God Works Good, Even Through Depression
Depression shows on the face.
Studies show that depression takes a toll on the entire body, but can be seen very easily on the face. Both because people tend to be more un-kept, but also, because depression manifests as fatigue. There’s a saying, ‘the only thing more exhausting than being depressed is pretending you’re not.’
This kind of exhaustion or fatigue is always apparent in the face. That’s why, when depression sets in the eyes dull, the skin dries out, dark circles appear under the eyes, the edges of the mouth turn downward, the forehead loses its elasticity.
The Psalmist knows this and it shows best in the King James. In verse 5, the Psalmist proclaims, ‘I shall yet praise Him [the Lord] for the help of His countenance.’
Countenance is a figurative usage of the Hebrew word for face. When we say that the Lord has turned His countenance to us, we mean that he has seen us, that His face has been turned to us.
So then the Psalmist creatively uses the literal form in verse 11 when he says, ‘I shall yet praise Him [the Lord] who is the health of my countenance,’ or ‘who is the health of my face.’
I need you to understand…
WHAT IS IT?
…what is depression? What drains the life out of the soul in such a way that it can be clearly seen in the face?
Virtually everyone has experienced a ‘down’ day, often for no apparent reason. You might say you woke up on the wrong side of the bed. You might say you are just a little out of sorts or that you are in a funk today. Polite references like these are commonplace for Americans. Yet as familiar as we may be with ‘the blues,’ the depths of severe depression remain mysterious.
Depression is embodied emotional suffering. It is not simply a state of mind or a negative view of life, but something that affects our entire self.
Severe episodes of depression include negative thoughts about friends, family, and yourself. It comes with emotional pain, physical problems such as lethargy, difficulty getting your thoughts together, and virtually no interest in things happening around you.
Depression is a hopeless condition…
But, when a depressed person is relieved from their affliction, their health returns like an innocent child; their eyes brighten, their skin regains its pigment and tightens around their eyes and forehead. They look younger, more vibrant, more resilient. Even more youthful.
The Psalmist tells us that though he suffers from depression and goes about his days as a mourner, he is hopeful because he knows that the Great Healer will restore his face…and with it his emotional and spiritual vitality.
So, where does depression comes from?
I guess the question goes something like this: If I have been called into relationship with God through Jesus Christ, if I have been forgiven for all my sins past, present, and future, if God wants me to experience peace and joy, if He has called me into His presence, then why do I continue to struggle with depression?
There are a number of reasons and I’ll hit a few. The first is temperament. It’s simply the way God created me to be. Some people would say, no, everyone has to decide if they are going to give into depression or not.
But, that is simply not the way depression works. It’s a disorder that is effected by your body chemistry. Sure, anyone could suffer from depression if they were put in the right circumstances. But, some people are predisposed to it in a way that makes it virtually unavoidable.
I want to emphasize that temperament does not make the slightest difference in the matter of your fundamental salvation. Yet, temperament absolutely makes a very great difference in your actual experience in the Christian life.
There are people who are particularly prone to depression. That does not mean that they are any worse off than others. It’s simply the way God made them. I’m not saying we should submit to our depression simply because ‘God made me this way—that’s an excuse alcoholics often use; I’m just saying there are underlying reasons.
And certainly that would also be true for those who suffer because of the second reason, which is their physical condition—either due to poor health or injury.
We are made up of mind, body, and spirit. These parts affect each other and are so connected that—as an example—oftentimes it is difficult to know whether we have a headache because we’ve exhausted our mental capacities or because we’re dehydrated.
The most spiritual Christians among us are well aware that they are more prone to spiritual attack when they are physically weak. So our physical condition can be a direct cause of depression as well.
A third reason for depression is reaction—this is one of the most common for us today. We may react to a great blessing, or an unusual or exciting experience but, we become depressed as a reaction to something negative that happens in our lives. This was the case for the Psalmist.
If you see the heading in your Bible, this Psalm was a song written, ‘For the Music Director. A Contemplative Maskil of the sons of Korah.’ The sons of Korah were like the band leaders of the day. They led the music for the Israelites who came to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem.
As we will see in a moment, the Music Director for the temple was displaced from the temple for some reason. It’s likely this was written shortly after the exile, when Israel was taken into captivity in Babylon. We don’t really know, but it’s clear he was unable to go to the temple and worship.
His reaction to the displacement is depression. He says, ‘My tears have been my food day and night.’ The people around him mock him and mock God, ‘they always say to me, “Where is your God?”’ So he laments, ‘When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me.’
Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever felt like you were being poured out, emptied of your spirit and emotions? That’s where the Psalmist is. He has no apparent control over his expression. His face—his countenance—has fallen and he is left empty.
