Editor’s Note: This article is offered to provide a general overview on depression from a biblical and spiritual perspective. It is in no way intended to replace clinical, medical or health professional’s advice or directives.
Depression is a powerful weapon of the enemy. It is effective in deterring and distracting people from reaching their potential and accomplishing their goals. One of the reasons depression is so effective is that often this debilitating illness can not be traced to one incident or one factor. Certainly, significant setbacks and tragedies can be linked to depression, but often Satan prefers it when the hurting have difficulty determining a cause for chronic sadness, for that inhibits the ability to determine a path for remedy.
Perhaps this is why Psalm 40 was written. It is a Psalm of sadness and no one knows when or why it was written. It does not seem to be tied to any particular event. This is interesting as king David’s life is well profiled in Scripture and Bible scholars are able to identify what was happening in David’s life when most of his 80 Psalms were written.
Psalm 40 is a striking exception—particularly because if notes a profound hurt and an amazing rescue from the pit of despair.
In this teaching based on Psalm 40, I share helps and suggestions regarding how to move through periods of depression even if the causes are not abundantly clear. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but help is available.
STUDY NOTES FOR THE TEACHING ON DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
Lead verse: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.” (Ps. 40:1-3)
DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
Let me preface this section by noting that depression is a real medical issue which can require counseling, medication, and assessments from highly trained medical professionals. However, the following general, biblically based principles have proven helpful for many__my prayer is that they will be helpful for you.
Depression is the #1 illness in America today. More than ever before, people inside and outside the church are classifying themselves as being depressed or discouraged.
More than 300 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were written in America last year. The number of people diagnosed with depression is increasing by about 30% each year for the last 5 years.
In America, more than 100 attempt suicide every 12.8 minutes. Sometimes there are biochemical imbalances which contribute to depression—but in many cases, there is no physiological issue. This means, if one can change their perception, behavior, and thought processes, then the fears, worries, and anxieties of life can substantially decrease.
In recent years, A number of “successful” movie stars, performers, and music artists became overwhelmed by depression and committed suicide. The abbreviated list includes Robin Williams, Phil Seymore, Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Kurt Corbain, Mya-Lecia Naylor, Clay Adler, and Naomi Judd. Notable leaders such as President Lincoln, President Wilson, Virginia Wolf, Mark Twain, Martin Luther, Charles Stanley, Rick Warren, Charles Spurgeon, and Winston Churchill also suffered with depression. Biblical characters such as Moses, Jonah, Elijah, and Jeremiah also suffered with depression. If you are weary, discouraged, or depressed, you are not alone. The question is, what can you do to pull yourself out of the pit? Consider what insight can be gleaned from the story of David.
It can be argued that David had reasons to be depressed: His brothers did not respect him, Goliath tried to kill him, and his encounter with Bathsheba (a young woman) led to bad choices, death, and heartache. One of his children died in infancy, his daughter was sexually assaulted, a son launched a rebellion, a long-time friend turned against him, his best friend died in battle, and he was pursued by king Saul and spent years on the run.
There were periods in David’s life when he, a key figure in biblical history, was depressed. In Psalm 40 he wrote of his darkness, and how he moved out of the pit of despair. “I waited patiently for the LORD” David wrote, intimating that it seemed to him that the Lord was slow to respond.
David continued: “He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.”
David wrote: “I was in the slimy pit. I was in the mud and mire…” Have you ever felt that way? Many have. This is what helped David to move out of the pit of despair:
- Remember the promises of God: For people of faith today, the promises of God include the promise of joy (John 10:10), new power (Acts 1:8), victory (Romans 8:37), the concern and care of God (1 Peter 5:7), and that promise that our tears will not last forever (Psalm 30:5). Focusing on the promises of tomorrow can help one to endure the pressures of today.
- Know the enemy plays dirty: He recognized that discouragement is one of the enemy’s favorite weapons. Discouragement is powerful and contagious. There is a well-known story from the days of Moses—the books of Exodus and Numbers reveal that Moses faced-down Pharoah and with the help of God, and led almost 2,000,000 Hebrews from Egypt across the Red Sea and toward the promised land. One year later, the people were to cross the Jordan and enter the “promised land.” Before this happened, Moses sent 12 “spies” to survey the area—the youngest among the 12 were Caleb and Joshua. After surveying the land, the 12 returned and were asked to give a report. The older men were adamant that they should NOT enter the land for the enemies there were too powerful. This is what how the Bible depicts young Caleb’s response:
“…Caleb tried to encourage the people as they stood before Moses. ‘Let’s go at once to take the land,’ he said… But the other men who had explored the land with him answered, ‘We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!’ So they spread discouraging reports …’The land we explored will swallow up any who go to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants …We felt like grasshoppers next to them, and that’s what we looked like to them!’” Numbers 13:30-33
The story notes that within 24 hours, the rumors and doubts spread by the ten negative and discouraged men impacted the entire group of almost 2,000,000 Hebrews such that only Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Caleb, and Miriam were willing to move forward. Discouragement and depression is powerful, contagious, and can absolutely stop you from moving forward.
