, that is he talks to himself. This man turns to himself and says: ‘Why art thou cast down O my soul, why art thou disquieted within me?’ He is talking to himself, he is addressing himself.

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’.

Defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.

Three Additional Thoughts

God has made people with different temperaments, different dispositions. Some are outgoing, some are not. Some are naturally positive, some negative. Some are with little problems, others with many.

What is your temperament? What is your natural state? It helps to identify this in order to better equip yourself in battling this spiritual depression.

First, we need to recognize that we are each uniquely made in God’s image. We have been given one story, one life, and we have to recognize our disposition, our degree of susceptibility toward spiritual depression, and pursue joy accordingly in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our approach and intensity will be different based on whether we are introverted or extroverted, in good health, bad health, or in the midst of tough circumstances.

Second, we should stop assuming anything about anyone by default. Remember we are different. We should from the outset give people the benefit of the doubt. There is almost always more going on underneath the surface than you know.

If your wife is snarky when you get home from work don’t by default say, “Wow, you’re in a crummy mood,” but instead think, “Perhaps she is really worn out today and just needs a little time to regroup. Let me help.”

When your boss snaps on you at work don’t by default think, “Wow what a jerk,” but instead think, “Perhaps his boss is putting a lot of pressure him and he is under a lot of stress. How can I help take the load off?” Perhaps you can speak an encouraging word instead.

Ditch the reaction to think ill of others from the outset as again, there often is more behind the scenes than you know about.

Finally, as the Psalmist said, hope in God. He, and he alone, is the health of your countenance. Not your situation, not your finances, not your current trial, not your moody co-worker, not your wife, not your children and not your successes.

Do you believe this?

Don’t let your deceitful self talk to yourself, but instead speak God’s word to yourself. Address yourself. Challenge yourself. That is what we see the psalmist doing in Psalm 42. Tell (ask) yourself, “Why are you cast down? Why soul are you disquieted in me? No sir, I will praise God. I will praise him for the health of my countenance.

Join me next week in Chapter 2 where we’ll dive in and take a more specific look at this condition of Spiritual Depression.


Other Posts In This Series:
Introduction – Let’s Strive Toward A More Consistent Joy
Chapter 1 – Spiritual Depression – General Causes and Treatment
Chapter 2 – A True Foundation For Overcoming Spiritual Depression
Chapter 3 – The Uncertain Christian: “Men as trees, walking”
Chapter 4 – The Balanced Christian: Mind, Heart, and Will

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