Saturday, 30 April 2011

Winning over Depression Part 7. Books to Read

Welcome to my final blog in this series of Winning over Depression. I hope you have found the series useful and encouraging. In this blog I simply want to give you some recommended reading. So here goes:

Undoing Depression by Richard O'Connor, Ph.D. This is one of the best books I have read on depression from a secular point of view. Read this book!

Overcoming Depression by Paul Gilbert. This book is good at helping you understand the process of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I don't agree with everything he says as he doesn't write with God as part of the healing process. However, it is still a very good book.

Christian Set Yourself Free by Graham and Shirley Powell. Good book on spiritual authority and overcoming spirits. The drawback with this book is that I think it is perhaps a little simplistic. Nonetheless, it is the most thorough treatment of spiritual authority that I know of.

Awakening the Dead by John Eldridge. A book on physical and spiritual realities of living as a Christian. An easy read.

Keep fighting, hanging in there, and above all winning!

God's love to you,


Thursday, 28 April 2011

Winning over Depression Part 6. Changing our thinking

In this blog I would like to write about the process of changing our thinking. Psychologists call this cognitive behavioural therapy. The Bible calls it being transformed by the renewing of our mind.
What I am going to write here will seem very simple but let me say in advance that it requires hard work, consistency, and sticking at it. The rewards though, are great.

When you are feeling negative feelings, irrational thoughts, suddenly feeling down and you don't know why, then go through the following process in the following order. It is good to use a notebook (I have used my prayer journal). Make 5 columns across the page, as below.
We need to process the columns in an interesting order.
Firstly write the date in column 1. (If you keep doing this exercise consistenly you may be able to see that it is at certain times of the year that you struggle more than at others.)
Then go straight to column 4 - "What feelings?" Try and identify what you are feeling even though you might not understand why.
Then go to column 3 - "What thoughts?" i.e. what am I saying to myself in my head?
Then column 2 - "What happened?" Try and identify when you began feeling these feelings and when you started thinking these thoughts. What happened at that time?
Finally go to column 5 - "Counsel to self (and action)?" In this column write what Biblical counsel you would give a friend if they were coming to you for advice for the things that you have written in colums 2 to 4. Try and give some specific action to follow through on as well. The fact that this is rooted in the Bible (find actual verses in Scripture where possible), is what makes it more powerful than pure cognitive behavioural therapy.

Here's an example of one that I did when I went to talk on Winning over Depression in Edinburgh recently:

What happened?
What thoughts?
What feelings?
Counsel to self (& action)?
Preparing for talk in Edinburgh
How can I speak on something I don’t have total victory over?
Afraid, incompetent, disqualified.
God has made me competent. 2 Cor 3:4-6. Go for it. You will help many people. Be bold. Prepare well.

Hope this is helpful. I encourage to take the time and the trouble to get into the habit of doing the above. It's the only way we can stop "stinking" thinking within ourselves. I think it's a key part of discipleship - following Jesus.

Winnning over Depression Part 5. Feelings or Truth

Note the present imperfect tense of the title, winn-"ing" over depression. It's an ongoing thing, a day by day thing. Some days are better than others but we just have to get it in perspective that we will be up and fighting again. We might lose a round in the boxing match, but we are going to win the fight.

In this blog, I would like to talk about depending on God's favour over us regardless of how we feel.

In some ways we need to "ignore" our feelings - as a depressive our feelings are often negative and unreliable. The trouble is that for so long our feelings have felt so real that we have believed that they are reality. We have to reprogramme our thinking to be in line with a higher truth than our feelings. The only place I know, to find a higher truth than my feelings is the Bible. So I have to go to the Bible with the question, "What does the Bible have to say about me as a believer in Jesus?" It says things about me like, "I am the righteousness of God", "I am more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus who loved me", "I am loved by God", "He will never leave me or forsake me", "He is for me",  etc. etc. These things stand true even when I feel like they are not true. They are truer than my feelings.
We empower whatever or whoever we come into agreement with. We are saying, "Yes, that's right. That does describe me." We get to choose whether we are going to agree with our own damaged thinking, or with what God says about us in the Bible. This sounds easier than it is in reality. It is sooo hard to ignore feelings that are screaming at you that you are a failure and that surely God cannot bless you; and instead walk confidently in the truth that God is for you.
It means behaving like the latter is true. Often when I am on my way to preach, I have thoughts and feelings that God will not bless what I am about to do. I have to focus my thinking on what is true - that God is for me, that His intention is for me to be fruitful, to multiply believers, to fill the earth with Christians and to subdue evil spirits and exercise spiritual dominion wherever I am.

