David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

What I Wish I'd Been Taught at School

My high school years were pretty disastrous – not just academically but morally and spiritually too. As I look back, I take a large part of the blame for that; I made so many wrong and foolish decisions about friends, money, relationships, media, and entertainment. I ended up leaving school one year early, and it wasn’t until my early twenties, after I was converted, that education became so important to me. A late starter, you might say.

However, I believe I can honestly say that the education system was partly to blame for my 12 year educational wilderness – with one or two exceptions, the subjects, the teachers, and the style of teaching were just so utterly boring and totally impractical.

When I look back, I can hardly believe what we wasted our time upon:

  • English books that seemed to have been chosen for maximum profanity and obscurity
  • Math teachers waffling on about weird things like sine, cos, and tan but nothing about money and personal finance
  • History courses that delved deep into a couple of insignificant events (Skara Brae anyone) but didn’t touch either of the Great Wars and gave no sense at all of an overall timeline of history.
  • Geography that studied the clouds and river bends but left us without a clue about where different countries (even our own) were located on the globe.
  • Science that was big on dry theory and tiny on the wonder of the world on the micro or macro levels.
  • Music classes where the most music we were allowed to make was with a triangle.

But what annoys me even more than what we did spend time on is what we DIDN’T spend time on. I spent thousands of hours in school and yet never learned:

Personal finance: Not even the basics of saving, mortgages, budgeting, life assurance, pensions, etc.

Time management: Not one lesson on how to plan a weekly calendar, or how to assign different work for different sized time blocks, or what times are best for what work, etc.

Organization: Filing, office management, To-do lists, and so on.

Study techniques: Not one lesson or note-taking or preparing for exams.

Public speaking: Never gave one speech in my whole school career. Never had any coaching on communication skills or making a presentation.

Reading: We were weighed down with plenty books but given no idea how to read efficiently and retentively.

Leadership: Taking initiative, delegation, mentoring, chairing meetings, were all completely untouched.

Conflict resolution: How to prevent conflicts, how to manage them, how to negotiate, how to compromise, how to confront wrong, how to reconcile? Not a clue on any of these.

Mental health: Nothing, absolutely nothing on danger signs to look out for in oneself and others, how to take preventative action, or how to recover from major crises, losses, and disappointments. I’d like to see CBT taught in every school.

Basic Housekeeping: Just the basics of how to paint, wire a plug, change a wheel, saw in a straight line, etc.

Personal Fitness: I stand in front of these machines in the gym and haven’t the first idea what to do with them. I’m still not sure I could tell you where my biceps are (or if I have any at all).

Teaching: How to teach!

When I left school, the cutting edge of technology was the Sinclair ZX81. I believe things have moved on a bit since then, making the world slightly more complicated. So today I’d also want multiple lessons on digital health.

I think things have improved somewhat in some schools over the years, but there are still huge gaps of basic practical living and vocational skills that no amount of algebra, physics, history, and psychology can make up for.

With all the inertia, vested interests, and stagnant thinking in the educational system, I know it will probably take another 40-50 years to see a more practical and useful curriculum containing some of these subjects. However, it would be great if our more passionate and innovative teachers would try to work some of these things into existing curricula.

You might end up with less people like me.

What subjects do you wish were taught at school? What subjects would you drop or reduce?

In this video, I discuss five important questions I ask early on when counseling someone with depression.

They are:

1. Do you accept you have a problem?

2. Are you willing to explore all dimensions of this problem?

3. Do you want to be made whole?

4. Are you willing to explore all possible solutions?

5. Do you trust me when I tell you there is hope for recovery?

You can see other short videos from the Christians Get Depressed Too video series here or view five feature length documentaries here.

Resources on Depression

In this series of short videos, various pastors and counselors answer the most common questions people have about depression. You can view five feature-length documentaries about various Christians’ experience with depression here, and you can buy the book, Christians Get Depressed Too here.

What’s the difference between secular psychology and Christian counseling?

How does depression manifest itself in children?

How does depression manifest itself in teens?

Also, as I’m often asked for book recommendations on various subjects, I've compiled online lists of my top ten books in various categories (see here, for example). On the subject of depression, if I was only allowed 10 books in my library, these are the ten I would choose:

1. I’m Not Supposed to Feel Like This by Chris Williams (and others).

Accurately sub-titled “A Christian Self-Help Approach to Depression and Anxiety.” This was the most helpful book my wife and I used when she was going through a lengthy period of pregnancy-related depression. Especially good on teaching you how to do some basic CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy).

2. Dealing with Depression by Sarah Collins and Jayne Haynes.

Smallest book of the bunch but one of the best for a balanced introduction to depression.

3. A Practical Workbook for the Depressed Christian by Dr John Lockley.

Biggest of the bunch, but very readable and practical. Takes on the “Depression is always caused by sin” myth but also provides lots of practical advice. Totally disagree with pages 267-270.

