Ed Welch

As Jesus Sleeps

God does not worry. His face toward you reveals his rest and favor. During the turbulence of life, his face also reveals his compassion and care. And the word is out. Apparently, Jesus’ reputation has traveled to people who don’t know him well (like twentieth-century real estate agents), and even they occasionally rest and do not worry because the triune God has power and authority over all things. 

How many times have you been in a precarious situation, but the person in charge was not concerned? So you took your lead from them and decided that there was no reason for alarm?
I grew up in the same area where I now live. My parents moved away the day I graduated from high school, and I was out of the area at various schools for over a decade. I moved back when I was given the opportunity to work at CCEF. When my wife and I began our house search, I remembered that a neighbor from my hometown had gone into real estate sales, so we tracked him down and asked him to help us. We ended up making an offer on the second house we saw, and it was accepted. It all seemed quite easy, other than the 16% interest rate.
But then, with the closing only three days away, Sheri and I were informed that our down payment would not arrive on time. Earlier, we had loaned money to other family members, and they did not know if they could get the repayment to us fast enough. So we called our friendly agent and he said, “Oh, that’s not a problem.” Since I knew nothing about how these things worked, I assumed that the bank would be pleased to receive the money whenever it was convenient. Our agent was unconcerned; I was unconcerned. I was simply impressed by how these banks were so flexible.
Two hours before the scheduled closing, we received a wire transfer from the family members’ bank. All was as it should be. But I was curious.
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Natural Ability or Needy before God?

Watch out for this response: “I’ll try harder.” Men, in particular, are prone to say this, but given what I have learned, such a response is certain to fail. They might have good intentions, but this is foolishness for those who know Jesus. It sets us out on an independent path—without God—and as a result, without our spouse. If you think that you can do it on your own, you are, indeed, on your own. 

In biblical counseling, we certainly hope to speak and write what is true. Even more, we prefer to write what is both true and lived. This story has been lived in marriage, which, for me, is a laboratory of love and wisdom that I hope affects my other relationships.
Over the last six months, my wife has had some erratic and difficult physical symptoms. From the moment they started, I knew they were alarming to her—and she rarely gets alarmed. Within the first few days, I knew that the symptoms were not simply going to pass, so I was committed to going through them with her. I didn’t know all the details of what that meant, but I knew it meant that I wanted to be a compassionate partner.
A month after the symptoms emerged, I had to go out of town for two nights. Though I think she misses me during those times, usually life remains business as usual for her. So I was surprised when she asked, “Do you have to go?” She had never asked such a question before. I responded that yes, I thought it best for me to go. As usual, I called her while I was gone. She mentioned that she was concerned about staying home by herself, which seemed unusual because she is not prone to fear. She said that the uncertainty about her health concerned her and thought it might be better to have other people around. When I called her the next day, she told me that she slept at our younger daughter’s house. When I asked why, she said because she didn’t want to die at home alone, scaring whoever would find her.
This motivated me to be more attentive and more determined to enter in, know her, and bear the burden with her. I knew that she wanted me to share in this experience, and I wanted to do that very thing. To that end, I would often ask her, “How are your symptoms today?” and “Tell me more about them; help me to understand.” I was confident that if I worked at understanding her, I could do it.
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Will My Marriage Ever Be More? Counsel for Disappointed Wives

We know marriage is hard. We all learn that by the second week. But there are different kinds of hard. There is hard and hopeful, and there is hard and hopeless. The most difficult marriage, of course, is the one that is hard, distant, and with little reason to think it will change. In some of those cases, there might not be overt betrayal or cruel behavior or blatant sins that children would see. Instead, the marriage is . . . disappointing, lifeless, lonely.

To make it more difficult, you witness marriages that seem happy, or at least better than your own. You see spouses who enjoy each other. At those times, jealousy might sneak in for a moment, but you rarely land on coveting. Instead, the reminders just leave you a bit more disconnected from other people.

And to make it more difficult still, your marriage doesn’t receive much attention. Broken ones do. Struggling but growing ones do. But disappointing ones don’t. Consider this as a reminder that you are remembered in some small way.

