Overcoming Depression

Depression is one of the major problems in society today. It is very distressing when it comes on, affecting our whole attitude. It appears in practically every action performed. Many describe it as being acutely painful and it is more distressing in many cases than the most severe of pains.

Millions upon millions of people are depressed. Some people are so depressed that they see suicide as the answer to their problems. However, the real magnitude of the problem cannot be assessed by the number of people who choose suicide as the way out, as there are untold hours of misery occurring in the lives of hundreds of millions of people who never are extended to the point of suicide.

The cause of depression

It is generally agreed that practically all depression has its origin in something lost or something which is threatened to be lost—something to which a great deal of value is attached by the person. It may be a loved one who dies or moves away, the loss of one’s health which threatens social status and future security, the loss of one’s self-image by some disappointing experience, or the loss of one’s self-esteem by falling short of ideals which have been set. It is natural after the death of a loved one to feel an acute form of depression called grief.

A remarkably uniform picture can be anticipated in one’s body—feelings of distress come on in waves with a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscle strength and a generalised tension or mental pain. Accompanying this is that inner anguish, lack of interest in anything in a world which then appears dreary and dull, a feeling of isolation from other people and a loneliness and inner emptiness.

Examples of depression in the Bible

The word of God gives us many examples of men affected by depression. In some cases apparently there was no justifiable reason, whilst in others we marvel how they ever endured what they had to face.

Example one: Job

Job’s dejection comes in this latter class.  Often when we read the book of Job, we wonder how Job managed to keep alive his own soul. The things which he suffered and lost were bad enough, but when his wife and his three comfortable friends spoke against him, then it was the piling of sorrow upon sorrow. His downcast state was made very clear.

Job with his friends
"Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off! Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain— that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. (Job Ch.6:8-10)

The enduring of his sorrows enabled him to say those well-known words,

And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; (Job 19:26)

The knowledge that God was a vital force working His purpose upon him was a means of strength to Job and a hope held out to him. The end showed that Job was vindicated by God when he prayed for his friends. Thus the dejection was turned into encouragement when Job held on against overwhelming difficulties.

Example two: Jesus Christ

The Lord Jesus Christ was not free from sorrow. Especially as the cross drew near, a period of heaviness came upon him,

"Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. (John 12:27)

Although a period of great trouble came upon Jesus, yet there was the recognition there implied that this trouble was the will of God for him. Perhaps it is easy to talk of these things in quite comfortable surroundings, but it is very difficult to remember that our trouble is the will of God when the actual time comes. Again if we honour God by our submission, although perhaps we do not understand our difficulties, then in a sense we are glorifying God. We shall be co-operators with the Most High God, Who sees the end from the beginning and Who surely knows what certainly is best for us.

With that knowledge we can honour God and glorify His Name when depression in time of trouble comes upon us.

Example three: David

David in sorrow

When the trouble is real and depression cannot be avoided, then there are compensations to be found. David had his share of difficulties and trouble. Many of the Psalms reveal to us his difficulties. Psalm 31 David declares how his enemies caused much of his grief and how that his trust was in God. His cry unto God is:

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; My eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body! For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.   Psalm 31: 9-10

That dejection is understandable in David’s case. His trouble with Saul, his difficulties in rebellions against him at home and his grievous sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite are sorrows which brought heaviness to David. Yet we find that his troubles were always balanced with a trust and confidence in God. In that same Psalm 31 his heaviness is pushed on one side when he exclaims,

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me for Your mercies’ sake. Psalm 31:14-16

His personal message of comfort is extended to us when he declares,

Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints! for the LORD preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD. Psalm 31: 23-24

Yes, David’s trust and confidence enabled him to overcome many of his difficulties. His words are for us that we might not be overcome with much sorrow, but rather that we should always find that which is praiseworthy and joyous in any difficult situation.

Example four: Jonah

Of course, there are examples of depression that are uncalled for because they are due to the weakness which accompanies distress. An example of this is seen in the book of Jonah. When God repented of the evil He said He would do to the Ninevites, it displeased Jonah and he was angry. Possibly the reason for this was because Assyria was a continual threat to Israel’s existence and the prophet hoped that this threat would disappear in their destruction. This despondency is seen in Jonah’s words,

Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:3)

If we consider this statement it is similar to the one made by Job (see example one above), but in very different circumstances. Job had real cause for his request, but not so Jonah. That is proved so by God’s own gentle rebuke to Jonah,

“Do you do well to be angry?”

He did not do well to be angry and despondent. He ought to have been glad at his deliverance from the fish and for the forgiveness extended to the Ninevites. Such depression is disappointing, especially to God.

God’s help and goodness are continually at hand for those in real trouble, but those who give way to every whim and natural feeling in self-pity, are not provoking pleasure in God. In Jonah’s case God allowed real trouble to come upon him as recorded in the last few verses of the book, and the depression of the prophet is maintained to the end.

