“Trouble and distress have come upon me, but Your commands are my delight.” -Psalm 119:143
When I was a teenager, my depression was the darkest and most prolonged period I have ever known. The Psalms were especially comforting because emotions run high and low here. It showed me that God is not put off by feelings, they just need to align with His truth. What do I know about God to be true even when it doesn’t feel true? Looking back on that time, I remember the season as bittersweet. Depression is bitter, but I found God’s Word to be sweet. I was able to delight in my constant Friend in the midst of sorrow. On this particular verse Matthew Henry comments, “There are delights, variety of delights, in the word of God, which the saints have often the sweetest enjoyment of when they are in trouble and anguish.”
Those who endure trials, weaknesses or temptations might be disregarded by others. But I believe it is here in the valley that our faith is refined. A desert bloom is a wonder because something beautiful emerges under harsh conditions. Faith which perseveres in spite of the troubles of life is precious to our Father. He sees His children and has compassion on them. When our distresses threaten to overwhelm us, go to the greatness of God. Through His Word, He will tend to you as a Shepherd. He will gently lead His beloved children. You and I cannot fully understand the purpose in suffering, so here is where our faith must rest. We learn to trust our Father’s perfect sovereignty, power, goodness, wisdom and love, and that He is all of those things toward you personally. Dear Christian, whatever happens on your pilgrim journey will seem as feathers in light of the eternal weight of glory we will enjoy one day.
“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to Your Word.” -Psalm 119:25
We are made of dust and to dust we shall return. The psalmist is so low in spirit he feels as one already dead. Depression can feel like this. The intense pain or numbness makes one feel not fully alive, like the walking dead. He prays for the Lord to preserve him- to give him life to the full, not just a sad restless existence. The psalmist wants to truly live again.
“I recounted my ways and You answered me; teach me Your decrees.” -Psalm 119:26
The psalmist has told God his heart- confession and repentance. Now he looks for renewed fellowship with the Lord. He wants God to teach him His commands so that he might not stumble in sin. The psalmist loves God and His holiness. He hates his sin and does not want to repeat an offense.
“Let me understand the teaching of Your precepts; then I will meditate on Your wonders.” -Psalm 119:27
Here the psalmist pleads for more insight into the knowledge of God. This is where love and belief will grow. The psalmist desires to go deeper in fellowship with His Father. The way to do this is for the Lord to help him see and understand. He must then respond with obedience to what he has been taught.
These verses show how the Christian life moves through mountains, valleys and the in-between. If our faith is stagnant we are not growing. Even down in the pit of despair, maybe especially so, our roots are given an opportunity to grow deeper. God is ever faithful to provide exactly what we need- whether that be a trial to cultivate spiritual maturity, grace to sustain us through it, or a humble spirit to show us we were never in control. The Lord will complete His work in every believer (Philippians 1:6). Although we may not understand our sorrows at times, like the psalmist, these seasons can be used for God’s Glory and our eternal good if we endure. Jesus is holding fast to His beloved. He is holding fast to you.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything […} Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” -James 1:2-4; 12
Grace upon grace,
Further encouragement- This is one of my favorite hymns and appropriate with this post. I hope it blesses you as well. ‘He Will Hold Me Fast’ by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to Your Word.
I recounted my ways and You answered me; teach me Your decrees.
Let me understand the teaching of Your precepts; then I will meditate on Your wonders.
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to Your Word.
Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through Your law.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on Your laws.
I hold fast to Your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.”
This section is refreshingly honest. For those who struggle with depression or experience seasons of emotional turmoil, these words provide a voice to their pain. There are plenty of active verbs in this text which show us the rollercoaster of emotions the psalmist endured. It is also good to note how he takes action in the form of pleas and resolutions. He prays for God’s strength as he desires to take hold of the Scriptures and run- not limp along in life. God’s precious truth is restorative, reviving the weary soul, healing the sin-sick sinner. Redemption and perseverance is available to those who seek God. They will not be put to shame.
