The Priority of Prayer
If you've ever been caught in the quagmire of depression or anxiety you know how impossible breaking free from the grip of those grim or terrifying thoughts feels. No amount of "reason" can out-reason your darkness. No matter what your actual circumstances are, you feel as if you are teetering on the thin line between life and death.
"...for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so....O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." - HamletShakespeare demonstrates, through his tempted and tormented Hamlet, what any mental sufferer knows: no external force can directly destroy the soul of a man. It is the response of the mind and heart which directs it down a path which leads either toward spiritual life or death. Long before Shakespeare, the writers of Scripture taught that spiritual warfare, the battle for our souls, takes place, in large part, in our minds, and that to win this battle we must take control of our thoughts.
For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ..." 2 Cor. 10: 3-5The very fact that the Bible refers to this process as warfare should make it clear that there is nothing easy about it, and that forces are arrayed against us trying to foil us at every turn. Whether we recognize it or not, we are all in this battle, but those of us who suffer from emotional disorders are often keenly aware of it. For this reason, I would go so far as to say that this weakness of ours can be turned to our advantage in our warfare, for as the apostle testified:
"But he [God] 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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor. 12:9-10Weakness becomes strength when it leads us to connect through prayer to the power and love of the almighty God. Since there are few times we feel weaker than when we are suffering from depression or anxiety, these times, rather than destroying us, can lead us to even greater strength. I am certainly not suggesting by this that we should wallow in mental suffering. Rather that we should determine to use this weakness of ours as a reminder of our desperate dependence upon God's strength.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints...*" (Eph. 6:10-18 emphasis mine)In this famous passage about spiritual armor we are taught to prepare ourselves for the inevitable spiritual attacks. The pieces of armor we must don are listed, and finally we are told "in all circumstances" to take up the "the shield of faith...the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times...." Take up the word of God, praying...Prayer is the manner by which we take them up....at all times...means we are to be continually communicating with God and depending upon Him to exercise His strength on our behalf.
What this means, practically speaking, is that we take all of our thoughts, cares, and concerns to God. We hold our thoughts, words, and deeds up to the light His words shed on them, asking Him to help us see them as He does. We ask for forgiveness for any sins it reveals. If we are afraid, we tell Him, and ask for faith to believe His wonderful promises. If we are feeling hopeless, we do the same. If we are confused, we tell Him, and ask for clarity and wisdom. If we are overcome by anger or unforgiveness, we tell Him, and we ask His help to remember the love Christ demonstrated to us while we were still his enemies. When what He commands seems too hard for us (and it often does) we ask for the strength and resolve we need to obey Him. It also means we take all our requests and desires hopefully to God, as a child does to a loving parent, trusting and expecting Him to answer in whatever way is best for us.
And if we do this we will find it to be true that even in the midst of a spiritual war...
the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.*Prayer and spiritual warfare are not meant to be solitary ventures. In a future post in this series I will discuss the importance of the church body to the spiritual maturity of each believer.
(In the next post in this series I will share the methods I've found most helpful when faced with an acute crisis of anxiety or depression.)
(You may read Part 6 in this series here.)