Dealing with Depression

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Paul in prison sang songs of joy and said, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). How? Because he had already suffered the loss of all things and counted them as trash in order that he may gain Christ. He had his hope set on Christ and nothing, absolutely nothing, could shake that foundation.

Flood and fire may destroy land and countless riches but investing in heaven can never go wrong. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:39). We can be sure, in C.S. Lewis’ words, that “Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even… agony into a glory.”[1]

Of course, that is not to say it is easy. It is not. Paul suffered greatly. Paul once said, though he trusted in and rejoiced in the Lord, that he despaired of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8). He was real. He said he was sorrowful yet even in his sorrow he could rejoice (2 Cor. 6:10). How does that make sense? Should we label the Apostle Paul bipolar?

No. Paul was not bipolar. He simply had a rock solid theology and trust in God (Rom. 8:31-39; 2 Cor. 4:17). So we see, through the “case study” of Paul what we need to seek to implant in those struggling with depression: namely, trust.

I believe it is right to say that theologically trust has a lot of synonyms. I think of fear, worship, faith, and belief for example. Thus, in short, I think as Christians the fight against depression is primarily theological. Notice that in the many passages in Scripture in which depression is present you also see the actor calling out to God (cf. Ps. 73; 77:4-14).

Another “case study” in Scripture that is sometimes over looked is Ruth. Ruth and her family, indeed her nation, were going through a really rough time. If you look at her life from a thousand feet or fifty feet you would wonder why she is not hopelessly depressed. Her nation is in a state of persistent turmoil (Ruth 1:1) and people are doing whatever is right in their own eyes (Judg. 17:6; 21:25) thus she has to even be careful going out by herself (cf. Ruth 2:9). She has just gone through a famine (1:1). She is unable to bear children (culturally we cannot understand how difficult that was for her). She was left destitute when her husband and provider died. Not only that but her father-in-law and brother-in-law also died.

However, even in this she did not slip into lethargic depression. Her circumstances were terrible. There was nowhere to really look for hope. Even her believing mother-in-law was depressed (cf. 2:20-21, though, that is not necessarily to say wrongly depressed). How did Ruth carry on with her life and do what she needed to do in the midst of her dark times? Surely she did not feel like it. But how did she have a different response than Naomi?

I think we see that it was her trust in the LORD. Naomi tried to persuade her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab where it would be easier for them. Orpah went back to Moab but Ruth would not go. She said, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” She knew it would be difficult but she trusted the LORD and she went back to Bethlehem.

Ruth trusted the LORD and we see the impact that it had in her life. She went to Bethlehem, she went to the field to work, she did not mull over all that had gone wrong. We also see in an amazing way in the book of Ruth that God is supremely worthy of our trust. God was working His perfect plan behind the scenes. He was working good for Israel in the coming of king David; He was working good for Ruth and Naomi in the provision of Boaz; He was working good for us in the coming of the true King, King Jesus!

We see through the book of Ruth that trusting the LORD has practical implications for living life and we also see that the LORD is worthy of our trust. Also, note first that Israel certainly did not deserve what God was providing in king David. God was working His plan of redemption out during the time of the judges, a time of great unfaithfulness for Israel. Second, Naomi and Ruth also did not deserve Boaz. Ruth was a Moabite but God graciously provided. Third, we do not deserve the abundant and eternal redemption that is in Jesus the Christ yet God was working His plan out long before we even existed. God can be trusted! God is good!

Edward T. Welch says, “In depression, the new way of living is to believe and act on what God says rather than feel what God says. It is living by faith. To paraphrase Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is being certain of what we do not feel.’ In other words, when there is a debate between what your feelings say and what Scripture says, Scripture wins. Any other result and you are essentially telling God that he cannot be trusted.”[2] So, the fight of depression is the fight to go to the LORD and believe the LORD.[3]

Fight depression: be willing to die for something. We all need something for which to fight. It is in stagnant waters that disease is breed. Stagnation is not conducive to health. Rushing rivers tend to be the clearest.

Jesus said that it is when we give our life away that we truly find it (Matt. 10:39). Jesus lived to do His Father’s will (Jn. 5:19). You know why Jesus woke up in the morning, stayed up late, and worked like He did? Because He lived for one thing, to accomplish all that His Father had given Him to do. When we, likewise, live for God in all we do we have motivation in all of life. We have a cure for depression.

Paul knew that energizing truth: in all he did he sought God’s glory. He knew that he’s labor was not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). If there is someone in Scripture that I would think would be depressed and lethargic it is Paul. Paul, by his own admission, was the chief of sinners. He was repeatedly criticized by those he ministered to. He was not elegant enough in the way he spoke. Peter, one of his partners, and I am sure a good friend even said, “Paul is often hard to understand.” Many thought his theology was off. He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked. He was greatly concerned about all the various churches he had planted (2 Cor. 11:28). He invested heavily in the lives of others, gave and gave of himself, and was often betrayed. Yet Paul was motivated to spend and be spent in the labor of the Lord.

I would also conclude that you will be as motivated as you are captivated. Growing up, when Michael Jordan woke up in the morning, I am quite sure he was not thinking about the donuts that awaited him at the local bakery. Rather, he was thinking about winning a NBA Championship. When we, likewise, think of something bigger than ourselves and better than ourselves, namely, God and all His joyous promises, than it renews our motivation and kills depression.

The great preacher and doctor of the soul, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said in his book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures, that “we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ourselves to talk to us.”[4] What he meant was this, in his words:

The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’—what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His Countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.’[5]

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarpersCollins, 1946), 69.

[2] Edward T. Welch, Depression: The Way Up When You Are Down (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2000), 3-5.

[3]Charles Spurgeon said this, “One word of God is like a piece of gold, and that golden promise last for weeks… I only want to hammer that promise out into gold-leaf, and plate my whole existence with joy from it… So, then, poor Christian, you needn’t go pumping up your poor heart to make it glad. Go to your Maker, and ask him to give you a song in the night. You are a poor dry well: you have heard it said, that when a pump is dry, you must pour water down it first of all, to prime the pump, and then you will get some up; and so, Christian, when you are dry, go to God, ask him to pour some joy down you, and then you will get some joy up from your own heart. Don’t go to this comforter or to that one… but go first and foremost to your Maker, for he is the great composer of songs and teacher of music; he is the One who can teach you how to sing” (“Songs in the Night” a sermon on Job 35:10).

[4] Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, 23.

[5] Ibid., 21.