In my next blog I would like to write about the process of changing our thinking. Psychologists call this cognitive behavioural therapy. The Bible calls it being transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Overcoming Depression Part 4. Soul and Body

To overcome depression we also need to pay attention to our souls (emotions, will, intellect/thoughts) and our bodies. We have to take a holistic approach to winning over depression - don't let the New Age steal this concept from us. God created us body, soul and spirit. The New Age didn't think up holistic healing, God did.
Experts on emotional health recommend:
þ Get in touch with your emotions and talk to someone you trust about your emotions. Get them out in the open.
þ Work on your friendships. Put effort into them. Make your friendships 100% dependant on you. Don't wait for friends to contact you. Just keep on taking the initiative. It will bear fruit.
þ Learn the vital art of compensation. Rest after you have been particularly busy. Take a day (or extra day)off after a busy business/ministry trip. Make compensating part of your lifestyle. If you don't, you will regularly "hit the wall".
þ Learn when and how to rest.
þ Try and cultivate a pleasant, cheap hobby that is easy to turn to in order to escape and recreate.
þ 1 Hour of recreational activity per day is important. Those late afternoon, early evening supper times with the family. Get out to different places. Fight the urge to stay cooped up.
þ At least one 2 or 3 week uninterrupted vacation with the family per year, away from friends, relatives, in a place that charges your batteries.
þ Weekends away. Several times a year. Preferably in a different environment to the one associated with responsibility.
þ Live by priorities. This implies knowing what they are, planning in a diary, and the ability to say “NO” if something is not KEY & STRATEGIC.
þ Be particularly vigilant to do the above when going through high stress times e.g. changing jobs, moving house or nations, death of someone close, promotions, retrenchment, financial pressures, family stresses etc.

Our Body: Sleep, Eat, Exercise.

þ Get plenty of sleep and rest.
þ A healthy diet. Avoid junk food, processed foods and foods loaded with preservatives. These break down the body’s resistance. Sugar is a poison in your system. Eat as much uncooked, natural stuff as you can. Drink at least 2 litres of water/day.
þ Possibly a vitamin supplement, especially when under pressure. Vitamin B’s are important here.
þ Get out of the house and into the fresh air.
þ 20 minutes of exercise a day to maintain cardio-vascular health. Don’t make it overly ambitious otherwise you will do it in great pendulum swings of over-exertion to absolutely nothing. Do something that is easy to keep at and that doesn’t cause you discomfort. Swimming and walking are good options. You must fit your exercise into 6 days. On the 7th day thou shalt rest!

When you are emotionally/spiritually tired, you are probably also physically tired. Pushing yourself to recreate or exercise can overtax you. You need rest. Rest is not recreation. It is to stop doing the things that you normally do and not to fill your time with other things.
When you are already emotionally/spiritually exhausted, you burn more energy than normal doing the same things – even answering the phone can become an emotional crisis! You're like the lumberjack who had to work harder and harder and harder because he refused to stop and sharpen his axe. When you find yourself in this state, recognise where you are at and be gentle on yourself. We all have different capacities and levels of endurance. Don't try and compete with others or measure yourself by others. Be gentle on yourself, rest, compensate and recharge your battery.

Overcoming Depression Part 3. Malevolent spirits

I agree with psychologists White and Blue [sic], that Depression is never purely psychological and never purely spiritual but always a combination of both.
In Part 3, I would like to look at another aspect of the spiritual side of depression. It concerns the issue of spiritual beings that are against us because of the image of God in us. 

According to the Bible, malevolent spiritual beings are able to influence our:
      Health (woman bowed down for 18 years with what looked like osteo phirrosis)
      Moods (King Saul would have terrible mood swings)
      Thoughts (Judas, Ananias & Saphira all had their thought life demonically influenced to turn away from God)
      Mental Health (Many evil spirits in the man in the Gedarenes)
      Speech Defects (Deaf and Mute man)
      Epileptic type seizures. (Young man)
      Influence to sin against God (1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— Ephesians 2:1-2 (ESV)
What can we do about the spiritual dimension to our depression?
Firstly we need to be Spiritually Strong ourselves. For a Christian this means:
      Regularly Reading the Bible and meditating on what we read and applying it to life.
Watchman Nee, in his book “The Prayer Ministry of the Church” writes that the prayer life of the church is the pipe through which God has limited Himself to get His purposes and resources to the earth. If a church is weak in prayer then the diameter of the pipe is very small, and though God’s resources may, in Nee’s words, be as vast at the Yangtze River, they can only get through at a very slow trickle. The same applies to the individual.
      Fasting (There are some excellent books on this - Arthur Wallace, Derek Prince, Richard Foster have all written good books on this subject. Get yourself clued up on this powerful spiritual weapon)
      Fellowship with other believers.

