I receive many email questions, most of which I don’t have time to answer. Sometimes, however, there are valuable questions that I think would provide helpful answers for others who read the blog. I therefore ask the questioner if I can remove identifying features and answer it on my blog. Such is the case with this question.

I have an M.Div and have read hundreds of books and still feel that I don’t know my Bible.  My knowledge has been all second hand as I have consumed commentaries during my devotional times.  And yet my faith feels hollow and lifeless.  I don’t know how to read the Bible and study it for myself.  I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown…I try and start and I get so frustrated that I turn back to commentaries and the lifelessness continues…I can’t do this anymore

Please help me…I know you don’t know me…but please help me…..

Dear Christian Brother,

It sounds as if there are two problems going on here. First, there is the presenting problem of not knowing your Bible, even after years of theological study. Second, there appears to be an underlying mental health problem which is preventing a solution to the first problem.

Let’s deal with the second problem, the mental health problem, first. You say: “My faith feels hollow and lifeless…I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown….I try and start and I get so frustrated…I can’t do this anymore…Please help me, etc.”

All these expressions suggest that you have exhausted your mind and that it needs a break to heal and recover. This may sound odd, but I’d recommend that you cut back on all reading at the moment, including Bible reading. You are trying to make your brain do what it simply cannot do in this state of stressed exhaustion. I suggest that you read just 1-2 verses from your Bible every day for two weeks – preferably in one of the Gospels. Read them briefly, pray briefly for God’s blessing, close your Bible and then walk away. After two weeks, increase your reading up to three verses a day. A week later, try four verses a day, and so on.

Also, try to spend large parts of the day doing work that will not take a huge toll on your brain. Give your tired mind a breather as much as you can. Do practical jobs instead of cognitively demanding work. Walk, exercise, get good sleep, eat healthy food, meet up with friends from time to time for an hour or so. Generally, you need to cultivate quiet and peace in your life. That especially means cutting out digital technology as much as possible. Stimulate your brain as little as you can for a few weeks.

I would suggest that you also consult your doctor and share with him your mental and emotional state so that he can guide you regarding any other treatment that might be appropriate.

Once you have got some mental capacity and ability back in your life, then you can begin to address what got you into this situation. You should talk to your pastor or a trusted spiritual adviser about this. I don’t know any more than you’ve told me, but I’ve seen other MDiv students end up in similar holes.

In some cases, it’s giving too much attention to their studies and not enough to their souls. In some cases, it’s sinful ambition that has prioritized theological knowledge above a personal relationship with God. Or maybe there has been way too much reliance on self and next to no dependance on God. You need help to explore these possible motivations in order to repent of any sin that is at the root of them and also to prevent this tendency from returning in the future.

I have a good hope that if you take a mental break, start with short Bible readings, prioritize calm and quiet, consult a doctor and a pastor, and do the spiritual work that’s required, that your love for the Scriptures will grow and spiritual life will return to your soul.

What’s really important is that you do not rely on yourself or on your commentaries but that you rely on God to give you light. Ask God for his Holy Spirit to enlighten your eyes and to shine light on His Word. He has promised to give wisdom and his Holy Spirit to those who ask for it (James 1:5-8; Luke 11:13). And remember, that knowing the Bible is not the end either. The ultimate end is knowing Christ personally, and the Bible is a means to that end. So is going to church; so make sure you are doing that also.

If you do these things and there is still no life in your soul or love for the Scriptures, then you will have to consider the possibility that you still need to be converted. If that is the case, there is still hope for you to repent and put your faith in Christ. There are many M.Div. students who have been converted after graduation and even in the ministry!

What other advice would you give to this struggling Christian?

  • Chris Ross

    Hi David….. I too have felt in similar straights….. Alienated, depressed and robbed of joy and hope for the future. Additionally, l perceive that l have a performance based aspect or a slight legalism component to my faith, for example… If l read, pray and so on….. God must be somewhat pleased with me and if l sin…. I become down and depressed. I have a graduate diploma of divinity and enjoy reading and for some strange reason l read Sinclair Ferguson’s… The Whole Christ….. And it was revolutionary to me…. The thought to be… In Christ…. as the realisation and motivation for loving God and enjoying Him in the here and now….. This… In Christ… Concept is changing my understanding of how faith ought to be and l find it to be crucial in revitalising faith and casting off a warped works based faith. Maybe others can find hope in being…. In Christ….. Chris.

  • William McQuade

    I can empathize! Sometimes we can fall into the mindset that Seminary is just another ‘hamster wheel’ of assignments that need to be fulfilled in order to get to the next phase. You fulfill the ‘pass’ requirement, put it behind you, and move on to the next phase. Devotional times take on the same perspective. ‘Wash, rinse, repeat.’