“He who has been in the dark dungeon knows the way to the bread and the water.” –Charles Spurgeon
I’ve been in the dark dungeon. I’ve battled depression and anxiety for years. A few years ago I finally acknowledged this and began the road to recovery. I haven’t arrived by any means but I think I’ve at least found the bread and the water Spurgeon is referring to.
Here is the path that I’ve found to get the bread and water of mental health.
In the Dungeon
When I become aware of my anxiety/depression (or dearly loved one’s point out my melancholy) my first step is to assess the situation. Or perhaps it would be better to say my first step after crying out desperately for rescue is to assess the situation.
First, I attempt to figure out how I got in this dungeon. What is making me feel anxious or down? Do I have unconfessed sin? Or am I dealing with the consequence of confessed sin? Is there a circumstance that is bothering me? Are there no known causes—is it possible it is simply biological? Is my melancholy a right response to real pain?
Second, I attempt to figure out how dark it really is. I use a scale from 1-10. 10 is a full meltdown. 1 is when everything feels fine. Trying to determine how dark it is helps me to know what steps I need to take to get out of the darkness.
Last winter I decided to take the step of going to the doctor to get medicine for anxiety. I did not desire—nor feel it necessary—for me to get something that I take on a daily basis. What I knew I needed was something to help whenever I get to about a 7 on the scale. I had found that when I get to a 7 I’m not going to get back down unless I get to a 10. And getting to a 10 isn’t helpful for me or my family.
So now if I find myself getting to a 7 I’ll take medicine to get my brain chemistry back under control so I can begin to fight. The past few months have been pretty stressful for our family but I’ve only taken medicine twice since I was prescribed them. God is doing a mighty work in renewing my mind. I may never have to take medicine again…but I’m prepared if I get to a 6 or 7.
I’ve found if I’m going to live in mental health it is vital for me to accurately assess where I am. Many times I can’t do this alone. I need my wife and friends to tell me when I seem to be stumbling into the darkness. Once I’ve assessed the darkness I know its time to get out.
The Gate of Permission
The door out of the dungeon is the gate of permission. Or maybe it would be better phrased the gate of non-permission.
I’ve found that when the lights go out I have a tendency to feel sorry for myself. I feel as if my suffering is unique. And I assume that I’ve gone lower than anyone else has ever gone. Nobody understands. Nobody feels how I do. Nobody can help.
So I’ve had to do two things.
First, I tell myself that I do not have permission to stay here. There is nothing holy about being miserable. In fact the Christian life should be one marked with joy—even in the midst of suffering. I’m not beating myself up. I’m not pouring guilt on my head. I’m just being honest with the fact that Jesus didn’t die for me to be stuck in a dungeon. This isn’t my home. I need to get out.
Secondly, I tell myself that I’m not unique and that nobody—not even me—went deeper into the darkness than the Lord Jesus. I cannot give self or my fallen emotions the keys to rule me. They don’t have permission. I’m ruled by the Lord Jesus. He holds the keys of comfort and I’ll never get to a place darker than He has been.
Once I step through the gate of permission I’m on my way to finding bread and water. But first I must walk through the Hall of Gospel Encouragement.
The Hall of Gospel Encouragement
Your first step into the hall of gospel encouragement is usually sickening. It’s painful. It’s wounding. It doesn’t feel fair. It typically makes you want to crawl back into the dungeon and forget the bread and water all together.
Community is the last thing I want in a time like this. For some really silly reason I don’t want to hear about joy, or gospel truths, or fixes. I just want to hurt. And so I can run from community or find some terrible excuse for community in the form of complainers.
This is not what I need. What I need is to believe the truth of the gospel more than my own darkened version of “truth”. And that only comes by walking down the hall of gospel encouragement. The first step is usually repulsive but I’ve found a way to get my fearful self down that hall. Here is how I do it.
First, I listen to dead or distant encouragers. I crack open my the works of my Puritan friends. I spend a day with my buddy John Newton. Or I listen to a sermon by someone I don’t know and someone who doesn’t even know me—someone like Matt Chandler or John Piper. Someone who will preach the gospel and tell me truth. I need to keep listening and reading until I believe gospel truth over my own lies.
Second, I listen to living and in my life encouragers. At this point I’m ready to hear gospel encouragement from friends. I’m able to hear truth—even in the form of rebukes. I’m able to trust an uncomfortable gospel more than my own comfortable darkness.
Sometimes my walk down the hall is brief. At other times it is a long and painful walk marked by aggressive bolts back towards the dungeon of despair. Community is often painful to the depressed—even well meaning gospel encouraging community. But if you want the bread and water it’s the only way. You’ve got to get into the Room of Truth if you’re going to live in mental health.
The Room of Truth
It is here where bread and water are found….sort of. In reality bread and truth is with you every step of the way. Because ultimately Christ is our bread and Christ is our water. He alone sustains us. It is His Spirit which pulls us out of the dungeon and woos us along the hall of encouragement. And ultimately where He opens our eyes in the Room of Truth.
Yet there is a way in which we aren’t able to eat of this bread and water unless we are in the Room of Truth.
It is here where change in our thinking happens. In the room of truth our thinking is renewed and our brains are rewired to think and rejoice in that which is true instead of false.
It is here also where change in our actions come. We learn to rest. We learn to relax. We learn to eat better, to exercise, to put healthy disciplines in our life. We learn to actually walk in the truth.
This is where I’ve found bread and water—or perhaps better to say found the ability to see and enjoy and savor bread and water.
This has been my path. What helps have you found? If you’ve been in the dungeon where did you find bread and water?
