Deaths of Despair: a 3-Part Series on Living a Life Not Barren and Unfruitful
In Part 1 I described the very real attacks of our enemy on everyone, but particularly on Christians. In Part 2 I outlined the foundation of a believer’s response as an individual under attack, or for someone struggling to know how to help a friend. I don’t intend, however, to stop at the equivalent of saying, “be warm, be fed.” I also don’t want, in my attempt to help, to inadvertently be heaping coals on those who are struggling.
In Part 3, then, let’s look at some actual steps that can be taken to break the grip of depression. My list is not definitive, but these are things that I have found effective in my life and as I minister to others.
First, let’s understand the position of spiritual privilege we are in, especially if one feels condemned by the Law for the way they are feeling; as if it were “un-Christian” to be depressed. Bonhoeffer, in “The Cost of Discipleship”, states it relatively simply (for him):
“It is Jesus himself who comes between [the Law] and the disciples, not the [Law] which comes between Jesus and the disciples. [We] are faced not with a law which has never yet been fulfilled, but by one whose demands have already been satisfied.”
It is not some unfulfilled law, or some misunderstood doctrine, or some unrepented of violation, that explains or causes our feeling of separation from Christ. Everyone has failed in that attempt, but Christ. Christ, however, fulfilled every requirement of the law on our behalf; its demands have already been satisfied.
You have heard Romans 8:1 that tells us there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. Let’s look at this, though, in the wonderful phrasing of The Message Bible:
“1-2 With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
“3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.”
Your freedom from the law wasn’t merely granted, it was fought for, and won. The low-lying black cloud is not our home. Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke wrote, “Christ did not say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Hell is at hand.’ Instead, he said, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.’” We can choose to do, and live, well not out of fear of condemnation, but out of the gratitude we experience for the grace we have received. I find that very comforting!
Without this revelation, we are held captive by our own thoughts, instead of the other way around. We may fall into a closed loop of repetitive thinking. The loop has no end because no new information is added; we just keep worrying at the same “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Those worries can only conform us; they don’t transform us. Instead of thinking over and over about the worst that can happen, what if we imagined the best thing happening?
We are told to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Why? Because you will see the things you seek; the things you look for are what you find. If you look for trouble, you will find it. On the other hand, scripture gives us a foundation for changing our outlook.
Fruitful growth in faith
2 Peter 1:5-7: But also for this very reason, giving all diligence,
• add to your faith, virtue (Webster’s 1828: virtue is “firmness of mind and soul that allows one to bear and resist”),
• to virtue, knowledge (of the ways and character of God)
• to knowledge, self-control (to bring your flesh and thoughts into alignment with your knowledge of God),
• to self-control, perseverance (patience plus fortitude; the foundation of courage),
• to perseverance, godliness (to see things the way God sees them),
• to godliness, brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness, love (these last two mean taking what you have gained and helping others).
A life not barren and unfruitful
2 Peter 1:8, 9
For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Life hack: our old sins are our enemy’s favorite weapons, and the place from where many of his “Did God say,” and “If you are,” questions come from.
There’s a good way to activate a life neither barren nor unfruitful.
Helping others is a nearly sure-fire way to get your mind off your troubles, bring lift back into your life, and help you see your situation in a different light. It’s a great way to introduce fresh thinking.
Once when I was “becalmed” and finding it hard to sense or feel God’s presence, he sent me a dream that involved helping someone else, and within a day or two of that dream, that type of opportunity came to me. Without the dream, I might have ignored that opportunity, but I stepped out of my cozy discomfort-zone and took a chance – and doing so almost immediately refilled my sails.
Doing something for others is a great way to refute the Devil and confound his lie that you are of no use to anyone.
This can involve checking in on people who may be struggling, or just sitting with them in their grief. How can we do so while showing the empathy of Job’s friends from Part 2, but not their self-righteousness?
The prayers we often refer to in Ephesians (beginning in 1:15 and 3:3), Philippians (beginning in 1:1) and Colossians are also excellent verses for describing the power and character of God, and adding it to our friends’ lives. Colossians 1: 9-14 may be the best of these for this type of situation:
“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and long-suffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
Finally, two last scriptures to wrap this series up.
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, so we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This tells us that mercy is needed, and that grace is findable.
Think of it this way, when you are struggling: mercy removes, and grace fills. Needs aren’t the problem; God made needs so we would have to go to the throne. He desires our requests, he doesn’t just put up with them.
Don’t be dismayed that you have a need, even a desperate one beyond your capability. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Cry out to me, and I will show you great and wondrous things that you do not know.” When I was diagnosed with ALS by the Mayo Clinic, healing scriptures were first and foremost in my mind and mouth. But then I saw Jeremiah, and realized I had not actually “cried out” to God about the situation and laid it before Him, as opposed to trying to rely on my faith and repetition of scripture. I cried out, and He did respond immediately, showing me great and wondrous things I did not know – even within those scriptures I thought I knew so well. A little over a year later, I was “undiagnosed” of ALS, also by the Mayo, because I was too healthy.
If there is nothing else you remember from this series, remember that God desires to meet our need at His throne. Don’t let the enemy discourage – take away your courage – to go there and receive it, and share it with others who are struggling.