How do you respond when you have the normal type of up and down, occasional depression that everyone experiences, even the most godly?
And that is the answer given in the rest of this Psalm, verses 10 to 20. Follow along and here’s what you’re going to see. Here’s the second life lesson. I’ll give it to you and then see if you don’t see it in the Psalm.
Second life lesson: Not only are times of depression normal, even with godly people on occasion, but secondly, taking time to recall God’s specific blessings in our past, provides perspective and peace in the present.
When you feel yourself slipping, when you’re starting to go into the tank, here’s the key: Taking time, it won’t come, taking time to recall God’s specific blessings in your past provides perspective and peace in the present.
Notice, let’s pick it up in verse 10. Look what the Psalmist does. And let’s remember verses 1 through 9. I mean, this guy is in the dark night of the soul. He’s in the tunnel except there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. Notice what he does, verses 10 to 12.
He says, “Then I thought,” he is willfully, in his mind, not letting his mind drift, not letting world and the depressive thoughts take him downhill. He says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’”
He says, “Wait, wait a second. I gotta get a hold of myself. “To this I will appeal - I’m going to think back to who God really is and what He has done in my past.” And the little phrase here, “Most High,” is an interesting name of God. It’s El Elyon. And it means, “God as Creator and God as Protector.”
He said, “To this I will appeal. I’m going to go back to who God is as the Creator of all and as the Protector.” Now notice what he does. Notice the word, “Remember, meditate, or consider.” Look where his thought processes go.
“I will remember the deeds of the Lord;” or Yahweh, “yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.” If you have a pen or a pencil, pull it out, let me have you circle about four or five words.
Circle the words, “I will appeal.” That’s a thought process, he’s looking backwards. Then circle the words, “I remember.” Then next, “I remember.” Then, “I will meditate.” And then circle, “Consider.”
There, in two, three verses, you have one, two, three, four, five instances. He is taking control of his thoughts. He’s not letting him slide. Did you notice the phrase, “I will, I will, I will, I will?” He didn’t say, “I feel, I feel, I feel.” When you’re depressed, you got plenty of feelings that are no good. You gotta make choices. You willfully take time. It’s a choice. To do what? Remember.
So, how do you do this? Let me give you the “how-to” here. Stop. Take time to remember. When you’re sliding into depression, when you’re feeling like the clouds are getting dark, when you are going down, down, dooby-doo, down, down, right? What do you do?
And I don’t know about you, when I get there, you can almost feel it coming in. It’s just like the fog. It kind of creeps in and you see it and you say, “Oh, gosh.” And then you say, “It’s out there.” And then it gets closer. And the closer it gets, it’s kind of like, “I don’t want to go there,” and then there’s this bizarre something in my mind, “I feel kind of good to be depressed right now.”
You know what I mean? It’s like, “Yeah, I deserve to be depressed. And everyone should feel sorry for me. And I should get attention when I’m depressed and, in fact, come on in, fog.” You know?
And you gotta stop it! You gotta stop it and keep the fog at bay. How? Stop, take time to remember. That’s what he did. Now, let me give you some very specific ways to do that.
1994, in August, I mean, I’m not in a good situation. These first two weeks were designed to study God’s Word. I don’t even want to pray, I don’t want to read the Bible, and I’m on study break. Not good. Not good.
And so I got up and I went to a little, I don’t know, it’s a McDonalds or Burger King up there, and I said, “God, I need to reconnect with Your presence. I know I’ve obeyed You but I have obeyed You out of my will. I have trusted You but my feelings are just, I don’t have any, I’m numb. I don’t feel anything.”
And I found a little phrase in the Psalms called, “His unfailing love.” And I took out a little colored marker and I said, “God, I’m going to get up every day and I’m just going to willfully choose to read. And every time the phrase ‘Unfailing love’ happens in the Psalms, I’m going to circle it and I’m going to underline it and I just want You to pour some love. I just want to believe that You, no matter what, love me.”