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The issue of suffering and the sovereignty of God is one of the most perplexing questions one can deal with in life. How can a loving God allow if He is fully in control and all-powerful, such madness to run free all around us? Turn on the news and you will find in the first 30 seconds another report of someone shot and killed, a house fire that took the life of a young child, or terrorist actions across the globe placing people in a perpetual state of fear. Answers to such a question are difficult and should never be flippant. Peter Chin, in his truly helpful book Blindsided by God: Disappointment, Suffering, and the Untamable Goodness of God, tackles this perpetually important issue.
Peter Chin is a man fully familiar with the sting and pain of disappointment and suffering. In this book, he reflects on those experiences, specifically a miscarriage he and his wife endured, the struggles he went through planting a church, as well as the pain and agony his wife endured dealing with breast cancer. Sharing these moments of suffering makes this a book that is quite personal as Chin walks the reader through what it was like to deal with each of those moments and the understandable questions that arose, namely where is God in the midst of those trials.
There are some who falsely believe that just because they are Christians that somehow pain and suffering will be averted. After all, God protects His children, right? While that is certainly true, in this life we will have trouble due to the continued impact of sin and death prior to the redemption and restoration that will come when Christ returns. Until that glorious day, we will have to deal with issues such as what Chin reflects upon in this book. With that said, the health and wealth gospel has so permeated the psyche of the church, causing many to have no foundation from which to deal with suffering when it comes calling.
Chin notes he “had never consciously subscribed to the gospel of health and wealth – the ideology that following God endured physical blessings – I must have subconsciously absorbed it. Some subtle form of it had worked itself into my heart and mind, and from countless sources.” The pernicious approach of the health and wealth gospel left Chin at first feeling betrayed by God. Being grounded in the truth of Scripture, Chin was able to understand that promises of no suffering are foreign to Scripture. What we do find in Scripture is a promise that God will be with us in the difficult times of life. Chin aptly comments “He does not promise that we will not suffer, but that when we do suffer, he will be there with us in the midst of it all. It is a promise, not of painlessness, but of His presence.”
As the reader works through Blindsided by God, they will be presented with a heart rending story, one of a loss of a child, a struggling church plant, and breast cancer. This seemingly endless list of suffering ends with the glorious birth of an unexpected and unlikely birth of a child. In the midst of suffering, in this case that of breast cancer, God formed a child in the womb of Peter’s wife Carol, bringing life from the death of cells, joy in the midst of suffering.
Chin notes at the conclusion to this book that not all stories end in a happy ending. There will be times when despite our most earnest prayers for healing, a loved one will die. Despite our prayers for peace in this world, man will continue to kill their fellow man and even though we may plead with God for financial blessings to rain down on those in need, Jesus told us the poor will continue to be poor. In the suffering and in the pain, there is one resounding truth that Chin saliently reminds the reader about, that of knowing God. This knowing is rooted in resting in the reality that “God will be with me, and as a result, I always have reason for hope, both for this life and the next…even a brief glimpse of God in the midst of the storm is better than a lifetime spent in blissful ignorance.”
It is that focus and constant reminder that makes this such an excellent discussion of suffering and the sovereignty of God. Chin shares the experiences of his own life in a very matter of fact manner, admitting that during those difficult times, he was tempted to question that God was in control. That honestly is quite refreshing. It is a highly personal response that connects with the reader that the academic approach often overlooks. While there is a need for books that provided a developed theodicy that addresses the problem of evil, there is also the need for books such as this one that people can relate and identify with for we all know of people who have dealt with situations such as those described by Chin. Those who read this book will find themselves better understanding that no matter what life throws at them, God is right there with them in the midst of the storm.
This book is available for purchase from Bethany House Publishers by clicking here.
I received this book for free from Bethany House Publishers for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Over the past month of February, we’ve considered the topic of Holiness here at Servants of Grace. As we’ve looked at this topic, I’ve received a number of email’s and responses to this series in particular on how helpful it was. I appreciate those comments. We aim with each series to be biblical, personal, and practical. The purpose of this series on Holiness was to help our readers think through what holiness is, and how to reflect the holiness of God through Christ in a sinful world.
Since the topic of holiness is by and large misunderstood in the Church today—we wanted to focus a whole month on this topic, not only for the benefits of our readers, but to think through this particular topic for our own lives as well. As we conclude this series with this recap, I want to encourage you—if you missed any of these posts—check them out, or revisit them if you haven’t read any of them.
I hope this series has (or will) encouraged you, exalted in Jesus, and helped you grow in the discipline of holiness through the grace of God.
Here are the articles in order:
1) Longing for Holiness by David Brainerd
2) The Beauty of Holiness by C. Walter
3) Directions to Walking with God: Learning from a Puritan by Brian Hedges
4) Three Ways to Pursue Purity by Dave Jenkins
5) Learning Holiness from Judas Iscariot by Zach Barnhart
6) Applying the Salve of Christlike Behavior to the Venom of Anger by Mike Boling
7) The Grace of God: Knowing and Obeying the Commands of Christ by Dave Jenkins
8) Four Ways To Think on What is Pure, Lovely, Commendable, Excellent, and Worthy of Praise by Mike Boling
9) Distinguishing Between Sanctification and Legalism by David Dunham
10) Cultivating Holiness Part 1 by Dave Jenkins
11) Holiness: Becoming a Vessel For Honor by Zach Barnhart
12) Cultivating Holiness Part 2 by Dave Jenkins
13) Cultivating Holiness Final by Dave Jenkins
14) Living as Awakened Sinners by Joey Cochran
15) The Need for the Bride of Christ to be Holy and Mature by Mike Boling
16) JC Ryle’s Holiness–A Review by Jason Helopoulos
17) Active Spirituality: The Relationship Between God’s Grace and Your Effort in Living the Christian Life by Brian Hedges
18) Sixteen Books I Recommend on Holiness in the Christian Life by Dave Jenkins
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