What Can I Do?

You might feel as though you have tried everything and nothing helps. Yet this remains true: one person can make a difference in a relationship.

Jesus says, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38). In other words, you are a walking tabernacle, and the Spirit who lives within you will be living water in a desolate place. Very influential indeed. The apostle Paul wrote about wives of unbelievers who were willing to live with them. He said that the wives were holy, and that holiness spreads (1 Corinthians 7:14). God can use your holiness in Christ to promote the work of Christ in others.

“When we have confidence that the Spirit will use us, we become more resilient, creative, and engaged.”

Notice how this resists a drift toward hopelessness. One reason we are hopeless in marriage is because there is nothing else we can do, so we resign ourselves and try to build a more independent life. But when we have confidence that the Spirit will use us, we become more resilient, creative, and engaged.

Avoiding Silence and Frustration

Now reflect on the tendencies that have emerged within you. Do you lean toward silence, words spoken in frustration, or both? Silence is not a biblical strategy. Though there are certainly times when we decide not to speak, that is not a long-term solution in any relationship. Life with God is filled with words, and we imitate God’s ways in our everyday relationships.

Words spoken in frustration are also guaranteed to fail. They are natural but are rarely spiritual or helpful. They separate rather than invite. They look down upon rather than come alongside.

The goal, of course, is wise words, which will make you a learner for life. We never quite arrive at the place where we have finally mastered how to speak them. Instead, wisdom is a search for a treasure that always contains more. The more we search, the more we discover.

Wisdom is founded on the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10), which means that we are astounded by his love for us and we mature to be humble listeners before him (for example, Psalm 5:7). As we listen, we notice his characteristic style with us. He is gentle, patient, and careful in his words. When we read through the book of Proverbs, we also notice that his words are typically adorned as a way to make them meaningful and attractive. His words, in short, are good.

Even his rebukes are good. All his words invite us to come closer as he comes closer to us, and he anticipates our response. He speaks to us, and he wants us to speak to him. The way of wisdom is to enjoy his words to you and delight in listening to him. Then you bring that culture to your relationships. We treat others as we have been treated.

Seeking Wisdom and Creativity

This mission of speaking wise words is decidedly spiritual. You may have many natural abilities that you bring to your relationships, but wisdom is something different. It is a gift of the Spirit. So the work in front of you has two parts. First, you want to hear God’s wise, good, loving words to you and enjoy them. Then you ask him for something you desperately need and only he can give. You ask for skillful, beautified words — “apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Then you get creative.

“I have recently been struck by the goodness of God’s words to us and have been praying that I would grow in the way I speak to others . . .”

[Your spouse wants to talk about something “later.”] “Yes, I find these things hard to talk about too. But they seem important. Could we set aside some time on Saturday morning?”

“Both of us probably bring a lot of our parents into our conversations. How have you seen me do that?”

“Today I really struggled with [the kids, complaining, my health . . .]. Could you pray over me?”

“I was thinking about things I would like to know about you. I would love to know one thing that you enjoyed about your day, and one thing that was hard. Could we trade stories on our day?”

When you live in a disappointing relationship, you are not always sure how to talk about it to friends or ask for prayer. Here is a way to ask for prayer: you can ask others to pray that you would be skilled at hearing God’s good words to you so you can pass them on to others.

Learn from Your Differences

Disappointments tend to arise out of differences between you and your spouse. Perhaps you once saw your similarities — or how your differences were complementary. Now you just see differences. For example, you want to talk; he wants to avoid conflict. You want to partner in an activity; he prefers solitary tasks and interests. You hope to know and be known; he seems uninterested in either knowing you or being known by you. As a general rule, differences lead to frustration unless you understand those differences. The more you understand your husband, the more patient you will be.

A discussion about the kind of culture we experience in our early years at home is always a worthwhile way to understand differences. It might be easier than talking about the marital relationship. The primary risk is when we critique the other person’s family.

“Chronic disappointment has a hard time seeing small steps in the right direction.”

