Depression: Abounding in Hope (Part 1)

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Depression can be a puzzle with lots of pieces.

If you are reading this post, you are likely either interested in helping someone who is suffering from depression, you are experiencing a bout with it yourself, or you’ve been there and have decided to better equip yourself for the next assault.  I’ve been watching a discussion over at Bro Chris Anderson’s “My Two Cents”, entitled, “Depression and Meds:  It’s Complicated“.  He’s right.  It is.  Going to Dan Phillip’s post and discussion (click here) further supports the conclusion that a cut and dried “solution” is an elusive thing in this realm.

I am not an authority on this, and it is too serious a matter to waste your time with much of my opinion.  I do know what it is like to be dragged through the “slough of despond”, and I have prayerfully considered the words in these posts, so that they might be as constructive as possible.  I will try and cite some profitable resources and scriptures; but I will say at the outset that if you are seriously struggling with this issue, please contact someone for help.  It has been my experience since beginning this blog nearly a year ago, that there are some desperate folks out there seeking help on the web.  It is not as intimidating as speaking with someone face to face, but I would advise that you seek someone out.  Our hearts are deceitful, and our self talk in times like these can be wickedly inaccurate and destructive.  If you are experiencing feelings of desperation, please talk with a trusted and godly friend, your pastor, or a biblical counselor today.

Also, at the start, we need to establish that depression can be caused by guilt.  If you do not yet know what it is like to be released from the guilt of your sin by trusting in Jesus Christ as your Savior, please click here.  Until you resolve this matter,  you cannot hope to move forward.  Additionally, if you are a born again believer, but you have been tolerating known sin in your life, you will probably experience depression as well.  Cain’s face was “fallen” as a result of the wicked intentions of his heart, and David experienced unrelenting physical repercussions as a result of unconfessed sin.  The first step in dealing with depression is to pray, as David,

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Ps. 139:23, 24

Understanding that one of my favorite preachers/authors, Charles Spurgeon, fought continually with bouts of depression, I thought I’d pick through what was on the web and see if I could get inside his head on this matter.  I found a helpful page, “Mingling Groans of Pain and Songs of Hope–Charles Haddon Spurgeon on Depression,” by Susan Verstraete.  It is a brief and profitable overview.  Click here to read it.

Here is her summarizing statement:

In the end, Spurgeon acknowledged that depression may come to some believers for no discernable reason. He did not consider it an illness, a sin, or surprising condition, but an inevitable season in the life of a Christian and an opportunity to demonstrate trust in the God who will one day wipe away every tear.

Life does lend itself to downs as well as ups.  Profound, I know.  Sadness and disappointment come to everyone.   A person who never experiences any down times is either deluded or heavily medicated, in my opinion.  What we are addressing here, though, far transcends moodiness or being disenchanted.  This is prolonged disquietude–and God is purposeful, even in these times.  We’ll see this when we look at our next post.

Martin Luther and John Wesley were two other notable individuals also known to have battled depression.  Luther made this interesting observation in a letter (he addressed this issue various times in letters of counsel and his “Table Talks”:

“You know the proverb, ‘imagination produces misfortune.’ Therefore you ought to take the pains to divert rather than entertain such notions [depressing, anxious thoughts]. I too must do this. For our adversary, the devil, walks about, seeking not only to devour our souls but also to weaken our bodies with thoughts of our soul in the hope that he might perhaps slay our bodies, for he knows our physical health depends in large measure on the thoughts of our minds.”

Sometimes, it’s true–we can get ourselves into a negative funk, a downward spiral of thinking which can, in turn, be physically debilitating. However, this does not summarize all of depression.  I’m certain that many who have more complex and enduring struggles would love for the answer to be as easy as merely redirecting one’s thoughts.  We often require a refreshing (what the Bible calls renewing) of our minds. If we are trying to correct an erroneous thought pattern, we need to deliberately choose a new direction, and educate our minds.  For instance, thoughts of discontent need to be abandoned in favor of truths regarding contentment…truth, that is, from the only sanctifying source:  God’s Word (Jn 17:17).  Click here for a concisely categorized list of verses you can use for meditation.

In Luther’s case, his wife Katherine had a rather atypical approach to these bouts of her husband’s:

During one very difficult period, Luther was carrying many burdens and fighting many battles. Usually jolly and smiling, he was instead depressed and worried. Katherine endured this for days. One day, she met him at the door wearing a black mourning dress. “Who died?” the professor asked. “God,” said Katherine. “You foolish thing!” said Luther. “Why this foolishness!” “It is true,” she persisted. “God must have died, or Doctor Luther would not be so sorrowful.” Her therapy worked, and Luther snapped out of his depression.

Not sure I’d advocate this approach for every wife with a brooding husband…but this was the way she was led to be her husband’s completer. No doubt she had spent much time in prayer as well.

This (prayer) is the foremost method of ministry we can offer for someone engaged in this battle.  We are not omniscient, we can’t help if we don’t have compassion, and we are not discerning if we merely offer platitudes and good advice.  We need truth and biblical perspective, not merely reason…and God, in His Word, has provided all we need in order to attain peace, and grow toward godliness:

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.2 Peter 1:2-4

In these spiritually-oriented skirmishes with depression, passages like 1 Peter 5:6-11 are instructive, and a great consolation.  I enjoyed John Gill’s exposition of verse 10 :

…”after” they have “suffered awhile”; in their bodies, characters, and estates, through the malice and wickedness of men; and in their souls, from their own corruptions, the temptations of Satan, and the hidings of God’s face; which will be but for a very little while, for a moment, as it were; these are only the sufferings of this present time, and in the present evil world; nor are they inconsistent with God being the God of all grace unto them, or with their being called to eternal glory, the way to which lies through them; and they are the means of perfecting, establishing, strengthening, and settling them.

He is our hope (Rom 15:13)–a hope in which we may abound; and He is able to complete a good work in you (Phil 1:6), even through what you perceive at this time to be chaos.

In our next post, we’ll consider a quote by John Wesley, some examples from scripture, and lots of helpful resources.

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