SEVERE PERSONAL STRUGGLES
[Open with a prayer: "Father, I want to share some very difficult thoughts this
morning. Please help me not misrepresent You. Please help each listener hear from
his or her heart."]
Preaching is an extremely difficult challenge that literally becomes more complex
every week. A preacher must be dedicated to representing God properly [this is an
impossible challenge in itself]. A preacher must be dedicated to being a positive help
to people [always you only help some]. Last Sunday morning's sermon is a good
example. Some were really encouraged and said so. Some were seriously confused
about what I said about depression and asked me to explain.
Last Sunday I tried to make one primary point: God's definition of godliness is a
whole life lived in Christ committed to transformation. Every aspect of my life in all my
life is committed to allowing God to rebuild me. Christianity is not a major "add on"
responsibility in life. Christianity is an existence that involves the total me.
- First, this morning when I talk about depression, I talk from personal experience.
- There are any number of times and periods I could talk about in the last forty
years, but for reasons you should be able to relate to well, I choose to talk about
a period in 1974.
- About six months after I returned from a country in Africa in 1974, I had what
was called reverse culture shock.
- At that time I had preached full time for over a decade.
- My wife Joyce was in her 30s, and my three children were not yet teens.
- I had worked with congregations in Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi,
Alabama, and Africa.
- I had completed six years of education beyond the high school level.
- I was not inexperienced.
- One Sunday in less than an hour I migrated from being an experienced person
with confidence to a person who was extremely nervous, who had no
confidence, and who was so scared it is impossible to describe my fear.
- I had severe stage fright, and I had not had stage fright for years.
- I clearly remember pausing in the middle of a sermon and consciously
deciding if I would stay in the pulpit or walk out and never return.
- Being around people terrified me.
- There were mornings I went to the church building to work, and could not
touch the door handle to open the door.
- I knew what was happening to me.
- I confirmed medically what was happening to me.
- But knowledge in no way eased my terror.
- My thinking became so distorted that I thought my family would be better off
- I was convinced the congregation would be better off without me, but I did not
have a clue of what I would do or how I could support my family.
- Even though I had knowledge of what was happening, things continued to
worsen for a few months -- bad enough that people close to me asked, "What's
wrong with you? Can I help?"
Second, I would like to address this question: "Were any of the people in the
- I am convinced that some of the main people in the Bible had periods when they
struggled with depression.
- Our first tendency has been to make "super spiritual heroes" out of important
people in the Bible.
- Our second tendency has been to declare that depression is not a godly
- As a result, we often refuse to see the obvious.
- To me, there are several instances that plainly suggest some important Bible
people had periods of struggling with depression.
- To me, Moses had a struggle with depression (Numbers 11:10-15).
- Israel was in the wilderness, and everyone was weeping in their tents --
national misery resulted in national crying.
- Almost nobody wanted to be free in the wilderness; almost everybody
wished they were back in Egypt; they were crying because they had no
meat to eat.
- Moses said to God:
- "Why are You so hard on me?"
- "I cannot give these people meat to eat!"
- "They are too big a burden for me to handle!"
- "God, if You are going to treat me this way, just kill me."
- I think Moses was depressed.
- I think Jeremiah was depressed during much of his prophetic career.
- He referred to his work as "perpetual pain" (Jeremiah 15:15-18).
- He tried to quit speaking for God and could not (Jeremiah 20:7-13).
- He cursed the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:14-18).
- I conclude Jeremiah was depressed.
- I think Paul was depressed in Acts 9 after his conversation with Jesus on the
- This super confident "could not be wrong" man was blind and helpless.
- God had just revealed to him that he was 100% wrong about Jesus.
- Instantly he realized he helped kill a lot of innocent Jews.
- I think he was depressed as he spent three days fasting and praying.
- To me a classic example of a depressed man is Elijah in 1 Kings 18 and 19.
- Elijah was God's prophet to northern Israel when King Ahab ruled the ten
tribes of northern Israel.
- Elijah had a contest with 450 of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel with
many men of that nation as witnesses.
- Elijah told the men it was time they made up their minds about who was
God, and serve him.
