It is important to see hope as something that makes a difference in our daily lives. Among the things hope affects are discouragement and depression. Most of us have experienced depression from time to time. Some of my heroes dealt with personal disconsolation. Among them Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century pulpiteer. On several occasions as thousands who came to hear him on a Sunday morning sang hymns and waited for him to come to the pulpit, the great preacher wouldn't appear. Finally, his deacons would go and knock on his study door. “Dr Spurgeon, you must come out. It is time for you to preach.” He would answer, “I can’t.” And the deacons would take up an offering and send him for several weeks on the French Riviera.
Depression can have a terrible hold on our lives. I am no exception to that, but it was not a major problem for most of my life. However, depression is a side effect of some of my cancer treatments. And I have had to learn to break out of the gloom. I have not always been successful, but I believe that what I have learned about this from Scripture will be helpful to many people. Psalm 42 is a great place to start. The psalm concludes with these words.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”
Many of you are familiar with a gospel song that comes from Psalm 42, Why So Downcast O My Soul, by Marty Nystrom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA-S_0LcRWs Listening to this music always lifts my heart. Psalm 42 calls us to put our hope in God. Let me point out some means of putting our hope in God.
Praise is a major theme of the Psalms from beginning to end. The Hebrew people sang these songs in wonderful worship. You may be familiar with the story from the writings of Josephus about Alexander the Great ascending the Temple Mount on his white charger prepared to destroy the city. But as he did he saw the people dressed in white ropes singing the Songs of Ascent as they worshipped and prayed for the Lord to spare their city. Josephus says Alexander got off his horse and bowed with them in worship.
Praising God will certainly be counterintuitive to you if you are suffering from depression. But that is the very first thing you need to do to break depression's hold. Another gospel song that declares this truth is Praise The Lord, made popular by The Imperials https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfTQg9whI-s . The lyrics read,
“For the chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you
That they drop powerless behind you.
When you praise Him.”
Praise is an act of the will. You can praise God even when you are feeling down.
Psalm 42 begins as the heart cry of someone who feels far from God. But in verse 4 the psalmist remembers glorious worship he has been part of in the past. Remembering is crucial to walking with Christ. We need to remind ourselves of what we know about God. We need to remind ourselves who God is. We need to remember what He has done for us. Remember His promises. In Psalm 42 we are called to remind ourselves of worship when we did feel like worshipping. Have you ever thought about this? When your heart is stirred as never before in worship, you are making memories that God can use to break depression when you are plagued with it?
- Talking to Ourselves
In verse 5 of Psalm 42, as in the final verse, the psalmist talks to his own soul. “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God.” The world, the flesh, and the devil will speak constantly to your heart. To counter those words you need to talk to yourself. You need to tell yourself to hope in God.
- Corporate Worship
Psalm 42 speaks of the joy of corporate worship. Ephesians 5:18-20 relates worshipping together to the filling of the Holy Spirit. I seldom think of the filling of the Spirit in these terms. But my idea that the filling of the Holy Spirit is something that only happens to individuals relates to a major American heresy. We think of spiritual growth, and service, and devotion as things we do alone. But we are filled with the Holy Spirit in communion with the family of God.
- Listen to God
Listening to God is another important tool in overcoming depression. I do not mean simply remembering precious things God has told me in the past. I am also talking about actively hearing His voice in the present. I do several things to hear God’s voice. First, I listen to great preaching. I thank God for the technology that brings me teaching and preaching by great preachers like Rick Warren, N.T. Wright, Michael Ramsden, Ravi Zacharias, Tim Keller, and the list goes on.
It is also important to listen directly to God in His word. God regularly speaks to His children in Scripture. And when I memorize a verse or a passage, I store God's word in my mind for Him to speak to me again and again.
I need to list meditation as a separate discipline here. When we spend time thinking about God's character, promises, directives, and assurances, He plants those things deep into our souls. In Psalm 119 David said he hid God’s word in his heart that he might not sin. God changes our character as we meditate on His truth. God will use this to transform our lives through the renewing of our minds. And breaking depression requires new thinking.
In our modern world we seldom think of rest as a spiritual discipline. However in Genesis 2:3 the Bible says God sanctified the Sabbath. Rest is Holy. When Elijah was discouraged and exhausted in 1 Kings 19, God gave him food, and He gave him rest.
I indicated earlier that some of my malaise has physical causes. I do not believe you have to have cancer for this to be the case. One of the physical and spiritual causes of depression is lack of sleep. I can devote time to rest. That may mean putting my cell phone out of reach, or even closing the computer, or turning off the TV at night.
Psalm 127:2 has been a favorite of mine for a long time. It says God gives his beloved sleep.
I had a chemotherapy treatment today. I often can’t sleep at all the first night after chemo. I can spend my wakeful hours in God’s word. And I can pray for my family and other prayer lists. But I also ask God to help me sleep.
Christian Fellowship is also an important tool for getting our minds off our own concerns. This can be difficult because when you are depressed you do not wish to be around people. But it is important to remember that we need one another in the family of God. Loving them and being with them is a blessing.
Giving will lift your spirits. In Acts 20:35 we are reminded that Jesus told us “It is more blessed to give than it is to receive. Giving someone else a gift brings more joy than receiving. This is especially true when your giving is being stretched by needs that God shows you. I am aware many of us no longer believe this. You have to put it into practice to realize how great this blessing is.
- Praying for Others
Praying for other people is an important discipline for our spiritual lives. And it is an important means of getting our eyes off our own feelings. Several days ago I was feeling particularly down. I had gone with my wife to a large grocery store with a coffee shop. While she shopped I set outside the coffee bar and tried to pray, not only for the people sitting at other tables, but for people entering and leaving the store. I cannot think of anything I've done in a long time that made me feel better.
Obedience is a crucial means of lifting our spirits. In Luke 16 Jesus told a parable about being faithful in small things. When you are down it is good to look for some small thing you can do to obey God. When we stand before God, we will will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But we can already hear Him whispering those words into our hearts as we obey even small things He has told us to do.
- Giving Thanks
Finally, I believe the most powerful tool for breaking depression may be saying, “Thank you.” Thanking God is at the heart of this. I occasionally try to devote and entire day to giving thanks that God is working in the lives of people I meet, that he is present in my life, that he is worthy of my praise.
It is also good to formally thank other people for things they have done for us. It is worth sending someone a card or going to the trouble of writing a letter to say “Thank you,” to someone who has blessed you.
I know I have given you a long list. But small measures are seldom enough to break the hold of moods. I recommend that you print out this list, and try to do most, if not all of these things. I do not want you to feel guilty because this is too much. But I do encourage you to work hard to break the hold of depression. Depression protects itself by keeping you from wanting to be freed from it. Your depression itself will fight anything you do to break it. Pray that God will change your desires and behavior as you ask Him to deliver you from depression.