I’ve struggled with depression off and on for many years now. Sometimes it’s been severe but lately it feels like it’s on steroids!
I’ve talked with a few other pastors and it seems that it’s not just me.
Of course, we all know that much of this is being caused by the current pandemic and yes, there are a ton of very rational reasons we are probably all feeling a bit blue, but somehow none of that seems to be helping me.
It’s as though a dark fog has settled on my soul and I can’t quite shake it. Add to all this the tremendous voices of guilt and shame echoing in my head telling me I should be above all of this:
“I’m a Christian. I should be the epitome of tranquility.”
“I’m a pastor. I should be setting a good example for others to trust God and be happy.”
I keep going to bed telling myself I’ll feel better tomorrow, but I wake up and the cloud is still there.
Depression is NOT something WEAK people experience. Depression is no respecter of persons. It can strike ANYONE / ANYWHERE / ANY TIME. Even SPIRITUAL people suffer from depression: How can a person of faith be so affected by their feelings?
And then I’m reminded of my good friend Elijah the Prophet.
Why a good friend?
Because Elijah was a guy who had experienced so much in his spiritual life and yet he still struggled with depression, fear, anxiety, and stress.
It’s one of the reasons I love the Bible so much. Real people with real problems who met a real God who made a real difference.
One of my favorite stories of Elijah has to do with an intense bout of depression. He had just gone through one of the greatest spiritual victories in his life when the Queen took out a hit on him. You may have heard her name before: Jezebel. Not the nicest queen who ever reigned.
Jezebel hated Elijah and wanted him dead. You can read the whole story in 1 Kings 19:1-19.
When Elijah heard about the order for his death, it rocked his world, but instead of trusting in God’s power to protect him, he fled for his life!
He ran to the desert where he could be completely isolated. Then, dropping from exhaustion, he told God he’d had enough, and he prayed for God to take his life! And with that he fell asleep.
The Bible says an angel woke him up and gave him some hot bread and fresh water. After he ate and drank, he fell back asleep.
The angel repeated this process and then sent Elijah on a journey for 40 days to meet with God on Mount Sinai.
When he finally got there, he found a cave and spent the night.
God woke him up and let Elijah just unload and unload he did! Elijah dumped everything. He let God know how his service was a waste. He told God he was the only one who had stayed loyal and what did he get for his years of service? Nothing! Just a contract put out on his worthless life by a wicked queen. Thanks for nothing God!
WOW! Ever prayed anything like that?
What’s interesting is what happened next…
God tells Elijah to get out of the cave and go stand on the mountain. (I’d be thinking this is where God strikes me with lightning!) Instead God puts on a weather show.
First, a windstorm passes through that’s so powerful it rocks the rocks! Second, an earthquake shakes the whole mountain. Next, a fire bursts out. The Bible says, God was not in any of these phenomena.
Finally, Elijah hears a gentle whisper. God tells him to go back the same way he came; he commissions him to anoint a new king; train his successor, and finally, he informs Elijah that he is not alone. In fact there are 7,000 other faithful servants just like him.
What does all of this have to do with depression?
Because in this story of Elijah we see THE COMMON CAUSES AND THE CURES FOR DEPRESSION.
9 Symptoms You’re Suffering From Depression
2) Inescapable sadness
3) Increased / decreased sleep patters
4) Accentuated mood swings – feelings of guilt/ shame / worthlessness / helplessness / irritability
5) Mental strain. Lack of concentration. Difficulty recalling details or making decisions.
6) Apathy – loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities
7) Unexplained fatigue
8) Unusual weight loss / gain caused by EATING issues
9) Thoughts of suicide. Wishing you were dead.
4 Common Causes of Depression
1) Faulty Thinking
Elijah said, “Everybody’s against ME!” God said, “That’s simply not true.”
“For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.” Proverbs 23:7a (NASB95)
Stinking thinking leads to faulty feeling. Here’s a medical fact: Your HEART bone’s connected to your HEAD bone. Why? Because not everything you think is TRUE!
The problem is we EXAGGERATE and ELABORATE whenever we RUMINATE. When we ruminate, we chew on our problems which causes us to exaggerate the issues, and elaborate by filling in the gaps with suspicion and doubt.
Depression causes issue magnification!
There are two kinds of faulty thinking – Faulty Comparison and Faulty Conclusions.
Faulty comparison is when we compare our outtakes to other people’s highlight reels.
For example, we may think things like…
“If only my family was like their family…”
“If only my spouse was like their spouse…”
“If only my kids were like their kids…”
When we compare we start to despair.
