I am greatly blessed to have the privilege of preaching through books of the Bible week after week. I am continually astonished at how consecutive expository preaching enriches biblical counseling, and how biblical counseling enriches expository preaching.
I have been counseling a man I will call Rob who has been severely depressed for about two years. Rob says that his church leaders believe that his depression is caused by the fact that he has been unemployed during most of this time. They believe that the depression will lift when Rob finds a job.
Rob believes that his depression goes much deeper than this. Rob’s depression has sapped his energy and drive, so that while he has made some efforts to find work, he hasn’t done as much as he could. Rob’s wife is concerned that Rob is continually grumpy and often erupts in anger at her and the children. She wants to help him, but doesn’t know how.
During our meetings, Rob has expressed many regrets about the past. He believes that many years ago he made a huge mistake vocationally which has gotten his life off track. He also is tempted to be very bitter over how he lost his last job. Rob also said that during this time of depression he has had a very difficult time focusing and that his thoughts wander.
One of the assignments I gave Rob was to read Putting Your Past in its Place by Steve Viars, which addresses both the regrets we may have about bad past choices and the bitterness we may experience because of what others have done to us. I also gave him my booklet, “Help! My Anger is out of Control” which lists five things we need to tell ourselves when we are tempted to get sinfully angry.
A few weeks into my counseling with Rob, I started preaching through the book of Ruth. As I studied Naomi’s bitterness in chapter one, I was astonished at how much she sounds like Rob.
1. They both, like many depressed people, had an overwhelming sense of loss. Naomi lost her husband and her children, leaving her no visible hope for her future or for the continuance of her husband’s family name (Ruth 1:5). She said that she was “empty” (Ruth 1:21). Rob lost his job and his ability to provide for his family. He also felt that he had lost his dream to serve the Lord in another vocation.
2. They both, like many depressed people, were tempted to be embittered against the Lord. Naomi correctly understood that her calamities came from God’s hand (Ruth 1:13b) which she then interpreted to mean that the Almighty was against her, almost as if He was a divine bully (Ruth 1:20-21). She saw no way out of her predicament of poverty and isolation (Ruth 1:12-13). Rob also is sound theologically and believes that God is sovereign over all things. Rob believes that the Lord is the ultimate cause of the disasters in his own life. He is tempted to think that God is angry with him and has written him off. It has been said that atheists, who believe that they live in a world of chance, don’t have to deal with the philosophical problem of evil. Those of us who believe in a sovereign God have to cope with the reality that the bad things which happen to us are ultimately from Him.
3. They both, like many depressed people, failed to recognize the manifestations of God’s goodness to them. Naomi should have rejoiced that God had visited Bethlehem with rain, ending the famine (Ruth 1:6,22). She should have been thankful for a safe journey home from Moab (not to be taken for granted in the days of the Judges – see Judges 19:1ff). She said that she was “empty,” but Ruth, whom the Lord had miraculously saved, was with her, and was committed to taking care of her until death parted them (Ruth 1:16-17). She also was ignoring the fact that the Lord cares for widows and has made provision for them in His law (Psalm 68:5ff; Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Rob, too, was blind to the blessings God was still giving him. As Ruth was next to Naomi, Rob’s loving and supportive wife was with him in this trial and in the counseling sessions, eager to know how she could help him (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 31:12). His children profess faith. He is in an excellent church. God is using him to mentor younger, less mature, believers. Even though he has been without work for some time, the Lord has continued to provide for his family’s basic needs.
One of Rob’s assignments was to write down a list of reasons he has to be thankful to God and to review it and add to it daily. Another assignment was to make a list of the lies he is telling himself along with a list of biblical answers. As I read his list (copied below), I realized that he and Naomi had told themselves the same lies and needed the same biblical answers.
Another thing Naomi and Rob shared in common is that though they knew the truth well enough, they had spent too much time (as Lloyd-Jones would say) “listening to themselves rather than talking to themselves.” Rob needed to focus his mind on what is true right and honorable (Philippians 4:8-9).
As I continue to study the book of Ruth, I see that there are important truths in the rest of Naomi’s story which apply to all of us who are tempted to be bitter against God or in despair. The Lord graciously shows His lovingkindness to His people by redeeming us from trouble, even when our situation seems humanly hopeless or when the trouble is to some extent of our own making (Ruth 4:14-15). God has visited us with a Redeemer Who is the bread of life (Ruth 1:6; Luke 1:68). Nothing can separate us from His love.
Rob says that he is doing much better than he has at any time in the past two years. His thoughts are more focused and biblical. He has worked through his anger about losing his job in the past and has forgiven those who were responsible. His angry outbursts at home have diminished. He is energized in his pursuit of employment and is excited that the Lord may be opening some doors of opportunity. We are praying that he will find favor in the eyes of one to whom he can bring blessing (Ruth 2:2).
A final benefit of counseling Rob through his struggles is that I am able to better preach the book of Ruth to the hearts of the Robs and the Naomis in our congregation.
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How can you apply the truths of Naomi’s live to your life?
“Lies That I Listen to and Scripture’s Response” (Rob)
- I have messed up God’s plan for my life. God has no control over the direction of my life. I thwarted God’s plan for my life. I am now living out God’s “plan B” for my life.
- I’m thinking more highly about myself than I ought to.
- Ps. 23. Am I smarter than my Shepherd? It is He who leads me into valleys of dark shadows. It is He who tends to my needs in these places. He purposed this for my good. Verse 6 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”
- Titus 2:14. His purpose for me is not my success but His purposes. “…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
- Gen. 45:4-8; 50:15-21. God worked through causes and second causes of Joseph’s and his brothers’ lives. This was “plan A” for Joseph, his brothers and his father’s household.
- Is. 45:9-11; Jer. 18:5-6. I am the clay. He is in control even when I don’t think so and He is doing what He has planned all along. I am not where God wants me to be right now. I was not where God wanted me to be in the past.
- I’m treading on dangerous ground when I question what God is doing in my life. Paul speaking: You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Rom. 9:19-20). Note that his “purposes” are explicit throughout Romans 9.
- No good can come out of this.
- Gen. 45:1-14. Joseph revealing himself to his brothers in Egypt: “…do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…”
- Gen. 50:15-21. Joseph reassuring his brothers that God meant it for good though they meant it for evil.
- Eph. 1:11. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…”
- Ps. 23:6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
- I am of no use any longer for the Lord. I’m no good.
- God is the Potter and I am the clay. I am to be submissive to His will. Jer. 18:5-6; Is. 45:9-11.
- God works all things for those whom He loves. Rom. 8:29.
- Ps. 26:3, 11. As a believer I am to walk in God’s faithfulness and truth and not on my faithfulness. I am fickle at best. My integrity (i.e. Christ’s integrity) is one that was mercifully given to me.
- Josh. 21:45. Not one of His promises will fail for those who are His.
- Ps. 139. I am created good.
- James 1. Every good and perfect gift is from above.
- This is very self-focused.
- I remain in depression/affliction because of my disobedience.
- This may be so, and if it is, I am to confess my sins and rest on His gospel promise that I am already clean. Life in this world will require continuous foot washing. 1 John 1:9; John 13:1-20.
- Not all afflictions are for specific sins. God does send them to try and purify those who are His. 1 Peter 1:6-7; John 9:1-3
- Ps 23:6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.