I watched a very insightful message this past weekend that Dr. David Jeremiah gave called Dealing with Depression (which is part of his series called Tried, Tested, and Triumphant), which compassionately spoke to and about Christians who suffer with depression. Sadly, many in the body of Christ would rather sweep mental illness under a rug rather than acknowledge it, let alone deal with it, and deal with it in such a compassionate, biblically-based way.
He did not say that it’s impossible for believers to have depression because they know Christ; he did not acknowledge it but say, as so many would, “you just need to pray and read your Bible,” insinuating that all depressed Christians are lazy Christians.
No, he tackled it head-on, knowing that believers can and do suffer from depression and most likely that depression is made worse because they feel shamed by the Church that they have such feelings and that shame causes them to live in fear, to don a mask of “normalcy” when inside all they want to do is die. A wall then goes up between them and other believers and even between them and Christ, and consequently, there is stunted spiritual growth and a lack of fellowship and serving within the Church. I think we would be shocked if we knew the statistics of depression within the church and the crippling effects it's having in the body.
Both my parents suffered with depression, my dad to the point of alcoholism and my mother to the point of really needing to have been dealt with on an in-patient basis. But that never happened. Now she languishes at a state-run nursing home half out of her mind because of undiagnosed and undealt-with mental illnesses including debilitating depression. Both of my parents also had numerous relatives who I suspect dealt with depression as well.
God only knows the state I would be in had He not saved me early on. As it is, I deal with depression from time to time, and I have noticed that negative thoughts and depression can set in in the days after I have posted a devotional blog.
The enemy knows our weaknesses and he will play on them to keep us discouraged and hopefully, he reasons, kept out of spiritual service, out of prayer, out of the spiritual race. We have to fight against that. And sometimes fighting means reaching out to someone to stand with us in the fight, and that means the rest of us need to be ready to stand with them in love.
Many times, as Dr. Jeremiah confirmed for me, depression can come to someone in ministry just after a spiritual victory, as was the case with Elijah, as the scene unfolds in 1 Kings 19:4, just after Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal, “And he himself (Elijah) went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he begged for his life, that he might die. And he said, ‘It is enough. O Jehovah, take away my life. For I am no better than my fathers.’”
And other times depression will come just before a spiritual victory, as the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, admitted to his congregation one day. He told them that he had even despaired of his life and asked his congregation to pray for him. (Would anyone tell Charles Haddon Spurgeon that he just needed to pray and read his Bible more?)
Job fell into depression and wished that he had never been born. Jeremiah spoke of a depressed spirit in Lamentations 3:17-20, “My soul is sent far away from peace, I have no more memory of good. And I said, my strength is cut off, and my hope from the Lord. Keep in mind my trouble and my wandering, the bitter root and the poison. My soul still keeps the memory of them; and is bent down in me.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that depression never comes about because a believer has unconfessed, unrepentant sin. It does. And I’m not saying that depression never comes about because a believer has allowed the cares of this world to fill their minds more than prayer and God’s Word. It does. But it can also be a spiritual attack, and it can be clinical depression – a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is as real as any other physical illness.
But the cause is not for us to judge. Depression is real whatever the reason for it and it’s time that we, as the body of Christ, stop acting as if it isn’t. Whether or not you have personally fallen into the depths of depression has no bearing on the fact that it exists. And we can’t always tell how depressed a person is by the way they look on the outside. Many have taken their life and have left family and friends searching their minds for the clues they missed.
Instead, we need to come alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ who are dealing with depression and intercede to the Father for them and encourage them. Shouldn’t the body of Christ, above all, be able to depend on each other when we’re in the midst of a difficult time?
If you are dealing with depression, pray for a strong (same sex) believer in Christ who has the compassionate heart to stand with you in prayer and love you through the dark times. Find a good, Christian, biblically-based counselor who has understanding and wisdom about mental illness coupled with a strong faith and deep roots in God’s Word. (A great resource within a resource regarding mental illness is my friend, Allan's, blog, More Than Coping.) And if your depression continues, find a good physician who can determine if you have clinical depression, and who will then work with you to find a medication that works for you to balance the brain chemistry.
Whether you are able to find anyone to come alongside you or not, know this: your #1 Ally is ALWAYS Christ. He has not abandoned you, He has not forgotten you, He has not left you by the side of the road to fend for yourself. When all around us seems lost, the enemy loves to whisper in our ear that God has forsaken us. HE HAS NOT. The enemy is a liar and a deceiver. Remember that and hold onto the truth.
God is near to the broken-hearted, and if you are suffering from depression, whatever the cause, He is near to you. He loves with an everlasting love, a love that took Him and held Him to the cross for the remission of your sins because He loves you so much that He couldn’t bear to think of living eternity without you.
Allow Him into your life. Talk to Him about those deep, dark thoughts. He already knows about them anyway. God’s friend, Job, wasn’t afraid to speak his mind in the anguish of his soul as he exampled to us in Job 7:11, “"Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
When you open up communication with the Lord – your Teammate - it gives Him a chance to lead you, to encourage you, to heal you, and to find a place of peace and wholeness again, as Jeremiah did when he spoke the truth above all, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:21-26)