Faulty conclusions is when we start believing that we are the problem. Instead of saying “I made a mistake” we think “I am a mistake” or instead of “I have a problem” we think “I am a problem!” Instead of taking a step back and acknowledging that I am going through a tough time, I start feeling like there is no hope.
2) Physiological Factors
Elijah feared, then he fled. He fasted then he fell.
FACT: When your body wears out your heart gives out!
It’s interesting that Elijah was able to face the greatest spiritual challenges, but when a Jezebel put a price on his head his heart gave out. Nothing can cause more emotional damage than when we try to control the uncontrollable.
What’s the most uncontrollable thing in our world? People.
When you hang your happiness on someone else’s shoulders you are asking for burnout. You weren’t designed to find fulfillment in any earthly relationship. Only Jesus can do that.
So many parents are taken down by this principle alone. They measure their success as a parent by the success of their child. That’s a recipe for depression.
TRUTH: Every time you take responsibility for another person, you take it away from that person.
Parent tip: If you ever feel a failure as a parent because of your child’s decisions, remember, even God’s kids rebelled and broke his heart.
Futility is when we start thinking, “What’s the point? There is no hope.” Elijah was tired, frustrated, burned out, beaten and basically had a breakdown. He needed an intervention! God stepped into his mess and from this story we learn 6 VITAL PRINCIPLES of recovery for depression.
6 Vital Principles
1) Recognize You're Not Alone
Depression often causes us to believe that we are special. That our situation is unique. We look at people in the Bible and write them off as SUPER-HUMAN.
Yet James tells us, “Elijah was a man just like us.” (James 5:17a, NIV)
The fact is we all have the same thoughts, struggles and feelings.
Depression causes us to buy the lies that…there’s no hope,
things will never change and I’M ALL ALONE!
Elijah cried out, “…I am the only one left…” (1 Kings 19:14, NLT)
Elijah fell into the trap of believing we can live this life on our own power. That’s a recipe for burn-out.
Elijah was not ON HIS OWN and NEITHER ARE YOU!
The Bible says,“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV)
The first step to overcoming depression is to recognize God is with you. You are not alone. God wants to help you.
2) Resolve Any Physical Causes
Your soul lives in a physical container. That means when your body gets out of whack it takes your feelings with it.
Paul prayed holistically, “…may your spirit, soul, and body be kept healthy…” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, CEV)
The first thing God did was to take care of his PHYSICAL DEPLETION before He worked on his EMOTIONAL depression. Elijah’s depression had clear ties to his physical state. He was exhausted, depleted and diminished.
His mental and emotional depression was directly linked to his physical depletion. You need to understand that there is a very real CHEMICAL CONNECTION.
Elijah’s depression was situational, but there are millions of people whose depression is continual or cyclical.
Question: Do you find yourself in a pattern of depression? Is it seasonal? Is it cyclical? Then it may be chemical?
Many times, depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. We would never criticize a diabetic for their insulin imbalance, but somehow we look down on a person who needs medication to correct a chemical imbalance that is causing depression. Treating your chemical imbalance is biblical.
Paul told Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23, NIV)
Paul was prescribing a medical remedy for Timothy’s ongoing condition.
What should I do if I am in a pattern of depression? Get help!
Why do we resist help when we truly need it? PRIDE
I define P.R.I.D.E. as:
We foolishly tell ourselves…
I, being of UNSOUND mind, have fully analyzed this situation through my OPAQUE lenses and have determined that I should keep on doing what I’ve always been doing and expect different results!
The Bible says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6b, GNT)
Instead of making excuses – make an APPOINTMENT!
3) Release Your Feelings to God
God says to Elijah, “OK big guy, what’s on your mind?”
Elijah just UNLOADS.
- Fear (vs. 3)
- Resentment (vs. 4)
- Frustration (vs. 4b)
- Anger (vs. 10)
- Loneliness (vs. 10b)
- Worry (vs. 10c)
God lets Elijah get it all out on the table.
The fourth therapy for DEPRESSION is EXPRESSION. Psychologists call it catharsis.
JOB needed this. “No! I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak.” (Job 7:11, GNB)
In recovery, we like to say, “Revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing.” I’d like to add to that, “Revealing your feeling should start at the ceiling.” God is not shocked when you complain to Him.
When you say, “God, life stinks! I’m ticked off! I’m miserable. I’m depressed!” He’s not shocked. He’s not blown away when you say, “I don’t know what I believe.”
He knows exactly how you feel even before you tell Him. What He wants you to do is get it off your chest.
“Pour out your heart like water in prayer to the Lord…” (Lamentations 2:19, NCV)
God can take it! In fact, HE DID!
“Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NET)
God allowed Elijah to go on and on until he finally ran out of words and THEN GOD PUT HIM TO SLEEP!
4) Retreat, Rest and Recover
God put Elijah to SLEEP TWICE!!!
A common mistake is trying to fix mentally what needs to be fixed physically. Ever noticed how a simple cold can cause us to go from Billy Graham to Ebenezer Scrooge in about two days?
It’s a fact, sleep, diet and exercise are critical to our overall emotional health.
Here’s what I know, SOMETIMES THE MOST SPIRITUAL THING YOU CAN DO IS TAKE A NAP! That’s why God put weekly rest in the BIG TEN. Someone once said, “If you burn the candle at both ends, you’re not as bright as you think you are.”
There’s no such thing as power naps for burn out. If you’re DEPRESSED you probably need REST!
Elijah thought God was through with him. He was depressed, discouraged, down in the dumps. I’m sure some of you can identify with this.
My guess is some of you can say, “There are some mornings I just don’t want to get out of bed. I’m emotionally and physically tired. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.“
Let me encourage you right now:
Don’t GIVE UP – LOOK UP
Don’t GIVE OUT – GIVE IN
Don’t run FROM GOD – RUN TO HIM!
“[Elijah] he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain before God. God will pass by.”” (1 Kings 19:11, The Message)
Even Jesus got tired.
“Then Jesus said [to the disciples], “[Come apart] to a quiet place and rest awhile.” (Mark 6:31, KJV/NLT)
“Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray.” (Luke 5:16, CEV)
Question: When was the last time you got ALONE with God? No phone. No computer. No radio. No noise. Just YOU and GOD.
View your depression as God’s invitation to meet with Him and receive what only He can give.
“…the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. (Isaiah 57:15, NLT)
Bread can replenish your stomach. Laughter can replenish your mood. Rest can replenish your body. But there’s only one person who can replenish your soul: JESUS CHRIST!
When you are at your lowest, you don’t need a lot of WORDS. You need THE WORD (John 1:1). God restored him physically so He could commission him spiritually.
WHAT WAS GOD’S WORD TO ELIJAH?
5) Refocus on God's Purpose Over Your Pain
Then the Lord told him, “Go…anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.” (1 Kings 19:15-16, NLT)
God’s greatest way of blessing us is by using us to bless others. What should we do when we don’t feel like blessing others? Ignore your feelings and live by faith. Doubt your doubts and believe your beliefs.
It’s easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into action.
The book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, released in 2007, gave us a window into the soul of one of the greatest spiritual giants of the last century.
In a letter estimated to be from 1961, Teresa wrote: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.“
What if the greatest work God wants me to accomplish has to be done through my pain and loneliness and darkness What gives my life the most meaning? Being happy or being helpful?
The truth is, when my greatest goal is to be happy, I am focused entirely on myself and selfishness never brings fulfillment.
Paul said, “But life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love.” (Acts 20:24, The Living Bible)
The truth is you don’t have to have it all together to make a real difference. All of God’s work on earth is being done by people who are currently struggling with something to one degree or another.
A life well-lived is not one lived for PLEASURE.
A life well-lived is one lived on PURPOSE.
“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors…” (Acts 13:36, NIV)
6) Reconnect Relationally
Elijah: “…I am the only one left…” (1 Kings 19:14, NLT)
Was that true? NO!
God tells him, “I’ve got 7,000 others in Israel who have remained faithful.”
The hard truth is that Elijah was all alone only because he chose to be. He was trying to do life without a support system. We were never meant to live that way.
That’s why God created the CHURCH, not the BUILDING, but the BODY. People connected to another community.
One of the truths that’s often overlooked is that God’s presence is manifested through God’s people. No one was ever meant to do life alone.
“So Elijah went and found Elisha…then he went with Elijah as his assistant.” (1 Kings 19:19&21, NLT)
Who’s in your life that’s helping you in the journey? Who can speak into your stuff? Who’s got your back?
Even in the midst of this pandemic hundreds of people in our church are meeting in virtual communities using Zoom, Facebook and other online apps. Christians need Christians.
Even Paul, the spiritual giant, stated, “I want us to help each other with the faith we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you.” (Romans 1:12, NCV)
So, if you’re like me, and you’re feeling depressed remember…
1. Recognize you’re not alone.
2. Resolve any physiological issues.
3. Release your feelings to God.
4. Retreat, rest and recover.
5. Refocus on God’s purpose over your pain.
6. Reconnect relationally.
And finally, if you are at the very edge and wondering if you might end it all, REACH OUT!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255