Depression and Common Grace

Depression and Common Grace

By Jared C. Wilson

help-depressionA few years ago I had a book published called Gospel Wakefulness. It is a very important book to me, as it came out of the second most important event of my life, second only to my conversion — the moment when the gospel became realer than real. And this happened out of a great personal disaster. I won’t rehash my testimony here; many of my readers are familiar with it. But it was important for me to include in this book a chapter on Depression. That may seem like an odd choice for a book about exulting in the grace of God with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but I wasn’t interested in applying the gospel to the happy-go-lucky. And this book out of all my books, and this chapter out of all my chapters, has prompted the most messages of appreciation. I trust it is helpful.

Below is an excerpt from this chapter, a portion that covers God’s gracious provision of ordinary “helps,” and a gracious encouragement to those hurting who are often further hurt by well-meaning churchfolk who inappropriately spiritualize such afflictions.

The first thing we may say about the bigness of Jesus is that he is big enough to help us in many ordinary means. Many Christians have adopted the unfortunate posture of Job’s friends, adding more discouragement to those discouraged in depression by urging them not to seek help except via spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. These are certainly the most important prescriptions for any of us!

The fuller truth, however, is that while Jesus is enough, his enough-ness may be manifested in our getting help from material means. These too are gifts from God, provided through the common graces of scientific research, academic study, pastoral giftedness, analytic method, and modern medicine.

What I mean is this: talk to a trained counselor and take the meds if they are needed. When it comes to medication, at the very least, don’t not take it out of fear of distrust of Jesus. Antidepressants may or may not help you, but discuss the options with your doctor, preferably after conferring with a clinical psychologist who is also a Christian, and if you decide they are not for you, don’t decide so because you think to take them is to deny Jesus’s ability to heal.

Yes, Jesus is enough, but it must really be Jesus, not some invoking of the idea of Jesus, some platitude involving Jesus’s name, some hollow encouragement via cheap cliché. One question I’d ask those who’d suggest that those on medication for depression or anxiety should ditch the pills and just “trust Jesus” is if they’ve ever been to the doctor for anything, taken medicine for anything. Do they wear glasses or contact lenses? Why? Isn’t Jesus enough? (Do you drive a car? Why doesn’t Jesus beam you to work?)

I’m being silly, but I really am not trying to be reductive. The problem with “Jesus should be enough” in response to the question, “should Christians take anti-depressants?” is that the Jesus in view in the assertion is disembodied. He is an idea, a concept. I don’t think Christians can say with any integrity, “Jesus is enough,” without attempting to do what Jesus did to “be Jesus” for people, which frequently included meeting their physical and emotional needs. The gospel truth of “Jesus is enough” doesn’t have some vague, ethereal, unincarnated spiritual meaning.

That we have medicine to help us heal physically and psychologically is a gift from Jesus, just as salvation from sins is a gift from Jesus. Of course, if I had to take one over the other, I would take pain now and heaven later, but that’s theoretical, and thankfully I don’t often have to choose one or the other.

And it certainly isn’t the gospel of Jesus to heap guilt on people who need medical help to be healthy people. Jesus may heal any of us without ordinary means—and I do believe he heals today by purely Spiritual means, what most of us would call a miracle—but this kind of healing is not normative. And that’s all right. Medicine is not a mandate for the depressed person. But neither is it off limits. It can be, properly prescribed and taken, a gift of common grace. Likewise, seeking help from a pastoral counselor or Christian psychologist is nothing to be ashamed of.

– from Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011)

Rest in My Presence

Resting horses

Life is hectic.  Life carries stress and anxiety invoking situations.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or delusional.

How does one deal with stress and anxieties and the chaos of life?

Personally, I have found many ways that have helped; but three items tend to work well for me, especially if combined: The Bible, prayer, and physical exercise.  The third cannot always be done, but a regular workout schedule has helped to work off some of the pent up energy and work out some of the thoughts that aren’t helpful…especially when I replace those thoughts with God’s thoughts by praying His thoughts as expressed in the Bible.

