Thursday, January 04, 2007

Lloyd-Jones 'Spiritual Depression' (V)

The book's argument is that there should be no such thing as a sad Christian. Dr Lloyd Jones (the Doctor) considers a whole load of causes and cures for such a condition, with exegetical clarity and pastoral wisdom. I've loved going through it - and am only sorry that my disciple of typing up hasn't kept up with my reading. However, here's another instalment...

8. Where is Your Faith?

"Now it came to pass on a certain day, that he went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy. And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm. And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him." (Lk 8:22-25)

This chapter examines the nature of faith. Many who are Christians have no full understanding of it - though faith is the gift of God at conversion. Being a Christian means having faith, and this does not guarantee understanding it! And thus one may get into trouble...

Before getting to that, a few thoughts on this great passage which shows Jesus as God and man, the God-man; tired, yet able to command wind and waves... We need to understand the rebuke: Jesus was rebuking their state, which they should not have been in at all. First, it is always wrong for a Christian to be in such a state, to have "little faith". So The Doctor says: 'It is very wrong for a Christian ever to be in such a condition. I do not care what the circumstances may be, the Christian should never be agitated, the Christian should never be beside himself like this, the Christian should never be at his wit's end, the Christian should never be in a condition where he has lost control of himself.' (137) We must be distinct to a worldly person - just like Paul in Phil 4. Secondly, what is wrong in such a condition is the expression of little trust or confidence in him; that is the issue, and that's what makes the condition so reprehensible. It is a lack of faith in Jesus' care and concern for us, believing either that he doesn't care, or is unable to help. These are the passages two great lessons: we must not become agitated, expressing thereby a lack of confidence in our Lord.

Drawing out more general principles, we turn first to 'the trial of faith', an idea found throughout Scripture. Remember Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Moses. Recall 1Pet 1. We must understand that we may well find ourselves in a position where our faith is tried - which trials are permitted by God. It is a horrible lie that in coming to Christ all troubles are over; rather, we are to count trails joy (Jas 1:2), and forewarned is forearmed. This is a big Puritan theme.

Secondly, we consider the nature and character of faith. This is the main issue in the passage. Negatively, faith is not a feeling, nor something that acts automatically. Rather it is an activity, something to be exercised. "Where is your faith?" means 'why are you not applying your faith to this position?' The first thing we must do in such circumstances is not be controlled by them, but apply our faith. Faith is a refusal to panic. And the second thing here is to assert what we do know, to hold on to what we believe. The next step is to apply what we know into that particular situation: God will never allow anything to happen to you that is harmful; he will do what is best for you - though as he defines best, which might not be how you might.

Thirdly (and finally) we must note that even the smallest faith has value. Even the disciples here had enough to go and do the right thing - cry to Jesus. Do you note that Jesus produced the condition they were so keen to enjoy - despite their lack of faith. Though he rebuke us he will never neglect us; he will receive us and bless us and give us peace.

Every time of trial and testing is an opportunity to prove your faith. Take it with both hands; exert God's gift to you. And if you are too weak, just fly to Christ and he will deliver you and give you peace.

9. Looking at the Waves

"And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God." (Matt 14:22-33)

This incident has many features in common with the last, and comes at a similar issue in a different way, as we'll see. But first, a preliminary observation: the first thing we notice here is Jesus, the Person at the centre of the story, who commands and controls nature. We cannot but start here. since without understanding him we cannot understand faith. There is no Christian message without him, no content, no nothing...

But the focus of this incident being recorded is clearly Peter. He starts off so well, gets into trouble, then ends up so badly. Peter, who seems at first so full of faith, ends up a miserable failure, crying out in desperation. Now the big difference here to the last story is that there the storm was a new thing, whereas here nothing changes, the waves are nothing new to Peter. And Jesus gives a clear diagnosis: "ye of little faith"....

Hence, we must first note the 'Peter mentality'. We all have our own particular difficulties, arising from our characters - and often fail at our strongest points. Peter's great characteristic was energy, a quick decision is enthusiastically taken and acted upon - which got him into trouble, as we remember from the Passover meal and courtyard accounts. Peter is a man of high heights and low troughs, of ecstasy and failure. He said or did things without thinking them through fully - which was the cause of trouble.

We then note Peter's doubts. He is diagnosed by Jesus as having "little faith" and doubting. Notice how we often produce our own doubts - he produced them by looking at the waves. It is not as if Jesus said: watch out - do you realise what you're doing? No, he looked at the waves and produced doubt. Now notice that doubts are not incompatible with faith; Peter has "little faith" rather than none at all - which people can often think about themselves when they're doubting.

Now doubts are proof of weak faith, to which the antidote is great faith. Not just the opposite, the antidote. Returning to the last passage, we must remember who God is, acknowledge him and practice trust in him... Peter models how faith flows from knowing the Lord, saying: "if it is you..." This is the solution to much spiritual depression: knowledge of Bible doctrines. Know Jesus, know your Saviour, his atoning work, his call, his resurrection... Take the trouble to learn these things - don't be dependent on meetings for your happiness; know the truth and be free!

Secondly, then, we must learn not to have second thoughts. With the Christian faith this is folly - doubts are foolish, just as Peter's were here. Weak faith comes back again and again to problems it has solved, issues it has answered. Why go back? It is the essence of faith to refuse after-thoughts.

Next, notice that faith consists in looking to and at Jesus. He will complete in you what he has started. Peter's error was to look away from Christ - which we must strive not to do.

Finally, a word of consolation: Jesus will never let you sink. If you belong to him, no-one shall pluck you from his hand.

But that is not the great lesson of this passage - great though it is! rather, learn that He can keep you from falling, being the great Lord of the Universe. We need never cry out if we remain looking at him.

Jude 24-25.

2 Comments:

Blogger Beckie said...

What about the thought that people around us are going to hell? Should that not make Christians sad? (Obviously our sadness motivates us to do something about it, but still sadness - compassion, how should we feel about friends who have died outside of the faith?
Also: John 11:35 "Jesus wept"

11:11 am, January 24, 2007  
Blogger J.J. Chiles said...

Thanks for the article. Another good one on depression is at
www.ccesonline.com/whatdoyouknowaboutdepression.htm

8:58 pm, February 11, 2007  

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