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

One of the strangest steps of faith I’ve ever taken as a pastor was telling a depressed Christian to stop reading the Bible. This Christian was in a terrible dark hole of depression and was tormenting herself every day by spending long periods ransacking the Scriptures for a verse that would cure her depression. She was frantic and desperate in her search and every day her “failure” only deepened her depression as she concluded that she must have been abandoned by God. It also left her mentally and even physically exhausted. Bible reading seemed to be harming rather than helping her.

I felt that her mind needed a rest and that she would never recover unless she stopped this daily self-torture. That’s when I said that she should stop reading the Bible for a short time to let her mind rest and to rebuild her emotional reserves. Then she would hopefully be able to read the Bible again with profit. I wasn’t 100% sure it was the right course of action but it seemed like the only option. I did make sure her husband read a verse or two of Scripture to her every day but insisted that she was simply to listen during these seconds and then not think about it any more. Thankfully this strange strategy seemed to work within a couple of weeks. She gained a measure of mental relief, and before long she was able to read the Bible again for herself, just a verse a day to begin with, and not suffer for it.

This was a rare situation, of course. It’s not the norm. But I was intrigued by similar advice Richard Baxter gave to depressed Christians concerning the duty of meditation:

Meditation is not a duty at all for a melancholy person, except for the few that are able to tolerate a brief, structured sort of meditation. This must be on something furthest from the matter that troubles them, except for short meditations like sudden, spontaneous prayers said out loud. A rigid and protracted meditation will only frustrate and disturb you, and render you unable to perform other duties. If a man has a broken leg, he must not walk on it until it is set, or the whole body will suffer. It is your thinking faculty or your imagination that is the broken, hurting part. Therefore, you must not use it to reflect upon the things that so trouble you.

Perhaps you will say, “That is profane, neglects God and the soul, and lets the Tempter have his will!” But I answer, “No, it is simply to refrain from what you cannot presently do, so that by doing other things that you can, you may later do what you cannot do now. It is merely to postpone attempting what (at present) will only make you less able to do all your other duties. At present, you are able to conduct the affairs of your soul by sanctified reasoning. I am not dissuading you from repenting or believing, but rather from fixed, long, and deep meditations that will only hurt you.”

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