He remembers how, he ‘would travel with the throng of people,’ how he ‘proceeded with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanks, with a multitude making a pilgrimage.’ He had a great and honorable responsibility at the temple and he loved living a life of worship to God and service at the temple, but it was all taken away from him.
The Psalmist wants nothing more than to meet with God and he is trapped by his depression. He laments, ‘As the deer pants after the water brooks, so my soul pants after You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When will I come and appear before God?’
He longs to return to the temple and appear before God, but he can’t, and it is sucking the life out of him.
A fourth reason for depression is the devil. Now the devil very well may be the empowerment behind depression due to temperament, physical condition, or reaction. I just don’t want you to be unaware of the devil’s scheme.
He is the adversary and the deceiver. He seeks to condemn you before God and the world. And so the devil takes your depression and goes to the world with a very simple message. He points to the depressed Christian and says to the world, ‘Really? You want to be like this?’
The devil uses depressed Christians to turn people away from God.
And a fifth reason for depression, God Himself. God is actually an active force behind depression in two ways.
First, I believe God has carefully crafted each person according to his own will and purposes. If your personality or temperament is more susceptible to depression, then as peculiar as it sounds, God is behind that.
But, thankfully—Romans 8.28—God uses all things for your good. He is using, even your depression, for your own good, to build perseverance and character into your life.
God is behind depression in a second way. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul tells us that God actually sent, ‘a messenger of Satan’ to torment him, for the explicit purpose that Paul would no longer boast in his own strength, but rest in the sufficiency of God’s grace.
Three times the Apostle Paul pleaded with God to relieve his torment and three times the Lord responded, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ God is at work in your depression.
So it shouldn’t surprise us, then, that studies show the rates of depression in the church are virtually identical to the rates of depression outside the church. Being a Christian seems to do absolutely nothing to relieve depression.
Some time ago I was struggling with anxiety and I visited a friend of mine who is a great biblical counselor and also a licensed psychotherapist. I told him what I was struggling with and told him I didn’t understand why God wouldn’t relieve the anxiety.
You know what he said to me?
I was really mad when he said this at first. He said, ‘Anthony…who are you to tell God what He can use to continue to grow and shape your character?’ He didn’t quote a Bible verse about anxiety in hopes that I might feel better. He didn’t tell me Christians shouldn’t feel that way.
He knew better. That type of advice just causes people to bury their feelings deep inside themselves and pretend they are fine, when they’re not. No, he said God is at work in this—who are you to tell God what he can use to grow and shape your character?
That was life-changing advice for me. You see, now when I begin to struggle with anxiety, depression, or negative thoughts I am comforted by the reality that God is using all of that for my ultimate good and His ultimate glory.
I become painfully aware that God’s grace is sufficient, even in times of great suffering and I remember that my weakness in that moment is exactly what God wants in order to perfect His power in me.
The Lord says to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’
Depression seems fairly uncontrollable at this point, but I don’t want you to feel hopeless. Certainly there is much to learn from the Psalmist. So, if you’re depressed…
WHAT DO YOU DO?
The solution the Psalmist finds is to ‘talk to yourself.’
… We don’t usually recommend this … talking to yourself is something crazy people do … but that’s what the Psalmist does and that’s what you need to do.
Talk to yourself. Listen, don’t let yourself talk to you; talk to yourself.
When you wake up in the morning and you sense a great weight in your chest and a small voice comes to talk to you, it begins to recount all the problems of days gone by.
The voice reminds you of all the failures of your past. It begins to tell your stories about people who hurt you and to tell you how horribly worthless you must be, or how used up you are, or how pointless and hopeless your life has become. The voice begins to tell you there is no good in your future.
It says your friends don’t want you, and your family doesn’t like you, even God—although He may love you—has no use for someone like you.
Have you ever heard that voice? Whose voice is that?
It’s the voice of your…self. The psalmist hears this voice. He remembers the past and hears the voices of those who mock and persecute him.
And what does he do?
Well, instead of allowing the self to talk to him, he starts talking to his-self (5).
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted [or depressed] in me?
Hope in God, for I will yet thank Him for the help of His presence.
His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, stop speaking for a moment and listen here! I will speak to you!’
Do you know what I mean?
You have to talk to your inner-self. You have to take hold of yourself. You have to address yourself, question yourself, preach to yourself. “Why are you cast down, self?” “What business do you have being depressed, self?” “
You must turn on yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope in God, self!’ And then you must go on to remind yourself of God—who God is … what God is … what God has done … and what God has promised.
Then having done that, end on this great note: resist yourself, and resist other people, and resist the devil, and resist the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I will yet thank God for the help of His presence.’
The solution the Psalmist finds is to ‘talk to yourself.’ Don’t let yourself talk to you—your-self has nothing good to say to you. You must talk to yourself.
