Like most people who are living through this modern-day Epidemic I have had my bouts with depression. As believers, we are not immune to the effects of darkness around us, and yes even in us at times. It is during these times we tend to withdraw into those devices that we see as safe havens, those proverbial escapes that we withdraw into. Unfortunately, these safe places are usually idols that tend to lead us into sinful behavior. Recently, I have struggled with the darkness of depression and have withdrawn into old, but familiar places of asylum to hide, or as Pastor Joshua would call it, “my old foxhole,” (a military term meaning a place to shelter from the enemy). This has led me to some of the old idols and sin that I have struggled with in the past. The old man makes himself known all the more during these times of depression. I become mentally, physically, and spiritually defeated; given over to the sinfulness of my own wicked heart. Being a pastor does not make me immune to the darkness of depression or the sin that haunts me within its dark grasp.
This said, there are many who suffer from the darkness of depression, and many have asked how one overcomes or escapes the darkness that it surrounds them in. The first step to answering that question is simply by admitting you’re struggling with it. This may seem elementary, but I assure you that it is most important. The reason is when we admit we are struggling or lost in the darkness that depression drapes us; then, we will stop denying it and understand we are not okay. This realization will help us to stop depending on our own strength and cause us to look outside of ourselves to find the help we need. This is what one theologian said concerning our inability to overcome sinfulness and darkness:
“Let, then, thy soul by faith be exercised with such thoughts and apprehensions as these: “I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of naught, (Nothing). Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succour (Support), and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God.” (John Owen, The Mortification of Sin)
John Owen shares with us that we need to come to an understanding with ourselves that we are weak and cannot excel in the matter of depression and the corruption of our own sinfulness. By faith we must stand on this truth, that victory over the darkness of depression and sin cannot be won by our own efforts or ability. It is the lie of depression and sin that there is no help, and we are all alone. That we are to overcome this on our own.
I have purposely linked depression with sinfulness in this article for two reasons. The first, is that depression is from the fall, and it is a very real and powerful enemy of fallen man. It usually stems from a conviction of poor self-worth. I am not lovable, I am not good enough, I am not smart enough, I cannot cope with it all, or I’m not capable. The list goes on and on, always destroying the person from the inside of their own mind. The power behind depression is a loss of purpose and identity. The purpose is who we are and what we were created for. As Scripture teaches us the purpose of man is to glorify God (Isa. 43:7; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rev. 4:11). The world tells us that our value and purpose comes from it; that who we are comes from how we perceive ourselves through the lens that our joy, hope, love, peace, and happiness are govern by the life in which we live in the moment. The lie is that we can find meaning in a life outside of our created purpose. We look to a fallen world to give us the thing we all so desperately desire and need: love. We want meaning and a fulfilled life. The only problem is we are looking to a broken cistern to provide the water of life. The world is as broken as we are, due to sin. Therefore, cannot give us meaning to life, or life itself.
This leads to the second reason. Depression causes us to look to this world and eventually sin for the answer to or freedom from the darkness. Believers tend to struggle with the old man of the flesh, the most during these times of the dark night of the soul. We begin to find comfort again in those familiar hiding places I wrote about earlier. Those safe havens, however, are normally familiar indwelt sin that we have wrestled with in times past. Sin never comes as your enemy, but always as the friend who only wants to comfort or bring some sort of relief from your troubles. A familiar friend that is quick to ensnare you in its lies, only to slowly kill you. When you battle depression, it becomes a friend who will lead you down a dangerous path of selfishness. It ultimately leads you to a self-dependence and when you can no longer cope with your life in the perception of the world you look through with then it brings death.
Now that we understand that depression is the fruit of sinfulness and fallen humanity, we ask the question, what then can I do to be free of this darkness? It begins as we said, with admitting that we cannot overcome this by ourselves and therefore we need to look outside of ourselves to begin the healing process. Where we look is tied back into a right understanding of who we are and the purpose for our life. The theologian John Owen instructs us in this truth by pointing us back to Christ when he writes,
“On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes, and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy. He can make the dry parched ground of my soul to become a pool and my thirsty barren heart as springs of water. Yes, he can make this habitation of dragons this heart which is so full of abominable lusts and fiery temptations to be a place of bounty and fruitfulness unto Himself.” (John Owen, The Mortification of Sin)
John Owen reveals it is only in Christ that we can find the freedom from the grip of depression. His understanding of this truth is founded on scripture. If we are created for Christ then it is logical to assume that our worth, peace, joy, and love comes from Him. Scripture confirms this to be the truth.
” You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).
Scripture teaches us that it is Christ who is life and our fullness of joy. The reason for this is that we were created for Him. This is what I meant by returning to the purpose and our meaning of life. The question we now want to ask is how then do I look to Christ? What are the steps I need to take to focus on Him and finally be free from this darkness? Scripture teaches us how to do just that and one place is found in the book of Psalms. In chapter seventy-seven of book three we find our answer. In the first two verses we read,
” I cried out to God with my voice—To God with my voice; And He gave ear to me. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing. My soul refused to be comforted.”
The first step to focus on Christ is to cry out to God without ceasing and know that He hears you. Refuse to be comforted until He stills your heart from your fear and anxiety. Seek the Lord in the time of your darkness. Cry out to your heavenly Father. Even in your darkest night Satan Himself cannot hinder your prayers. No matter how much sin you feel you committed and how guilty you are, He will hear you and you are forgiven by the blood of the cross. We need to cry out to our heavenly Father. In praying, we come in agreement that we are unable to live without Him and that He is our only hope. By praying we show our dependence and faith in Him. By crying out to the One Who is Sovereign over all things we acknowledge Him as God. This is what the psalmist was portraying through his prayer in Psalm seventy-seven. He sought the Lord without ceasing and refused to be comforted until the Lord answered.
The second step is to remind yourself of His works and praise His name for them. Read to the psalmist’s words found in (Vv. 10-12).
” And I said, “This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” I will remember the works of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work And talk of Your deeds.”
We need to praise God and sing of His glory and proclaim His majesty. Yes, I know it can be hard during times of deep depression to muster praise or even speak of the Lord. Remember, depression is the flesh trying to convince you that you’re on your own and life has no meaning. It is a product of the fall and the fruit of sin. I am reminded of an old adage, “Garbage in and garbage out.” There is truth to this saying that relates to our struggle. The more we shut down and turn from God to self-pity the more we look to sin and those harbors of escape. If you cannot muster praise and worship, then surround yourself with it. Read scripture, listen to sermons, talk to brothers and sisters in Christ; listen to music that praises God for who He is and what he has done. The Psalmist reminded himself of the works of God and meditated on them. We too need to meditate on the promises of scripture and praise God for all that He has done.
The third step is to remind yourself constantly of the gospel. This is what the author of our text did.
” Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God? You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah” (vv.13-15).
The key to reminding yourself of the gospel is to separate yourself from the world and its influence and remind yourself of who you are in relation to God. That the world and all its hurt, pain, misery, and darkness does not define your life or give you purpose. You are Christ’s and you do not belong to this world because you are His child. The apostle Peter says we are aliens to this world. Travelers passing through seeking out the coming Kingdom of God (1Peter 1:1-7). As believers the world should hold no sway over us because of the treasure to come. This is the importance of the gospel: it focuses us back on Christ. We have died to self and our life is now in Him. We are forgiven and there is no condemnation to the believer (Rom. 8:1). We are loved perfectly, and nothing can separate us from the love of God (John 10:27-30). We no longer belong to this world because we long for the next. Your life is in Christ, and this leads us to the final step, live for the coming of our King. The apostle Paul teaches us not to get caught up in the world or its trappings but look to the coming of our Savior.
” For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13).
It is when we take our eyes off of Jesus that we become overwhelmed with this world. Remember the lesson of the apostle Peter when He saw the Lord Jesus walking on the water (Matt. 14:22-33). Peter was able to walk on the water toward Jesus until the fear of the strong wind caused him to doubt and to be afraid. The moment he gave into his fear he began to drown. Yet, remember when he cried out in fear to Jesus while he was sinking? Christ Immediately saved Him. It is easy to be afraid of drowning in the darkness of this day and age, to worry and have anxiety. The fear of being alone or unloved can cripple a person but to the believer there is hope and truth. The truth is we are loved by Christ, and the hope we have is that He will never abandon us. No, we have a Savior who loves us and created us for Him and His glory. To live forever with Him and looking forward to the day when there is no more pain, sickness, or death (Rev. 21:4). Instead of looking to the world, all you have to do is look to Jesus, and you too can find the light of Christ that comes from the morning after the dark night of depression. Remember the words of the LORD spoken through the prophet Isaiah,
” Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you” (Isa. 55:1-3).
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace. I pray you look to Jesus and rest in His love for you. May God keep and bless you and may His grace sustain you.