Are You Battling Depression?January 21, 2020 Save Article
We all have trials in our lives. But many committed, earnest Christians experience something that goes beyond just feeling “down.” It’s depression. They battle a despair so deep it has put many in the hospital and quite a few in the grave. Depression is a killer, and God’s people are not immune.
As a pastor, I learned there is a heartache in every pew, and—as the old Spanish proverb says—“There is no home without its hush.”
“Down” Isn’t the Same as Depression
Feeling “down” is like a thunderstorm that comes and goes, but depression is a lingering fog that takes out the sunshine. Hopelessness overshadows life. You think you may never recover. You wonder, “Will I ever know joy? Will I ever smile again?”
If this sounds familiar, you’re in good company. Some of God’s greatest servants found themselves there.
- Moses got so depressed, he asked God to kill him.
- Jonah did the same.
- Elijah sat under a juniper tree and wished he might die.
- The apostle Paul talked of despairing even of life.
- John the Baptist’s despair had him doubting momentarily that Jesus was the Messiah.
- Winston Churchill called depression “a black dog” chasing after him.
- Charles Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher who ever lived, had times of depression. Spurgeon was a wise man who knew God—a man of warmth and wisdom. Yet he had bouts of depression that sometimes closed up shop for him.
- So did Abraham Lincoln.
- And so did King David, a man after God’s own heart, author of 73 psalms in the Bible.
King David was betrayed by Absalom, a beloved son. David lost his wealth, home, and power, fleeing for his life. When Absalom was killed, David wept, “…would to God I had died for thee, Absalom.”
Not only that, years earlier David had sinned against God and as a result, lost a little baby son he loved very much. The baby lived only a few days. Things could not have looked worse when David penned Psalm 42, which reads almost like a clinical description of depression. It’s obvious David is not just “down”—he’s depressed.
Depression isn’t “feeling sad.” We all feel sad sometimes. We all have broken hearts, disappointments, and faded dreams. But that’s not depression.
The Battle with Depression is Serious
The National Institute of Mental Health says, “Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. For some individuals, major depression can result in severe impairments that interfere with or limit one’s ability to carry out major life activities.” Millions of people are unable to go to work, debilitated by depression.
How can you know if you’re battling not just feeling “down”—but real depression? You may have some of these symptoms:
- A passive or listless feeling. You don’t feel like doing anything. It’s hard to be enthusiastic.
- A continual feeling of sadness—not one that comes and goes, but lingers.
- Nothing feels good or is worth feeling good about.
- Constant hopelessness. You believe it’s never going to get better.
- You’re convinced no one cares or understands just how you feel: “No one really accepts me.”
- You’ve lost all initiative. You’ve given up.
- Overwhelmed with sorrow, you have repeated crying spells.
- You wake up in the night for no apparent reason and have trouble going back to sleep.
- You wake up in the morning with a feeling of dread. It’s tough getting out of bed. You hate to face the day.
- You find yourself dwelling on your own death or thoughts of suicide.
- It’s difficult to make decisions or move through life.
- You distrust your own wisdom and keep second-guessing yourself.
- You’re irritable and cross with others for no apparent reason.
That’s not a complete list, but it may help you distinguish between feeling down or true clinical depression.
Many great men and women have talked about “dark nights of the soul,” where they were not just perplexed but depressed. It does no good to tell people, “Well, cheer up.” There’s nothing they want more. They’ve tried everything they know.
Turn to Psalm 42 written by David. Let’s read it carefully.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
David is spiritually dry.
David is like a wild deer hunted by a pack of dogs, panting for breath, thirsting for water. God seems far off. He felt his soul shriveling up.
When you battle depression, God doesn’t seem real to you. Everyone else in church seems able to rejoice and enjoy the music and preaching—but not you. David felt God had forgotten him: “I will say to God my Rock, ‘Why have You forgotten me?”(v. 9)
David is continually crying.
My tears have been my food day and night
David the mighty warrior is soaking his pillow at night with tears. When talking with some of his generals, he finds tears coming unbidden.
David feels shame and defeat.
… while they continually say to me, “Where is your God?”
His enemies mocked him. Do you sometimes hear an inner voice taunting, “You’ve been bragging about how great your God is. Where’s he now? Where’s all this victory you’ve been telling people about?” David feels he has disgraced God. He’s ashamed that he’s no model believer.
David has lingering memories of what once was.
It used to be different. He would come into the tent of meeting, singing, worshiping God among the multitude (v.4). But not now. This haunting memory makes it even worse. The devil whispers, “It’ll never be like it once was. It’s gone.”
O my God, my soul is cast down within me; Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan.
Are you haunted by memories of the past, longing for things to be restored as they once were?
David is overwhelmed by circumstances.
…and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar. Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.
He thinks of Mount Hermon, that snowcapped peak in Israel, 9,000 feet above sea level, source of the Jordan River, that runs all the way down to the Dead Sea—1,300 feet below sea level. He sees it as a metaphor for his own soul: “The torrent washes over me, and I don’t know where to turn or what to do."
Are you overwhelmed by circumstances?
Inside, that old nature, unredeemed, unsanctified, constantly scolds, “You have reason to feel sorry for yourself. You’ll never make it. Life isn’t worth living.”
But God has made provision for us, His children. This is where you must take control, as David did.
God didn't leave us to battle depression on our own.
Here is God’s answer for you.
1. Look inward—analyze your heart.
Take your soul by the nape of the neck, look your soul straight in the eye and say, “Soul, why are you feeling this way?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
Your soul is the “you” that lives inside: your emotions, mind, and will. David began talking to himself—to his soul. Ask, “Why am I feeling this way?” Has it been the death of a child? A spouse? You lost something precious to you? Maybe someone betrayed you. You were engaged and they broke it off. Your parents don’t respond to you the way they should, and you feel unloved. Your husband walked off with someone else, forsaking you and the children. You may have a broken heart or be haunted by the ghost of guilt.
You may feel God has let you down—David felt that way. But It’s not big enough to destroy the rest of your life.
Find out what it is. Get it out there so you can look it in the face. Once you honestly face it, you can start on the pathway to healing. Pour out your grief to God. He knows, understands, and cares. He is your help even when you cannot understand.
2. Look upward—recognize your help.
This is what David did.
Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the day time, and in the night His song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
David looked upward: “God, You are my help, my hope; You will command Your lovingkindness to me.”
A companion verse to Psalm 42 is Psalm 147:3-4
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name.
The God who controls this mighty universe is the great God who cares about your broken heart. You say, “I don’t understand.” Some lose their faith because in times of suffering they don't understand.
You don’t have to understand. Warren Wiersbe said, “Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.” David didn’t understand. He said,
I will say to God my Rock, “Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
God didn’t answer David’s “why.”
3. Look onward—realize your hope.
… Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.
David doesn’t mean a hope that’s just a vain wish. It’s a definite assurance in anticipation of God’s answer.
You are here by God’s appointment. You are in His keeping, under His training, for His time. No matter what is happening, it’s not God’s final plan. However bleak your current circumstances currently, God is with you.
For I know the thoughts I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:11)
God has a future filled with hope for you. He loves you. He’s going to meet the deepest needs of your heart. He’s going to turn your Calvary into an Easter and your heartache to a hallelujah.
Don’t let Satan blow out the candle of hope in your life. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice. Though Christians are not immune to trials, tribulation, pain, and suffering, take comfort in knowing God will see you through.