I felt it creeping in. I hadn’t eaten all day but I felt heavy. My heart hung low within me. I couldn’t muster the energy to lift the corners of my mouth to smile. The darkness was so heavy I couldn’t lift my arms to free myself. Friends tried to console me, but my heart was silent. I tried to fight but I wore myself out and collapsed into a dark hole. Fear gripped me and I wasn’t even sure what I was afraid of? It seemed like I was growing afraid of everything. News reports made me leery of those around me. Health reports caused me to wonder if I would come down with some horrible disease. Financial reports made me worry if I would lose my job and end up on the street. What is happening to me? I know in my head that I’m making this mouse out to be a monster. I know that I can’t live my life in fear of what “could” happen. I know that my problems are not overwhelming, but why am I overwhelmed? I know that I can manage, but why does my life seem so unmanageable? I really don’t have anything to be depressed about, not now any way, but why am I so down? I know that I should hang in there, but oh if I could just get away. If I could just leave this world of sorrow and sadness and fly away…away from it all. A man named David wrote in his journal one day.
4 My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death assail me. 5 Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me. 6 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest- 7 I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah (Psalm 55:4-7 NIV)
Can you relate at all? Have you ever felt the darkness of depression close in around you so that you felt like the walls of the world were caving in on you? Have you ever felt that the blues were bullying you to the extent that you could hardly function? Have you ever felt guilty that you were depressed while so many others have things so much worse than you? Have you ever felt anguish rush over you like a mighty river? Have you ever been terrorized by the thoughts that surely you were about to die? Have fear and trembling ever beset you, held you in their clutches until you couldn’t breath?
Isn’t it strange how there are a zillion things that can bring on the emotions of depression, fear, feelings of being overwhelmed, and despair. Elijah experienced the greatest victory of his life, as he stood strong for the Lord, and yet before the crowds were nestled in bed that night he was running for his life in fear and cried out to God, “Just take my life.” (1 Kings 18-19)
For the Hebrew slaves they were experiencing freedom for the first time in their lives as God delivered them from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. Yet, as they marched in their freedom on the way to the Promised Land, they were so discouraged and depressed that they literally convinced themselves that the land flowing with milk and honey was behind them and not before them. (Numbers 16)
Sometimes we experience wonderful victories and some time later feel depression slip around us like a python. There are times that the unknown paralyzes us and causes us to withdraw in fear. Other times we go through gut wrenching, heart shattering experiences and feel depression pulls us under. For Job he had lost it all, everyone that he loved except his wife, and she proved to be a detriment instead of a delight later on in his suffering. He lost everything that provided security for his family. He lost his health as disease racked his body. I’m sure that there were times that Job thought he was losing his mind. In the whirlwind of despair Job says,
1 “People have a hard task on earth, and their days are like those of a laborer. 2 They are like a slave wishing for the evening shadows, like a laborer waiting to be paid. 3 But I am given months that are empty, and nights of misery have been given to me. 4 When I lie down, I think, ‘How long until I get up?’ The night is long, and I toss until dawn. 5 My body is covered with worms and scabs, and my skin is broken and full of sores. 6 “My days go by faster than a weaver’s tool, and they come to an end without hope. 7 Remember, God, that my life is only a breath. My eyes will never see happy times again. (Job 7:1-7 NIV)
That, my friend, is a man deep in the throes of depression. A man who is described in Job 1 as “blameless and upright. A man who feared God and shunned evil.” Some may say, “Well, that’s how Job saw himself,” but later on in the same chapter we see what God has to say about Job. God says to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)
How can a person who loves God find himself or herself held in the clutches of depression? Only a person who has never spent time in the deep, dark well of despair can ask that question.
The experience of depression has been the companion of believer and unbeliever alike throughout history. My favorite preacher, the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon likened depression to “the horror of a soul forsaken by God.” Spurgeon knew the depths of depression so intimately that depression seemed like a constant companion. He who is called the last century’s greatest preacher was so plagued by discouragement, depression, fatigue and illness that he tendered his resignation thirty-two times in thirty-nine years of ministry.
The great missionary, William Carey, who was relentless in spreading the Gospel in the midst of incredible opposition, suffered what one of his biographers called, “sheer black depression.”
