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Defeating Depression

When a person talks to me about depression, I don’t have to struggle to empathize. I relate all too well.

If you struggle at times with "getting down" or perhaps know of someone who does, I’d like to encourage you with one simple truth. And before you dismiss this as the counsel of an aloof academic who just doesn’t get it, remember—I’ve wrestled with this problem. That simple truth is this: to be depressed is to be blessed.

How could I even suggest such an idea? Let me illustrate. One day my car’s "check engine" light came on. At first I ignored it, hoping it might somehow go off by itself, but it didn’t. Every time I turned the key, that light just glared at me. Finally I gave in. I went to a local dealership. The problem was that an electronic module was "out of range." Something under the hood was failing. The car was still running, but an electrical part was breaking down. They replaced the module and reset the light, and I was on my way.

I didn’t like seeing that "check engine" light come on. I certainly didn’t enjoy paying the diagnostic fee. But even though that red dashboard glow initially was a "hurt," in the long run it was a help—and since I replaced the module before it completely failed, I was never stuck on the side of the road with a broken-down car. In hindsight, having the "check engine" light come on was a blessing!

Let’s suppose I took my car to a mechanic and said, "The ‘check engine’ light is on. Can you fix it?" He then reached under the dash, pulled the bulb out, and replied, "It’s off. Problem fixed!" Yes, it’s true that the check engine light would no longer be glowing, but that wouldn’t really solve the problem. I may have felt better, but I also may have found myself stranded one day, the result of an electrical failure.

The key to defeating depression is remembering that depression is not the problem, only a symptom of the problem—an indication that something is "out of the proper range." We need to determine what causes the depression. Since depression is often defined as "hopelessness" (see Ps. 42:5, 11), another way to ask this is, "Why am I feeling hopeless?"

Certainly physical factors could be involved. We all tend to struggle more if we are not eating properly, exercising regularly, and getting adequate rest. An organic problem can play a role, so a physical exam is a good analytical step. Apart from physical causes, though, why do we sometimes feel depressed?

Often the problem is misplaced hope. We tend to believe that once we get something or once a certain event takes place, then we will be happy. For example, consider the following statements:

  • "Once our church supports me full-time and I quit my part-time job, I’ll be happy."
  • "Once our people begin to respond better to my preaching, I’ll be satisfied."
  • "If only we could relocate to a newer part of town, we could really reach this county, and I would be fulfilled."

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with hoping to be supported full-time, wanting to see God use your preaching, or desiring new ministry opportunities. Yet sometimes we want these too much. We seek them more than we seek Christ (Matt. 6:33). Sometimes we treasure things other than Christ (Matt. 6:21). We may even forget that Christ is the "pearl of great price"—worth more than everything else that we possess (Matt. 13:45, 46)!

Why then is depression a blessing? It’s God’s way of getting our attention, similar to a spiritual "check engine" light. It’s God’s way of warning us that our focus is shifting, our vision is getting cloudy. It’s God asking us yet again, "What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity [emptiness], and are become vain [empty]?" (Jer. 2:5). If we find ourselves feeling empty, there’s a pretty good chance that we have been walking after emptiness! Yet when we pursue Jehovah, we find our thirst quenched with "living waters" (Jer. 2:13).

How then do we defeat depression? By remembering that depression is not really the problem but is instead a symptom of a problem. We should thank God for showing us that we have been hoping in something other than Him! Whether we have placed our hope in good health, cordial family relationships, or a growing congregation, we must acknowledge that this is misplaced hope. We must confess yet again, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (Ps. 73:25–26). We must again remember that "They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed" (Ps. 34:5).

When you hope in God and God alone, you will find again that "the God of hope" really is able to "fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 15:13). When you return to longing for Him and Him alone as you read His Word, you will again experience that the Scriptures really do give you hope (Rom. 15:4) and that the fruit of the Spirit still includes joy and peace (Gal. 5:22).

May the Lord help us to hope in Him and Him alone! And for those times when our hope begins to drift toward lesser things, may He gently remind us that when we are depressed, we really are blessed.

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