DEPRESSION AND HOPE
by Eric Elder
Note from Eric: I was asked to speak this week on the topic of depression for our Care Groups at our church, and I thought you’d like to hear the message too. We all face troubles and times when hope seems to elude us. Yet with God there’s always hope, and He can lead us to the help we need.
Click here to listen to my message: “Depression and Hope” (11-1/2 minutes), or read the transcript that follows.
(For those who are interested, I’ve also uploaded Part 2 of this message to our website, with a personal story of how God helped me through a time of trouble this past week. Click here to listen to Part 2, which is not included in the transcript below.)
I’m going to talk tonight about depression, so I thought I’d start with a cartoon if that’s OK. They go together, right?
This is a picture of a man in his car and he says: “Son, look at the back of the car and tell me if my turn signal is working.” The son sees the blinking light and says, “Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes.”
I sometimes feel that way when people ask me how I’m doing. “Up, Down, Up, Down, Up.” It really depends when you ask me and how things are going because of the things that have happened in the last couple years of my life. I think that’s a common thing for a lot of us, and yet as Christians, sometimes we think we should be “happy clappy” all the time, and if we’re not then something must be desperately wrong with us.
Depression has been called the common cold of emotional disorders. It really is something that happens. We have seasons where things get us down, where life is hard, where sometimes we experience incredible highs and then we plummet right after it. It’s just something that happens as part of life, as part of living, and it happened to Bible characters throughout history.
You can look through the Bible and look at someone like Moses. Here’s a quote from him:
“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:14-15, NKJV).
Here Moses has been called by God and he’s doing what God called him to do. But he gets to the point where he says, in effect: “The burden’s just too much for me to take. I can’t do it; just take me now.”
Here’s King David after he had sinned with Bathsheba. In Psalm 38 he says:
“I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. … I groan because of the turmoil of my heart” (Psalm 38:6, 8b, NKJV).
Here’s Elijah. He had just performed an incredible wonder for God. He had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a duel to see whose God was going to come and burn a sacrifice that they had both put on an altar. It was just 1 of Elijah against 450 of these other guys who were worshipping Baal. Elijah won and all the other prophets were killed and slaughtered after that because God descended fire onto Elijah’s altar and did exactly what Elijah called on Him to do.
Yet Elijah ran from that scene. He ran and ran and ran until he was worn out. It says in the Bible:
“He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep” (1 Kings 19:4b-5a, NIV).
I could just keep going through the Bible: Jeremiah and Jonah and even Jesus. On the cross, I don’t know if you would call this depression, but it was certainly anguish. When you’re being nailed to a cross and you’re hanging there dying and you’ve done nothing wrong and you cry out to God, as it says in Matthew that He did:
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
So if you ever feel in anguish as a Christian, or you ever feel like the burden is too much for you, or you feel like you just want God to take your life, or you just don’t think that you can take it anymore, you’re in really good company.
I’m not saying it’s good to be there. I don’t think we should be there all the time. But God provides help to all of us as we need it. And so there’s a Psalm I want to read to you tonight, Psalm 77. It’s written by a man named Asaph. He was the choir director during King David’s time. He wrote a Psalm that’s sort of a classic Psalm on depression if you’d ever like to read it on your own. I’m going to read portions of it to you here.
Asaph was in a miserable state. It says, in Psalm 77, starting in verse 1:
“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:1-9).
That’s a pretty desperate cry to God. It’s nice that God records these things in the Bible. He doesn’t gloss over this in people’s lives. If that’s all I told you about the Bible you might say, “Man, that’s a whole bunch of depressed people. I don’t know if I want to read that Book!”
But God doesn’t leave people there.
For Moses, God sent an answer. He sent his father-in-law to give him a solution to how to deal with all the people, to divide them up into groups and to put leaders over them.
For King David, God provided an answer and showed him how to confess his sins out loud and to relieve all that guilt. You should see and read all the rest of of the Psalms that David wrote as he poured out that confession to God and God flooded him with love and forgiveness and peace.
