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J. I. Packer’s Definition of Depression

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Three Authors

J. I. Packer writes a chapter introducing Baxter. Michael Lundy is a clinical psychiatrist who has modernized two texts of Baxter on the subject of depression. Richard Baxter was a Puritan with many pastoral interests, but one of his primary concerns was to relieve depression, as reflected in two of his addresses on the subject published together in this book, together with a shorter essay in the appendix.

The Authors’ Definition

The books provides a dictionary definition of depression:

A recent dictionary defines depression as “a state of extreme dejection or morbidly excessive melancholy; a mood of hopelessness and feelings of inadequacy, often with physical symptoms such as loss of appetite, insomnia, etc.”

But it then supplies J I Packer’s extensive and vivid definition:

Fretful heaviness seizes the mind, sometimes slowing it down to a point of virtual paralysis where thought ceases, sometimes driving it into unfruitful randomness, or a fixed attitude of gloom, or an incessant harping on things felt to be incurably wrong. Depressed persons feel themselves isolated and distant from others— even their nearest and dearest— and from projects in which hitherto their hearts had been fully engaged. Conduct may become eccentric, randomness or inaction may set in, focused creativity may fade away, or sadness may become habitual. Feelings of anxiety, worthlessness, and hopelessness develop, and defensive pessimism takes over. Upset by others’ cheerfulness, the depressed may seem cross-grained and combative. Some depressions are cyclical, low points in bipolar mood swings, where they may be followed by bursts of energetic overconfidence. What medication can do to modify these extremes varies from person to person.

The Authors’ Aims

Why did Packer and Lundy write this book? They wrote it for two reasons.

1. They want Christians “to live as far as possible in the outgoing love, stability, and joy— along with patience, kindness, faithfulness, and self-control—that form the moral profile of Jesus Christ in his disciples. We see such living as true human flourishing, and the promotion of it as central to all forms of pastoral care, church worship and fellowship, personal therapy, and Christian family life. And we see depression in all its forms as a prima facie obstruction to this, in which Satan regularly has a hand.”

2. They believe that mental and emotional thorns in the flesh, such as depression, “may become means of spiritual advance that would not otherwise take place..”

3. “We believe that greater wisdom in this matter than we are used to is found in the pastoral heritage of seventeenth-century Puritanism. Supreme here is the wisdom of Richard Baxter, who in his day was viewed and consulted as a top authority regarding ministry to Christians afflicted by what was then called “melancholy,” but would today be labeled depression. Our hope is that by presenting what Baxter wrote in this field we may contribute to wise pastoral care in Bible-believing, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring churches at this time.

The Authors’ Rejection

Packer and Lundy reject the idea of some Christians that depression in Christians is always a sign of unbelief or some other major sin.

Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life: Practical Wisdom from Richard Baxter by Michael S. Lundy with an introduction by J. I. Packer.

Expedition 33: Water in the Desert

Here’s the video for Expedition 33 in Exploring the Bible. If you want to bookmark a page where all the videos are posted, you can find them on my blog, on YouTube, or the Facebook page for Exploring the Bible.

If you haven’t started your kids on the book yet, you can begin anytime and use it with any Bible version. Here are some sample pages.

You can get it at RHBWestminster BooksCrossway, or Amazon. If you’re in Canada use Reformed Book Services. Some of these retailers have good discounts for bulk purchases by churches and schools.

Tolerating Uncertainty

Summary of Chapter Six in The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller. Will is a  pastor working in London and Rob is a Christian psychiatrist. Both are recovering worriers.

1. Although we love to be certain about things, we must learn to accept and live with uncertainty.

2. People who worry have unhelpful positive beliefs about worry (see the golden worry beliefs), and unhelpful beliefs about certainty. They maintain worry by setting such high standards for certainty that they are quite unachievable. These include:

  • Being uncertain is an unpleasant experience
  • You should act only when you are absolutely certain.
  • Better safe than sorry
  • I can’t be safe when I’m not sure
  • If I am sure, then I can predict bad things and so prevent them.

3. These beliefs about certainty create a desire to control any uncertainty, creating more worry when they can’t, and so on.

4. Present contemplation is the gold-standard technique for overcoming worry. Two lesser techniques that will train us for that are “thought records: and “making new appraisals.”

5. “Thought records” help us to recognize the irrationality of worry thoughts and the link between thoughts and feelings. An example of a “thought record” can be seen here. The general format is:

  • Situation: The moment when you had a worry thought.
  • Mood: Your feelings in response to your worry thought (rate intensity out of 10)
  • Automatic thoughts (and images): The thoughts that result from your worry.
  • Evidence for: The evidence that supports the likelihood of your worry coming true.
  • Evidence against: Evidence that opposes your worry thought.
  • Alternative thought: Review original worry in light of the evidence.
  • Review and plan: Re-read your original worry and review your mood/feelings (rate intensity out of 10)

Thought records can really help us familiarize ourselves with worry and help us see that most of our worries are poorly founded.

