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Experiencing God When You're Troubled and Depressed, Part 1

From the series Finding God When You Need Him Most

Do you feel blue, kinda down, depressed? We all get that way from time to time. But when that emotion threatens to pull you under what do you do? Where do you go? Who do you turn to? Chip considers a passage, from Psalm 77, that has helped him deal with difficult times over the years.

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Message Transcript

How to experience God when you feel depressed. We’re going to touch on what depression is and give you a little bit of information. But I want to say at the outset we’re talking about that normal kind of depression. The ups and downs that all of us have from day to day.

I have ups and downs but we’re going to learn, in fact, that there’s personality types that struggle more than others. By the grace of God I’m one of those that doesn’t much. But when I do, I don’t think little and depression ever go in the same sentence with me. I don’t get it often but when I do I go straight to the tank.

As you pull out the teaching handout, I put an excerpt from a book that might be helpful for all of us. Follow along as I read because I want you to get some perspective on this.

It says, “Depression is as old as human history. The Bible has many examples of people struggling with despondency and despair. In his depression and fatigue, Elijah asked for his life to be taken.” Pretty godly man. And he said, “God take me out.”

“Jonah felt deeply despondent after God did not destroy Nineveh. Jeremiah regretted the day he was born. Job’s wife advised him to curse God and die in the midst of his suffering and pain. And then even well-known church leaders like Martin Luther, John Bunyan, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and J.B. Phillips had massive struggles with depression.

Now, before you turn the page, I want to ask you a couple questions.

Where is God when this happens? I mean, when you feel depressed, where’s God? Where’s your faith? Where’s the victorious Christian life? Where is the peace that passes understanding? Where is that abundant life, John 10:10, that you have experienced and you have told other people about?

And then how are you supposed to deal with this? I mean, what would God say? How do you deal with this? Do you deny it? Do you fake it? Do you bury it? Do you repress it? When you feel really down, really blue, really sad, really depressed, what’s the right response? Buy a new toy? Turn on the TV? Eat more? Have an affair? Those are the kind of things people do. Pretend it doesn’t exist? What exactly would God have us do when we experience what so many of us do experience and what we all will experience from time to time?

Now, turn the page and what I’d like to suggest is that the answers to those questions are very complex. And what I want you to know, by way of expectation, is I’m not going to try and give you a twenty-five-cent answer to a twenty-five-thousand-dollar question.

Depression is very complex. It has multiple causes. In fact, look at the text here. We have what I have entitled, “A Song of Comfort for the Dark Night of the Soul,” by David’s choir director, Asaph, he wrote this psalm inspired by the Holy Spirit. Listen carefully to the first nine verses and what you’re going to hear, even among the most godly of people, there are days, there are times when depression just slams us to the ground and you hear this man of God pour out his heart.

Verse 1, “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; and I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”

Do you hear those words? These are the words of a very depressed guy. In fact, literally, the first line there, it’s, “My voice to God.” The author puts it in an unusual word order to let you know there’s emphasis, there’s pain, there’s hurt.

He said, “My voice, I’m trying to get up to God.” And we’re going to learn, he’s in great distress. But his experience is God can’t be found. Look at verse 4, “You kept my eyes from closing.” Translation: “I can’t sleep!” “I was too troubled to speak.” “I’m confused inside, I can’t sort this out.”

“I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night.” He’s so depressed and then he starts to reflect, you know how you do that? He thinks, “You know, gosh, I used to be up at night but not like this. I remember getting up in the middle of the night and,” you know, he’s a musician. And he said, “I remember getting up in the night and singing songs to you, Lord, I remember rehearsing the great things You did and the answers to prayer and the great relationships and the joy in my heart.”

And then he goes on to say, “When I remember back and reflect,” he says, “I mused,” that word means, “I thought; I considered; I meditated; I pondered,” “and my spirit inquired.” And you’re going to see, in the next few verses, he’s going to ask six rhetorical questions and behind these six rhetorical questions are two premises.

And the premises are mainly this, he is questioning, he is so depressed, his thinking has become so distorted, he is so down, he is in the dark night of his soul, he is going to question two things that are at the core of our existence: The promise of God’s presence and the commitment of God to keep His promises.