Today, I found the devotional from Jesus Calling to be an added benefit as the author shared what she experienced from the Lord through Colossians 4:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

Rest in My presence, allowing Me to take charge of this day.  Do not bolt into the day like a racehorse suddenly released.  Instead, walk purposefully with Me, letting Me direct your course one step at a time.  Thank Me for each blessing along the way; this brings Joy to both you and Me.  A grateful heart protects you from negative thinking.  Thankfulness enables you to see the abundance I shower upon you daily.  Your prayers and petitions are winged into heaven’s throne room when they are permeated with thanksgiving.  In everything give thanks, for this is My will for you.

How do you approach each day?  Do you rush out of the gates and into the race, or do you pause and spend time with Jesus?

Are you frantically searching for direction in life, or are you letting Him and His Word be a light unto your feet each step of the way (Ps. 119:105)?

Is your mind fixed upon the unknown and what you cannot control, or are you looking upon Him who is a steady Rock and giving Him thanks for His multiplied grace in your life?

7 Acts of Grace in Marriage

7 Acts of Grace in a Marriage

by Ron Edmondson

dancingAfter years of working with marriages, including my own, I’ve come to a conclusion. Marriages that struggle are often lacking one key ingredient. It’s something that, when missing from any relationship, will cause trouble in the relationship. The missing ingredient is called grace. And, when applied appropriately, it’s amazing.

If the marriage is struggling, one remedy is to apply more grace. Of course, it ultimately takes two people to make the marriage work, but one way to improve things is to interject more grace. When both parties are grace-giving to each other, the marriage can soar.

Here are 7 acts of grace in a marriage:

Recognize differences – You first have to know them, but you have to give grace for your uniqueness. No two people in the world are alike and that’s never realized as more true than in a marriage relationship. The more you understand those differences the better you’ll be able to grow the strength of the marriage. And, if you live in the grace of marriage you’ll spend a lifetime in discovery…never believing you’ve got this person completely figured out, but always dating, always exploring new dreams together, always learning about each other.

Respect differences – It is not enough just to know the differences, you have to accept them. Respect them. This doesn’t mean making excuses for them but fully embracing the other person’s uniqueness as a gift to the marriage and allowing them to work for the marriage rather than against it. I’m an introvert. My wife is an extrovert. I can’t always be introverted and respect her extroversion. And vice-versa. I need to talk and listen sometime for her. She needs to allow quiet sometimes for me, but when we blend the two differences together, we become a power couple for the ministry God has given us.

Clear boundaries – Don’t hold your spouse accountable for what they don’t know. Understand the unique needs of each person to keep the marriage strong. Establish the boundaries that are reasonable and agreed upon by both spouses, then live within them. It’s not legalism, it’s giving grace to the other person. For example, I know that Cheryl needs quality time. It’s her love language. I extend grace to her when I protect my schedule to spend ample time with her during the week. She knows I am fueled on her respect of me, so she “graces” me by not speaking down to me in public.

Forgive easily – Have high standards for your marriage, but recognize two imperfect people are trying to uphold them. You’ll make mistakes. Both of you. You aren’t perfect. And, neither is the person you married. You extend grace when you practice granting forgiveness more than you practice holding a grudge.

Serve expecting nothing in return – Part of gracing one another is doing for each other with no strings attached. The goal is not a 50/50 partnership, but that each spouse extend 100% grace to one another. When a couple mutually submits to one another…even out-serving each other…the bond of the marriage is strengthened. (See Ephesians 5:21)

Extend trust – A marriage won’t grow far beyond where trust is still being earned. Many of us bring our own hurts into a marriage. It can be difficult to place full confidence in the other person, especially after mistakes are made. For a marriage flourish, you have to risk being hurt and extend the grace of trust. (There will be those reading this who have had reasons to mistrust their spouse…I get that…and it takes time to recover from severe hurt in the marriage. At some point, however, for the marriage to ever be all it should be, a risk of trust will have to be given again. That takes grace.)