- Elijah, all alone, engaged the 450 prophets in a contest of sacrifices, and
won in a way that powerfully demonstrated God was God.
- Elijah thought he had begun to turn the people of northern Israel back to
- When Queen Jezebel heard what happened, she promised Elijah he would
be as dead as the prophets of Baal in 24 hours.
- Elijah was afraid and ran into the wilderness where he asked God to let
- Through God's assistance and direction, Elijah went to Mount Horeb and
waited for God to speak to him.
- When God spoke to him, God asked, "What are you doing here?"
- Elijah said, "I am the only faithful one left."
- God said, "Go back and do my work."
- I conclude in Elijah's flight, he was severely depressed.
Third, we need to understand that when we discuss depression, we are talking
about many problems, not one.
- Some forms of depression are self-induced and exist as consequences of
personal choices or decisions.
- Some forms of depression are the result of the actions of other people, and exist
as the consequences of other peoples' choices or decisions.
- Some forms of depression are the result of genetic disorders or medical
problems and exist as a reality to be endured.
- Regardless of the source, the pain and struggle is very real.
Can a depressed person devote himself or herself to God?
- Any man or woman who commits to God and in that commitment clings to
God certainly belongs to God.
- God seeks two things from all of us -- no matter what our struggle.
- Humble dependence on God.
- Trust in God for the strength to live life.
- Sometimes those who struggle deeply do both best.
- When we face our struggles, as a person who humbly depends on God and
trusts God, one of three things commonly happens.
- The Christian struggler can endure -- the struggle alters the person's life; life
cannot be lived as if the struggle were not a part of it; the struggle always is
an evident reality; the problem always casts a shadow in the person's life.
- The Christian struggler can cope -- life is adjusted; he or she can live much
of life as if the struggle did not exist. The struggle is there, but it does not
control the way he or she must live.
- The Christian struggler can overcome the problem -- the struggle is removed
and becomes a part of the past.
- To the person whose only choice is to endure, God says, "My grace is
sufficient for you."
- To the person who can endure, God says, "I can make you stand."
- To the one who overcomes, God says, "Humble yourself before me; do not
- Our basic responsibility as Christians is to be God's light in this dark world
- The Christian who endures a struggle can be God's powerful light to those
who are floundering with no strength.
- The Christian who copes with a struggle can be God's powerful light to those
who are ruled by the struggle.
- The Christian who is blessed enough to overcome can give God's powerful
light to all who will see that God's strength allowed them to overcome.
I want to call something about severe inner struggle to your attention that I find
very sobering. In periods of intense inner struggle, we are spiritually betrayed by our
own culture. How? In two ways. We are betrayed by the way our culture defines the
purpose of life. We are betrayed by the way our culture defines happiness (on the
basis of feelings).
Our culture declares we need four keys to unlock truth in an area of life.
- The first key is logic. "Logic is an essential key that unlocks the answers to truth"
(if we use human reasoning in the right system, we will discover truth!).
- The second key is science. "Science is an essential key that unlocks the
answers to truth" (science can reveal any answer!).
- The third key is technology. "Technology is an essential key that unlocks the
answers to truth" (we can always produce something to solve any problem!).
- The fourth key is prosperity. "Prosperity is an essential key that unlocks the
answers to truth" (the power of prosperity can do anything!).
The goal is to have all four keys. In this society we have all four keys. We are
easily convinced by this illusion that there is nothing we cannot do. If these are the
four keys to truth, let me ask some questions.
- Question: why does this nation have so
many empty people?
- Question: why do so many people not even come close to
understanding what life is about?
- Question: why are so many people distressed and
We, as a people, desperately need hope. The hope that gives us the strength to
endure, the hope that gives us the strength to cope, the hope that gives us the strength
to overcome. That hope is not found in the four keys. That hope comes from God's
strength working in your life.
No matter who you are, no matter what your struggle is, God is not ashamed of
you, not ashamed to live in your life, not ashamed to work in your life. God wants you
to be His child. God wants His son, Jesus Christ, to be your Savior.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 20 October 2002
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