Afflicted saint, to Christ draw near,
Your Saviour’s gracious promise hear;
His faithful Word you can believe:
That as your days your strength shall be
How do you know if you’re in love, someone once asked. Simple, came the reply. All the love songs suddenly start to make sense.
A couple of years ago, I discovered a similar litmus test. How do you know if you’re depressed? Simple. All the psalms begin to make sense.
All of a sudden, you know exactly what David means when he says he is “weary with crying” (Psalm 69:3), and asks God how long He will hide His face from him (Psalm 13:1); when he says his tears have been his food day and night (Psalm 42:3) and he makes his bed “swim” (Psalm 6:6).
Depression has been misunderstood, mislabelled and mischaracterised for the longest time. It is only in recent years that the condition has begun receiving the kind of comprehension and compassion its sufferers have long pled for.
Global statistics peg the number of those affected as 264 million people worldwide. And those are just the official figures. In other words, we’ve had a pandemic on our hands long before the novel coronavirus came knocking this year.
Yet, when you consider that so many who confess depression are routinely tossed questions like “What possible reason do you have to be depressed?” or told to “snap out of it”, it’s little comfort that we don’t lock such folks up in asylums anymore — or worse, attempt to ‘beat the demons out of them’ as they did in ancient cultures.
Despite present-day advancements in diagnosing and treating the condition, the prevailing combination of ignorance and stigma that comes with mental health issues is so strong within churches that too many of our brothers and sisters find themselves at sea, with no hope for help ‘even in the house of God’.
The stigma is so strong within churches that too many of our brothers and sisters find themselves at sea, with no hope for help ‘even in the house of God’
A loved one recently struck at the heart of the problem when she said, “You can treat physical afflictions, but what do you do with mental pain? There are no Band-Aids for your brain.”
One of the great ironies of the matter is how very alone sufferers of depression feel, even though there are hundreds of millions of them around the globe. For believers, there is the added weight of guilt, the not-so-subtle suggestion that you’re somehow less of a Christian for giving in to despair.
Do you know what CS Lewis and Charles Spurgeon had in common though? Both were spiritual giants — but both also battled crippling depression.
Some of the greatest heroes of faith in the Bible were no less insusceptible to these seasons of darkness either. We know David was quite vocal about his mental agony when we read through his psalms, but Scripture also records how Elijah begged to die (1 Kings 19:4) and Job “loathed” his life for he had “no peace, no quietness, no rest, only turmoil” (Job 3:26, 10:1). Even Paul, the pioneer of the early Christian church, wrote to the Corinthians of the time he was so utterly burdened beyond his strength that he despaired of life itself (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Does the Word of God have resources for the afflicted, distressed, beaten-down Christian? Indeed.
“God has forsaken you.”
“He’s not listening.”
“The world is better off without you.”
Depression has a way of hitting you in waves. Some days, your spirit is renewed and you feel it’s safe to clamber back on top of your steed again. Other days, you’re hounded by such demoralising thoughts, you want ‘out’ of life altogether.
What we don’t often realise is that depression is not entirely unlinked from spiritual warfare. What else do you call the mad battle for your soul, when forces beyond you threaten to derail your very sanity, and make you question everything you’ve ever believed in?
What we don’t often realise is that depression is not entirely unlinked from spiritual warfare
The devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), and deception continues to be his favourite stratagem — even though we’ve come a long way since the Fall. The next time you find yourself overwhelmed by poisonous whispers, ask yourself: who’s speaking?
We need to learn to identify God’s voice from the cacophony — of self, Satan and the world — that we find ourselves in every day. David does this successfully in Psalm 31:22. He wrote: “In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from Your sight!” The psalmist understood it was panic that caused him to arrive at such a conclusion, when the truth of the matter was that God had heard his cry for help.
The thing about lies is that they bear the appearance of truth. Question is: are you able to tell the difference?
It’s not for nothing that Ephesians refers to the word of God as a sword. We see Jesus employ its power perfectly when He took on the tempter in Matthew 4. What would that look like for us?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it best. Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we “listen to ourselves” instead of “talking to ourselves”, he said. “The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself, question yourself, and preach to yourself.”
Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that we “listen to ourselves” instead of “talking to ourselves”, Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said
In other words, do what Jonah does and “remember the Lord while [you’re] fainting away” (Jonah 2:7). Do what the psalmist does in Psalm 42:11 and speak to your soul. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God [emphasis mine].”
Do you believe God has forsaken you? Remind yourself of 1 Corinthians 13:5. Do you feel like He’s not listening? Rejoice in the truth of Psalm 10:17. Are you convinced He doesn’t love you? Tell yourself that’s not what John 3:16 says.
These are basic Bible verses — ones every Sunday school kid could reel off in their sleep. But when the onslaught is unrelenting and depression’s vice-like grip is tightening, even ‘elementary’ verses such as these will feel like they’re being wrenched from your lips. That’s when you know the battle is real.
So, sing with joy, afflicted one;
The battle’s fierce, but the victory’s won!
God shall supply all that you need;
Yes, as your days your strength shall be
It’s a mystery, a radical idea even, but have you ever sung in the midst of your sorrow? Paul and Silas did when they’d been beaten and thrown into jail — and they got the rest of the prisoners’ attention because of it (Acts 16:25). But praise is a powerful way to put things into perspective.
We sing not because we’re banking on a quick fix. We sing because the war has already been won
– Praise focuses on the Person of God. It reminds you of His lovingkindness, His holiness, His sovereignty, His omnipotence, His splendour, grace, mercy and a host of other characteristics that by the time you’re done, you have what Paul calls a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Diversionary tactics? Not really. You’re redirecting your gaze back to where it belongs: upward, not inward.
– Praise remembers the past goodness of the Lord. In Psalm 143, David laments that his spirit is “faint[ing] within him” — yet, in the next breath, he sings: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” If our never-changing God has been faithful in the past, will He not be faithful in the present and the future? Preach the answer back to yourself: He absolutely will.
– Praise looks forward to the promises of God. The Lord promises to supply our every need, including grace upon grace (John 1:16), and a way of escape that we may endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Meditate on the promises of God — not one word has failed yet.
The reason we sing is not because we’re banking on a quick fix. We sing because the war has already been won.
Jesus, our Captain, has already experienced the darkest night and done what no one else has to date: blown a hole through death’s door and vanquished the Final Foe. He understands physical and mental agony like no one else can (Hebrews 2:18). And His message of love is the same as it has ever been: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”
And so, we sing — not without hope, but with joy — for though we are struck down, we are not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:9). We sing because His Word is true: as our days, so our strength shall be (Deuteronomy 33:25).
Richa Samuel (lead vocals); Rhea Samuel (lead vocals + harmony); Roshan Samuel (keyboard)
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