He gave an answer to Elijah. God sent an angel to him and as he was sleeping there, the angel prepared some food for him. Elijah got up and ate, then the angel had him go back to sleep, then he got up and ate again. Just a little nourishment and he was on his way and up and going again.
I think if you read through these different stories, even about Jesus it says He was crying in anguish, but 3 days later He was raised gloriously and sat at the right hand of God, the Father. In all these situations, there wasn’t a “one size fits all” answer for how to get out of it, because they didn’t get into it in the same way. Sometimes it was sin, sometimes it was having a great victory in God, sometimes it was doing exactly what God wanted them to do. So the solutions are sort of different for everyone. But I want to encourage you that there is hope.
Chip Ingram, in his book that we’ve been studying this fall, Finding God When You Need Him Most, in this chapter called “When You’re Troubled and Depressed,” writes this:
“You see, God is a shepherd who cares for each person individually. Even though you might not be able to sort out all the contributing factors to your depression, God can still lead you out of it. He will lead you to the help you need. It may involve medicine, counseling, spiritual direction, relational aid, or all of the above. But God wants to meet you in the midst of your troubles and depression and lead you out” (Chip Ingram, Finding God When You Need Him Most, pg. 108).
You can get to the point where you say, “Man, I don’t know if God’s going to show up this time. I know He’s been faithful, but you know, I’m just getting worn out.” Yet God does show up and He leads us to a solution that we need. For a lot of you, this Care Groups tonight (or this message today), is part of that solution and God can provide the Bible verse that you need, or the person that you need, or the counseling that you need, or maybe a direction to the medical help that you need. God loves to provide what you need and He loves to give you hope. He loves to give you what you need.
I just want to encourage you in that, and my final encouragement to you today is to do what Asaph did in Psalm 77, if you read further. In verse 10, he changes his course. Instead of complaining to God he says:
“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:10-12).
And then he goes on and he recounts how God led the Israelites through the desert out of Egypt and into the Promised Land and how he brought them through the sea where there was no way out and God provided a way. Doing this changed the whole course of Psalm 77. And by the end, Asaph is praising God again, after starting the Psalm with such despair.
It’s different for all of us, but his turning point was just saying, “God, I’m going to remember what You’ve done in the past.” I’ll close with this list of just a few of many things that Chip Ingram suggests, things that he does for himself, and maybe there are one or two things that you could do, when you find yourself in a depressed moment or season. You might think these are too simple, yet you’d be surprised.
- Get out your photo albums or slide projector and look at wedding pictures, remember good moments with shots of kids, reminisce with favorite vacation pictures, look at birthday pictures.
- Watch old videos you haven’t watched in years.
- Read your journal.
- Write down all your blessings.
- Relive the day you came to Christ.
- List the top 10 answers to prayer in your life.
- List 5 people who love you.
If there’s one of those you want to do, even this week, just list the top 10 answers to prayers in your life, relive the day you came to Christ, list 5 people who love you, read your journal, going back and remembering how God has worked in your life and saying, “God, You’ve been there for me in the past, and You’ve promised You’ll be there for me in the future. I’m going to trust You. Even though I don’t see a way out, I trust You that You’ll provide it, in Jesus’ name.”
Father, thank You that You can show us that it’s even normal to have days of trouble and days of depression, days when we can’t work things out on our own, days when it seems hopeless. Lord, thank You also for showing us that there’s a way out when we experience those days or months or years. Thank You that You love us so much that You do provide a way out, Lord. I pray You’d lead each of us to whatever solution You would have for us, God, whether it’s inviting people that we need to invite, whether it’s giving a call to someone, whether it’s taking someone out for dinner, whether it’s reading the Bible, a favorite passage, looking back at our journal, listing the things You’ve done in our lives, whether it’s seeking medical help or professional help or someone in church or just a listening ear. God, whatever answer, whatever solution, I pray You’d lead us to it. Thank You that You are a God of hope. I pray that You would give each one of us hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. For those who are interested, I’ve also uploaded a 2nd part of the message to our website, with a personal story of how God helped me through a time of trouble this past week. Click here to listen to Part 2, which is not included in the transcript above.
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