In this video, I discuss five important questions I ask early on when counseling someone with depression.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Engage further about these resources by visiting David Murray's website Head, Heart, Hand.
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.
- John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation: Three Classic Works by John Owen
- Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices
- Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins
- Jeremiah Burroughs: The Exceeding Sinfulness of 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?
How did Christianity lose its cultural influence and how can it begin rebuilding it again? That’s the question Greg Foster asks in Joy for The World. And his answer is implied in the title – joy! Yes, real, unique, holistic, Spirit-produced Christian joy is THE most vital tool for engaging our culture AND changing it.
Greg begins with memories of his largely non-Christian childhood, in which his most memorable experiences of joy were associated with Christmas when it expressed a truly Christian, Jesus-centered spiritual celebration. None of these brief annual encounters with Christian joy created or resulted from a real Christian faith, but Greg argues that they made him more receptive to the Christian message later on, prepared him for faith, and even made him a better person in the meantime.
Although he doesn’t want to make his experience the rule for everyone, he insists that his experience is quite common.
I don’t think it’s unusual for people outside the church to be powerfully changed by the way they encounter the joy of God through Christians’ participation in their civilization.
He then clarifies what he means by the joy of God:
I’m not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit.
This, says Foster, is what’s so missing from today’s culture.
I think the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit.
This book then is a challenge to Christian to “help our neighbors encounter the joy of God through the way we behave in society.”
This really is quite revolutionary, isn’t it. So many of our evangelistic and apologetic methods are so heady, so rational, so intellectual, so logical…and so miserable and angry and joyless and ineffectual.
But don’t think that this is some shallow and superficial book that just appeals to the emotions at the expense of truth. The author is a Yale PhD, a program director at the Kern Family Foundation, and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. The book itself is a demanding read and will probably become required reading in many Christian colleges and worldview courses.
But for all the intellectual firepower directed at flawed approaches to cultural engagement, the basic message is consistent: the joy of God alone is what makes the church distinct from the world.
The clincher verse for me was when Greg referenced Psalm 126 and asked:
Consider the relationship in this passage between the joy of God among God’s people and the way the nations respond to God’s people. What do the nations notice about God’s people? “The LORD has done great things for them.” And how do they notice that? “Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”
Time for some laughter, people!
This book will test you but it will also teach you. You’ll learn a lot about the historical and philosophical roots of today’s culture and the church’s disengagement from it. But you’ll also be challenged to re-think your disengagement or your faulty engagement. It’s a book then for the head as well as for the heart.