Love the mundane – Let’s be honest. We live in a fast-paced world and sometimes, if things aren’t moving fast enough, we can fall into routines and life can be boring. That bothers some of us more than others. For some of us, we love the big…the grandiose. We love the mountaintop weekends and the pinnacle vacations. We want every moment of our life to be extraordinaire. And, frankly, it’s not. It can’t be. And, if we aren’t careful, we can get bored even in the marriage. In fact, I’d be bold enough to say boredom is a leading cause of marriages that fall into trouble. It often starts there at least. Grace in a marriage means that we learn to love the highs…which is easy…and the lows…which is hard…and the mundane…which is sometimes…for some people…the hardest of all.

Can I ask you a question? Will you be honest with yourself?

What is Grace? By Tullian Tchividjian

What Is Grace?

By Tullian Tchividjian

What is grace?

The definition I give for grace in my forthcoming book, One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, comes from Paul Zahl:

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing. Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love.

Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people—prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds. The most extravagant sinners of Jesus’s day receive his most compassionate welcome. Grace is a divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous. It doesn’t use sticks, carrots, or time cards. It doesn’t keep score. As Robert Capon puts it, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free.” It refuses to be controlled by our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and evenhandedness. It defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed. It doesn’t expect a return on investments. It is a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

It is one-way love.

What God Has and Has Not Promised

Storm on horizonLife is not always easy.  At times life can be downright discouraging and overwhelming.  Living in a fallen world, we anticipate that struggles will occur, yet sometimes we can still be taken aback.  Especially when it seems that the rough times come in the midst of serving Christ and others.

“Wait a minute! Aren’t I supposed to be blessed and have smooth roads in the service of God?”  A normal reaction. But a theologically misinformed response, unfortunately fed by a health and wealth prosperity gospel and spiritual consumerism mentality.  Just a cursory look at the lives of the faithful in the Old Testament, the lives of the apostles, and the life of Jesus will quickly dispel the external road of blessing myths.

This is not to say, of course, that there will not be external blessings, joy, peace, and satisfaction in life and ministry.  Experience and Scripture both testify to these in addition to the hardships.  So, it is important to have a balanced view of what God has and has not promised in order to avoid having an overly pessimistic view (which drains oneself and others of joy in the Lord) or an overly optimistic view (which can be rocked when the hardships do come).

I have found What God Hath Promised by Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932) to be a helpful reminder of what God has not promised and what God has promised.  It is an encouragement to dig into God’s abundant grace when life and ministry get rough and a reminder to thank the Lord for his grace when experiencing times of satisfaction and joy:

God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

(Chorus)
But God hath promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
  Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain, rocky and steep,
Never a river, turbid and deep.

 

Cigar Smoking and Grace For the Accountability-Holder

Cigar Smoking and Grace For the Accountability-Holder

By Jared Wilson

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
– Galatians 6:2

I started smoking cigars the summer after I graduated high school. That would’ve been in 1994. I smoked cigars for nearly seventeen years. Smoking cigars was my favorite way to pass the time. It may sound silly to some, but some of my favorite moments in life involved sitting with friends and enjoying some good tobacco together, talking about important things and silly things, sharing and laughing and eating. Some of my favorite moments in life involved just me and a cigar and deep thoughts about the gospel. It’s something probably only serious cigar smokers might understand.

cigar3Then I stopped. I didn’t want to, but I did. I transitioned my family’s health care coverage from insurance to a Christian “health-share” program. Incredible insurance costs were the main reason. But one of the stipulations for participation in the new co-op is abstention from all tobacco use. Alcohol in moderation is okay, but there is no consideration for “tobacco in moderation,” which I assume my roughly one cigar a month might have qualified for. I won’t lie; it was tough. Again, this might seem odd for some to understand, but take one of your favorite hobbies, something “unnecessary” but that nevertheless brings you joy and satisfaction and is an exercise of a good gift that you’ve enjoyed for over a decade — ladies, maybe it’s crafting; fellas, maybe it’s golf — and imagine someone said you have to stop. Like, for good.

