the apostle Paul
Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.
Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.
So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.
Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Come to God with your suffering
You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.
If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!
Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.
God speaks to you in the Bible
Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.
- Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
- Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
- Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
- Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
- Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
- Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4).
- Try one step at a time Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive,nomotivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.
- Consider what accompanies your depressionAs you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:
Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?
Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?
Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?
Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness? Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.
Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.
Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.
Will it ever be over?
Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.
The Message (MSG)
22 God grabbed me by the shoulder and said, “Get up. Go out on the plain. I want to talk with you.”
Have you ever heard of anyone being greatly used by Christ who did not experience a special time of waiting, or a complete upset of his plans at first? From the apostle Paul’s being sent into the Arabian wilderness for three years-during which time he must have been overflowing with the Good News–down to the present day, it seems those who will be used have a time of waiting. Have you been looking forward to telling about trusting Jesus, but instead He is asking you to show what trust is by waiting?
My own experience is far less severe than Paul’s but reveals the same principle. Once when I thought the door was being thrown open for me to enter the literary field with a great opportunity, it was just as quickly shut. There have been recent accounts of periods of waiting for God’s direction that have left me baffled and anxious to move even though I hadn’t heard from God to do so. I was put on pew status, taken from the pulpit and left to sit and wonder what is taking place? There was another time when I couldn’t afford to live, but God met my immediate needs and nothing extra, not going to church on a regular bases due to gasoline and finances, not getting to engage with other believers as I felt I should be doing at all the men’s group functions and church ministry functions. I was put into a serious period of isolation with high aspirations of getting my first book written and Second Chance Alliance “Felon” business opened, but God had me still. I can see tonight the distinct wisdom of having to wait for His shade to manifest itself in my life.
God’s love is unchangeable, and He is just as loving even when we do not see or feel it. And His love and His sovereignty are equal and universal. Therefore He often withholds our enjoyment and awareness of our progress, because He knows best what will actually ripen and further His work in us.
I laid it down in silence,
This work of mine,
And took what had been sent me–
A resting time.
The Master’s voice had called me
To rest apart;
“Apart with Jesus only,”
Echoed my heart.
I took the rest and stillness
From His own hand,
And felt this present illness
Was what He planned.
How often we choose labor,
When he says “Rest”–
Our ways are blind and crooked;
His way is best.
Work He Himself has given,
He will complete.
There may be other errands
For tired feet;
There may be other duties
For tired hands,
The present, is obedience
To His commands.
There is a blessed resting
In lying still,
In letting His hand mold us,
Just as He will.
His work must be completed.
His lesson set;
He is the Master Workman:
Do not forget!
It is not only “working.”
We must be trained;
And Jesus “learned” obedience,
Through suffering gained.
For us, His yoke is easy,
His burden light.
His discipline most needful,
And all is right.
We are to be His servants;
We never choose
If this tool or if that one
Our hands will use.
In working or in waiting
May we fulfill
Not ours at all, but only
The master’s will!
I have found in my quest to be a serious committed and surrendered vessel that God provides resting places as well as working places, So rest and be thankful when He brings you, tired and weary, to streams along the way. When God gives me no special guidance, I stay where I am.