4. Overcoming Spiritual Depression by Arie Elshout.

Very short and partly biographical book. Although it says “Spiritual Depression” in the title, unlike Lloyd-Jones’s book it covers a lot more than that with some fine practical chapters on sleep, nourishment, and self-esteem.

5. Depression: Looking Up From The Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch.

A sympathetic and sensitive book, especially good on helping sufferers discern whether their depression has a spiritual cause and how to respond to that. Sometimes seems to revert to the “medicine only alleviates symptoms” dogma, but this is still a good book for a pastor or counselor to guide someone through.

6. D Is For Depression by Michael Lawson.

An accessible look at spiritual, psychological, and medical resources for healing depression. Looks at depression caused by burnout, painful memories, identity issues, discouragement, and suffering.

7. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes And Cure by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Although this is an extremely good book for those whose depression has primarily spiritual causes, it’s not a book I would give to everyone suffering with depression as there are often other factors that may be far more significant.

8. Broken Minds by Steve and Robyn Bloem.

A harrowing biographical look at depression by a pastor and his wife. If you want to feel the pain of depression with being depressed, this is the closest you’ll get. Perhaps over-balanced into the “physical-only” approach, but gives a deep insight into the struggles of depression and what the church can do to help.

9. Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson.

Actually deals more with schizophrenia than depression, but so many of Amy’s points apply to how the church responds to depression as well. Amy weaves her own family’s painful sufferings throughout her challenges to the church to increase in compassion and care towards the suffering.

10. Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for The Depressed by David Murray.

Honorable Mentions

When The Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper. A sensitive and balanced book from “The Apostle of Joy” with solid and do-able biblical advice for those who struggle in the darkness (and those who care for them).

Grace for the Afflicted by Matthew Stanford. Comes from both a biblical and clinical perspective and deals with a much broader range of mental health issues than depression. A well-rounded perspective on the physical, spiritual, social, and providential contributors to depression.

A couple of booklets on depression. “Help, I’m depressed!” by Carol Trahan and Depression: The Sun Always Rises by Margaret Ashmore. Both useful brief introductions especially to the spiritual side of depression.

Slaying the Giant: Practical Help for Understanding, Preventing, and Overcoming Depression by French O’Shields

Engage further about these resources by visiting David Murray's website Head, Heart, Hand.

How Do Sinners Help Sinners Stop Sinning?

Christians are not only called to repentance but are also called to call others to repentance. This is often one of the hardest tasks in the Christian life. How do we approach someone who is sinning in a way that will help lead them to repentance?

An Informed Approach
If we want to help a sinner stop sinning, we need to study sin. We can do this by studying our own sinful hearts and the way sin begins, develops, and expands there. Though probably not on our summer reading list, we can also study sobering and searching books on sin.

A Humble Approach
Remember that you are a sinner. Before we start rebuking sin in others, we must rebuke it in ourself first and most.

A Gentle Approach
Whether the person has asked us for help, we are offering help, or a friend has asked us to help, we need to approach humbly, quietly, and lovingly. Raise the subject in the context of the Gospel of Grace and our own need and experience of it for our own sins and struggles (Gal. 6:1).

A Hopeful Approach
Although the sin may be wide, deep, high, and long, the Gospel is wider, deeper, higher, and longer. The goal is to help the sinner see the seriousness of sin, the misery of sin, and all that God can offer through the Gospel to conquer both.

A Biblical Approach
Phrases to avoid: “I think…In my opinion…I don’t agree…”

Phrases to use: ‘The Bible says…God’s Word tells us…The Scriptures are clear…”

A God-Centered Approach
We cannot fix anyone; only God can. Point the sinner away from yourself and to:

  • God’s sovereignty: He is in this, is in control, this is part of His plan, and He can even work it for your good.
  • God’s holiness: This is both our model and our motive (1 Pet. 1:16).
  • God’s wisdom: God knows all the answers and has a solution.
  • God’s power: especially when we feel our powerlessness.
  • God’s love: Willing to forgive, heal, accept, restore (1 John 1:9).
  • God’s Son: Show them the suitability, sufficiency, willingness, and ability of Christ to save.
  • God’s justice: He won’t stand by and see His law broken and smashed to pieces. 

A Realistic Approach
Be realistic about the sin. Call it what it is. Don’t soft-pedal or soft-filter it.

Be realistic about time. Rarely will a person change immediately or perfectly.

Be realistic about the difficulty. There’s going to be resistance, pain, failure, and disappointment along the way.

A Wise Approach
Choose the right place (not Starbucks).

Choose the right time for you and the other person (not too little time, not too late, not too busy and stressed).

Choose the right words: take account of the person’s world, vocabulary, education.

A Questioning Approach
It’s often better to question than to accuse, at least to begin with. Try to get the person to supply the answers and draw the conclusions rather than you telling them. Tomorrow, we’ll look at some good questions to ask when trying to help someone stop sinning.

A Prayerful Approach
Pray without ceasing: before the conversation, during the conversation, and after the conversation. Pray for the person and with the person.

What else have you found helpful in these difficult though necessary conversations?

About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

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