In contrast Jonah could have rejoiced in the forgiveness extended to the Ninevites, but his self-pity blinded his eyes to the mercy of God and the joy to be seen in forgiveness. Perhaps those things can be applied to ourselves. If we are cast down in unimportant matters, it is probable that we shall miss much of the joy and rejoicing of our hearts, and perhaps the gentle chiding of our Father comes to us also…..Do you do well to be in despair?

Example five: Elijah

Often things are not so difficult and troublesome as they appear on the surface. An example of this is seen in those stirring events concerning Elijah. He had done valiantly for the Lord. Alone he had withstood the 450 false prophets of Baal in proving the Lord to be the true God. God’s promise of rain to end the period of drought was believed by Elijah who ran before Ahab’s chariot into the safety of Jezreel. The slaying of the 450 false prophets; the fulfilment of the prophecy of rain and the vindication of God as to His existence must have filled Elijah with a joyousness and confidence in God which would be difficult to equal.

Yet in spite of these tremendous events we have something comparatively trifling which caused depression to Elijah. Reaching the safety of Jezreel, Ahab told Jezebel of these recent events with the result that she purposed to have Elijah slain. On hearing the news the prophet fled for his life to Beersheba and became very much depressed.

It seems difficult for us to realise that a prophet doing such mighty works could flee from the threat of a woman who was shortly to be eaten by dogs in Jezreel. We note Elijah’s condition is very similar to that of Jonah. The prophet withdrew from Beersheba, to a day’s journey in the wilderness and sat down under a juniper tree and requested of God that he might die. Jonah withdrew from Nineveh to a point overlooking the city, made himself a booth and requested that he might die. Then, by contrast, we have the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who likewise withdrew from Jerusalem to a point overlooking the city (Mount Olivet) but instead of bewailing himself, as did Jonah and Elijah, he showed his unselfishness in his great concern over the city and the inhabitants whom he loved.

As God gently rebuked Jonah, so he rebuked Elijah saying,

“Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7)

Then later on when he came to a cave and lodged in it….

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)

Eventually God told him that He had reserved 7,000 men in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. He made provision for the anointing of Jehu who should destroy the Baal power, and also provided the successor to Elijah, even Elisha. Everything was planned by God perfectly, and there was really no cause for dejection in Elijah’.

These things are written for our admonition. God has provided everything for us. He says to us Arise and eat,” but it is not for literal food in our despair, but the food of the bread of God, even His Word by which man alone truly lives.

When we are downcast there is always encouragement. To Jonah God gave a parable of mercy which should have been taken as encouragement. Elijah, in his despair, thought he was the only true prophet of God. God’s encouragement was that there were 7,000 such true followers of God.

However much we are depressed, God has His remedy to give to us, if we will accept it. We, like Elijah, may be valiant in big things, but may be in despair over minor matters. If the troubles be large or small they are all alike known to God, and the true worshipper of God has supreme confidence in Him. In such times the cry of the prophet Micah should be ours.

Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me. Micah Ch.7: 7-8

If we question why, then it is answered effectively by the prophet Nahum,

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.     Nahum Ch.1:7

Example six: Paul

The apostle Paul seems to bring us to the vital point of dejection and encouragement. The tenacity of the apostle is seen when preaching the gospel at Lystra. On that occasion the Jews stoned him and drew him out of the city supposing him to be dead. Was Paul depressed and in despair by his condition? No! He was so encouraged in the God of his salvation that he set off the following day with Barnabas to walk to Derbe, some 20 miles distant.

Later, he could write to the Corinthians:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians Ch.4:8-9

Then comes the encouragement,

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians Ch.4:17

Paul had the true spiritual armour for his adversities. He has left that armour on record, so that we might avail ourselves of it and let our light affliction be a means to sustain and even encourage us toward our goal.

Let us then, as much as is in our power, do away with our depression, and yet if that is too much for us, let us not have sorrow upon sorrow,” but bear in mind the words of encouragement from the apostle Paul

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.   1 Corinthians Ch.1:3-8

It is important to realise that we all have a self-image, even if we don’t like to call it that. Our self-image is the way we look at ourselves, the way we feel toward ourselves, and is closely linked with self-esteem. In fact, self-esteem is incorporated in our self-image. It is important to base that self-image upon Biblical standards. That is, if we are a baptised believer and realise that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people; if we realise that we may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light, then we should look at ourselves in that light. We should look at ourselves as a royal priesthood, as a holy nation, as God’s own people with all the blessings and responsibilities implied in these lofty terms.

Self image can lead to depression

That self-image must be tempered by a recognition of our own sinfulness and hopelessness apart from the grace of God. This is the way we should feel toward ourselves. Now if we act in a way out of character with that calling, this should prick our conscience, should injure our self-image, cause a sense of loss of that self-image, which would in turn lead to depression. The depression may be mild as we may only feel “low” and unworthy, and this may hopefully lead to repentance and a renewed dedication. But it is clear from human experience that falling short of the self-image we have for ourselves will lead to some degree of melancholy.

We can see that this sequence of events may not necessarily be a bad thing since the very unpleasantness of the resulting depression may stimulate us to be more careful of future behaviour so that our image is not injured again. That is, we may be more careful of the gossip we utter, the anger we allow to escape or the unkind words we say because we realise afterward how out of place these things are in the light of our high calling in Christ.

