Anxiety, Depression, and Some Helps (3) Spiritual Disciplines
There can be different causes of anxiety and depression. Some of these causes are biological in nature, a result of the first Adam's sin. Some of the causes are the result of personal sin or the sin of another. For others, it can be a mixture of all the above. Whether the cause is biological or spiritual, spiritual disciplines are needed. In this article, I'd like to recommend a few profitable spiritual exercises that are honoring to the Lord and will provide soul care to someone facing anxiety and depression.
To pray is to acknowledge your dependency upon the Lord. To pray is to acknowledge your weakness before God. To pray is to submit yourself to the will of God. To pray is to commune with God. If these things are true, why is prayer one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines of our day? Paul charged the church of Colossae to "continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving..." (Colossians 4:2 NKJV). God in Christ has made Himself accessible to us for His glory and our good. Not only that, but His deposited Holy Spirit helps us to pray earnestly and with thanksgiving.
For those who struggle with depression and anxiety, prayer may come in short, desperate prayers and this is OK. There is nothing spiritual about long-winded prayers. But I would challenge you to establish a habit of praying with thanksgiving. This may be a shock to your gloomy disposition, but it could be the very shock you need. It will feel unnatural at first and maybe even phony, but hang with it. The Lord will use it for His glory and your good.
Hear the words of King David in Psalm 32:
32 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not [b]impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:1-5 NKJV)
How many people are missing out on what King David experienced? This Psalm gives good language around what we consider to be anxiety and depression today: my bones grew old; groaning all day long; your hand was heavy upon me; vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Now, this was all a result of David's personal sin (and not all anxiety and depression is a result of personal sin), but confession is good and I fear Christians are missing out on a tremendous means of grace when this discipline is neglected.
When David confessed any indwelling sin to the Lord, the Lord, in turn, comforted Him. The Lord forgave Him. This particular part of the Psalm ends with the word, Selah. Now, no one quite knows what that word means, but our best guess is that it means rest and meditate on what you've just read. In other words, think of the emotional and physical toll the lack of confession can be and think of the rest and peace that follow when you agree with the Scripture about the condition of your soul.
If you're a believer and you're living in habitual sin and you refuse to confess your sin as sin I promise you you're miserable and depressed. The reason is because the Holy Spirit lives inside of you and is making you unsettled so that you will confess and find rest. Believer, confess your sins to God. Do it even now before you finish this article.
I had lunch with a guy I'm discipling recently. He was thinking back on his earlier years as a professing believer and confessed to me how little he read the Bible. I remember him saying to me, 'how did I go so long without reading the Bible daily?' This is a guy who is now feasting on Jesus by feasting on the Scripture. The beauty is, the more you feast on the Scripture, the more you realize it's your daily food. It is absolutely impossible for you to be conformed more into the image of Jesus apart from a steady intake of the Bible- this is by God's design. Listen again to the Psalmist in 119:
9 "How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
12 Blessed are You, O Lord!
Teach me Your statutes.
13 With my lips I have declared
All the judgments of Your mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on Your precepts,
And [b]contemplate Your ways.
16 I will delight myself in Your statutes;
I will not forget Your word." (Psalm 119:9-16 NKJV)
Again, pay attention to the language. God's Word is what he takes heed to. God's word is what's hidden in the Psalmist's heart so that he may not sin against God and so that He may worship God appropriately. The Psalmist rejoiced in the words of God (as much as in all the riches). The Psalmist meditated upon the Scripture and he delighted in them and committed them to memory. A high view of Scripture follows from a high view of God. The reason we are bored/disinterested in Scripture is because we have a low view of our Triune God.
Lord's Day Observance
I recently attended a conference in Dubai in which the speaker discussed an article he read in the UK by a psychiatrist prescribing 'mandatory rest' for his patients. In the article, the psychiatrist talked about how the lack of rest leads to various forms of mental illness and he concludes the article by saying he can't help but think that he's prescribing retroactive sabbaths. This story stuck with me. Our Lord's Day gathering of the saints is obedience to the 4th commandment that was instituted when God created the world. But, our observance of the Lord's Day isn't just expected obedience, it's also good for our body and soul.
On the Lord's Day, we rest our weary bones from our normative labors/patterns and we dedicate an entire day to the worship of God and service of others. On the Lord's Day we gather with the other saints in our local church and we 'admonish each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19), submit ourselves to the public preaching of the Word, prayer, and sacrament. This is good for us. To rebel against this is to say, 'I know better than God'. Not only is this disobedience, but according to the psychiatrist's article, it has a negative impact on our mental health.
As I mentioned earlier, service can be a part of your Lord's Day, but I find that serving others is beneficial for people struggling with anxiety and depression because it gives a fresh perspective. Not only does it give a fresh perspective, but it makes us others-focused instead of self focused. You hear testimonies all the time- "I went to serve them, but I was more blessed by serving". I think this is the way the Lord designed it. God increases our joy when we invest our lives in other people. That is what the second table of the Ten Commandments is all about- loving our neighbor.
What's missing in your life right now, believer? These are just a few spiritual disciplines, but these are spiritual disciplines God expects all believers to practice. The beauty is, when we do, the Holy Spirit ministers to us and comforts us. Make a resolution today by God's grace and begin to practice these. I promise you it will make a difference.