“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.” -Psalm 119:71
One subject I have shied away from because of how it affects me personally is depression. This is a topic some feel ashamed to speak on, let alone admit to the world wide web. But I once wrote a post related to my son’s autism, describing how I was comforted by another in a similar special needs world, and how we as Christians should comfort others with the comfort we have received. This comes directly from Scripture, reminding us how God has shown us comfort in our time of need (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Depression has been my companion now for over 20 years. Some seasons are more intense than others. I can look back on the darkest times now as bittersweet. One period in particular I poured over the Psalms as they were especially helpful. I appreciated and could identify with the raw emotions in the pages of Scripture which spoke to my pain. Did you know that all but one psalm ends with praise or hope in God? Psalm 88 is the only psalm which concludes with darkness. This shows us that God can handle our emotions. He created them. Rightly channeled, emotions are good. But sin taints everything we do so we must interpret our emotions through the lens of Scripture.
If you or a loved one struggles with depression I have a few resources to suggest which greatly encouraged me over the years. Depression is spiritual warfare felt acutely. We need not fight alone. In fact, we don’t as believers. Each child of God is supremely blessed with His Spirit. But sometimes when you are drowning in darkness and can’t focus on the promises of God, His voice can seem distant…silent. This is when a Christian friend, Biblical counselor, or pastor needs to come alongside you. We are not meant to walk the Christian pilgrimage alone.
Devotional Psalter by Dane Ortlund
I have owned this devotional for a few years and referenced it in past blog posts. Dane Ortlund is a pastor serving in Illinois. Going through the Psalms Ortlund comments on each one, always pointing toward the cross. If we ever question God’s love for us in our trials and life experiences we don’t understand, all we need to do is look to Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). He gave us our answer by going to the cross in our place.
Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch
A Biblical counselor gave this to me years ago and I recently re-read it. Ed Welch is a counselor and faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). It is a helpful resource for friends and family to understand their loved one with depression. This is also an excellent tool for anyone suffering with depression as Welch identifies various reasons for this kind of pain and how to work through it Biblically.
Quotes from the book:
“Contrary to what we might think, God says that strong faith can coexist with emotional highs, lows, and everything in between. It is a myth that faith is always smiling. The truth is that faith often feels like the very ordinary process of dragging one foot in front of the other because we are conscious of God.”
“Through our struggles and pain, we are being offered perseverance, the character of God. Hardships are intended to give us a spiritual makeover, “that we may share in His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Therefore, when God encourages us to persevere He is not stumbling for encouraging words. He is teaching us how to look like Him.”
“Suffering is God’s surgery that leads to health when responded to by faith.”
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund
I loved this book. Actually, each one of the books listed I have given as gifts or recommended to someone. This one in particular helped me understand the depth of God’s love for me. Maybe like you, I have no problem comprehending the wrath of God, but His love? Well, sometimes I do struggle with how much I am loved as a redeemed sinner. Ortlund uses commentary from godly men of the past such as Thomas Goodwin, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin and John Owen. This topic on the love of Christ is not new, but Ortlund fleshes it out and uses Scripture as well to back up his argument. He dives deeper in understanding the great love our Father lavishes on His children. It is an essential book every believer needs to have in their library for spiritual encouragement. The depressed especially need to rightly see how loved and forgiven they are in spite of how they feel.
Quotes from the book:
“the Bible takes us by the hand and leads us out from under the feeling that His heart for us wavers according to our loveliness.”
“The yearning heart of God delivers and redelivers sinners who find themselves drowning in the sewage of their life, […] in need of a rescue that they cannot even begin on their own, let alone complete.”
“If you are in Christ, you have a Friend who, in your sorrow, will never lob down a pep talk from Heaven. He cannot bear to hold Himself at a distance. Nothing can hold Him back. His heart is too bound up with yours.”