But I decided it would be worth it. So two years ago I agreed to abstain. It has not been easy…When I go visit friends or attend after-hours hangouts at various conferences, I will be among friends who are enjoying fine cigars all around me. They always offer me one, not knowing about my pledge to abstain. I have been tempted to flout the rules. I can come up with all kinds of justifications. For instance, there is no rule against eating junk food or sitting in smoggy traffic all day every day, and surely I’m healthier smoking 13 cigars a year than some folks on the plan eating McDonald’s three times a week. The flesh is great at self-justification. Iam great at self-justification.

So what has kept me from cheating? On the form you fill out every year to renew membership, which includes the pledge to abstain from tobacco, there is a place where a church officer must sign to vouch for the veracity of your statements. My friends Elder Dale and Deacon Neil have been signers of this document. I know that if I cheat on my pledge, it doesn’t just make me a liar, it will make them liars. It will make me a liar to them. So even though they are not asking me (ever, really) if I’m really keeping my promises in that form, they are signing with the assumption that I am, and therefore their vouching for me is my accountability-holder.

When we think of accountability relationships (or accountability “partners”), we often think of all the ways someone might keep a weaker brother responsible for his actions. We rarely talk about how the one being held accountable might live in such a way to not make his accountability-holder look like a jerk. This runs through issues of church discipline and the like, as well. The focus is so much on gentleness and directness and loving rebuke for those sinning — which is a necessary focus, of course — that we sometimes neglect to remind people that walking in repentance and integrity is a good gift to leaders (Hebrews 13:17) because it keeps them from having to enter conflict. Us folks under accountability can take real burdens off those holding us accountable by striving to act right.

Maybe your accountability partner receives your Internet logs each week to hold your online surfing habits under inspection. When you go where you shouldn’t online, you’re not just sinning against God, you’re sinning against your brother by putting him in the difficult, undesirable, burdensome position of figuring out how to confront you, rebuke you, and restore you in ways that bring glory to God and joy to you. He will do that, because he’s committed to do it (and you asked him to). But isn’t it better to work at making sure he’s not having to be in that position?

We are looking for grace from our accountability-holders. But we ought also to be looking to how we might give grace to our accountability-holders. Maybe we ought to strive for holiness and integrity in our lives not simply out of personal religious ambition but out of relational mercy, out of a desire to not make religious cuckolds of our friends.

Outdo one another in showing honor.
– Romans 12:10

Why I Don’t Believe in Grace (Jon Acuff)

Why I don’t believe in grace

January 9, 2013 by Jon Acuff (Stuff Christians Like)

Ray Lewis Psalm 91The other day, Ray Lewis, played his last game in Baltimore’s stadium. After 17 wildly successful years, he’s retiring.

At the end of the game he took off his jersey to reveal a shirt that said, “Psalms 91.”

I smiled at that, but then deep in my heart thought, “Yeah, but that guy was part of a double homicide. Whatever.”

And there it is.

I don’t believe in grace.

Or, I believe in it for me, and people who have sinned like me, but there’s a whole lot of people I don’t think deserve grace.

The problem is that when we talk about grace, we often don’t use one of the most important words to describe it.

We say, “Grace is powerful and free and beautiful and amazing.” But we leave out one of the key descriptors of grace.

The truth is, grace is offensive.

Grace offends in its’ generosity.

Grace offends in its’ availability.

Grace offends in its’ depth.

Grace offends in its’ unwillingness to be controlled or owned or manipulated.

Grace is offensive and when I see people who I think don’t deserve it, I am reminded of ultimately how desperately I still need it.