Overcoming Depression

Without getting into all the statistics on depression (and linked with depression: suicide) this is an area that is receiving more attention lately, especially with the recent suicide of Robin Williams. It shocked people because his depression was masked to many because of his humor and ability to make others laugh. But Proverbs 14:13 says: “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.” Laughter and humor can in fact be a temporary escape/mask for the pain and emptiness under the surface.

In this blog article I want to address some root causes of depression (this is not exhaustive).  But first let me state that over the years, even as a believer and pastor (sometimes even because of being a believer and a pastor!) I have wrestled on and off with depression/discouragement myself.  The root of it (and solution for it) has been different at different times and the degree or intensity of it has been different at different times for various reasons as well.  What I write below I have known not only by studying Scripture, but by personal experience. Everything I write below has been applicable to me at some time, in some way and in some cases multiple times. In fact, this was written because of a “fresh wave” of battling with it and it actually helps me to work through it in my own life when I write about it or speak to it…as I also remember I am not alone in the battle against it.

To begin with, I would suggest for many the root issue is separation from God and the emptiness and meaninglessness of life that produces, especially those who deny the existence of God. Scripture is clear that our iniquities have separated us from God (Isaiah 59). Until we deal with this issue (through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ) we will not know the joy, peace, hope and purpose that relationship with God brings. When our philosophy or creed is “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” there is an emptiness, a vanity, a depression that view creates in us. This is in stark contrast to the hope of eternal life we have in Christ and purpose that is found in relationship with Him. Ephesians 2:12-18 reminds those who have trusted in Christ of this fact: “Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ… For he himself is our peace…He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

My first point and plea to anyone reading this who suffers from depression or the “vanity” of life…turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. In Him is hope that is eternal. There is peace, joy, life, purpose and meaning. Turn from your sin and trust in God. Confess your sin to God. It is our sin that has separated us from Him, but Jesus died on the cross for our sin to reconcile us to God and make us children of God! The guilt of our sin can make us depressed, but through faith in Jesus He lifts that burden and removes our shame. Psalm 32:1-5 says: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” The burden of the guilt of sin can “sap our strength” and make us very depressed. But through confessing our sin and turning to Jesus who died on the cross for your sin, that burden can be lifted and joy flood your soul! If you have not confessed your sin and turned to Jesus to save you…do so even right now!

But for those who have been saved through faith in Jesus, I would encourage you to start here as well if you are depressed, not in being “saved” again (if you have truly been “born-again” you don’t need to be again: John 3:3; John 13:10) but what you may need to do is confess any sin that needs confessed. Not walking in fellowship with God can lead to depression. Denying sin and deceiving ourselves about sin can prolong depression. Check to see if you are truly abiding in Christ, remaining in His love, walking in obedience to the Lord. In John 15:9-11 Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” The reason some are depressed all the time is because of not walking in obedience to Jesus’ commands and remaining in His love, abiding in Him. We need to confess sin, not deny it and deceive ourselves. 1 John 1:6-9 says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Keep in mind sin is not just doing what is unrighteousness, it is also failing to do what is right. This can be another reason we are plagued with depression, we are not living in obedience to God. God told Jonah to go one direction, but he went another. So God chased him with a storm and he ended up in the belly of a fish. Imagine the darkness, hopelessness and depression of that place! Perhaps we are not obeying the Lord in what He is calling us to do and thus we are being plagued with depression. Now is the time to lift your eyes to Him in repentance and ask Him for mercy with a willingness to walk in obedience to Him. Then watch as you get “spit up” onto dry ground! The process may not be pleasant or comfortable, but it will be freeing!

Another cause of depression is lack of trust in the Lord. In John 14:27 Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” When we allow our hearts to be troubled we lack God’s peace and can become depressed. This is something you find the Psalmist battling with in his own soul numerous times throughout Psalm 42-43. Psalm 42:5-6 for example says: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Notice how the Psalmist is speaking to his own soul. He is not denying his emotions, but neither is he going to allow his emotions to control him. He is taking authority over his soul. He is recalibrating himself! And what he calls his soul to do is first of all to “put your hope in God.” That’s the first key in battling depression: “put your hope in God.” Depression tries to communicate to you that there is no hope. You feel hopeless or discouraged when depressed. Putting your hope in God means looking to Him and choosing to trust in Him even though you aren’t “feeling it.”