A second category to understand would be the ways your two minds are uniquely structured. The purpose here is not to talk about sins but personality styles or mental abilities. You probably already have a preliminary sketch you could offer him. For example, “I have been thinking about us and how, like any couple, we think in our own unique ways. You seem to think like a builder or engineer, who sees a problem and then figures out a way to solve it. That makes me imagine that, when I want to talk, you could easily think that it is always about a problem, and a problem with no apparent solution. Does that seem possible?” The basic idea of this approach is that your spouse has his reasons for his responses that are more than him simply being sinful.

Small Steps

Chronic disappointment has a hard time seeing small steps in the right direction. If those steps ever existed, you quickly backtracked, so you have stopped looking for them. But remember that Christ is at work in you, and his work will affect those around you. Remember, too, that the Spirit’s work is powerful yet oftentimes subtle. We will miss his work when we are not looking for it. With this in mind, keep your eyes open. Look for one way the Spirit is working in you and one way the Spirit is working in your relationship. When you see something, it is worth mentioning.

These thoughts are not new. But they might put a light on truths you know but have faded. In that sense, they are part of that small step of seeing the Spirit at work in the way he gently reminds us of things that are true and good.

Sex and Christ Crucified

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. You are not a free independent agent who is above God’s law, and God cares profoundly about what you do with your body. As a way to plant this in your soul, start your day with this summary, remember it, speak about it, and list a few ways that it could change your day: “This is the good life. It can only be found in Jesus. It is not found in splitting my allegiances between Jesus and an unconsecrated relationship (to use tabernacle language). 

In our culture, sexual relationships are where Scripture seems most contrary to the majority opinion, and the majority opinion affects us more than we realize.
Cohabitation is an example. In my own lifetime, it has gone from shameful, to frowned upon, to “better than the alternatives,” to accepted, to a necessary phase of every relationship that is to be celebrated. Marriage, after all, did not seem to help many of our parents stay together.
As a way to revisit the subject, consider the apostle Paul’s thick and fresh pastoral arguments in chapter six of his first letter to the Corinthians. His purpose is important. He wants to show the connection between Scripture’s words about sexuality and “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). I have included the passage below, but since it presents some lesser-used reasoning, I will also paraphrase it, which I have found to be a useful practice with difficult passages. Paul, I hope, would approve.
Here is the original.
 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:12–20)
Here is a paraphrase.
Notice how we can find a belief, somewhere in our souls, that we are independent agents, free to make our own decisions. This belief can be aroused when we hear that we “are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). But be careful.
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Peace with Ourselves

The path of peace is a precious one. There you hear the promise of God’s presence, you find hope and assurance that there is still more peace to be had in Jesus, and you receive a benediction. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thess. 3:16). This is worth working for.

We have heard the message of forgiveness, but the signal becomes weak with certain sins. For example, do you have regrets? Persistent regrets often carry a message that says to the Lord, “What I did was really bad, and I feel really bad about it”—a message that can quickly drift toward legalism that acts as though deeper contrition will find more grace. You will not find peace on that path. We can be prone to categorizing sins into our own eclectic version of venial and mortal sins. Common sins such as speeding and a brief loss of temper are easily forgiven; uncommon and public sins are not. Look for old sins to which you privately say, “I can’t believe I did that.”
Regrets might be a result of the continued consequences of those sins. For example, if your negligence left you or other people with enduring struggles, those reminders are persistent and weighty. Yet regrets can never be left unattended. They are evidence that all things have not yet been made fully new, though they will be. Meanwhile, God forgives fully from all iniquities (Ps. 130:8), for “with him is plentiful redemption” (Ps. 130:7). He forgives completely because He is the forgiver, not because you are forgivable. He washes you clean; He Himself does not see you according to your sins, but you share in how the Father sees the Son as, by faith, you have been joined to the Son. Also notice how the Apostle Peter writes that spiritual malaise can be a result of forgetting that we have been cleansed from “former sins” (2 Peter 1:9). Regrets from past sins are not to be trifled with. Best to give them fully to God as a way to honor the work of Jesus Christ.
Look, too, for sins done against you, especially by those who were responsible to love you. As a general rule, if you have been treated disgracefully, you believe you are a disgrace, and you are left on high alert for when your disgrace will be fully exposed. Peace cannot abide with such shame. That path toward peace is possible only when shame is met by hope that “those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps. 34:5).
Things future. Even without resonant guilt and shame, we all have our fears and anxieties, and these likewise compete against peace. Many of those fears are well founded. A very hard event may, indeed, be at hand. And these fears appear against a backdrop of fears and anxieties that are present no matter what the forecast. In my own life, if I simply turn my attention to my children and grandchildren, I find that there might be a passing moment in which everything seems fine, and then I suddenly remember one trouble, then another; one future danger, then another.
All this is to say two things. First, if you feel burdened and anxious, Jesus’ words of peace are directed to you. Second, peace will encounter more resistance than you might expect.
Peace Pursued
Now the work continues. We all desire peace, but we don’t all pursue it. We might seek peace as an occasional hobby rather than a need that borders on desperation. So we proceed by remembering that this is a promise of God to us, and we can insist that His Spirit lead us on the path of peace.
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Be Angry and Do Not Sin

Slow down. Reaffirm that you put your trust in your Father who judges justly. Pray that the Spirit would anoint you with wisdom and grace, as you remember the grace that you have received from Christ. If you have missed this path, you have yet to find the place that Paul gives to righteous indignation.

Ephesians 4:26–27 makes room for anger that is not sin.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
The problem is that we are happy to exploit what seems to be a legal loophole. Anger, in its very nature, is self-justifying. My anger is righteous; your anger is not. So if we are to find some righteous wiggle room here, we must proceed very carefully.
Let’s begin with what is clear. The passage names anger as a close neighbor of the devil. At a moment’s notice, anger can drift toward his murderous ways, and we transform into something less than human. With this in mind, Paul also writes, “Let all… anger… be put away from you” (Ephesians 4:31). Our anger, therefore, puts us on high alert. Best to put ourselves in chains until it passes.
Since Paul’s words in Ephesians give no specifics on anger without sin, we turn to the illustrations on which he relied. We turn first to Jesus who, indeed, could be angry without sin. He was angry when money changers interfered with the Gentiles’ worship of God (John 2:13–16). He was angry when children were kept away from him (Mark 10:14). He was angry with Pharisees who opposed a healing and preferred to use the law to place a burden on the people (Mark 3:1–6). He was angry when his disciples wanted judgment rained down on a Samaritan village rather than mercy (Luke 9:5–55). Paul, too, could be angry in his rhetoric against those who hoped to put Christians under the law of Moses (Galatians 5:12). What these and similar passages have in common is that this anger was never in response to personal attacks, but it was on behalf of those who had been wronged. What did Jesus do with personal attacks? He followed the ways of the psalmists and entrusted judgment to his Father (1 Peter 2:23).
The Ephesians passage is a quote from Psalm 4:4—a reference that might give more insight.
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Back and Forth with God: A Sentence That Reshaped My Relationships

During my first year in seminary, I stumbled across a sentence that would deeply shape my relationships with God, those closest to me, and the people I would counsel. It was a year when Scripture appeared to me as a series of fragments. They were all good fragments, but the pieces seemed to lack coherence — and that lack of coherence could sometimes feel painful. So I was always alert to books and ideas that could help me see one story in Scripture rather than an anthology of short stories.

I was reading J. Gresham Machen’s book The Christian View of Man with that in mind, and a comment caught my attention. It was something like this: as God is personal, so man is personal. Ah, here was a grand unifying principle for Machen; perhaps it would become one for me. Then I searched the book for how he defined personal, but I never quite found it. I did, however, file the observation away.

Around the same time, I read Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos. He wrote so well about Christ as the center of Scripture, which set me off in a direction that I am still on. As a result of that book, I would keep track of literature from Vos (and Catherine Vos’s children’s books), and that’s how I stumbled across the sentence. Vos gave me a perspective on God-as-personal that was both cognitively and spiritually satisfying.

To be a Christian is to live one’s life not merely in obedience to God, nor merely in dependence on God, nor even merely for the sake of God; it is to stand in conscious, reciprocal fellowship with God, to be identified with him in thought and purpose and work, to receive from him and give back to him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces. (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 186)

Back and Forth

All these years later, I still remember what it was like to read those lines.

“Our relationship with God depends on words in which the conversation is passed from one to the other.”

“To be a Christian is . . .” Vos is giving me his understanding of the heart of the Christian life. I’m all ears. “Not merely obedience . . . nor merely in dependence . . .” Where is he going? Had Vos drifted into heterodoxy, and I am the last to know? “To stand in conscious, reciprocal fellowship . . . to receive from him and give back to him in the ceaseless interplay of spiritual forces.” That is what Machen meant by personal. Something was unlocked.

Today, the sentence might appear in shorthand whenever I say or write the phrase “back and forth.” Our relationship with God depends on words in which the conversation is passed from one to the other.

God says, “Let’s talk” (Isaiah 1:18). The conversation can then begin with him or me.

God says, “What is on your heart? Tell me” (Psalm 62:8). Then I tell him, and he hears what I say. He responds with compassion, or he simply enjoys that his child talks about what is important to him, and he acts.

Then he continues to speak, through his word, by his Spirit, and I get to be affected and changed by what he says.

Back and forth. Reciprocal fellowship. The ceaseless interplay of spiritual beings.

Brought Near in Christ

Moses comes to mind. After the exodus from Egypt and the people’s immediate descent into idolatry, God speaks to Moses about the people “you brought up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:7). When Moses doesn’t protest, God speaks to Moses about how his consuming wrath may, indeed, be up ahead for the people. Then Moses understands that God is giving him room to respond, and he accepts the invitation. He appeals to God’s past promises to the people, his reputation before the nations, and the fact that they are “your servants . . . your offspring.” In response, the Lord “relented” (Exodus 32:14).

And the back-and-forth continues. The Lord says, “My angel shall go before you” (Exodus 32:34). In case Moses missed another invitation to speak, the Lord clarifies, “I will not go up among you” (Exodus 33:3). Moses, perhaps emboldened by the previous conversation, responds, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). God’s response is again a simple one: “This very thing that you have spoken I will do” (Exodus 33:17). Back and forth. This series of conversations between God and Moses reaches its zenith when the Lord reveals that his steadfast love and faithfulness will now be expressed in forgiveness of sins (Exodus 34:6–7), which means that Moses might not be the only one who can engage God with confidence.

And then the Gospels come to mind. “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29), descends the ladder that separates heaven and earth, and his face is turned toward all of his people in the most intimate of ways. Jesus speaks, we listen and are reshaped by what he says, and then he invites us to speak, and he, God himself, is affected by our words to him. This is what God has accomplished in the gospel. In Christ, we have been brought near to God (1 Peter 3:18). Like Abraham, we now have been called friends (John 15:15), and we speak with each other.

Personal Overflow

God has now placed me among his people. This means that he brought me close to himself, and he invites me to speak — the more words the better — in a personal back-and-forth of knowing and being known. And he actually desires this personal closeness. Who would have thought it? When I look for how this has taken root in my heart, I notice that I am more eager to pray. I speak to God about the good and about the hard, often without any requests attached. I tell him more often that I love him. This, I think, has actually enhanced the fear of the Lord in my life rather than reframed prayer as though it were merely casual talk among friends.

“God has brought me close to himself and invites me to be personal with him, knowing and being known.”

This overflow has certainly affected my relationship with my wife. Until the ways of the personal God became part of me, I would invite my wife to share her heart, but I shared my own heart less — not because I was ashamed or she was reluctant to hear, but because I was more interested in hearing about her than I was in talking about myself. Now, each day, I prepare. What is on my heart today that I want to speak to Sheri? Then, of course, I aim to speak it to the Lord, who cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

Each week this finds its way into my counseling. For example, after someone shares his or her heart with me, at some point I will say, “Let’s speak those things to the Lord.” With anxious people, God’s invitation to speak with him is the central message. Philippians 4:5–6 captures it: God is near, so don’t just be anxious and try to manage your world — talk with him. Collect your thoughts. Find words for your anxiety. And what are your worries saying? There is usually a message in them.