This concept of self-image is an exceedingly important one, since oftentimes the source of recurrent and severe depression is based upon an imbalanced concept of what it should be. A depressed person tends to have a low opinion of himself, a continuing sense of worthlessness, unworthiness and self-incrimination. This is bad since, as we will see later, it has a completely negative effect.

All those who are baptised believers are different people, called by God to a single hope. They find ourselves in different circumstances, with different resources, and having differing abilities. Yet all have been called to the same high and holy calling, and all have the assurance that the very hairs of our heads are numbered. These factors considered should help establish a balanced self-image based upon the facts that we are a privileged people, that God expects of each of us something different based upon our talents, that we will fall but we can be forgiven, and that the chief matter of importance is how hard we are trying to live up to that high calling.

Usage of our talents

If we set too high a goal for ourselves as to what we should do in the Master’s service, a goal which we may not have been given the talents to achieve, then we will find ourselves constantly falling far short, with its resulting depression and debilitating effect. This may lead to a state of such frustration that we may feel ourselves incapable of living up to our calling, we may in turn reduce our efforts, and drift away altogether. In such a case the real problem was not that we were incapable of living up to our call, but that we were incapable of living up to a call which we had set and not God, which was beyond our endowments.

God  requires of the five-talent believer five talents, of the three-talent believer three talents, and (let us emphasise) of the one-talent believer only one talent. Therefore, reducing to practicality what we should as individuals be expecting of ourselves, let us say this: we need to weigh the circumstances and conditions in which we find ourselves, and set reasonable goals based upon these circumstances. We should not be concerned how much others may be doing, provided we have totally committed ourselves to God within our own sphere.

It is equally important, however, to realise that we may need to root up many time-consuming, useless and unimportant pursuits and pastimes to put in the right kind of effort. Double mindedness is one of the greatest causes of ineffective service and unhappiness.

Examine our motives

We must be extremely careful of our motives in trying to achieve things. If the driving force is a sense of duty to God to try to live as closely to the example of His Son as possible, bringing all our natural endowments to bear upon achieving this, but at the same time recognising that we are very frail and have definite limitations, depression will be a relatively rare condition.

If, however, the driving force behind achievement is to validate a self-image and uphold a self-esteem we have set for ourselves based upon our own feeling of inherent worth, we can be quite sure that sooner or later this image will fall. As we all know, motives can be very subtly disguised, even to ourselves.

For example, when a young man coming along nicely in his ability to give a talk on the Bible to a crowd meets criticism after his latest effort, even if it be constructive, he may subsequently feel hurt and downcast. The root of the hurt feelings probably is a self-image based upon a view of himself as a good speaker, which has in turn been injured by the criticism. The reason the criticism has such an effect is because of the undoubted effect of pride in the matter. Even a little pride can turn a constructive criticism into a personal insult, and this has to be guarded against by us all.

The mercy of God

It is extremely important in our own lives that we do not underestimate God’s mercy and forgiveness. If we sin and are truly repentant, we must be as merciful with ourselves as God is willing to be with us. Often it is a continuing sense of guilt for past sins that keeps us in the depths of depression, when in reality guilt and depression would have long since ceased had we felt forgiven by God.

A feeling of forgiveness is critical for our spiritual development since we are helpless and useless when depressed, whereas if we do feel forgiven we can move in a sphere of constructive efforts in character-building and useful activity in the Lord’s service.

The other obvious point is that we must never underestimate how much the things of God mean to us. Perhaps we grumble because of restrictions placed upon us by being a believer. Perhaps the message of the Bible appears dull and uninteresting at times. However, even with such spiritual immaturity (which we all have in varying degrees), let us bear in mind that should the Bible and it’s message be taken away, we may be very distraught to find that an unfillable gap is left.

Let us therefore appreciate this fact and appropriately use our time, energy and resources to the fullest extent possible in the service of a loving, merciful and forgiving Creator.

Solution to depression (1) – get busy in the work of God

The way to get over our depression is to throw ourselves into work of God. Let’s get busy and then let God do the rest. This is what God told Elijah to do. Get up and get going, he had work to do. Jonah’s depression came after he had completed his preaching effort. It is only those who endure to the end that will be saved. Take a deep breath and get to work doing something positive for the Lord. He will be pleased with our efforts even if it doesn’t seem that we are making any progress.

Solution to depression (2) – meditating on God’s word

One way to overcome depression is to meditate on Gods kindness to his people. This way you are not thinking about your current problems and will be given hope that God will help you.

Yet I am standing here depressed and gloomy, but I will meditate upon your kindness to this lovely land where the Jordan river flows and where Mount Hermon and Mount Mizar stand. Psalm 42:6 The Living Bible

By meditating on the kindness of God, it will focus your thoughts on God’s ability to help you rather than on your inability to help yourself.

Solution to depression (3) – prayer to God

The answer to our depression is also found in these words of the Psalmist:

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. Psalm 42:5