Don’t hoist the wrong conclusion from this post.
I detest depression. I loathe the inertia, the sad countenance, and negative thinking that accompanies most episodes of despondency. And through spiritual disciplines, counseling, medications–or a combination of these weapons–I’ll fight for my joy until I take my last breath.
But since God has not yet removed this nemesis, I’ve identified a few benefits of it, or reasons why He hasn’t yanked out this thorn in my flesh. Though God knows I yearn for the demise of it, nonetheless I thanked Him recently for these benefits of chronic depression.
- Depression Enhances God’s Glory and Reputation in My Life and Ministry.
Psalm 50:15 suggests that a need or problem in my life provides a rich opportunity for God to receive more honor: “Call on Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” In this verse, there’s a direct grammatical link between honoring God, and the desperation that causes me to cry out to Him.
When trouble spawns dependence on Him, I give God an opportunity to do what only He can do: remove the cause of trouble, or more often, strengthen me on the inside so I face it with more faith and discernment. When He intervenes, I praise Him for it, and testify to others of His help.
My family members, friends, and students have heard me describe the bleak symptoms of depression. They have observed my dark moods, my slower-than-usual gait, my pessimism during such times. Students have seen me weep in class, excuse myself to go wash my face, then return to finish the session–when there was no connection between the tears and the subject matter of the class.
But they’ve also heard me pray for the strength to go on. They’ve seen how I often teach with passion even while in a depressive episode. They’ve seen how I’ve leaned on close friends for support and intercession. They’ve heard me recite Bible verses teeming with truths that sustain me, and seen the tears of joy roll down my cheeks because of their heart-massaging effect.
Put simply, they see me as weak, but they see my Savior and His resources as strong. The result is not so much greater admiration of me as it is awe of a God who uses frail instruments so He gets glory for what is achieved (1 Cor. 1:26-29; 2 Cor. 4:7).
Renown British pastor and author Charles Spurgeon understood how our weakness magnifies God’s glory. Himself a sufferer of depression as well as severe gout, he wrote, “God gets from us most glory when we get from Him most grace.”
Do you need a lot of His grace today? The more you ask for, and the more He gives you, the better He looks.
2. Depression Expands My Ministry.
*My sensitivity to hurting people is greater because of my depression.
Their affliction may be a physical disease, a financial setback, or the death of a family member. But because I’ve experienced the comfort and prayers of friends, I’m now more prone to call someone and pray with him over the phone, or write a hand-written letter with the goal of encouragement. I know what it’s like to hurt, and I know what it’s like to receive needed comfort. As a task-oriented, introverted person, it has taken my own emotional pain to shift my focus away from myself and more toward others going through a hard time.
I’ll forever be grateful that God’s Spirit nudged me to write a terminally-ill former pastor with whom I served on staff. I cited qualities in him I admired, and shared a couple of my favorite memories of our work together. He died three weeks after receiving the letter.
*Speaking and writing about God’s sustenance during depression gives hope to others who suffer from despondency.
Whether it’s a sermon in which I use my depression to illustrate the efficacy of an encouraging truth in the text, a magazine article citing concrete ways my faith helps with depression symptoms, or a blog that resonates with a reader, my transparency instills hope in others that they, too, can still be useful to God despite their struggle.
I’ve received many letters and emails thanking me for putting into words what they experience, and for instilling hope in the midst of the their darkness. I don’t say this to clap for myself, but to show you that though God has not removed my depression, He nonetheless uses it redemptively. He keeps answering the prayer I uttered years ago: “Father, if You choose not to remove this pain, please don’t waste it. Use it for the benefit of others.”
Who can help a grieving parent better than someone who has also lost a child and held on to God out of desperation? Who can inform someone with doubts about God better than a thoughtful Christian who also struggled with hard questions about the veracity of his faith?
Who can offer needed perspective to a person who loses his job better than someone who went through it, who faced the same fears and insecurities? Who can effectively come alongside someone whose husband left her, better than a lady who experienced the same betrayal, yet received the comfort of God (2 Cor. 1:3-11)?
As late pastor Ron Dunn put it, “Your greatest area of ministry may stem from your greatest area of pain.”
It’s okay to ask God to relieve your pain. But also say to Him, “Don’t waste it. Use it for my good, others’ benefit, and for Your glory.”
If you’re going through affliction, think through ways God can use it not only to help you grow, but to expand your ministry.
3. Depression Increases My Appreciation for and Expectation of Heaven.
Focusing on the Lord’s promise of eternal life is patently not escapism. Rather, when I experience physical pain, relationship burdens, unrelenting temptations to sin, ministry opposition, and other kinds of trouble, thinking of heaven is a means of endurance in the here and now.
I live and serve knowing that all pain is temporary, and will end either with my body’s death or with the return of Christ. Since I know I won’t hurt forever, I tell myself, “Hang on, Terry. This is temporary. Keep obeying and serving, knowing that you’ll be in the Lord’s presence before you know it.”
Revelation 21:4 buoys my spirit when I’m feeling down, and enables me to dive back into my responsibilities: “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall be no longer any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.”
The distance runner, experiencing lung-gasping, leg-cramping pain, gets a second wind when he knows the finish line is close. The boxer who’s weary to the bone hears the bell for the final round and gets renewed stamina, knowing it will all be over in just three minutes. Similarly, I do not lose hope, because I know that this life is brief, and the next one, far more glorious, lasts forever.
In Romans 8:18, Paul reminds me to view present suffering through the lens of eternity: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul endured because he knew that this life alone would never be able to tip the scales of suffering in his favor, or mine. That’s why I was created for heaven, and I’ve never yet been home.
I’ll reiterate this third benefit: my recurring episodes of depression kindle my appreciation for the promise and provision of heaven. Without pain, I wouldn’t have as much joy of anticipating heaven, nor teach the truth of it with as much passion.
Joni Eareckson Tada, in her devotional book Beside Bethseda, echoed my emphasis on anticipation for heaven being an asset for endurance now: “I can’t wait to get there. But this isn’t a death wish. It’s a life wish.”
Does your pain, whether physical or mental, increase your excitement about heaven?
How does Randy Alcorn’s remark about heaven make you feel? “‘They all lived happily ever after’ is not merely a fairy tale. It is the blood-bought promise of God for all who trust in the gospel.”
Which of these three reasons for thanking God for depression (or any affliction) resonates most with you today? Why? With whom can you share this insight that God’s Spirit impressed on your heart?