6. “Making new appraisals.” This is a less controlled version of thought records that operates in our thoughts not on paper. It involves the assumption that we are overestimating our worries and starts to consider a range of more probably alternative outcomes and conclusions. We look at our predicament from different angles and produce alternative conclusions.

7. Unhelpful techniques for worry include:

  • Trying to get more information. Looking up stuff on the internet usually increases worry and keeps you on the “I-must-be-in-control” treadmill.
  • Journaling. Unless you keep it to a couple of paragraphs a day, this can set your mind racing when you are trying to sleep.
  • Phoning a friend. This is often a way of avoiding responsibility for decisions and only produces short-term reassurance.
  • Alcohol. And any other addiction like shopping, eating, self-harm.

8. Experiment with losing control. Try a mini-experiment by not trying to control what you usually demand control over. Before doing it, predict what will happen. Then write down what did happen. Keep trying this with various control issues until you learn that there really is nothing to worry about.

The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller.

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When Depression Makes Church So Hard
“Having struggled with severe depressive illness for over twelve years, I can tell you that I never (never!) want to go to church on a Sunday morning. It is an exhausting battle every single time, and I don’t always make it.”

Why CEOs Devote So Much Time to Their Hobbies
“In public and in private, CEOs state that their leisure interests help them cope with the ever-increasing demands of the top job. They typically invest considerable time in their leisure, and even block off time far in advance to protect it from “life taking over,” as one interviewee said. A few common themes stood out about how their passion helps them:”

The Most Powerful Lesson My Cancer Taught Me About Life and Work
“Cancer changed my life by encouraging me to reexamine the stories I’d been telling myself, and to re-craft them with higher levels of construal. My advice is don’t wait until you get cancer to improve your story of why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

How perfectionism became a hidden epidemic among young people
“Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.”

Obey God with Your Creativity
“The other reason I say that imagination is a Christian duty is that when a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, organized clearly, and communicated boringly.”

Encouragement for Bible Reading from Puritan Women
“These women found themselves in different situations but each one made the Bible central to their lives because, despite the hard passages and personal doubts they had, they knew its basic message could be understood and that by reading it, they communed with God himself”

Counseling Together: Ten Benefits to Co-Counseling with Your Spouse
“I love team counseling. Whenever I counsel a woman, I involve a female co-counselor or trainee. She might be my wife Lauren, or she might be another godly sister in Christ. Perhaps I want to give that woman added training and experience. Or she might bring valuable experience or expertise. Or maybe she has a positive relationship with the counselee, or better fits her demographic, etc.”

Tips on Preaching Narratives
“Since we move by and large towards the Reformed spectrum of the Christian church our tendency inherently is to be most comfortable when we are preaching Paul–and as a consequence, to be least comfortable when we are preaching from things that are very different from the Pauline style–with the result that we tend to preach the whole of the Bible as if Paul had written it. We take historical narrative or poetic narrative and there is really no difference in the style of our exposition whether we are preaching from one part of Scripture or from another.”

Kindle Books

Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray $2.99.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray $2.99.

Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo MD $3.99.


Stories of God’s Grace

The Single Hardest Instruction in the Bible?

Summary of Chapter Five in The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller. Will is a  pastor working in London and Rob is a Christian psychiatrist. Both are recovering worriers.

1. “Do not worry” is the single hardest instruction in the Bible. Although anxiety and depression are the most common emotional health problems among Christians, the church rarely addresses them and is ill-equipped to deal with them.

2. Churches often communicate that being worried is proof of a shallow or weak faith. This compounds the problem because then the worrier has the additional worry that they are offending God by their lack of faith.

3. Matthew 6:25-34 is an example of divine cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Jesus is challenging us to transform our response to perceived threats and find better ways to face the challenges of life. Lessons from that passage include:

  • Jesus challenges us not to remain independent of God by incessantly worrying about our own needs but to be God-reliant for all our needs
  • Jesus does not command us to give up all concern for what we need but to give up insightless, faithless obsession with security.
  • Jesus teaches us not to “run” (v. 32) after the certainty of provision. This word “run” indicates a desperate obsession.
  • Striving for certain security is not just irrational and fruitless; it undermines God’s good character.

4. There are two types of worry—today worry and tomorrow worry (v. 34).

  • Today worry (v. 34b): The solvable worries you can deal with today.
  • Tomorrow worry (v. 34a): The unsolvable floating worries, or hypothetical “what ifs” about tomorrow.

5. Jesus leads us out of bondage by leading us into the now. He teaches us to focus on the present of the Kingdom of God. Once we get better at focusing on the present Kingdom of God rather than our security, trust and peace will increase.

6. The Christian life can be undermined by seeking and demanding absolute certainty. Most Christian problem worriers find themselves drawn toward desperate attempts to attain certainty regarding their faith, which ultimately undermine confidence in their relationship with God. They will worry less if that learn to accept a degree of uncertainty rather than demanding it. In the next chapter, we will look at tolerating uncertainty.

The End of Worry: Why We Worry and How to Stop by Will Van der Hart and Rob Waller.