And once you have prepared the self, you will be able to talk to God.
After exhorting the self, the Psalmist prays (6-7),
O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermon, from the hill of Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and Your billows passed over me.
The Psalmist goes to God, and recognizes his insufficiency. He recounts his suffering and acknowledges his insufficiencies before God, but in all this, he tells God, ‘I will remember you.’ The Psalmist knows that even in the midst of trials God is faithful and he will not forget. He will ‘wait for God’ (11b1).
Then, he remembers the promises of God (8),
Yet the LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song will be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
He knows that his anxiety and restlessness in the day will one day be replaced with the lovingkindness of the Lord. He knows that his sleepless nights will be replaced with joyous song. God is ‘his deliverer’ (11b3).
I’d like to make an observation on this Psalm. The Psalmist is downcast, he reflects on his persecution and then in verse 5, he addresses his own self. Then the pattern starts again until he addresses himself again in verse 11. Then if we continue into Psalm 43, the pattern begins again until the Psalmist again addresses himself in verse 5 of that Psalm.
Here’s the observation. The Psalmist had a pattern of depression. How could he survive? Have you ever continued in a pattern of depression for so long that you wondered if you would survive it?
Well, the Psalmist learned the mystery to surviving. And he isn’t the only one. The Apostle Paul had similar struggles and he learned the mystery too. Good for us, Paul tells us about it in Philippians 4 (11-13). He says,
…I have learned in whatever state I am to be content…I have learned the mystery…both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things because of Christ who strengthens me.
For Paul, it doesn’t seem to matter if he has plenty of food and comfortable housing or if he is barely surviving on the streets. It doesn’t matter if he has lots of family and friends around him or if he is alone. It doesn’t matter if he wakes up in the morning joyful or depressed.
He has learned the mystery to surviving in any circumstance. He can abound or have needs and it doesn’t matter. He still perseveres. He can endure all things because of Jesus Christ who strengthens him.
And you may say, ‘I know Christ, why doesn’t he strengthen me?’ Well, that’s not the mystery. Paul has learned the mystery. What is it?
It begins with our own thinking. We think if it were just better in such and such a way then I would be able to endure. But every life status comes with different struggles. The wealthy struggle in ways the impoverished do not, but both struggle, both have difficulties.
Both get depressed. Both need to know the mystery, but before I tell you what the mystery is, I want to make an observation about the mystery.
The mystery is something you must learn. It’s not something you merely know. And it isn’t helpful—although it is true—unless you know it. You must learn it, and if you must learn it, then it must be taught. You must be ‘let into the mystery.’
And frankly, it’s still not enough that you hear the mystery, that you know the mystery, but it is only enough if you believe the mystery. You must believe the mystery on such a level that it motivates the way you live, think, and feel. You must believe it on a gut level, not simply know it on a mind level.
So, what’s the mystery? Paul tells us (Philippians 4.19), “My God shall supply your every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
That’s the mystery. Do you really believe it?
Three quick observations.
- God supplies every need His people have. But, notice that He supplies needs, not necessarily wants. Much of what we become anxious and eventually depressed over are in fact wants: comforts, pleasures, and desires. Sometimes God gives those, but he promises everything we need.
- God supplies your need according to His riches in glory.
You may say, ‘Why does someone else seem to have so much, they seem so blessed when I have so little?’
We have to realize that the depth of God’s glory transcends our perception of need. God sees into our future and knows what will be ultimately best for us. That is rarely going to be exactly what you want to happen at that moment. So God provides what is ultimately best for us, even if it doesn’t seem best at the time.
- God supplies your need by Jesus Christ.
If not for Jesus Christ we have every reason to despair. If not for Jesus Christ it is actually irrational not to be depressed all the time.
Why would I say that?
Because Jesus died to save us from despair. If all people since the foundation of the world are aware of God’s wrath (Romans 1.18), then we all look forward to our future destruction and eternal condemnation. If that is not reason enough to despair, then I have no idea what is!
But, God demonstrates His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners—when we still were in despair—Christ died for us. God took the wrath due us and placed it on His son, Jesus.
But, not only that. When Jesus bore our wrath, He also bore our despair. ‘By His stripes we are healed!’ We no longer have need for despair because we have a future hope. We have no real reason for depression because we know the mystery and we believe it, that ‘God will supply every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.’
Do you really believe this? Do you believe that Christ has born your despair on the cross? Do you believe that God will provide for every one of your needs and do you trust Him to determine those needs?
Do you believe in God’s providence on such a deep level that it motivates the way you think, act, and feel?
That’s the real test of faith.
