Back from Depression

Depression can affect anyone, including people of faith. This reality has escaped some people who act like faith alone can prevent every instance of sadness, every emotional hardship, and every psychological challenge. However, the melancholy musing recorded in Psalm 88 counters all such claims as the inspired psalmist penned this song from a heart overwhelmed with sorrow while still directing his faith toward God. We know nothing absolutely of the author, nor even the exact time of writing for certain. It could have been written during the time of David by a man stricken by leprosy and so separated from the rest of society. It could have been written by a descendent during the captivity who felt the full weight of the calamity greatly. Regardless, this soulful outpouring of emotional pain provides a powerful reflection of a heart overcome by depression, allowing those who can identify with these feelings assurance that God understands and still cares.

Depression creates the illusion that all of life offers only negativity. This leads to sleepless nights (Psa. 88:1-2) and stress-filled days. Life-threatening illness makes death feel close, and depression can even make it seem preferable, as Job also discovered (Psa. 88:3). The challenges of continuing on seem insurmountable, so much so that common activities feel like a burden too heavy to endure (Psa. 88:4). Under such circumstances, a person can easily feel worthless and forgotten, wondering whether anyone—including God—truly cares (Psa. 88:5-7). Depression makes people feel lonely even in a crowd, and distance becomes exaggerated when contact is impossible (Psa. 88:8). Then impatience sets in, expecting God to provide a solution quickly (Psa. 88:9) so that doubt begins to creep in as time passes by (Psa. 88:9-12). As a result, prayers can turn into grumbling and petitions into complaints (Psa. 88:13-14). In the midst of sorrow, problems seem bigger than they actually are and therefore overwhelm us more easily (Psa. 88:15-16). That is why it is essential not to retreat from God and others who care (Psa. 88:17-18)  but instead to remain constant in faith regardless of the temptation to pull away.

If you find yourself depressed, do not worsen your situation by feeling guilty or inadequate as a Christian. Instead, take some practical steps to move forward and move through it.

  1. Talk about it—even though you probably do not feel like it. It really helps to express your feelings with someone who truly cares—and those people ARE there.
  2. Build your faith in how much evidence there is that God cares about you so that you never give up on Him even when feeling down (1 Pet. 5:7).
  3. Pray even more (1 Thess. 5:17). Pour out your heart. Cry out to God. Shed tears in prayer. But also give thanks for what you still have because of Him (Phil. 4:6-7).
  4. Keep an eternal perspective (2 Cor. 4:16-18). No matter how bad your situation may seem or even may be upon this earth, you have great reason to hope for the future.
  5. Distinguish between your circumstances and your identity. Everyone goes through hard times. Struggles are part of life. Your response is more important than the experience (Matt. 16:24-26).
  6. Focus on the hope of eternity, the hope of the resurrection, the hope of reuniting with loved ones, and the hope of seeing your Savior (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
  7. Accept help when offered, and surround yourself with people who will help (Heb. 10:24).

Finally, consider seeing a Christian counselor who understands, who takes your problem seriously, and who is trained to help. Seeking needed help is not a sign that you have no faith; it is a sign of maturity that you are humble enough to find the help you need.

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Where is Their God?

The sadness Asaph (or more specifically one of that musical family) expressed as a witness of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in Psalm 79 offers a poignant reminder of the fragility of the circumstances in life we often take for granted. He recounted the hurt of watching the army of Nebuchadnezzar marching through Judah, defiling the temple, and destroying Jerusalem (Psa. 79:1). With horror he recalled the extent of death that left throughout the city—bodies left to rot in numbers so great the streets practically ran with blood (Psa. 79:2-3). The emotional distress created by such a humiliating circumstance left Asaph and those like him embarrassed as an object of ridicule by all their neighbors (Psa. 79:4). Left to ponder the lessons to be learned, Asaph correctly recognized that they were experiencing the consequences of their own actions and pled for relief from their pain (Psa. 79:5-7). Recognition finally had set in, and thus the petition for forgiveness in accordance with the Lord’s mercy and the plea for deliverance pointed to the Lord’s character and reputation rather than their own (Psa. 79:8-9). Then, in the midst of this request, in which he seeks an opportunity for Judah to return and be able to demonstrate their faithfulness once again (Psa. 79:10-13), he says something quite striking: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Psa. 79:10). A consequence of their failure was quite telling. The Babylonians used it to declare that Yahweh was nowhere to be found. This is important, because the fact is that the evidence of this existed before Jerusalem’s destruction in the unfaithfulness of the people.

The lessons available throughout this psalm are numerous, but the essential point provides a challenge that Christians living in comfort easily forget. The trends in American culture for many years have pushed God and Christianity out of the realm of influence and into a place of relative cultural obscurity. Rather than provoking only political complaints and prayers for a change in circumstances, this should cause us to pause and consider what led to such a situation. For many years people relied on a generic Christian culture to carry their faith and support their morality instead of shining their own lights in a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). With the culture turning both completely secular and largely immoral, rather than blaming others it is appropriate to consider our own failure to show others our God through righteous living, refusal to compromise, and bold evangelism. Thankfully, it is not too late to reverse this trend. Christians may not have a majority vote in what happens in Washington, D.C., but they have the power to determine whether people see God in their own lives. This, my friends, is what we must embrace, and we should give it our all, even if it is only, like Asaph, looking to the future and better days ahead.

Poor and Needy

Investigating the background of various psalms to give them greater context can provide quite a challenge at times. While some offer a descriptive heading to the reader, most do not. Moreover, since the psalms represent a collection written by a number of poets spanning generations, with many unattributed, this only complicates the problem. Then, occasionally one psalm will borrow from another earlier psalm, so that some part of one of David’s psalms finds new life and new application in another generation, though the psalm may still bear that great king’s name. The case of Psalm 70 is more interesting yet. With just a few minor changes in the verbs used and the changes from Yahweh to Elohim, the entirety of the seventieth psalm comes from Psalm 40:13-17. The theme matches well the subject of the surrounding psalms, trusting in God for deliverance, and may explain its reuse here as a prayer for similar occasions.
The cry for immediate help and the need to hurry found in verses one and five suggests a desperate hour in David’s life, most likely during Absalom’s rebellion, but this simplification of the wording and the emphasis on Elohim—The Mighty One—intentionally focuses on the contrast between the power of God and the weakness of man. Thus, the weakness of man highlights the power of God, who alone is able to deliver, as verses one and five make evident. This reality then brackets a series of exhortations highlighted by the third person hortatory (Let…) expressing his wishes concerning first those who are attacking him (Psa. 70:2-3), then concerning those who trust God (Psa. 70:4), and finally, as placed in the mouths of those who trust God, concerning God Himself (Psa. 70:4). This sequence creates a crescendo effect within the context of God’s power addressing man’s need, moving rapidly from the reversal of fortune required against the attacker, the joy that the godly feel in such circumstances, and the ultimate outcome desired of God’s glorification. Thus, what began as part of a personal psalm tied to a specific moment of desperation became a prayer appropriate for any righteous man who should find himself the object of scorn, ridicule, and woe at the hand of the unrighteous.
While the origin of the psalm is interesting and the structure compelling, the basic message of the psalm can easily get lost in its brevity and simplicity. When fully retreating from the context of Psalm 40, this psalm points to the bigger picture of serving God despite opposition and turmoil. In fact, seen spiritually, the power of the message becomes even clearer. Each and every day, Satan and his allies pursue God’s people, trying desperately to take life back from us, hurling hurt toward us in every way imaginable, and taking glee in every misstep we may make along the way. Nevertheless, as the righteous stand faithfully and seek deliverance from God without compromise, the godly rejoice and glorify God who has made such an impact. Is this some great victory that we have achieved by listening, obeying, and being faithful to our Lord? Not at all. We are but poor and needy. The victory is His. And waiting on that moment can seem like an eternity. But it is because of eternity and our faith in God that we can endure.