- Optimists are rare. Remember, the positive view is usually the minority view. In the Moses/Caleb story, only a few remained optimistic and positive__and only a few were blessed of God. The rest were provided for in the wilderness, but kept from crossing the Jordan and entering the “promised land.” Fast forward 3500 years to our time, and it is still the same. The negative outnumber the positive many times over. The wise know this are and are not easily swayed (discouraged) by setbacks and negative comment. They know the odds are against them and are OK with that. Being positive and optimistic means you will be in the minority. You will believe when others doubt and you will have hope when others are ready to give up. You must be prepared to swim against the current in order to remain positive in a pessimistic world.
Remember, the enemy is crafty, and negative views and accusations often are wrapped with a kernel of truth. Do not give up pursuing a good goal because someone overstates the cost, difficulty, or danger. Yes, succeeding when the deck seems to be stacked against you will be difficult. But you CAN beat the odds. Listen to the One who is for you, created you, and desires to help you.
In the Caleb/Moses story, there were enemies__many enemies, but their numbers and size were exaggerated. Fear is like a magnifying glass that makes everything look bigger than it really is. Are there real barriers to break through and hurdles to overcome? Sure, but you are not alone. Others have succeeded and you can too.
- Perspective: Having the right (big-picture) perspective can make all the difference. Many things can look bad in the moment; focusing only on the bad, only on the negative, only on what is not happening, only on the trouble, only on the pain and pressure of today, etc. can be overwhelming.
When times are tough, take a breath; say a prayer; believe that there may be help around the corner; have hope. You don’t need to have all the answers or know all of the whys in order to have hope__you just need to believe that the impossible can happen. The truth is, God never changes and millions of people of faith today testify that miracles still happen. The Apostle Paul, who had some very difficult seasons in his life, wrote:
“[This] is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long…So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
And know that staying positive requires filling your mind (continually) with positive things. The Apostle Paul provides this counsel:
“Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
- Vulnerabilities: Know where the low points in your wall are. That is, what are your “triggers?” What set’s you off? What brings you down? When the biblical character Nehemiah set about to help the people of Jerusalem rebuild the wall about the city (which can symbolize the task of rebuilding our lives), the first thing he did was make an honest, objective assessment. He took a few men and examined the area and surveying the wall. He identified the weak or “low points” in the wall, then made a plan to strengthen the weak areas (see Nehemiah 2:12-13).
Discouragement often has triggers. Maybe it is a certain place, a lack of sleep, a poor diet, spending time with negative people, a lack of exercise, missing (or becoming tolerant to) medications, certain music, etc. Moses became discouraged when he tried to do it all by himself (Jethro counseled him to appoint helpers which was greatly beneficial). Elijah became discouraged when he had unrealistic expectations (and only came around when God told him to trust him more__assuring him that He had his back). Job was tormented by his negative “friends” )make sure you have positive people in your life__reach out to them when you are down). Where are your “low spots” and how can you take steps to avoid, mitigate, or grow to better address those issues.
- Acknowledge what isn’t working. If you keep doing the same thing and find that the actions lead to disappointment and discouragement, then reset and try a different approach or something else. I understand this is often more difficult than it sounds. For example, many inmates are unaware of the behaviors that led them to prison. Sadly, if those behaviors are not changed, they will find true happiness and will not remain free.
Change can be difficult and unsettling, but refusing to change habbits, behaviors, and perceptions will likely compromise your being able to see any real difference in your happiness, confidence, or overall situation.
- Replace the negative with positive: Removing a negative behavior or element from your life is good, but you MUST replace it with something positive. Our spirits do not like gaps (time, emotions, schedules, routines, relationships, spiritual, etc.) and will naturally seek to fill the gap. Make sure you fill voides with something positive. If, for example, you remove over-eating from your routine (which can lead to low self-esteem and depression), you need to replace that time/energy/focus with something positive (such as serving others, a positive hobby, or a healthy endeavor such as cycling or jogging).
And finally, to position to guard against depression…
- Establish and rely on a support system: Spend time with individuals who care for you, will pray with and for you, will encourage you, and are committed to help you stay strong. Call on these people when you re weak. Let someone know when you are having a bad day. Reach out BEFORE you spiral.
No one is wise enough or strong enough to be at their best when they are alone. We are better together. The Church is God’s gift to this age, and in the Church one can often find friends, confidants, encouragers and helpers who will facilitate in our lives, hope and our physical and spiritual well-being.
The video to the Dealing with Depression by Gary Ray is below: