Have you ever found yourself stuck in a funk and felt guilty about it because you know that Jesus Christ died for your sins and, therefore, you should be rejoicing instead of moping about? According to God’s holy word, you’re not alone.
In the prayer-and-praise book known as the Psalms, you’ll find gems of truth having to do with all sorts of things about life on this fallen planet but none are more profound as those dealing with the experience of being human. The emotions, desires and sufferings of God‘s people are all addressed without any slight of hand or false sentimentalism being invoked. It’s in reading this collection of songs that we’re able to observe sincere servants of God struggling with their problems and their conflicted souls as they talk to themselves, bare their hearts and ponder their conundrums, all while alternately putting themselves down and then lifting their spirits up. They’re complicated, just like you and me. They may switch from standing on mountaintops to wallowing in quicksand over and over but, through it all, they remain remarkably open and honest. That’s why a passage like this one is so striking and pertinent to what I’m going to talk about:
“Why are you depressed, O my soul? Why are you upset? Wait for God! For I will again give thanks to my God for His saving intervention.” – Psalm 42:5 (NET)
The Psalmist who penned these words is obviously unhappy. Just like many of us modern-day Christians are (with annoying regularity) when we cry out, “Why, since I’ve been redeemed, do I have the blues?” In the previous sentences the writer tells us the cause of his dismay. He was not only being prevented from going home where he could worship in peace but he was under attack by his enemies who were bent on defeating him. All of us can figuratively identify with that situation but I want us to focus on how he faces his oppression and what it’s doing to him on the inside.
I’m talking about having the “spiritual blues,” where it comes from and how it should be dealt with. Since the Bible brings it up so often we can conclude that it’s a very common condition. In fact, there are characters suffering from it in nearly every book. That means it deserves attention and never more so than in today’s crazed world where so many things make no sense at all. Whether it’s from acknowledging the ugliness of war, the social injustices that flourish or the steady deterioration of families in general, we see a lot of Christians who are, more often than not, depressed. It’s disconcerting that millions of Christ’s followers live their lives in a state of habitual sadness but it’s a fact. I’m not implying that they aren’t genuine Christians, but I am confident in saying that they’re missing out on a great deal of joy.
The core reason for finding a cure for this ailment is so that we can better represent the Son of God who saved us from an eternity of desperation. A down-in-the-dumps Christian is hardly an enticing advertisement for accepting Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior! We have no qualms about going nuts when our football team scores a game-winning touchdown or wanting to go on and on about some fantastic concert we just saw. In both cases we’re full of enthusiasm and don’t care who knows it. Yet, when it comes to expressing what Christ did for us, we’re usually subdued and deadly serious. I’m not saying we should be out on the street wearing placards that read “Repent, for the end is next Tuesday” or go around like some ever-smiling, “all is hunky dory” ninny who has no grasp on reality. I’m saying that we should learn to be aware of and overcome our dour moods for the sake of God. The idea is to make others want what we’ve found in Jesus and we’re not going to do that if we walk around with long faces and slumped shoulders all the time.
There are two ways to go about delving into this problem. First, find out what the Bible’s teaching is about it. Second, check out the examples we’re given in the book regarding how folks so afflicted behaved and what God did with them. We can never go wrong if we consult the Bible about anything. It took me a very long time to figure that out but now I’m convinced that it’s our owner’s manual to living a more righteous life. Got a dilemma? Go to the Word.
Since we all love a good story the temptation is to initially concentrate on the tale being told and then try and discern the lesson it conveys afterwards. But if we read our Bibles diligently it becomes apparent that usually God presents us with a crystal clear, doctrinal teaching first and then helpfully provides us with a real-life illustration so that we can see His teaching being put into practice. In other words, our all-wise Father in Heaven prefers a tell-and-show presentation to get his point across.
He also asks us to take whatever time is necessary to fully examine ourselves to find the true cause of our condition. Usually our depression is but a symptom of a deeper malady and it takes perseverance to uncover it. Unfortunately, that’s not how things get done these days. We’re in a hurry and we want answers pronto. Many Christians think that if their preacher is up to snuff, the truth that can heal us can be stated in only a few minutes, saving them the trouble of having to look for it themselves in the scriptures. It doesn’t work that way. An example would be a man who buys a bike for his kid and fools himself into thinking he can put it together in minutes because on the box it says “Easy to assemble.” He therefore assumes that, since he’s a very intelligent guy, he doesn’t need the 20-page, detailed instructions to guide him. Three hours later he’s still in the garage floor surrounded by nuts, bolts, chains, handlebars and wheels with no clue as to how to proceed. The wise Biblical student will first grasp the basics first and then diligently work the steps one by one toward gaining full understanding.