And he’s going to be so depressed, basically, these six questions are going to ask, “God, are you even there?” Doubt, confusion, distress. And, “God, are You going to do what You said You would do? I mean, can You be trusted to keep Your word?”

Look at the six questions. First, “Will the Lord reject forever?” In other words, is this going to go on and on and on? “Will He never show His favor again?” Are all the good memories going to be in the rearview mirror?

Nothing in the windshield of my life? “Has His unfailing,” or “hessed,” “His covenant love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful?

“God, is that the problem? Is there something I did wrong that I don’t understand? I’m alone, I hurt, I’m down, I’m sad, I’m blue and two things I’ve got that I can’t understand. Where are You and what about those promises?”

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt just like what he’s saying? Boy, I sure have. I get it in little waves probably a few days a week. Not big, just little waves. And if they get stacked up and if you don’t deal with these kind of feelings and these kind of thoughts well, they can grow into big waves, can’t they?

And they can get to where the alarm goes off and you don’t want to get up. They can get to where when the phone rings, you let it ring. It’s just one more layer, one more guilt, one more pain, one more message to return. Well, I want you to know, God understands your depression and today He wants to help you.

We’re going to look at two major life lessons. And under the second life lesson or principle about how to handle depression, we’re going to look at specifically how God teaches us, through Asaph, how to deal with those low, blue feelings.

The first life lesson, times of depression are something that even the most godly wrestle with on occasion. Translation: This is normal. This is normal.

Now, what I’d like to do is spend some time and I don’t have time, I’ve got probably a three or four part series I could do on depression. I’ve got a folder about this thick on the subject. I’ve studied the area quite a bit.

What I want to do is try and briefly, before we go on, define depression a little bit; talk about some of the symptoms that I don’t have to spend too much time on because when you’re there, you know it; and give you just a brief rundown on the causes so that at least we’re all on the same page in the kind of depression we’re talking about.

To do that, let me give you, first, some very quick symptoms. This is what happens when you’re depressed. You have feelings of hopelessness and apathy; you lose perspective; it’s hard to concentrate; there are often physical side-effects; sleeplessness; a total loss of diet, or just the opposite; a change, loss of sex drive, often; a sense of, “I don’t care;” low self-esteem, you start not liking yourself; you tend to withdraw from people in relationships; you begin fantasy thinking like you want to escape, like, “I just want to get out of here.”

There are times when I have been really feeling low and I finished the last service and I have just felt like, “If I talk to one more person my head is going to bust right off my shoulders.” And I’ve wanted to say, “Amen,” at the end of the service and turn and run out the back door. But that’s not usually an option.

But, don’t look at me that way! You’re looking at me like, “Uh.” Yeah, I have a bad day now and then too, but I have to go to go to work when I’m having a bad day too, I just pray my way through it.

When it gets very severe, often suicidal thinking. You know, you get so helpless, especially if it gets to be clinical depression. You’re oversensitive to what others do; you interpret others’ actions, you think everybody is against you; anger becomes a real issue, it’s just below the surface, you tend to cast it where it doesn’t really belong, at yourself and others; a lot of guilt is involved, you start not liking yourself, feel bad, feel guilty; dependency can grow and you need help and then when people help you, then you’re angry at them because you feel helpless and that’s not a good cycle.

And, finally, how we act when we’re depressed tends to, unless we make some radical choices, promote further depression.

Now, let me give you some kind of definitions of depression, just a couple definitions here so that we’re all on the same page. One, depression is an emotion like any other emotion. It’s just a description of how you feel.

Second, as an emotion, depression is, for the most part – are you ready for this? morally neutral. In fact, some depression is very normal.

Grief is a form of depression. Depression varies tremendously. We have it from the mild forms of disappointments and letdowns or feeling a little blue to what you call clinical depression where there are suicidal thoughts and you can’t eat and you don’t want to eat and there’s escapism behavior.

Depression is not sin. It’s a normal reaction to what’s occurring spiritually, psychologically, or physically. But, let me add, it can be sin. Psalm 32, you might jot that down, David has sinned and he exhibits in Psalm 32 the characteristics of clinical depression. Unresolved sin, and guilt before God, will bring about depression.