Then, in prayer, we need to take authority against the spirits that are trying to influence our particular areas of weakness e.g. fear of failure, fear of rejection, unnatural need to be in control, obsession with our weight etc. etc. I don't believe that these things are purely psychological. Evil spirits are like flies (one of Satan's names means "lord of the flies"), and they will gather around any wound in our being and try to worsen it and infect it even more. (Good books: Waking the Dead by John Eldridge; Christian Set Yourself Free: Proven Guidelines to Deliverance from Demonic Oppression by Graham and Shirley Powell)

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Winning over Depression Part 2. Spirituality

Sheesh, what do these people have in common?
They are just a very small sample from a list that I have of 210 famous people who have all struggled with depression.

I started my blog on winning over depression by talking about medication but I should have started it with the most important thing to me and that is my relationship with God. It's such a part of my life that I take it for granted in the best possible way. I believe spiritual health to be the MOST important part of winning over depression on a daily basis - a bit like alcoholics win over alcoholism on a daily basis.

C.S. Lewis wrote,
“A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel that our spirits were designed to burn, or the food that our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other.”

I have been reading a book about cycling across Tibet, and the author writes of seeing Tibetan pilgrims travelling on foot from their villages to Lhasa, the sacred centre of Tibetan Buddhism. They would take one step, then bow down on both knees and press their forehead to the ground. They would do this for every step they took. Some would take a year to reach Lhasa. Why do they do this? - In the hope of improving their karma for their next reincarnation.

We were designed to be at our best when in relationship with God. But that relationship has been cut off through our sin. The amazing grace of God has made a way for us to be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. A sacrifice with infinite value that covers every sin you or I have ever committed or ever will commit.

 God took all our sins and placed them upon Jesus on the cross, so that you and I don’t have to take even one step or even bow down once, to be right with Him. We are reconciled to God and placed in a warm, loving relationship with Him because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and nothing else need be added.

The Bible says, "It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process."
Huh? Which is it? Perfect, or taking part in the purifying process? The only way this verse makes sense is if we understand that when someone calls on Jesus to save them, the Bible says, "they have clothed themselves with Christ". Now when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. In other words God sees us as perfect. But we know, and God knows, that from our perspective inside Jesus, there is a whole lot of "the purifying process" happening! The Bible says that Jesus "became sin in order that we might become the righteousness of God". Woah.

From these truths we gain the deepest sense of security, acceptance and significance on a daily basis - very important stuff for people who struggle with depression.

    Tuesday, 12 April 2011

    Winnning over Depression Part 1. Medication

    I have had fights with depression since I was a kid. Sometimes I won, sometimes depression won - but I'm winning the war. I thought that when I became a Christian, I would have no more fights with depression - wrong! I have had some very intense bouts of depression since becoming a Christian. Most of them have happened since I have been in ministry. I felt that as a pastor I should not be suffering with depression. Surely a pastor would have it all together. That's just the kind of idea that will kill you and the kind of idea that malevolent spirits would want you and me entertaining in our heads. I'm convinced that my depression is partly genetic and partly circumstantial. This doesn't mean that I am consigned to depression. There are a number of things that I do that keep me winning the war. I'd like to share them with you over the next few blogs. Let's make a start.
    • I take medication when I need to. My local GP surgery released a paper saying, "Antidepressant is such an unfortunate term. 'Neurotransmitter supplement' would be a better term". They are not addictive. They are not uppers or downers. They are simply a means of boosting the chemical that your body uses to conduct messages through your nerve cells. When you are depressed, the level of the neurotransmitters in your body drops and that is what makes you feel low, unmotivated, have memory loss, struggle to concentrate and so on. That's why telling a depressed person to just pull themselves together is like telling someone with a broken leg to just get up and run the 100 metres.
    If you are not depressed, taking an anti-depressant will do nothing for you.
    If you are struggling with depression I suggest you go and see your GP. They are generally good people to talk to as they are outside your normal circle of relationships and it can be helpful to talk to a neutral person. They will decide whether you need medication or not.
    Before I end this blog let me give you some symptoms of depression so that you can decide whether you might be struggling with it or not. Please don't be like me and limp on through life, irritable, tired, guilty, yet too proud to face the fact that you might have depression. Having depression is not a weakness, it's a reality - like someone with diabetes or high blood pressure. Go for help. Talk to someone. Don't let you and your loved ones be robbed of the quality of life you could enjoy. As far as the symptoms go, to be considered depressed you will have had these for at least two weeks consistently.
    1.     Feelings of hopelessness and/or high anxiety.
    2.     Over-analysis of problems with great angst and negativity.
    3.     Sleeping difficulties.
    4.     Eating and appetite problems.
    5.     Decreased sexual drive.
    6.     Withdrawal from others.
    7.     Loss of self-esteem.
    8.     A desire to avoid all problems/demands.
    9.     A deep sense of guilt.
    10.   Over-dependency on others.
    11.   Crying and tearfulness.
    12.   Fatigue.
    13.   Preoccupation with body function.
    14.   Suicidal thoughts.
    15.   Self-neglect.