I Shall Not Be Moved

Adversity exists as a great constant in life. While its form may change and though its impact may vary, always it remains, lurking in the shadows, ever ready to pounce and create misery at a moment’s notice. It challenges marriages as a couple is forced to confront differences and overcome selfishness. It challenges congregations, whether through doctrinal conflict or moral failures. It challenges individuals, introducing health problems, grief, financial issues, and personal conflict, all in an effort to create internal conflict, doubt, anger, and depression. Life does not always go your way. In fact, it rarely does completely. There is almost always some lingering issue that demands attention and distracts from the manifold blessings God bestows. This is the nature of this world. It is a world in conflict. It is a world of conflict. And we are living in it. Therefore, facing adversity, keeping adversity in perspective, and overcoming adversity are essential to success in life.
David knew adversity—even as a king. He knew the depths to which it can plunge a man, but he also understood that there is life and joy beyond the heartache and pain. While he wrote many psalms in the midst of adversity and while under great duress, in Psalm 62 we find the calm possible—even facing adversity—when trusting God determines behavior. Satan uses problems to attempt to move us from faith to doubt, from peace to agitation, and from trust to fear. He attempts a siege of the soul in order to force a surrender, but the key to survival is not giving in but in looking up (Psa. 62:1-2). We must develop our faith to remain centered and strong despite the problems we face, so that we never give in to Satan’s pressure but take a stand for God with the confidence that He will ultimately deliver from the trial. Standing firm in the face of adversity requires seeing the world and its answers as the spiritual attacks that they are. Thus, God’s people persevere, accepting the hardship rather than compromising the cause (Psa. 62:3-4). In David’s repetition we can hear the reply to his detractors and to Satan himself: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation; He is my defense; I shall not be moved” (Psa. 62:5-6). We need not turn to worldly allies and answers; we have no need to consult worldly experts and opinions; for in God we have the only ally we need. The faith of the weak crumbles at the slightest foray made by worldly assertions, but the faithful know that God alone offers true strength, real refuge, and genuine hope (Psa. 62:7). Knowing this, we can face adversity with the calm assurance that God deserves our trust “at all times,” including throughout life’s challenges, and that when we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer, He not only listens but also provides a place of protection for our hearts (Psa. 62:8).

Men cannot provide the assurance that they often think. They trust in their power, in their wealth, and in themselves. These surely are unworthy of trust (Psa. 62:9-10). But God has the power to do all that He has promised. The divine word, once spoken, carries more weight than the greatest oratory man can offer, for God alone can deliver—without exception—on every promise made (Psa. 62:11). And one promise that is worth our consideration every time life presents us with a challenge is that our choices, our behavior, our trust, make a difference with God. He is a God of mercy and care, and the determination to do His will in the face of adversity will be rewarded (Psa. 62:12).

Overwhelmed

At this very moment, as I write, I lose count of the number of people I know and love that are facing challenges and trials in life that break my heart. Some are battling cancer—again. Some find themselves fighting the malice of others just to stay employed. Some cannot seem to catch a break financially. Some are weighed down by the sorrow of their children. Some overcome one obstacle only to find themselves confronted with yet another. Some are just trying to put their lives back together again after losing everything and—it sometimes seems—everyone. The harsh realities of life can be cold and heartless. They remind us daily that life is not fair. And yet, regardless, we feel overwhelmed by these burdens, overwhelmed at the challenge of having to start over yet again, and overwhelmed by the heartache we feel for loved ones whom we cannot help as we would like. These may seem like generic words, but only because they respect the privacy of people living with the details.

Situations such as these are humbling—not only to those involved, but also to all those who wish to help and yet feel so helpless. Sadly, it is only when confronted with the desperation of our own smallness that we truly come to appreciate the grandeur of God. We can only do so much, you and I, to solve a problem, to propose a solution, to offer counsel. The longer I live the more often it seems like I have less advice to offer people in their struggles and the more I simply promise to pray. They are overwhelmed, and so am I. But that simple recognition provides the bridge to a greater faith.