In my teaching, the Psalms appear more frequently. They are, after all, lessons in how to speak with God. I usually suggest that each psalm is a response to a question. “Tell me,” asks the Lord, “what is on your heart?” In my writing too, a recent book was titled Created to Draw Near. Vos was used to set me on this course decades ago.

Unending Exchange

As I observe the world around me, I find that this back-and-forth is so fundamental to the ways of God and his kingdom that it overflows throughout the world. For example, good friends share their hearts with each other. Spouses share their hearts with each other. That’s what you do with people close to you. Hold back and it feels like a betrayal.

All this is to say, here is a long sentence from a Dutch theologian that has touched my heart, and I pass it on to you. “To be a Christian is . . .” To obey? To depend on? To glorify? Yes, all these, but let your answer be reshaped by the personal God who created us in his image so that we can participate as no other creature can in the pleasure of an unending back-and-forth of words spoken in love.

Life in the Blood

You need what only he can give, and he delights to give it. Receive him with thanks, and get accustomed to feeling unworthy and on the receiving end of blessings. Be willing to benefit from his life and sacrifice.

There are still many things Jesus said that I don’t quite understand. This one certainly stands out.
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:53–55)
Jesus is speaking to a diverse group of Jews—some believed, and some wanted to see if he would do a few more miracles like when he fed the five thousand. In such situations, Jesus could be more provocative and cryptic. Yet, at the same time, his purpose was that the people would believe in him, the Son of Man, sent from God. For those with ears to hear, what were they thinking about him at this point? Eat his flesh? Drink his blood?
Perhaps the most similar use of this concept is found in a lovely episode in David’s life (2 Samuel 23). While on the run from his enemies, David openly mused about the wells of Bethlehem and how pleasant it would be to drink from them, which was impossible given that the Philistines were garrisoned there. These were the words of a man who had been on the run for a while, and his thoughts were returning to things familiar. Little did he know that three of his “mighty men” heard these words and considered it an opportunity to bless this man whom they loved like a brother. At great risk to their own lives, they brought David water from the Bethlehem well.But he [David] would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” (2 Samuel 23:16–17)
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Enduring in the Midst of Depression

Truth fades quickly when it competes with the chronic pain of depression. Frequent trips to Scripture and truth were the order of the day. “I have tried to have resets throughout the day by reading a wise book or devotional.” A few followed this time in Scripture by “repenting of misplaced hopes and trust.”

In the summer of 2021, a question appeared on the CCEF website: “What has helped you to endure in the midst of depression?” We received 365 responses—each one a gift. Thank you. If you were to read them, you would have been strengthened in your faith in Jesus. I certainly was, and I plan to read them again. They remind us that there are many fine people, some of them within reach, who fight every day, with every speck of life and every resource the Spirit gives them. They are heroes of the faith whose strength and beauty are seen by some of us now, by all when faith becomes sight.
Everyone who endures hardships by faith in Christ stands in the tradition of witnesses. Israel was called upon to be a witness to the greatness of God in contrast to the emptiness of idols. “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 43:10). Witnesses are those who believe that God exists, and they draw near to him even when they have only heard his words and not yet seen him (Hebrews 11:6). They continue to draw near when they endure fiery tests.
Survey Results
Here is how these witnesses were helped as they endured depression.
The basic summary of the answers is what you might expect:

daily time in Scripture supplemented by anything spiritually good,
time in prayer,
time with people who understand and care well, and
wise routines.