Let’s go back to Psalm 42:5. In just a few words it paints a perfect picture of a man with the blues. He’s beaten down. He’s anxious and fearful. He’s perplexed by the impossible demands of life. He doesn’t know what’ll go wrong next. We’ve all been there before so we can commiserate but the real trouble comes when we wear all this strife on our face. We become totally unaware of the impression our droll countenance is having on others. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it “If we but had the power to see ourselves as others see us, it would oftentimes be the main step to victory and release.” So now that we’ve got the writer’s downcast, sad sack image in our heads we can proceed to digging up some of the causes, starting with a big one, inborn temperament.
Surprised I brought that up? You shouldn’t be. It’s true that your psychological makeup, your DNA or the crooked nose you inherited from your mom do not make the slightest difference in the matter of your salvation. Thank God. It doesn’t matter what we are by temperament; we’re all saved in the same way, by placing all our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why every conceivable personality type is welcome in Christ’s church, no questions asked. He is no respecter of persons.
Having said that, our natural temperament does make a huge difference in how well we walk the walk of a Christian believer and that’s precisely why we must get to know ourselves ASAP. It’s also why there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy for the “born again blues.” Nothing is more futile than assuming all Christians are basically the same. They ain’t and never were meant to be. But it’s possible to group them into two distinct camps, introverts and extroverts, with the former being more prone to bouts of spiritual depression. I’m not saying that they’re any worse than others because some of the greatest saints in the history of the Church were charter members of that club. It’s not a sin to be introverted but the danger lies in becoming too self-aware, too self-critical and too reticent when it comes to forgiving oneself for past iniquities. When a person’s introversion becomes an obsession they turn morbid and that’s never healthy. While it’s important, we must never allow self-examination to become our main goal.
So we start looking in the mirror objectively. Do we know ourselves and the sins we’re most vulnerable to committing? The Bible warns us to know both our strengths and our weaknesses. For example, Moses was a truly meek man but he had a tempestuous temper. Noah was obedient but he was also a wino. I like the Dirty Harry line, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” We who are prone to spiritual depression are in lofty company, though. Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul and Martin Luther were that way, too. So don’t beat yourself up. There’s hope for us.
Another factor is physical condition. The fact is that there are certain bodily ailments that promote depression and people suffering from them have a harder time with it than healthy folks. As much as we’d like to, we cannot isolate the spiritual from the physical because we’re flesh, mind and spirit. The Bible tells of men and women who had to battle their infirmities. If you recognize that the physical may be partly responsible for your Christian blues, and make allowances for that, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the spiritual side that you do have some control over.
P.E.S. (Post Elation Syndrome) might be a contributor, too. That’s the letdown that can follow a great blessing, an epiphany or an exceptional spiritual experience. Look at Elijah’s state of mind as he sat under the juniper tree after wowing the crowd at Mount Carmel. In Genesis 15 Abraham had a “great terror” overwhelm him. For every high there’s usually a corresponding low so try to maintain a healthy perspective.
This brings us to the real villain, the devil. (Don’t believe in his existence? Then you’re like the dude whose next door neighbor turns out to be a serial killer. His usual on-camera sound bite goes something like “I can’t believe it! I never suspected him for a moment. He seemed so normal.”) Never forget that he is our adversary and will amplify any excuse we come up with for being in a funk. Satan’s aim is to depress God’s people so he can exclaim to the world, “Here ya go! This sucker’s a Christian. Does he look happy to you? You wanna be like that? Really?” That’s a powerful tool he’s got there, you must admit. There’s one thing that can stop him in his tracks, though. Unshakable trust and steadfast belief. That’s why the Psalmist proclaims “For I will again give thanks to my God for His saving intervention.” He reminds himself that he’s a child of God. When we lift our heads to the heavens the devil flees because he knows he’s licked. It’s only our unbelief and lack of trust that allow him to hang around.
Notice that the Psalmist talks to himself. Surely, you say, talking to oneself can’t be beneficial but did it ever occur to you that most of the unhappiness in your life is due to the fact that you’re listening to you instead of talking to you? In this case the writer says to himself, “Why are you depressed, O my soul? Why are you upset?” His soul had been wearing down his trust and belief so he takes a stand and says something to it along the lines of “Listen to me! I belong to my Heavenly Father and His Word has taught me that there’d be days like this so get up off your pity potty and praise His holy name.” In other words, take hold of yourself, address yourself and, if necessary, preach to yourself. Remind yourself of God, who He is, what He is, what He has done and what He has promised to do and then, like the Psalmist, say to yourself “For I will again give thanks to my God for His saving intervention.”
The gist is that we must understand that this self of ours, with its sinful nature meandering within us, has got to be corralled. If we’re not on our guard and if we fail to wear the armor of Christ the devil will take control of self and use it in order to bring us down. Don’t underestimate him.
(Inspired by the sermons of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from the book “Spiritual Depression”)