Before Spurgeon or Carey ever battled depression there were those saints of God who struggled night and day with the darkness that invaded their hearts and minds.
Moses prayed to God when the weight of his responsibilities became so great that they drove him into the pit of despair. Moses was only doing what the Lord had commanded him to do and yet the people were calling for his head. Moses prayed to God and said,
11He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? 13Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15If 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 11:11-15 NIV)
Jonah was drafted into the Lord’s service. He didn’t want to go to the people of Nineveh because he knew that when he delivered the warning from God that they would repent and God would forgive them instead of destroy them. Jonah wanted to see the city go up in flames. He couldn’t bear the thought of God’s forgiveness raining down on the hated city. Jonah didn’t volunteer for God’s service, he was hog tied, dragged, and practically placed in front of the people with words that were not his own. When he preached of God’s impending judgment the people of Nineveh repented in sackcloth and ashes and God forgave them. When Jonah saw the people repent and turn back to God he began jumping up and down like a three year old being told they had to eat their spinach instead of going to McDonalds. We read in Jonah 4 what happened next.
1But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3 NIV)
David, the man after God’s own heart, once wrote in his journal of his deep depression and despair at seeing his enemies come after him relentlessly time after time. David wrote,
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2 NIV)
The great prophet of God, Jeremiah, knew how depression could sink a person deep into the muck and mire of a melancholy maze. You want to know how a person who loves God can find themselves in the darkness of depression? You need to ask Jeremiah. When Jeremiah was still a young man he was given the greatest security a person could ever receive. Jeremiah was visited by the Lord and told,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:5-8 NIV)
God drove all doubt from Jeremiah’s mind. He assured Jeremiah that he was chosen for a special assignment. He was told that God would give him the words to say and that he had no need to ever fear his accusers. What more could we want to give us the confidence to stand up and speak, “Thus saith the Lord” with boldness? Yet, later in life, as Jeremiah was serving the Lord and speaking to the people, we find that he is ready to throw in the towel.
7 O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. 8 Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. (Jeremiah 20:7-8 NIV)
Jeremiah, looking up from the deepest pit of his life, cries out to God, “You have deceived me! What happened to all of those promises You made me? What about protecting me? You call this protection? What about choosing me? Choosing me for what…to abuse me?” A little later, as Jeremiah writes the Book of Lamentations, we read more of what is troubling his soul. Jeremiah writes,
17 I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. 18 So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD.” 19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lamentations 3:17-20 NIV)
All of these examples from Scripture help us to see that we are not alone my friends in feeling the weight of the world upon our shoulders. We are not alone in feeling like our prayers are hitting the ceiling and bouncing back in our faces. We are not alone in feeling like God has somehow allowed us to be wrapped in a cocoon of confusion and deposited in a dungeon of doubt and depression. These are not the most heart wrenching examples though. Let me share with you one more that rips at my heart each time I read it. Turn to Matthew 26:36 and look with me at the sorrow of the Savior.
On the night that Jesus was betrayed by those He came to give His life for we read of His going to the Garden of Gethsemane. Read along with me.
Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me” (Mt. 26:36-38).
Jesus says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” It is interesting to see the choice of words Matthew makes here in describing Jesus’ sorrow. The Greek word, “peri,lupoj” (perilupos) means, “exceeding sorrowful, very sad, overcome with sorrow so much as to cause one’s death.” The sorrow that gripped Jesus that night as He prayed for God’s strength to face the cross was so great that He felt like He was going to die. I have heard Jesus’ agonizing prayer time with the Father described in so many ways. Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying His anguish caused such great distress that He sweat drops of blood. Oh my friend let me tell you that mixed with those droplets of blood pouring from His forehead was a stream of tears. Jesus knows sorrow like nobody else. Jesus knows your sorrow. He is able to lift you from the pit of depression and give you His peace.
This past week I have spent several hours reading articles and studies on depression on the internet. I have learned so much about the causes of depression, the treatments for depression, and the countless support groups for those battling depression in every city and on the web. As I read article after article there seemed to be something missing, something very significant that I believe proceeds all other forms of relief. I read about the potential of Prozac and Paxil. I learned that regular exercise and eating healthy can be a great deterrent to depression. I learned that not giving in to the desire to isolate ourselves can help ward off depression. There is page after page of important information on for us to read and glean important information from, but there was one thing missing that I find recurring over and over again in the pages of God’s Word. Let me give you an example.
The same Jeremiah who felt deceived by God, who said that he had been deprived of peace, and felt abandoned by God went on to say more. In Lamentations 3, we read more of Jeremiah’s thoughts.
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24 NIV)
Jeremiah says, “I will wait on the Lord.” He recounts God’s faithfulness and love in the midst of his despair and then he waits for God’s deliverance. So many people today, even Christians, find themselves fighting for a breath in the clutches of confusion and despair and they believe that their night will never turn to day. The treatments that are offered by society for our depression and despair are a wonderful blessing provided by God, but they should never take precedence over our trust and reliance upon God’s grace and mercy to pull us out of the darkness.
When we are going through dark nights that seem that they will not end we need to remind ourselves of God’s unfailing love, His matchless mercy, and His faithfulness that will see us through…one day.
Job is a source for great encouragement for those of us who have seen far too many days spent in despair. From Job 1 to Job 42 we see Job’s troubles chronicled before our eyes. When we come to the end of Job’s story we see God’s great deliverance and Job’s understanding come into clear focus. Take a look at Job 42:2-6.
2 “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ 5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6 NIV)
We must wait upon the Lord for His deliverance to come. Waiting is not enough though, we must wait with our minds and our hearts fixed on Jesus, the Author of our deliverance and hope. We must allow God’s Word to direct us to His throne of grace where we can find comfort for our sorrow and healing for our broken hearts. The Psalmist said,
75 I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. 76 May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. 77 Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:75-77 NIV)
We do not wait or hope as those who have no hope and no idea who they are waiting upon. We wait on the One who promises to never leave us or forsake us. We hope as those who know who we are hoping in. We remind ourselves that God is our strength and our Redeemer. The Psalmist says,
1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. 5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon-from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. 8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me- a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 45:1-11 NIV)
Oh my friend, we will yet praise Him! Put your hope in God! When depression presses in upon you and seeks to turn your eyes away from the Lord, press in and press on. Trust in Him to see you through. Know that He has a reason for the sorrow that surrounds you and that once His purpose is accomplished in your life – He will restore your soul with abundance. His instruments of hope are His Word, His Spirit, and His unfailing love and mercy – rest in them.
I mentioned my hero of the pulpit to you earlier, Charles Spurgeon. In 1854, shortly after Spurgeon had been called to pastor, the city experienced a major cholera epidemic. “Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten,” he later wrote.
The death rate was so high that Spurgeon was conducting funerals daily. The long hours trying to comfort the grieving and personal discouragement over the scope of the epidemic left Spurgeon feeling weak, vulnerable, and frightened. He felt it was only a matter of time before he came down with cholera because of his contact with so many of the dying.
“I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed to be falling one by one, and I felt that I was sickening like those around me.” An exhausted Spurgeon was sinking. But that soon changed. As Spurgeon was returning from conducting yet another funeral service, a flyer posted in a shoemaker’s shop window got his attention. The flyer contained sections of Psalm 91, including these heartening words: “You will not fear the terror of night … nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you” (Ps. 91:5-7).
The impact of Psalm 91 upon Spurgeon was dramatic. He wrote:
The effect upon my heart was immediate. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to place those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power, I adore the Lord, my God.
As despair, discouragement, and depression knocked at Pastor Spurgeon’s door he found comfort in God’s abiding Word. God’s Word will give us hope that we are secure in Him. God’s Word will give us hope that we are not alone. God’s Word will assure us that He will never leave us. God’s Word will give us hope that He is our Deliverer.
David, the man who wrote in his journal, “My God, my God why have You forsaken me?” is the same man who wrote these powerful words in Psalm 30.
11 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever. (Psalm 30:11-12 NIV)
I pray that your story will reflect that of David, Jeremiah, and Job. I pray that you will find solace and strength in the arms of the Father. If you have never asked Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord then won’t you do so today.