I hope you find something helpful here. If anything, sometimes it is good to know you are not alone in pain. The hope and peace we have as Christians is that our suffering is not in vain as we look to Jesus. It is sanctifying. Joseph told his brothers in Egypt that what they intended for harm, God used for good (Genesis 50:20). In the same way, what has the potential to destroy, God can use your depression for His glory in refining how you think about Him and yourself in light of who Christ is and what He has done for you.
About once a month Jason and I will go to the actual theater if anything good is playing. Last time we saw Unbroken: Path to Redemption, the sequel based on a true story from Louis Zamperini’s life experience in WWII. This movie picks up right after the war as Louis tries to adjust to normal life again.
If you haven’t seen the first movie, Unbroken, I highly recommend watching it first. But if not you still get the idea of the horrors he went through during the war. Louis was captured as a POW by the Japanese after spending 47 days at sea on a raft. He was tortured specifically by a prison guard, known as “The Bird” who specialized in cruelty. Years after the war ended, Louis was still plotting how to murder this man. He lost touch with reality succumbing to hatred, depression and alcoholism.
For the first half of the film we see the demons he wrestles with- and it looks kind of familiar.
I have battled depression since I was fifteen.
It took me about ten minutes before writing this next sentence, because I don’t talk about it often- if at all anymore. The first six years as a teenager were the hardest, because all the emotions. Now it is more of an unexpected, unwelcome guest that shows up on my doorstep from time to time.
It’s been said that depression is our anger turned inward. I believe that’s partly true. There’s so much more to understanding depression than just letting go of anger, but this is where I needed to do some soul searching. When we withhold forgiveness from someone, our insides begin to calcify. We lose a tender, pliable heart desiring to conform to Jesus.
Something that hit me while watching in the dark movie theater was a speech Louis gave shortly before he died. He said, “forgiveness has to be complete”. He was referring to his Japanese captors, even “The Bird”. Louis Zamperini learned to forgive his enemies once he discovered he was fully forgiven in Christ. We see him giving his life to the Lord in the movie at a Billy Graham tent revival. That night became a turning point in his life of letting go.
That phrase sat heavy on my heart as Jason and I walked back to our car that night. Forgiveness has to be complete. Just the night before I felt prompted to pray for people I haven’t seen in over 15 years. Part of my depression stemmed from unforgiveness I had harbored for so long.
I thought I had forgiven them- but maybe it was more of choosing not to remember instead.
I realized I haven’t been completely free either. Louis knew this too.
There’s a reason God commands us to forgive our enemies and instead bless them, pray for them. Not only is it for their benefit, its for ours too. Jesus fully forgave me for all I’ve ever done or will do, so how can I not practice forgiving others?
In his book ‘Inconspicuous Providence’, Bryan R. Gregory speaks of the power of the cross which provides us with the supernatural ability to forgive. He says “the cross assures us that God is still working, even if we can’t see it. The cross assures us that God is with us, even when we can’t feel it. The cross assures us that God’s redemptive purposes are greater than the evil being done.”
We may never know the extent of God’s redemptive purposes as He works through our suffering to work in another life because of how we’ve responded.
Our fellowship with God depends on how we act toward each other. It means we don’t keep a record of past wrongs. The best way to do that is by beginning to pray. With the help of the Spirit, He will supernaturally work in our hearts to forgive even when an apology isn’t given. He will enable us to love those who are hard to love. He will do a good work in us as we seek peace and pursue joy by moving forward and not dwelling on our past sins or the sins of others.
My heart was like a wrung out dish rag by the end of the movie, but it served as a lesson for me to keep moving beyond my depression. Forgiveness. Letting go of past or present wounds. Pray for my enemies.
Our fingers slowly pry from the anger we hold on to so tightly. God says we are free if we are in Christ. It’s not just a future hope, but a present reality that we are free. I am free to transform moments of pain into moments of grace.