It may seem like I’m saying that God will provide, but you can’t know how He provides or what He provides because it’s soooooo mysterious. Well, I’m not, I’m just saying there is some mystery.
There are plenty of things we can know. Let’s explore these by asking the question…
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Well, first because, depression is not good for you. It’s bad for your health, and it’s bad for your relationships.
Now, I realize I said above that depression may be part of who you are. It may be part of how God made you or it may be part of who you have become because of life circumstances.
If you struggle with depression, it will probably never go entirely away, and that’s OK. That’s not wrong.
But, it can’t be ignored either. Depression is not good for you or those around you, so like the Psalmist, it is to your benefit to form good habits for dealing with your depression. Those habits all start with ‘Talking to Yourself.’ Once you get good at talking to yourself—instead of letting yourself talk to you—then you can form other habits.
Like David said (Psalm 34.18), ‘The Lord is near to the brokenhearted’ so I think the depressed person will benefit from a habit of daily prayer and Bible reading. You will also benefit from healthy food, exercise, minimizing intake of electronics, and so on. But, you must start with ‘talking to yourself.’
Depression is not good for you or those close to you but it is also not good for…
Those inside the church who have not found hope through Jesus Christ.
There are people in every Church who are very interested in Christian things. They like the idea of hope. They like the structure that law can bring to their lives. They like how nice and friendly many of the people are.
And yet, when you compare them with the New Testament description of the new man in Christ, you see at once that there is a great difference. You may be one who comes to church because you recognize that your soul is downcast, that you are struggling with depression. And you think, ‘Well, Christians are supposed to rejoice and be happy. Maybe I need to go to church.’ ‘Maybe I need to try out Christianity.’
But, Christianity is not something you ‘try.’ It is something you at once commit your whole self to. And then it is something you daily give yourself to…more and more.
This was the Apostle Paul’s challenge. He committed Himself to the Lord and wrote eloquent letters describing the beauty of the justification he had received through Christ—that he had already been counted as righteous by faith.
But then Paul recounts how he continued to suffer from the ‘messenger of Satan.’ He was continually tormented. Do you remember why God allowed Paul to be tormented? That he might daily find his sufficiency in Christ alone.
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’
I’ve heard people argue that there is no way that someone who struggles with depression could be saved. These people see no way that someone can continually digress into patterns of hopelessness and yet claim an eternal hope through Jesus Christ.
But these people have clearly not studied the laments of scripture or the life the Apostle Paul. Or history…It seems so many godly men of old suffered from great depression and yet spoke to themselves, ‘Hope in God, for I will yet thank Him,’ ‘Wait for God, I will yet thank Him, for He is my deliverance and my God.’
The very thing that evidences salvation is hope in the midst of suffering; power in the face of weakness. That the suffering and weakness exist is nothing; that hope exists is everything.
So I plead with you, if you confess Christ for hope that God will ‘fix’ you, that is not the way. It’s true that God will ‘fix’ us—not immediately perhaps or in the way we think, but God will fix us eventually. But, give your life over to God now, claim righteousness through Jesus Christ, and trust in God to give hope in the midst of suffering.
And then there are those outside the church. They suffer too and yet when they look at Christians, they see us wallowing in our own misery right alongside them. What an attractive witness that must be?!
The world needs to see a visible difference in the level of satisfaction in the life of Christians. They need to hear Christians sympathize from within their misery and yet proclaim, ‘I will yet praise Him from within this pit.’ ‘I may suffer, but I am satisfied in Him.’
You know, we live in a pragmatic age. People are not primarily interested in truth. They are interested in results. They aren’t asking, ‘Does it make sense?’ They are asking, ‘Does it work?’ ‘Does Christianity work?’ … They don’t assume it will work if they believe it’s true. … They will believe it’s true if it works.
And we cannot give them a satisfactory answer to the question ‘does it work’ because what they really mean is, ‘Will Christianity fix all of my problems?’ to which the answer is, ‘yes, eventually.’ But, will it fix it all right now? No.
But, Christ gives hope, even for today and hope in Christ is not blind hope. This hope will never disappoint.
This week we began talking about the California Missions Offering. The term is confusing if you ask me. It’s called an ‘offering’ which makes it sound like it’s just about giving money.
But, it’s not. Far more importantly, it is an opportunity to pray for those who need hope around you and to offer hope to those around you.
It is an opportunity to share the hope you have found in Christ. If you care at all about that mission—that mission which is God’s mission—then hear these words! Hope in God. Don’t wallow in pain, but show the world that there is hope in the midst of trail.
Every moment of despair in your life is an opportunity to hope in God; to be satisfied in Jesus Christ.
As we close, there will be a prayer team in the back. If you have depression or despair in your life, please see them and let them bring you before the Lord, that you might find satisfaction in Him.
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