But depression, in and of itself, as you’re going to see, has a lot of different causes. It’s not necessarily sin. Depression is a scream. It’s a message that we have neglected some area of our life or there is a need in our life and that our perception of reality has been distorted. Depression also can be a warning system that we’re moving toward deeper water. It’s a protective device to remove us from stress, to give us time, here’s the goal, to recover, explore its purpose, and grow from the process, if we’re willing to use it in that way.

I made decisions that have changed my life and my habits forever because I decided, “If I live like this, I’m not going to do this anymore.” I decided what I’m going to do and some priorities with my family. I decided about emotional renewal, what’s going to be built into my week if I’m going to keep doing this job. And that depression served me well.

Finally, although depression is normal, that’s not to say that we should linger in depression. It can quickly grow into a monster that saps our strength and paralyzes our life.

By way of causes of depression there are, I think, at least four major causes. You could put them in three categories, really. One, is physical; two, is psychological; and three, is spiritual. And you know what? I’m going to go briefly because here’s all I want to do. I want to paint a quick background so that when we get back into the text, you’ll understand the kind of depression this text is dealing with, and get help.

But for some of you, if you’re clinically depressed, there are some things that happen in your brain and the neurotransmitters in your brain, the synapses don’t connect anymore and you have some chemicals in your brain. But when those things don’t happen in your brain right, I’ll tell you what, you can’t think right.

There are some of you, and some of you feel very badly about it, that are on medication, you’re on anti-depressants, and you’ve had clinical depression. And I want you to know that there are certain times you need medicine to get your thinking and your brain working in a way so that you can begin to work through the issues.

In fact, some of you have physical problems that cause your depression. There’s a type of blood pressure medicine, medication that will cause this to happen. If you have an underactive thyroid, if your electrolytes get low.

There are multiple, physical reasons why people get depressed. Fatigue, hypoglycemia, endocrine imbalance, certain kinds of diet, viral infections. Those of you that have had babies, one out of ten women experience severe post-partum depression.

Those are physical causes that can lead people into severe depression. Praying isn’t the only answer. Now, let me be quick to say, because I know I’m on delicate ground here, many people get depressed and it’s sort of a chicken versus the egg, which comes first? And there are unresolved issues and there’s unresolved anger and there’s stress and there’s lifestyle changes and spiritual changes that need to happen. You get clinically depressed, you get on medication, let me be quick to say, medication is not the answer.

You may need medication temporarily to get your body right so you can deal with the root issues. But to use medication to mask those and not work on those issues is as faulty a thinking as saying that medication is never right. So, I’m trying to balance it out and I think it’s very important that we say this.

Root causes of depression? Some are physical. Some are psychological. A great loss of any type, real or concrete. Anger that has turned inward. Whoo. That is ninety-five percent of people’s depression. Guilt, real or imagined. Stress. Major transitions in your life: Going through adolescence, career choice, marriage, parenthood, first home, teenagers, mid-life, retirement.

Grief; faulty thinking where you begin to have a poor self-image, unrealistic expectation, self-pity.

Spiritual causes of depression, there are times where it’s spiritual. Spiritually, when you have an intensive period of ministry, depression can happen. When there’s true guilt, spiritually, you can get depressed. When you have a wrong perspective, wrong expectations, Psalm 73, you can get depressed. When there is satanic attack, you can get depressed. When you try and do the will of God out of the energy of the flesh, instead of out of the energy and power of the Spirit, you can get depressed.

When your priorities are out of whack, spiritually, you can get depressed. When you have a relationship breakdown, you can get depressed. Do you see how complex this is?

Depression is rooted in physical issues, psychological issues, emotional issues, and relational issues. And unlike how we think, God did not make us where we have a spiritual compartment and a physical compartment and a relational compartment. All those things fit together.

And so what you need to do is you need to understand a little bit about who you are, what God is doing – but by and large, there is going to maybe ten percent of the people or less who are clinically depressed and you need medical help.

But for the ninety percent of us, we just basically have ups and downs, ebbs and flows. It’s responding to life, responding to people, responding to kids, responding to some minor health issues, responding to a little bit of anger.

And what can happen is that depression can take us down the tube. How do you respond to that?