You Can Overcome Depression
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?” This question was asked by a believer, not an unbeliever; in fact, it is found in the book of Psalms. In Psalms 42 and 43, you will find the writer asking three times, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?” You see, he was going through that terrible experience of depression. His world had fallen apart, and he was wondering where God was. He was wondering if he would ever get out of the dark pit of depression. It can be done, my friend. You can defeat depression.
Depression is a serious problem in today’s world. It is costing employers millions of dollars because their employees either are not on the job, or if they are on the job, are not productive. It is costing families their happiness and, sad to say, in too many instances, depression is costing lives. How many people have committed suicide when in the vise of depression when all hope and all reason for living were being squeezed out of them! Depression is a serious thing and we must know how to handle it.
To be sure, sometimes depression has a physical cause. You will remember how discouraged the prophet Elijah was after his battle on Mt. Carmel. What he needed was some sleep, some good food, and a new vision of the greatness of God. Tenderly the Lord cared for Elijah, helped him rest and gain strength, and then recommissioned him for service. Many of us have had days of discouragement and despair because we have over-worked, even in the service of the Lord! No wonder Jesus encouraged His disciples to come apart and rest awhile. If we are not careful, poor health habits can lead us into depression.
Sometimes depression is the result of the attack of Satan. He is the accuser and the destroyer. He knows when to attack us and what weapons to use. He likes to remind us of our failures and our past sins. He tries to get us to look at ourselves so much that we forget to look to Christ; and the result is almost always a feeling of guilt and failure and despair. I myself have felt the fiery darts of the wicked one as he has tried to discourage me in my ministry. I know personally what a battle it is to fight discouragement and trust the Lord for victory.
I don’t doubt that there are some people whose depression has a psychological cause. I am not a psychologist, so I cannot explain this in medical terms; but it seems that some people seem to have a personality that is naturally gloomy and pessimistic. Instead of trying to change this, they give in to it; and gradually they develop a pattern of defeat and depression. What they need is a competent Christian counselor to help them with their personality weaknesses.
I will not try to be either a doctor or a psychologist; I will simply be a pastor. I want to share with you some facts about depression that I trust will help you when you find yourself in what John Bunyan called the “slough of despond.” I want to approach this from a spiritual point of view, because I am convinced that the only lasting solution is from the Lord. I have no battle with medication or counseling; but I do feel that the depressed person really needs a new touch from the Lord.
The experience of depression usually follows a definite pattern. It begins with self-protection. You are hurt in some way—deeply hurt down inside. Perhaps somebody failed you; or perhaps some plan that you had collapsed; or perhaps you failed yourself. In some way, a hurt comes to your life, and this hurt threatens to rob you of your peace and enjoyment of life. Now, the best thing to do is to face that hurt honestly and deal with it: pray about it, commit it to the Lord, apply the medicine of God’s Word. But sometimes we hurt so much that we just don’t seem to have the strength to deal with it; and this is where self-protection comes in. Because you have been hurt, you pull into yourself and retreat from the realities of life. You feel safe with yourself; you don’t feel safe with others.
In one sense, depression is to your heart as a callous is to your hand: it is a form of emergency protection. I helps to make that hurt area insensitive. This explains why most depressed people have no interest in life around them—their family and friends, their jobs, even their usual enjoyments. They isolate themselves because this helps to protect them from being hurt again. This brings us to the second step: self-protection leads to self-pity. Depression is really an intensive form of self-pity. We feel sorry for ourselves, so we pull into ourselves and retreat from life. We get all wrapped up in our own problems and pains and forget that other people have problems and pains, too.
This leads to the third step, which is self-punishment. You protect yourself by withdrawing; then you pity yourself because you feel so isolated; and then you start punishing yourself for whatever you think you have done. You become judge and jury and condemn yourself to a life of self-inflicted pain to atone for whatever wrongs you imagine you have done. It is here that Satan enters the picture, because he is the accuser of the brethren. He likes to remind you of your sins, your mistakes, your failures, even your embarrassing moments. Each of these reminders only makes the wounds in your heart hurt that much more; and then you withdraw even deeper and isolate yourself from reality.
This is really a frightening experience—self-protection leading to self-pity leading to self-punishment. No wonder some people try to take the next step—self-destruction. Satan is the destroyer, and he knows how to get a beachhead in your life just where you are the weakest. But there is an answer to this kind of depression. There is no need for you to protect yourself and pity yourself and then punish yourself. Jesus Christ can come to you and meet the need and help you to defeat depression.
I have suggested that in many cases, there are three stages in depression: self-protection, self-pity, and then self-punishment. It begins with some kind of a hurt—your heart is broken, life has fallen apart, your world comes to an end. Your first natural impulse is to protect yourself—but if you do that, you will only make the situation worse. I suggest that you surrender yourself to Jesus Christ and tell Him all about the hurt down inside. This is what the psalmist did in Psalms 42 and 43. He told the Lord how much he hurt, how disappointed he was in the way things were going. He honestly unburdened his feelings and his complaints. Instead of nursing his hurts, he gave his heart to the Great Physician who promises to heal the broken-hearted. Instead of self-protection, let it be self-surrender. Yield yourself by faith to the Lord—talk to Him—tell Him how you feel. This is the first step in defeating depression.
The second step is to get your eyes on the Lord and off of yourself. Self-pity is one of the most dangerous attitudes you and I can ever cultivate. It poisons your system so that nothing looks right, everything people say and do gets out of proportion. My friend, ask the Lord to give you the strength to fight self-pity! Get your eyes on the Lord. This is what the psalmist did. Listen to what he writes in Psalms 42 and 43—“My soul thirsteth for God, the living God…Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Yet the Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me. O send out thy light and thy truth. Let them lead me…” In spite of his disappointment, the psalmist looks to God and sees what God can do for him. For you and me, this means looking into the promises of the Word. “O send out thy light and thy truth.”
The third step is to remember that Jesus Christ died for all your sins and failures, and you need not punish yourself. When you confess your sins and failures to the Lord, He forgives and forgets. You may not feel that He does, but He does just the same, because this is the promise of His Word. God no longer deals with you on the basis of law; He deals with you on the basis of grace. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus…Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” Why should you punish yourself when Jesus Christ bore all the punishment for you? Your Father loves you; He forgives you; He will see you through.
Depression is often just plain selfishness. We make ourselves and our problems the center of the universe, and that only makes them worse. To be sure, it takes time to defeat depression: but you have to start somewhere. Don’t permit your will to be paralyzed by depressed feelings. In the strength of the Lord, look away from self to Christ—lay hold of His promises—and confess your sins to Christ. Listen to Psalm 43:2—“For thou art the God of my strength.” He will conquer in you and through you—you can overcome self-protection, self-pity, and self-punishment. “Why art thou cast down my soul? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”