These might seem ordinary, but they are evidence of the Spirit’s power, and they are truly impossible when you feel as though all life has left your body, soul, intellect, and affections. When Scripture suddenly becomes a foreign language, a normal person will not take the time to decipher it, but those who endure by faith will keep trying. When you live with accusations—“you are a failure, nobody loves you, you don’t deserve to live”—why would you turn to God? When you believe that even if God loves you, he loves you less than the upbeat people in the church—why would you turn to God? One person wrote: “I ruminate on things that are so unhelpful.” Those ruminations were about how God was displeased with him. But those who endure work hard to not give these questions or their answers the last word. Instead, they turn to Jesus because they have a faint memory that he “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev 1:5). And they know they will not find life anywhere else.
Here are some details from the survey.
1. Time in Scripture. For the depressed, this can mean: the truth, force-fed. “I have to remind myself that God loves me every day, and pray every day, whether I feel like it or not.” If you ever had to eat when you had absolutely no appetite, you know how hard this can be.
Aim for “slow listening.” By this, this individual meant that he waited to hear one thing that could possibly be good for his soul, and then he held on. Respondents slow listened to Isaiah 61:1–3, Psalm 27, Psalm 131, Zephaniah 3:17, Romans 5, Hebrews 11, 1 Peter 1, or anything that said, “but God,” or a hymn book, or the Book of Common Prayer. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy made a few lists, as did biographies of old saints of the church, especially those digested by John Piper. Some were able to read. Others could only listen — to sermons, podcasts, music, and a spouse who “just read Scripture, even Leviticus.”
“I have to think hard about the suffering of Jesus and the eternal joy that followed.” Think hard? Amazing. Most of us don’t think hard about spiritual truth after a good night’s sleep and a day that seems manageable. Another said, “I lost my ability to think.” This is a common reality of depression. But here is that evidence of power: “At that bottom, I was met by the Man of Sorrows and high priest who had suffered.” And then, they must find him again tomorrow. Truth fades quickly when it competes with the chronic pain of depression. Frequent trips to Scripture and truth were the order of the day. “I have tried to have resets throughout the day by reading a wise book or devotional.” A few followed this time in Scripture by “repenting of misplaced hopes and trust.”
About 20% of respondents found refuge in God’s sovereign control over all things, including their depression. This is more than I anticipated, but it should be no surprise. Job and Habakkuk have led the way. Both men, each approved and loved by God, faced great suffering, and both had very personal encounters with the Lord. They asked God questions, and he actually spoke with them. In visitations such as these, people bow to God’s greatness and authority. They learn that he is the LORD. Habakkuk said, “I hear, and my body trembles . . . I will quietly wait for the day of trouble” (Hab 3:16). Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6). The eyes of both men were diverted from the troubles of the day to something bigger, which freed them to grow in simple obedience and joy.
One woman was led to this same place through the greatness of God’s presence and love.
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God Scares Me to Death

Through it all, you don’t want terror to be a dominating or last word. Instead, the fullness of the triune God has been displayed to us in Jesus Christ. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). Keep turning toward him, whether that process is clumsy, awkward, brief, or a bit chilly.

God is sovereign. He does as he pleases. This comforts some people—
If you have lost a child or a spouse, especially in a sudden or unexpected way, “God scares me to death” might sound familiar. If you have had any close brush with death, this might sound familiar too. You are vulnerable. Images of God as protector are now meaningless. Instead, at any moment, the worst possible event could befall you, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. It might seem that you have already endured his worst and there is nothing of value left to take, but you know there could be other worsts that you cannot even conceive of. God terrifies you.
You are not only terrified of God. You also continue to believe he loves you and is with you by the Spirit. You still believe that nothing will separate you from him. But there is this new place in your heart: God terrifies you. And it has taken up residence. Meanwhile, the people around you do not seem to be particularly terrified of God. If they are, no one is saying so.
For friends. Let’s acknowledge that we are substandard comforters of those who grieve. We might be attentive for the first week after someone we know well has lost a child, but we assume that everyone then moves on. So, today, reach out and say, “my heart still breaks over the loss of your child.” Men, of which I am one, are especially unskilled at this care, both giving it and receiving it.
Say something. Say something.
For you who have endured great loss. Some words are harder to acknowledge than others. “It still hurts” is easier to say than, “I am undone,” which is easier to say than, “God terrifies me.” The first seems more acceptable, more orthodox, than the last. But others who were identified as righteous have said it before you.
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