Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Depression: Four Ways the Church Can Come Alongside the Weary Sojourner

When I’ve been depressed I felt I was lost in the woods. No one was there to guide me. No one was there to help me. No one understood how I felt. I felt alone. I was depressed and desperate. I wanted someone to notice. To come alongside of me. Often I desperately wanted to share these deep emotions I was experiencing but felt trapped or felt scared I would be labeled as “unclean.”

The topic of depression is vast and far reaching but I want to focus in on what Christians can do to come alongside each other. I’m focusing on depression because it’s been part of my life for many years but these truths can be equally applicable to any illness, suffering, sadness, or trial. So the question is: How can the church come come alongside the weary sojourner?

First, Remember What’s of First Importance.

Foundational to everything else in this discourse on practically serving the depressed is properly understanding the gospel. The full gospel story from Genesis to Revelation. The full gospel story places our suffering within the context of Jesus Christ and points us to the consummation where all sadness will be destroyed. The gospel provides hope in God for that day (Psalms 9:18, 33:18, 33:22, 39:7, 42:5, 42:11, 43:5, 62:5, 65:5, 71:5, 78:7, 119:49, 74, 81, 114, 116, 147, 166; 130:7, 131:3, 146:5; Jeremiah 14:22, 17: 13; Lamentations 3:24; Acts 24:14-15, 26:6-7, 28:20; Romans 5:2-5, 8:20-25, 12:12, 15:13; 1 Corinthians 13:7, 13; 15:18-20; 2 Corinthians 1:7-10; Galatians 5:5; Ephesians 1:18, 4:1-4; Colossians 1:4-5, 23, 27; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:1, 4:10; Titus 1:1-2, 2:12-13; Hebrews 3:5-6, 18-19, 7:19, 11:1; 1 Peter 1:3, 13). I know that’s a lot of verses but I want to demonstrate visually how central hope is in the the story of the gospel. Hope is central to the gospel “and no good thing ever dies” as the saying goes.

Let me provide a brief example of how sharing gospel full of hope through Scripture might look. Our cry should be, “Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!” (Psalms 119:116) and you should know, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). You see the movement? The Psalmists describes hope in the promises and the writer of Hebrews reveals the person the Psalmist had hoped for. Jesus Christ is that man and he’s entered into the very presence of God “on our behalf”--and where he is there we are. There’s hope!

Second, Our Worship Must Express the Full Experience of Humanity in a Fallen World.

Music transforms hearts. It’s important for teaching. We remember music. How many times have you heard a song that spoke to you and found yourself humming the tune and singing the lyrics in your head? That’s why I love what shai linne calls lyrical theology. He’s chosen a direct approach of spreading the truth of God’s word through beats and rhymes.

There’s a lot of good music being created today but we need a shift in the focus. We must learn to express the full gambit of humanity in a fallen world. Many of the worship songs created today are upbeat, joyful melodies. We need that. But we also need songs that strike the heart of those who are fighting for joy but don’t have it yet. We need songs that embrace the conflict within so many hearts within the church. They are struggling with doubt, death, and depression. That’s one reason why I love Christian hip hop. The guys I listen to do explore the full range of humanity and express the doubt, struggle, solidarity present in many of our older hymns but that’s missing in our newer songs. Check out these songs for examples of how to sing/write about the fallenness we all experience (not available via Spotify but Page CXVI’s Re:Hymns especially “Joy.” Excellent).

One important solution is putting the Psalms to modern tunes. We have an abundance of artist repurposing hymns but I’ve found almost no one repurposing Psalms well. We need to return to the Psalms. We need to sing out these inspired words,
My God, my God, why have you forsake me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest
(Psalms 22:1-2).
These words rings true for more Christians than you might know. I know they ring true for my heart. Jesus Christ cried them out on the cross. He was forsaken for me and my heart needs this truth.

But we also need Christian artists who will write new songs and tunes that express the turmoil within the Christian soul. Let’s not be afraid to sing how many of us feel. The gospel is good news because it provides hope.

Third, If You Don’t Struggle with Depression Share What You Do Struggle With.

Again this is not just about depression. Not all of us struggles with it. Many of us struggle with other things--lust, envy, laziness, abuse, doubt, fear, hatred, drunkenness. One way you can minister to those who are fighting depression is sharing your fight. Share how God is working in your story and share how the gospel is changing you. Share your weakness.

First, knowing you struggle with something will encourage others. Second, you might find out you can learn something from each other. God may be working in someone else’s life in her struggle in a way which might encourage you in your struggle. Third, it creates relationships which picture the full gospel story. If you paint over your imperfections, you’re covering up your fallenness. If you are not fallen you do not need a Savior. No gospel.

Last, Create Communities Who Act.

The causes of depression may be as diverse as the sinfulness and fallenness in the world. One might be sad because of the death of his child. Another because her husband has abandoned the family and she’s left working to support three children. Another because of the social stigma caused by sin. Still another might not know why they are sad. They might just feel alone. Communities who act have already shared their struggles and know enough about their fam’s struggle to step in and act when necessary.

It might be watching children for a night. Giving them a gift card for groceries. It might be inviting them on a family vacation. It could be sharing a meal together. It could be offering to fix their car or repair their home for free. It might be sitting down, wrapping your arms around them, and just crying with them. Know their struggle and then act. If you want to know what this kind of action looks like read through the Gospels. Pay careful attention how Jesus interacts with lepers, prostitutes, grieving parents and friends, even his grief over his impending death. He sees sorrow and he acts.

This list isn’t exhaustive but I strongly believe these are foundational for every thing else we might do. The church has a unique opportunity to speak to this issue. We have a message of hope, a community united in Christ, and the Spirit transforming our hearts motivating us to act.

What else can the church do to come alongside weary sojourners? What does you church do?

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