And for ten days, that’s all I did. I got up in the morning, I’d read. Just keep reading, reading through the Psalms. And I looked at what came after “unfailing love,” and before “unfailing love.” And I just let it seep into my soul and reminded myself, “It’s not my performance, it’s not who I am, I’m not the center of the universe, God loves me, God loves me, and His love is unfailing. It’s never going to go away. He cares.”
And I just willfully had to do that. I had to remember.
The second thing that I do on a real regular basis when I feel the fog of depression coming in, I call it, “The Napkin Exercise.” I pull out a napkin and I ask, “What great things did God do today?” And I start writing. And you start thinking about it, He did a lot of things you take for granted.
And if I can’t come up with much, I say, “What did He do great this week?” And then I start writing. If I’m still having trouble, “What did He do this month?” And I can usually fill a napkin and what it does, it forces me to get objective.
“God, this thing You did in my son, and I met this person, and this person came to Christ, and this was an answer to prayer.” When we get depressed, just start going on tilt. You can’t go there.
A third thing that has been very helpful for me is I keep a journal so I can process. Often, this unresolved anger and all this kind of junk, we don’t deal with it and we push it down and then we wake up two days later and depressed and don’t know why. And so I write things out as soon as I feel things jumbled.
And then the other thing that does is that when I really get in the tank, I need some objectivity. I can pull out last week’s or last month’s and say, “Okay, this, this, this, this.” And in my journal, I’ve got check marks, date, answer to prayer. This was a huge problem, it was impossible. And two weeks later it’s got a check mark, a date, this is what God did. A check mark, a date, this is what God did. A check mark…
Guess what? I’m thinking, “Hmm. If He did it last month, last year.” Now, I got stacks of these journals. And when I get really down, then go back to 1990 I think, “This where I was and I was worried about these issues in my kids’ life or these issues. Wow.”
See what it does? I’m remembering. I willfully take time to remember what God has done. When’s the last time you got out the movie camera? Well, better yet, when’s the last time you ever watched some of those movies that you made? You ever wonder why, everyone’s got these cameras, or they used to all the time.
No one watches them! Go home today, make some popcorn, and put on an old vacation! Everyone is so concerned about the wedding, the photographer. And we pay all this money. When is the last time you looked at your wedding pictures?
Go get some pictures out and look at them and stop and remember! There is a good God and He has been good to you. It’s critical. But that’s not all.
Notice verses 14, 13 through 16. He’s going to move from remember God’s acts, he’s going to stop, and now he’s going to look. Notice what he does.
He goes, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples. With Your mighty arm You redeemed Your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.”
Underline the word, “Holy,” underline the words, “Performs miracles,” and underline the word, “Redeemed.” Do you see what happened?
He is in the tank and he’s so depressed and then he says, “I’m going to appeal to God, I’m going to start remembering.” So he makes his list of all the specific things God did and that list of God’s great acts moves him to - what? God’s ways, His character, who He really is.
And what’s he remember? Number one, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. God is holy!” The word “holy” means He is an unapproachable light. He’s all-powerful, He’s totally other, He’s sovereign, He’s in control!”
But not only that, He performed miracles. He is holy, He is great. And then the third part of His character that he remembers is He is caring. That little word for “Redeemer.”
It’s a Hebrew word and if you understand Hebrew culture, read the book of Ruth, the only person who can redeem someone is a relative. He looks at God as not only, being this awesome God but as a friend, as a father. He redeemed. He bought us back because we matter, because we’re part of His family.
And now he’s gone from being in the tank and saying, “God, where are you?” to remembering God’s acts that move him to who God is, “God is holy. God is great. And that great, holy God cares about me.”
The second little “how-to” for this principle is: Look - get a fresh perspective. Here’s an axiom that you just need to take with you: When you have a big problem, you have a very small God. And if you have a very big God, you have a very small problem.
See, the way it works is you have this problem and it’s out there, right there, right? And then you focus on it. Really work at it. Focus on, “Well, I don’t, I’m really, except this job situation, this relationship situation, this unresolved issue, this parent, this child,” that’s right, keep it up there, keep it up there, keep it up there.
