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WHEN A CHRISTIAN SAYS, "I'M DEPRESSED"
Pastor Harold Brokke
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? All Your waves and billows have gone over me. I will say to God my Rock, 'Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?' Psalm 42:5,7,9 (All quoted Bible verses are from the New King James Version).
WHAT KIND OF DEPRESSION IS THIS?
What does a person mean when he says, "I'm depressed"? David describes his depressed condition in Psalm 42:
Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?…All your waves and billows have gone over me. I will say to God my Rock, 'Why have You forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?'" (Vv.5, 7,9).
Also, Jesus in Gethsemane said, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me" (Matt. 26:38). Peter in his first epistle writes: "Now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved [in heaviness] by various trials" (I pet. 1:6).
Many people, Christians and non-Christians, have experienced depression and conquered it. This was true long before the psychological sciences came on the scene. Over and above all research on the subject, the Bible has the most satisfying answers. Let's look at five sources of depression and the redemptive ways it can be overcome in Christ.
A DEEP LOSS
Depression originates from many sources. It can be caused by the conscious loss of a valued friend, or the loss of a family relationship, a bitter disappointment, or a hopeless prospect for the future. Because of this sense of hopelessness, a depressed person will often talk negatively about his life and emotions.
An excellent book addressing the subject of depression is Telling Yourself the Truth, by William Backus. He states that one who is depressed tends to devalue his life along three lines:
Person devalues self: "Boy, I sure am dumb."
Person devalues situation "Lately life has been a drag; nothing is worth doing; I don't know why I even get out of bed!"
Person devalues his prospects for the future "I'll never make it! I'll never be anything!
Life is hopeless!" (Telling Yourself the Truth, by Dr. William Backus, Bethany House Publishers.
Chapter 4, "Misbelief in Depression," p. 36.
THE DEPRESSIVE TRIAD
This depressive triad was evident in a young businessman who came to my office for counseling. He had left one job expecting to be involved in a better one. After the change he realized the job he had given up provided security for his family and future, while the better paying one, in another city, did not have these guarantees. Now he wondered if he had made a mistake, thinking, "I'm not sure this is a good idea." His hopes were not high, so I shared with him this triad concerning his own life.
COUNSELING THE DEPRESSED
We looked closely at scriptures relating to his own value in God's sight: he was redeemed by the blood of Christ; and God had not forgotten him.
We talked about his circumstances in view of Rom. 8:37: "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us"; and Prov. 3:6: "In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." In the light of these scriptures he could, with a single mind, move on with faith in the Lord. He could trust God either to stop him or keep him going toward his goals.
We talked about his future and the fears he felt. We considered Psalm 23:6: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…" (Italics mine), Jesus is Lord not only of yesterday but of tomorrow and of the present moment. As we prayed, the Lord gave him peace, and he left my office relieved and hopeful.
Another source of depression is the nagging voice of condemnation. The Bible says: "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things" (I John 3:20). Our own hearts can condemn us when God holds no charge against us. The feelings of inner condemnation for sins and shortcomings are closely linked with heaviness and depression.
For instance, if you've been brought up in a Christian family and have heard of sermons on Christian conduct and the need to live an obedient life, you may feel you haven't lived up to those standards. Rather than thinking the Christian life is enjoyable, you may feel unhappy and depressed because you are always falling short of your religious standards. Your past life may record many failures and nagging doubts. You may, like so many Christians, forget you are to live one day at a time. The Lord deals with us specifically right where we are. He doesn't smother us with a fog of guilt and condemnation.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEMPTATION AND SIN
Here we need to differentiate between temptation and sin. In His word God tells us how they differ. Some Christians tend to treat temptation as sin and upbraid themselves for how they feel. If this confusion nags your mind, life can become unbearable. Dr. Robert Andrews, in an article on depression, sheds light on this dilemma:
To get on top of your depression, you must ascertain what God has to say about it. Remember that emotional difficulties, such as anxiety and depression, are not always caused by lack of faith. It simply isn't true that becoming a Christian solves all problems. There may be logical, normal stresses that underlie your depression. If such is the case, treating your depression with guilt, and acting as if it is a sin to feel down, is a denial of God's diagnosis.("Getting on Top of Depression," by Dr. Robert F. Andrews. Taken from the Transmitter, March/April 1978, of the Light and Life Hour, 901 College Ave., Winona Lake, IN 46590.)
HOW TO RESPOND TO DAILY TEMPTATIONS
Let me illustrate how we can respond to daily temptations. Someone stops you at an inconvenient hour to talk to you. You feel annoyed and angry at their insensitive time, and you certainly don't feel loving. You seek to get rid of your reactions by confessing them as sin. After confession, your depressing emotions still hang over you, only now reinforced by a sense of guilt.
What is the answer? You've been tempted and must come to the understanding that the temptation is not a sin! A person can feel irritation, anger, or fear, but these feelings in themselves are not the sin. We are all tempted through feelings and thoughts, but we must remember that we are moral beings and we are moral beings and we don't have to yield! An emancipating way to deal with such temptation is to tell the Lord,
I felt this anger, this unkind and negative feeling toward that person, so, Lord Jesus, and I release this to you. I do not consent to this temptation. I yield to your grace and your righteousness. Fill me now, Jesus, with your love as I express goodwill toward this person. Thank you!
THREE REASONS WHY WE GAIN FREEDOM
Here are three reasons why you gain freedom by this type of openness toward God:
- You're not pushing these feelings into your subconscious mind; rather, you're releasing them to the Lord.
- You've made a moral decision to line up with righteousness, not sin.
- You give all the glory to God. This is the victory you receive by faith! You begin to realize that you are joined to Christ in His death, dead to sin and alive to God, and able to walk in newness of life.