When David found himself in a circumstance too difficult to bear, he too felt the emotional weight of his situation and came to the same conclusion. “Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psa. 61:1-2). These words, both beautiful and powerful, offer hope to all who have endured a similar experience. When your heart is overwhelmed, remember that others have been there too—frustrated, emotional, and unsure of what to do next. Remember, like David, to pray your heart out. Do not be afraid to open up to God about your fears, because He knows them already. Pray with a confidence that He does listen, that He does care, and that He can help. Most of all, remember that you cannot do it all on your own. Your own resources can only take you so far. That is the beauty of David’s request, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” There are times when the pathway out of darkness and despair is murky and unclear, but God can provide what you need to rise above the fray and emerge from the darkness to find peace, safety, and serenity once more.

We are all overwhelmed by our circumstances from time to time. We all have to suffer and endure pain—physical, emotional, and spiritual—as we journey through life. But God is never overwhelmed. He can handle all our problems, calm all our fears, and lift all our burdens. When I think of all the pain that those close to me are having to endure, it hurts so deeply that I cannot do more to help, but I am so thankful that I serve a God who can.

Until Calamities Pass By

Sooner or later you will find yourself in the midst of adversity, under attack from the malicious, and trapped by circumstances. Sometimes these problems are financial, sometimes they revolve around health, and often they are spiritual. Those who have been in battle understand this reality quite literally. And yet the mindset essential to surviving with soul intact, ready to move on to the next challenge, is the same. When Saul was chasing David, the future king lived under constant threat, emotional hurt, and physical challenges. On at least two occasions he retreated into a cave to escape the notice of Saul and his men (1 Sam. 22:1; 24:3). His emotions on both occasions must have been powerful, and yet his reflection on this experience, recorded for our benefit in Psalm 57, provides practical advice rooted in spiritual insight.

The challenges that confront us may take many forms, but most take some time to develop and can push us to a very negative place. That is why, whenever life throws us off course or forces us to retreat into our own “cave,” we ought to learn from David’s experience. While the order is not an absolute, it is very telling—and beneficial.

  1. When you find yourself in the midst of adversity, do not let it overwhelm you and do not let it cause you to doubt. Instead, trust God and His care (Psa. 57:1).
  2. Then, with renewed attention to what God can do regardless of what Satan has thrown your way, pray (Psa. 57:2); pray without ceasing (1 Th. 5:17).
  3. Thus growing in faith and confidence (Psa. 57:3), and armed with the knowledge that God is with you, you can endure the hardships, endure the attacks, endure the affliction, and endure the pain (Psa. 57:4), because you know they have an end.
  4. No matter what is going on around you, and no matter how bad you may feel at that moment, worship God, praise Him, and focus once more on the things above (Psa. 57:5).
  5. While the problems that beset us seem overwhelming on their face, they often serve only as a platform for Satan to set the real trap. Therefore, during the challenge of adversity, it is essential to become even more aware of the enemy’s devices so as to avoid falling into various pitfalls (Psa. 57:6).
  6. As funny as it sounds, it is often during these times of trial that we can have greater clarity of purpose. Adversity is thus not the time to weaken our resolve. Adversity is the time to grow our commitment (Psa. 57:7).
  7. When struggles begin and we face tremendous challenges, this is the time to give even more effort, to wake ourselves up to the depths of our soul, and to arise ready for spiritual combat each and every day (Psa. 57:8).
  8. When we thus prepare ourselves, we will become more outspoken about our faith and more ready to stand out among others (Psa. 58:9).
  9. We can do all of this knowing the character of our God and gaining perspective even during trial of how much He has done for us and continues to do (Psa. 58:10).
  10. In the end, on the other side of trial, you will come to see how great God truly is, more confident than ever in His majesty, His glory, and His care (Psa. 58:11).

We all face adversity. We all experience challenges throughout life. We all go through trials of one form or another. And some of these will likely reach the point of overwhelming us from time to time. But that is all the more reason why we should embrace David’s perspective. He went from triumph to tragedy multiple times through his life. Yet, through it all, his faith provided the foundation for him to overcome each test and emerge stronger than before. You will face trials in life—most of which you would never have anticipated. Regardless, you can always know how and where to turn. “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, Until these calamities have passed by” (Psa. 57:1).

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