I’ll tell you what, this problem is really, now what? All of life is looked at through the lens of this problem. Or you can pull that problem back in light of a holy, all-knowing, all-powerful, miracle-working God who knows everything, you can look at that problem in light of that. And guess what you get? Perspective.
At the heart of all depression is a loss of perspective, a loss of hope. When I’m depressed, I have this distorted thinking, “It’ll never get better. This relationship stinks and it will always be terrible! We got financial trouble and we’ll always have financial trouble! I’ve got a problem in this area and I’ll always have a problem! Therefore, why try?” Right? Who cares?
That’s a lie. You must take time to remember God’s specific acts in the past, in order to get perspective and peace in the present. Where does it start? You stop and you remember His acts. You remember.
Second, you look and you get a fresh perspective. But when you get a fresh perspective, he doesn’t end here. He gets very, very specific because he has told us about God’s ways, in general. It’s nice to know God is holy, God is great, and God is caring.
But now, in verses 16 to 20, he’s going to apply it and he’s going to say, “God has been holy to me, God has been great to me, God has been caring to me.” Look at verse 16 to 20.
It says, “The waters saw You,” what an interesting, poetic phrase, “O God, the waters saw you,” and then this next word is, they just shrunk back. “The very depths were convulsed.” I mean, he’s looking at the creation here. “The clouds poured down water; the skies resounded with thunder; Your arrows flashed back and forth; Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind; Your lightening lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.”
He’s going back to that concept of God, El Elyon. He is the God who is Creator and the God who is Deliverer or Protector. And this is written in the context… you need to remember that Israel, where did they live? Their context is among the Canaanites. The Canaanites’ great god was called Baal. And Baal was the god of the storm, the god of thunder, the god of the elements.
And they were living in a world where all these false gods were all around them and all the other nations saying, “Our god is strongest!” He is coming back, he gets perspective, and he’s thinking, “Wow! Our God doesn’t do that! He’s above all that! He’s the Creator! My Creator.”
But notice he goes on. He says, “Your path led through the sea, Your way through the mighty waters, though Your footprints were not seen.” He’s going to go back to where every writer of the Old Testament always goes back when their back is against the wall.
They go back to God as Creator, number one; and God as Deliverer, number two. What’s the reference? When can you ever remember in Israel’s history where their back was against the wall, where they were being chased by enemies, and they were, like, “Uh-oh! We got a problem.” And now there is a sea, a Red Sea in front of them, “We’re trapped, we’re surrounded,” it’s an impossible situation. If there’s ever a time to get depressed, that was it.
I mean, children of Israel. Can you imagine being a regular Joe on that trip? “Red Sea, boy, all those ten plagues! That was pretty cool. You know, Moses, he and Aaron, they’re doing some really neat stuff and Pharaoh let us go and we took our kids, we took our animals, and, you know, the unleavened bread, I still don’t get that part of it. And, you know, here we’re going and here we’re going and, you know, there’s this pillar by day and fire by night and it’s like, whoa! Man, God is really real!”
And then you get up and here’s this huge body of water. And then the scouts come back and say, “Pharaoh, his army, his chariots, his soldiers. They’re on the way and they have you surrounded this way,” and the only thing is water this way.
All of a sudden, “You know, Moses, this was not a good idea. This is dumb! There’s no way out! We have no hope!” And what did God do? God did what the song talked about, that you heard. He made a way where there was no way! He took the waters and He heaped it up on both sides, He made a pathway, and His footprints, He personally carried His people through, but you couldn’t see it, He did it invisibly. And they were safe and the enemies were destroyed.
They were saved, they were delivered. And Israel, in times of conflict… and this Psalmist goes back and he drives a stake and basically says, “God made me and God saved me. And I don’t know what I’m going through right now but it can’t get any bigger than not being made,” and it can’t get any bigger than the deliverance that occurred at the Red Sea.
