Depression is one of those topics that a lot of people in church tend to avoid. I can understand why: no one wants to sound calloused about a topic that is sensitive to others and in which they aren’t well trained. I sense that same tendency, which is why I’m glad that counselors like Brad Hambrick can apply their wisdom to questions like these (see here).
The Bible does deal with depression. That doesn’t mean, however, that depression is merely spiritual. Humans are psychosomatic—body and soul—and when something affects us, it is often an intricate blend of both of those. Sometimes, then, what a person most needs is not another verse of Scripture, but a hug. Or a nap. Or a vacation.
So what I say here applies mostly to spiritually based depressions and discouragement. Still, even for the most physiological of depressions, the spiritual element is not immaterial. There may be more of a spiritual element than we often realize. And when we are in the midst of spiritual depression, we must confront the lies that depression speaks to us.
Elijah, the great prophet of God, went through a crippling period of depression, even to the point of having suicidal thoughts (1 Kings 19:4). Twice in 1 Kings 19, God asks Elijah why he is so despondent. And twice Elijah responds with a mixture of truth and error. “I have been zealous for you,” Elijah says. And this is true. “The Israelites have rejected you.” True. “They have killed your prophets.” True again. “And I am the only one left.” False.
Although Elijah does not know about it yet, God has 7,000 faithful people in Israel, and he’s about to raise up another prophet with twice the power Elijah had, a man named Elisha. More than that, God is ultimately going to bring someone greater into all of this mess—Jesus—who will be the fulfillment of everything Elijah has presented in a weak shadow.
Elijah is not alone at all. But this is how despair and depression works. The momentum of a few true statements leads us to a dangerously false conclusion. Before we know it, we find ourselves listening to a litany of lies. “It’s all lost.” False. “My family will never change.” False. “It’s never going to get any better.” False. “There’s no one who cares about me.” False. Your depressed self may be whispering these conclusions to you, but when it does, you need to stop listening to them. As Jared Wilson says in Gospel Wakefulness, “you must defy your depressed self.”
We must stop listening, and start talking. We must preach the gospel over our lives, without mumbling, being long-winded if we have to: “I am not alone; Gethsemane shows me that. There is someone who cares for me; the cross proves that. My future is not dim; the resurrection declares that.” We must tell our depression that its days are numbered, so that even if it lasts until our dying breath, it will be vanquished for all eternity while we escape to the everlasting joy of the Father’s presence. So even if you never get over it, it’s still not permanent.
In essence, this is what God tells Elijah—that he has a plan beyond anything Elijah has considered. Elijah feels like his efforts have failed and are wasted. But they were not.
Perhaps you feel like many of your acts have failed and have wasted. But in the end, when we see all things clearly, we will realize that there was no wasted act of faithfulness, nothing done in Jesus’ name that could ever be called “wasted.” In every cross of pain and suffering and deprivation you go through in faith, God works the miracle of the resurrection.
So with the Apostle Paul, we can say to our soul, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).
For more, be sure to listen to this entire sermon here.