Listen to the podcast
You may want to read:
None of us are perfect, and most of us have a better version of ourselves that we would like to become. Dissatisfaction with self is why one of the most common discipleship questions is, “How can I change?”
Sometimes the discipler will provide simple answers, such as trust God, let go and let God, or you need to repent. In most cases, these cliché-type answers are not helpful. In some situations, they do more harm than good. No Christian should make change the only possibility for a person who desires a more preferred iteration of themselves. That kind of hope is not in the Christian’s toolbox or within the Christian’s ability to accomplish.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What the Christian should suggest is that regardless of what you may be going through, there is grace for your situation. This kind of advice fits well within the Christian’s offerings for the sad soul.
I am curious.
Let’s take a look at a typical situation and work through the possible complexities of why people are the way they are. I am going to use depression for this case study. You can insert any problem into this analysis and filter it through the process that I am going to provide for you.
I will assume you have read the previous chapters in my book. If so, you are in the best possible place to figure out why you are the way you are or why you do what you do. With those chapters as the context for change, let’s proceed.
Sam struggles with depression. He has been this way for as long as he can remember. He comes to me for help because he wants to change. Transformation is a good desire, and I want to help him change, assuming that is God’s pleasure for him.
Though I know I cannot offer Sam the hope of changing in the way he may want it, I can give him some helpful ways to think about and respond to his depression. I can also let him know how God’s grace is sufficient for him, regardless of the outcome of our time together (2 Corinthians 12:9).
My goal is not to give Sam false hope. I want to offer biblical hope. I want to encourage him but not set him up for future disappointment. Christians must be careful from falsely presenting the Lord or falsely presenting the sufficiency of God’s Word.
Christians must be honest with those within their care, which means walking through all possible outcomes for the script the Lord is writing.
After Sam rightly establishes his thoughts in the Lord as the only answer and the Bible as the most effective system of thought for problem-solving, I want to lay down two other essential tenets for problem-solving. They are:
This first tenet is my desire to be honest with him while resisting personal arrogance or false hope. It would be arrogant of me to tell him why he is depressed. Trying to explain his depression entirely could circumvent the complexity of his problem as well as the mysteries of the Lord.
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Think about this for a moment: There is an element of mystery to our problems. Can a grasshopper discern the ways of a man? Can a finite man understand the ways of infinite God?
“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers” (Isaiah 40:22).
If you are not comfortable with the elements of mystery when it comes to your problems, you will never be comfortable with your problems or your God. Where were you when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4)?
We must be careful that we do not boast in our arrogance, thinking we have a complete understanding of our problems. We do not (James 4:16). I want to inform Sam how the divine mysteries of His will are unsearchable and how the depths of His ways are not within our scope of discovery or comprehension (Isaiah 40:28).
I also want him to have a measure of comfortableness when it comes to problem-solving. Part of this comfortableness will come if he can rest in the mysteries of God’s will. There is blessedness and hope in our ignorance if we can rest in the Lord to navigate our circumstances from His sovereign perspective.
My second statement can be frustrating to some people while too simplistic to others. I understand. There is a tendency with some, especially the science-centered or education-centered camps, to reject that which does not sound sophisticated.
Our culture’s poorly positioned emphasis on science and education has partially shaped us to be ignorant of the truth of God’s Word. In a way, it is humorous. In a way, it is sad. It is also ironic that our infatuation with education as the solution to our problems has made us more ignorant than we know.
“If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2).
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
God is not embarrassed about offering simple answers, and neither am I.
“For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:19–20).
It is good for the Lord to make things simple by placing them on a lower shelf. Though we might not like the idea of admitting our ignorance, there is freedom, strength, humility, and wisdom in embracing our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The main culprit for why Sam is depressed is sin. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, they were cursed by God (Genesis 2:16–17). Their disobedience meant they were totally cursed—organically and nonorganically.
It is called total depravity. There was no stone left unturned because of the curse God placed on humanity. Every part of our being was affected—spiritually and physically. Depravity makes sin the source of Sam’s depression. It cannot be any other way. For Sam to grasp this simple idea, he must think comprehensively about the doctrine of sin. For example, I am not saying he has necessarily done anything wrong. The act of being born set him up for brokenness.
“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one” (Job 14:4).
Think of sin like a drop of dye placed in a beaker of water. Once the drop hits the water, the entire beaker is contaminated. The chances of Sam being messed up at birth is 100 percent.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Every person comes into the world with unique and specific sinful tendencies. It is as random as there are people. Individual brokenness is why the gay guy can say, “I was born this way.” Maybe he was born that way. I was born with my weaknesses, shortcomings, and sinful proclivities.
Everybody is born that way. To say, “I was born that way” is merely affirming the Bible’s declaration that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). I do not argue with the gay guy, who says he was born that way. I agree with him. The impasse comes when he uses his brokenness as an excuse to stay broken. He misses the point of the gospel, which is transformation.
Sam came into the world in a contaminated beaker. He received what we all received. There are many things wrong with him. You see this idea in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 where Paul exhorts us to encourage the fainthearted. The word fainthearted means small-soul. There are people with little souls. We all have different soul capacities. Could it be that God gave Sam a small soul, which makes him unable to live in a similar victory like a large soul individual? I honestly do not know.
What I want to do with a person like Sam is to begin working through all the possibilities regarding what can make a person depressed. Though he can alter some of these things, there will be other issues harder to transform. Sam may be like the gay guy—he was born that way. Sam will have to be taught the primary purpose of his unique brokenness—to glorify God in whatever condition he finds himself (Philippians 4:10–13).
The Lord’s primary point for Sam’s brokenness is to teach him to rely on God rather than himself (2 Corinthians 1:8–9, 4:7, and 12:7–10). The gay guy will use his brokenness as an excuse to live in sin. Perchance God gave Sam a proclivity to be depressed, he must see it as his opportunity to glorify God.
Sometimes the Lord will give us unalterable problems. The four issues I listed above are physical, relational, spiritual, and sacrificial—in that order.
We must factor in these possibilities. Typically, when we think about our problems, we do not consider the possibility of God’s will being contrary to our preferences (Luke 22:42).
The way you discern if your situation is unchangeable is by eliminating all the other possibilities. I am going to list for you some of the things Sam needs to consider regarding his depression. The list is in a random, eclectic order. All of the items can cause some people to be depressed. Some of these things Sam can change, while others he will not be able to alter.
Everything in these lists contributes to depression, as well as exacerbate depression if they go unchanged. How they interrelate to Sam will give clues to his depression. It’s essential to work with Sam in thinking through how these things may tempt him toward depression or cause him to be depressed. Then you want to begin eliminating the ones that tempt him.
Sam will be able to change many of the things in these lists, assuming they need changing. Before you conclude his depression is unalterable, you want to make sure he is doing all he can do to change. Often a person will plead ignorance as to why he is depressed and then as you unpack his life, according to some of the questions in my list, you realize he is more culpable than he is admitting to or is aware.
If he is serious about changing, he needs to address each item, while adding to the lists. If he has done this and is living honestly before God and others, it could be there will always be a temptation toward depression. At this point, you would want to begin discipling him regarding God’s all-sufficient grace for an unchangeable situation. It could be the Lord seeks to magnify Himself through Sam’s weakness. Carefully read 2 Corinthians 1:8–9, 4:7, and 12:7–10.