A Word from Your BCC Team: You’re reading Part One in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series. Today in Part One, Paul Tautges shares 3 Biblical Journey Markers When Working Through Depression.
Identifying with the Psalmist
“My soul clings to the dust; revive me according to Your word. I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works. My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word. Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously. I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame! I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:25–32).
Depression can be debilitating; it may leave you unwilling to function normally and, sometimes, not even caring that it is so. You may feel sad. You may feel angry. You may not feel at all. You may simply be numb.
It may surprise you to know that the man who wrote the greatest poem exalting the beauties of the Word of God, Psalm 119, had to learn how to fight through times of deep grief, a form of suffering the Bible is not at all silent about. So saddened was he at one point that he said, “My soul clings to the dust” (v. 25), but just eight verses later he was able to shout, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart” (v. 32). How did he get from lying in the dirt to running in the race?
He worked through depression by faith in God and renewing his mind according to the Word. That, I believe, is the key. When we are depressed, we sometimes just want to sit and wait for it to go away, but it does not resolve itself.
The most difficult part of being depressed is that you must continue to live. But how? How do you go on with your life? How do you go to work tomorrow? How will you get out of bed? How will you preach next Sunday? The answer is: You must begin to take small steps of faith through the fog. Three clues are given in the Scripture portion cited above.
Journey Marker #1: Identify the Cause of Your Depression—Psalm 119:25–29
First, if possible, you need to discern what has led you to this point. I say “if possible” because there are times in which the cause of a deep, lasting time of feeling down and out is unknown, undiscernible, and not necessarily singular (Ed Welch mentions five in his very helpful book on depression). Nonetheless, the following spiritual exercises are important for the health of your soul even when understanding eludes you.
Begin with prayer: Psalm 119:25.
Notice that immediately after his admission of his suffering: “My soul clings to the dust,” David cried out to God for help: “Revive me according to Your word.” God must be the one whom we run to first when we are depressed. If you do not know what to say to Him, pray something like this: “For [my] soul is bowed down to the dust; [my] body clings to the ground. Arise for [my] help, and redeem [me] for Your mercies’ sake” (Psalm 44:25, 26).
Evaluate your life: Psalm 119:26.
The next step this man took was to examine his life with God’s help. “I have declared my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes.” As he rehearsed his heart attitudes and actions before God, the Holy Spirit gave him insight into potential causes of his depression. Renewing his mind with Scripture often results in a renewed desire to correct errant thinking patterns, or ungodly ways, and adhere to God’s truth.
Plead for understanding: Psalm 119:27.
“Make me understand the way of Your precepts; so shall I meditate on Your wonderful works.” It is impossible to see through the dark clouds of depression without the light of God’s truth. Meditate on the wonderful works of God displayed on the pages of Scripture which bring understanding and hope. Intentional thinking about the wonderful works of God must take priority over dwelling upon your feelings or dire circumstances.
Admit you have no strength: Psalm 119:28.
Oddly enough, when we are depressed, we may sometimes find it hard to admit just how helpless we really are. If you are depressed, admit your weakness to God. He is already aware of it. “My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to Your word.” Humble yourself before Him and seek encouragement from His Word. Ultimately, that is how your inner man will be renewed. Also, lean on a faithful friend who will walk with you through the valley, praying with you, not merely for you. Isolation is the bedfellow of depression.
Confess sin and be cleansed: Psalm 119:29.
It appears God answered this man’s prayer for understanding by opening his eyes to at least one area of his life where he needed to repent. “Remove from me the way of lying, and grant me Your law graciously.”
Sometimes (certainly not always) depression is the result of personal sin, and the saddened state is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and grief. Consequently, deep sadness may be the tool God uses to put His finger on something in your heart or life that you may be blind to. When this occurs, honest self-examination and confession cleanses and puts you back on the road to rehabilitation.
Be careful, however, that your sincere self-examination does not turn to morbid introspection; the line is thin between the two. Even if the Lord does not reveal a relationship between specific sin(s) and your depression, be on guard against sinful responses to grief which prolong it. Anger at man or God, chaffing against the sovereign ways of God, self-pity, and laziness—to name a few—may result in your dark valley becoming longer and deeper.
Journey Marker #2: Decide to Let God Rehabilitate You—Psalm 119:30-31
Second, you must make a conscious choice to apply God’s remedy.
Choose to follow God’s Word: Psalm 119:30.
In order to reap the benefits of God’s rehabilitation program you must make a decision to obey God by being a doer of the Word and not a hearer only (James 1:22). “I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.” This man made such encouraging progress in the countenance of his soul because he was serious about delighting in Scripture. If God has revealed areas of disobedience, then you need to consciously turn away from them and move toward the way of truth. “Happy is he who keeps the law” (Proverbs 29:18).
Cling to the hope found in God’s Word: Psalm 119:31.
When you are depressed, hope seems impossibly far away. That is the time to bypass your emotions and, like a child, simply believe what God’s Word says. By bypassing your emotions, I do not mean pretending they are not real but that you consciously subject them to the higher authority and trustworthiness of the Word. The Bible is the only reliable, rock-solid source of hope. Hang on to simple truth, even if you feel it is by your fingernails, most of which are already bitten off! “I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame!”
Journey Marker #3: Rededicate Yourself to Running the Race of Faith—Psalm 119:32
Thirdly, when God renews your spirit through His life-giving Word, recommit yourself to living a life of persevering faith, trust, and obedience—a life pleasing to Him. Regardless of the events that God’s providence has allowed into your life, which may have legitimately contributed to your depressed state, the time is always appropriate to say to the Lord, by faith, “I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart.” Remember, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Join the Conversation
What biblical wisdom principles give you hope on your faith journey as you work through depression?