    Monday, 11 April 2011

    Prayers that are Powerful and Effective.

    I have been preaching through the book of James and sooo enjoying it. What a rich letter written by Jesus' half-brother who knew Him very well and yet addresses Him as "the Lord Jesus Christ." It's always helpful in evaluating a person's claims when someone very close to them validates those claims.
    James closes his letter in chapter 5 by trying to get his readers to understand how powerful and effective their prayers can be if they get hold of 5 things:
    1. Trusting God at all times.(5:13)
    Whether you are feeling crappy or happy.
    2. Recognising spiritual authority. (5:14-15)
    Kids to parents; wives to husbands; saints to elders; civilians to authorities etc. God's power flows through channels of authority. To be dislocated from these channels of authority, I think, will render our prayers less powerful and effective.
    3. Praying with faith.(5:15)
    This has got to mean that it is possible to say prayers that have no faith in them. Not much point.
    4. Confessing our sins to each other.(5:16)
    Do we actually do this? I think if we did, we would all be a lot more healthy, mentally, emotionally and physically. The Roman Catholics got it half right. The half wrong bit is that we are not meant to confess in a box to a priest but to one another anywhere it's convenient. I think that this is something largely lost to the modern church. Where are the genuine friends that we can confess to? Well, just confess to somebody you trust.
    5. Knowing we are righteous. (5:17-18)
    Heb 10:14 tells us that by Jesus' once for all sacrifice we are made perfect yet that we are also being made holy. Huh? Which is it? Perfect, or being made holy? The only way this verse makes sense is if we understand that when we called on Jesus to save us, we were clothed with Him. Now when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. But we know that from our perspective inside Jesus, there is a whole lot of "being made holy" happening! That's why there is no contradiction between this point and point 4 above. The Bible says that Jesus became sin in order that we might become the righteousness of God! Wow.

    These 5 truths grasped and lived out will make our prayers powerful and effective.

    Sunday, 10 April 2011

    Rest BEFORE you get tired.

    This week, Tuesday watched me hit the wall. Whatever it is that keeps me on the front foot was gone. I was irritable and grumpy. By the end of the day I had had to apologise a few times to people that I love and care about for my sharpness of tongue. What happened?
    What happened was that I had neglected my need to rest. I had not had a weekend off since the beginning of the year. Going for three months without taking a weekend off is not wise. A fair bit of those three months had been on the road too, which is quite a bit more draining.
    A mentor, Charles Gordon, had drummed it into me, "Rest before you are tired." I have repeated this regularly to our team but here I was having neglected it ... again. The trouble about resting when you are tired is that it takes much longer to recover than if you rest regularly even when you feel like you don't need it. Ask me - I took some days off this week and yet I still don't feel fully recovered. And I know that this is not helpful to us as a team. Ah well. Stoopid boy.
    It's not for nothing that God has put the Sabbath principle into His Word so strongly. He made us to need to rest regularly.
    I encourage our full time team to take a weekend off about every 8 weeks. The market-place guys who lead cell groups etc., I encourage to take a weekend every 6 weeks.
    Please let me encourage you to rest before you get tired. A lot of people will thank you for it.