Depression, melancholy and the black bile. Many Christians have either had it, do have it or will yet have it and it seems to be getting worse, if we go by how many claim to be suffering 'stress' and stress related illnesses. Is it really getting worse? Or, are we now more aware of it? Were people more relaxed and contented in past generations? Or has society bred a generation of misfits at odds with themselves and life?
All this is driven home with regularity in dealing with other believers. Loss of zeal is one thing, but falling into the blackness of despair is another. Without succumbing to mind-numbing psychology and therapy which, it seems, has been the staple diet for much preaching in our generation, two things are of constant help.
First, the example of Elijah.
Here was one who had become discouraged at what he considered to be a range of failures. His own failure, the failure to see judgement fall, the seeming failure of God to honour his promises and word. It had become too much.
Second, Psalm 88.
How often the Lord's people arrive at the public means of grace dejected yet unable to communicate that without discouraging others. They hurt inside but smile. They are in pain yet remain silent. Too often in many places they arrive only to struggle in singing the banal repetitive unrealistic masochistic doggerel that passes for praise.
What then shall miserable Christians sing?
That question was posed by Carl Trueman, who made a number of helpful points as edited and summarised below.
First, there is the language of contemporary worship. A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party! Health, wealth and happiness has corrupted the content of worship.
Second, the exclusion of the psalmists' experiences and expectations has crippled the church and turned Christians into spiritual pixies. By excluding the cries of loneliness, dispossession and desolation from its worship, the Church has effectively silenced and excluded those who are themselves lonely and desolate.
Third, by excluding the psalms, it has implicitly endorsed the banal aspirations of consumerism, generated an insipid, trivial and unrealistic Christianity and confirmed its credentials as a club for the complacent.
What relief for the hard pressed believer to open God's hymn book and to sing what is really in our hearts. As Trueman says, let us learn once again to lament with the vocabulary, grammar and syntax of the psalms. This will give us the resources to cope in times of suffering, despair and heartbreak, and to keep worshipping and trusting through the blackest of days.
Further, you will develop a greater understanding of fellow Christians whose agonies make it difficult for them to prance around singing - 'Jesus wants me for a sunbeam'. Then too you will have more credible things to say to shattered and broken individuals.
The price for ditching the singing of psalms has resulted in the anaemic, the frivolous, the synthetic and the mundane becoming the norm. Spiritual pixies have replaced spiritual giants. But all is not lost. To the contrary, the outlook and aspiration of the Christians is expressed thus
Lord bless and pity us, shine on us with thy face, That the earth thy way and nations all may know thy saving grace. Ps 67