You may also want to share with the offending person a loving word as to how and when to share his needs.
Temptation has no right to control your life or take away your choice to live in righteousness. Since Christ is your High Priest, you can overcome temptation. He gives you grace and help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
CONVICTION OF SIN
Another form of depression is linked to conviction of sin. In the life of a believer conviction of sin may create the same feelings David expresses in Ps. 32:3-5,
When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me…I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.
When David sinned, the heavy hand of God's conviction was laid on him. He felt depressed until he confessed his sin. As long as we defend or cover up sin, the Holy Spirit cannot give us peace and freedom. Instead, the burden of guilt becomes a heavy yoke that weighs on the conscience. Christ's yoke, on the other hand, is easy and light. If temptation and condemnation can make someone feel heavy, then certainly the conviction of sin can make someone depressed. But when sin is confessed and forgiven, we can feel as David did when he expressed the joy of forgiveness in Ps. 32:7: "You shall surround me with songs of deliverance."
The belief that someone has rejected you can cause depression. For instance, a father jokes carelessly with his daughter, making her feel that he regrets she is a girl and not a boy. Or a young man sees his father giving other boys more attention than he gets or notices that his performance is always less than what his father expects. There are so many things that can be interpreted as rejection. Anyone feeling this sense of rejection needs to share his heart with God and begin to place his trust in the Lord's love and care. Christian counsel will also help. Dr. Clyde Narramore, well-known Christian psychologist, says, "No one will ever get emotionally well until he can talk." A good counselor will lead the person to see the sufficiency of Christ and His Word. Such a person should also find ways to show real interest in the needs and concerns of other people instead of "licking his own wounds" in self-pity.
LIES OF THE ENEMY
Another source of depression can be labeled "lies of the enemy." This is the last but not the least source of depression. Dr. Art Vincent writes about depression as the "burn out in the soul." "Burn out in the soul will surely come as you tell yourself some half truths and out-right lies. Like wind-blown prairie fires, these lies will burn out your peace, joy, and hope." (Fire Up and Burned Out! God's Cure for Spiritual Depression, by Dr. Art Vincent, 1510 Salem Hills Dr., St. Louis, MO 63119.)
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve accepted Satan's lie that the "tree" could give them an eye-opening experience. Satan has one end in view when he lies to us and that is to steal our life in Christ and finally destroy our souls (John 10:10). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, comes with truth and gives us abundant life.
In my own experience I have found how the lies of the enemy can steal one's joy and bring depression. Some years ago I discovered in Romans 6 the key to victorious living and I was truly excited about the freedom I found in Christ.
Then about two years later I was caught by one of the snares of the devil. I failed to walk in victory over a temptation to sin. I knew enough about the Christian life to recover from the failure, but even though I was forgiven, I toyed with a question in my mind: "Am I really clean in my heart? Is there something I need to deal with?" This doubt hindered my liberty and my ministry.
I sometimes thought this "doubt" was about 90 percent false and 10 percent true. The fact that I gave this doubt even a small percentage of consideration let the enemy use it to disturb and depress me. (I might add that I had long seasons when I could preach and teach and pray with others and many received help and deliverance even though this problem persisted.)
In the midst of this perplexity, I was planning to go on a trip to minister in South America. As I was talking to my wife about this problem, she turned and looked at me and said, "Harold, that's a one hundred percent lie." Right then the truth shined on my mind. I realized the doubt that was plaguing me wasn't a 90 percent lie, it wasn't a 99 percent lie, it was a 100 percent lie.
This lie had weighed on my mind and in some degree cancelled out the Word of God that declares, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7). I again claimed the promise of full cleansing, assurance, and victory in Christ. I renounced the devil and took my place in Jesus' victory. Immediately His joy came to my heart.
WE LIVE BY HIS TRUTH
Through this experience the Lord reminded me in a deeper way that we live by the truth-His truth (John 8:11). Depression is as good a word as I can find to explain how I felt before the Lord's truth expelled that lie from my mind.
A CHECKLIST OF PROBLEMS
Note this checklist of problems that can cause depression:
- Devaluing yourself, your circumstances, or your future.
- Feeling condemned.
- Sensing the reality or feeling of rejection.
- Experiencing the conviction of sin.
- Believing the lies of the enemy.
THE WAY OUT IS THE TRUE LIGHT OF JESUS CHRIST
If we come under the shadow of these problems, the way out is the true light of Christ. The Word of God expresses the truth that sets us free. Remember Hannah (I Sam. 1:1), who was so depressed because she could bear no children? William Bridges, a Puritan preacher, said of her:
You know how it was with Hannah when she had received a word from God: 'She went away' (says the text), 'and looked no more sorrowful.' Her heart was quieted, for she had a word from God; and though before, she was a woman of sorrowful spirit, yet having received a word from god, and believing the word, her heart was quiet'(William Bridges).
Jesus Christ, by His Word and power, releases us from all these depressors. We do not have to be depressed. He is our great physician. He brings wholeness not only to our bodies but also to our souls. We can, in the words of Isaiah, put on "the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (61:3).
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- Pastor Harold Brokke and his wife Cathy Brokke have served the Lord Jesus as counselors to countless missionaries all over the world. Harold is a former President of Bethany International, the community that established and ran the renowned Bethany House Publishers. Presently Pastor Brokke serves the Bethany Missionary Church as Senior Pastor Emeritus. Cathy was the Director of Bethany International Missions for many years. Both live in Minneapolis. God has called Harold to minister to people and communities around the world on Bible Prophecy and sanctification through the Message of the Cross. This article is presented to us by Bev Cooley, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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