The second key is to begin to praise Him. Here again, when you are depressed the last thing you feel like doing is praising God. Yet this is exactly what you most need to do when depressed! When depressed we tend to focus on our pain and problems. This is an important key in combating depression. Often when depressed we are thinking of all that is wrong. What we need to do is refocus and remember who God is. He is our Savior and God! He being our Savior reminds us of many truths that impart hope and begin to attack depression in us. He being our Savior means He has saved us from the penalty and power of sin. It means He has reconciled us to God. It means our sins are forgiven. It means we have the hope of eternal life. It means He is our deliverer, healer, restorer, protector, provider, refuge, strength, fortress, strong-tower, shield, rock, light, salvation etc! And He is not just the Savior, but My Savior. He is not just God, but my God! And who is like God? There is none beside Him, before Him, above Him, beyond Him or like Him! All these thoughts about God ought to begin to counteract depression as we praise Him for who He is in our lives. Faith is the victory!

A great story in this regard that is illustrative is found in Acts chapter 16. In this story you find Paul and Silas, being falsely attacked, beaten, flogged and thrown in prison. Yet then we read something we might not expect to read: that at about midnight they began to pray and praise God! This is the opposite of what most of us would probably do. When I am falsely accused and verbally/emotionally attacked, I get depressed and discouraged. I tend to complain and wallow in my pain. I even get angry. Paul and Silas however began to pray and praise God! And because Paul and Silas prayed and praised God even in those circumstances (not ideal or comfortable at all!) it got the attention of the other prisoners. I guess so! Wouldn’t that get your attention and make you wonder what is different about these guys and want what they have? Wouldn’t it get the attention of those around us if they saw us pray and praise God despite our circumstances that are unfair or not ideal?

It also got God’s attention because out of the blue an earthquake suddenly hit and so violent was it that the foundations of the prison were shaken, the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose! It also woke the jailor up and he about killed himself thinking that the prisoners he was responsible for had escaped, but Paul stopped him and ended up leading he and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ! Then he baptized them and they tended to their wounds! Talk about a major reversal!

All because they began to pray and praise God. Think of it! Chains are broken, prison doors fly open, prisoners get set free, when we pray and praise God! Depression can be overcome through prayer and praise coming from a heart of trusting in and putting our hope in the Lord!

Philippians 4:4-9 pulls this all together. It says this: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Praise Him.  (Get away and alone with Him and put on some worship music and just begin to praise Him with all your heart whether you feel like it or not!  Or if working and needing to tend to other things, do what Scripture says: “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Ephesians 5:19-20).

Put your hope in Him.

Pray to Him.

Remember and refocus on God and who He is/His beauty.

Walk in obedience to the Lord.

Confess any sin that needs confessed and repented of.

Those are some key “keys” to combating depression. But keys do no good if they are not used. A door will remain shut and locked if we do not put the key in and turn it and push the door open. This is part of the struggle when depressed, you don’t feel like fighting but giving up and giving in. Yet, we must fight our way through it with the weapons God has given us of praise, prayer, trust, focus, confession of sin and obedience. Our soul will be bounced back and forth and we may not come out of it overnight. If you read Psalm 42-43 you see him go through these cycles as he seeks to come out of that cycle. You may be up one minute and down the next. Keep fighting. And understand this is normal.

There are some Christians who think Christians should always be “happy.” But I find that to be very shallow. I think those like this aren’t being truly honest with themselves either. And this only makes those suffering feel even worse. We all go through “seasons of the soul.” If you deny that what do you do with the book of Psalms? Talk about being up and down and all around emotionally! And what do you do with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before being led away to be crucified (and then while being falsely accused, mocked, spit on, beaten, scourged and crucified) was He “happy?” Last I read He was in such anguish in the garden that sweats of blood were falling from His body (a rare but documented medical condition that occurs when stress is severe enough). Last I read, He cried out in anguish on the cross “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” I know He was bearing the sins of the world on Himself (and as believers the burden of our sins has been lifted) and God never forsakes us as His children; but there are times it “feels” that way. In fact again, just read the book of Psalms. A Christian is blessed yes, but that doesn’t mean we always feel “blissfully happy.” Should we praise the Lord all the time? Certainly. Should we put our trust and hope in Him at all times? Absolutely. But Christians have a soul that is subject to every human emotion and feeling too!

Those who claim to never battle at times with being depressed I question whether they are being honest. I have seen some who I believe are lying to themselves and denying or suppressing their depression. They appear happy externally but they hide and deny and won’t be real with themselves or God or others. Many fill that void with other things to ignore their inner pain. They turn to things such as sports, work, people, drinking, drugs, etc to keep from seeing or dealing with what really is in them. But as Christians we don’t need to run and hide and deny and pretend. We can be honest before God and with God. He encourages us to pour out our heart and souls to Him and find rest in Him:

Psalm 62:5-8: “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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