Now let me ask you a question: What are you facing, what do you struggle with where you feel so hemmed in, where it seems so impossible that you think God just can’t make a way and so you’re depressed and you’re hopeless and you’re listless and you don’t want to get with it and you’re not motivated?
Now, I encourage you to go back to God as your Creator and then, especially for every, single person here there’s one snapshot I always go back to. 1972. Oberlin College in a gymnasium or an auditorium with six hundred other athletes. The fullback of Illinois has just sung the Lord’s Prayer.
I have understood the gospel for the first time in my life, coming from a non-Christian home. And I heard Revelation 3:20 and the Spirit of God has illumined my mind and I now understand, “Behold, Chip, I stand at the door of your heart, and knock. If you will open it, I will come in to you, and I will live or sup with you, fellowship with you, and you with Me. I will give you a new life, Chip. I’ll forgive your sin, Chip. I can change you, Chip. I will take all your sin and move it as far as the east is from the west. Any person who is in Christ is a new creature. I want to save you, Chip, from your sin. I want to deliver you.”
And I remember, with tears coming down my face, not understanding the whole picture but realizing, “This is a defining moment of truth.” And in that auditorium, with all those athletes, I said, “God, I don’t know much about this, I didn’t even know for sure whether You really exist. But I’ve seen real love here, I’ve heard Your word taught for the first time, and I believe today that Jesus died for me. Whatever it means for Him to come into my life right now, forgive me, cleanse me, and make me a new person, will You do that?”
See, I don’t know where you’re at but you need to go back to that date. You need to go back to the day that you were delivered, the day that you were saved, and realize the almighty, all-powerful God of the universe did not start something with you that He is going to bail out on.
And that’s what the Psalmist did. And when he did that he learned this final lesson. He will deliver you. He will deliver you. That’s hope! He will, not deliver the guy next to you, the woman next to you. He’ll deliver you in your situation.
Now, there’s one thing we ought to say before we go on and let me give you a little homework assignment. That is, if you have never had a point in time in your life where you are not only aware of God, that He’s the Creator, but that He is your Deliverer and your Savior, then we’re going to spend some time worshipping here a little bit later. But what I would do, if I was you, I would assume that God brought me to this room, this day, to hear this message and I would ask Jesus to deliver me from my sin.
Right in your chair, right where you’re at, in your heart I would say, like those little girls understood, Jesus said, “Unless you become like a child,” where you simply say, “You know, me running my life doesn’t work. My sin is keeping me from a holy God. I have worked it out my way and I have lots of depression. And I know that God is not going to snap His fingers or wave a wand and make everything rosy tomorrow. But I need a friend who is all-powerful, all-knowing, who will always be committed, who loves me, who is the sovereign Lord of the universe and history, and I need Him to forgive me and come into my life and change me and make me the man or woman that He wants me to be.”
If you’ve never done that then you need to do that before you leave. And you can do it and we’ll sing. You can just pray, you can pray right now in your heart. God will hear. He’ll hear. And you will now have the resources to not just overcome depression but the resources to become the person that you long to become.
I wanted to give you something, I realize this is one of those deals that you need to be able to work through it. I mean, you need to be able to stop and say, “Okay, you know…”
Sometimes someone will say after a service, “Ah, you know what? Thanks but you just said so much, I don’t know what to do with it, you know?” And so what I wanted to do is I wanted to give you a step-by-step plan to examine your thinking, examine your behavior, and then examine your future.
And I encourage you to get a pencil out today and walk through and answer those questions. And as you do, I think you’ll see that God will meet you. He wants to help you.
And as you feel that depression coming on, those of you that are believers, respond dramatically in a positive way. You know, I talk a lot about not getting busy. There’s one time I believe you should get busy. That’s when you feel the fog and what I call, “The blue funk of depression,” that comes in and starts to strangle you.
Get up and get busy. Go do something for someone, take a walk, write a letter, read the Word, put on some positive music, you know, laugh. Just do something lest you sink into… don’t be introspective then. Don’t ponder then or you’ll find yourself in the tank.