Thursday, January 6, 2011

Despondency: Not an Excuse for Idolatry

Mark Driscoll (lead pastor for Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA) has it wrong, kind of. Who am I to dispute the truth according to Driscoll (whom I like, by the way)? Well, no one; just a Christian that reads his Bible and tries to think hard about what he reads. In an otherwise wonderfully helpful message on the Christian and idolatry -- (watch it here Driscoll asserts (this is not a quote) that to turn to anyone or anything other than God the Holy Spirit in an effort to be comforted is idolatrous. As I consider the idea I'm not entirely sure what turning only to the Holy Spirit would look like. I imagine it means serious Bible reading and prayer. Of course then you are looking to other sources than the Holy Spirit -- the aforementioned Bible and prayer. 

Now I realize the Bible is the Word of the Holy Spirit (2 Ti 3:16), and that the Holy Spirit helps us in our praying (Ro 8:26). Still, these are not the Holy Spirit, but two of His manifold means. Indeed, I imagine they are the chief two, with the fellowship of the church thrown in somewhere terribly close to and among them (2 Co 1; He 3, 10). But that they are means and not God is significant. What this means, in part, is that the Holy Spirit, who is God, is not limited to these means. What I have been posting of late is a list of helps in the fight with depression or despondency. I get this list from the Scriptures. They too are the Holy Spirit's means. We have been given all things to enjoy freely (1 Ti 6:17; Ro 8:32).

My point is simply that embracing sleep, or music, or beer, or sex, or exercise, or nature, or books, or food as a good means of refreshment is right, as long as it is done with faith in God as the ultimate source of such things, and as long as the things are not abused or substituted for a hearty seeking of the Lord. This is not an either/or matter. Leaning upon the Holy Spirit is not contradictory to a good night's rest or exhausting exercise. What I suggest is an hour or two in the Word and prayer while sipping a Sam Adam's Winter Lager and listening to Todd Agnew's Christmas album play quietly in the background, for example.

Turn to God the Holy Spirit always? Yes! But the ways we do that are not limited to even the chief spiritual disciplines. God is a generous Father, giving many gifts to His children. And He is a creative Being, making each of us distinct. So then, the gifts are manifold to meet the manifold needs of the many diverse human creatures. I really like the woods. Woods for me are amazingly peaceful. So is a hard rain with thunder and lightning. So is Booker's bourbon. So is a long run. But I don't assume those are the gifts that work a measure of refreshment in all people. So seek God with tenacity by His Word and by prayer. But do not neglect the smaller gifts that He has given for our comfort and joy, the ones He has designed to both comfort and draw us to Himself.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Last Thought on Fighting Despondency

A few more suggestions:
1. Music -- I don't think anyone would argue that music can affect mood. This was certainly true of King Saul (1 Sa 16:23), where David's music is said to have "refreshed the king". And it's why we enjoy various styles of music and associate them with various functions. There are dirges for the sad and rock when we want to jam and classical when we want to relax and the happy birthday song when we want to celebrate, etc. Christmas music, in particular, improves my disposition.

2. Food -- This also affects mood and emotion. So while distressed, I would argue that we should eat particularly healthy (a low carbohydrate diet to avoid the physical lows brought on my fluctuating blood sugar levels). But we may also enjoy some favorite high starch/sugar selections in moderation.
3. Exercise -- This one continues to be a life saver for me. The Apostle Paul did write to Timothy that "physical exercise is of some value" (1 Ti 4:8). I realize that verse in its entirety is used most often to promote godliness, and that is a main point. But nevertheless, it also affirms the smaller but no less real value of "bodily training". I can't quote him at this moment, but C.H. Spurgeon once wrote something like this: that next to the good done to our demeanor by God the Holy Spirit is the good done to it by a brisk breeze in the face. His point was the value done by an invigorating walk through a stiff wind. Both the walk and the wind are God's gifts. 

I began running more than 20 years ago. I have stuck with it mainly because of the good it does my mind, not my body, though the two are not unrelated. Also, lifting weights has proven quite beneficial. There are many options, such as swimming (a great one), hiking, biking, various classes (aerobics, body pump, spin, etc), in-home workouts (P90X, Bowflex, etc). Ideally we can all find a routine we like, or at least are willing to do, for the mental benefits that come out of the physical ones.