I’ve never claimed that saturating myself in God’s Word and applying its truths eliminate my depression. But to use an old Amish phrase, I can say “for sure and for certain” that the Bible helps me deal with despondency, lowers the intensity of a depressive episode, and instills hope that I would not otherwise have. Put simply, God’s truths and promises give me more “cope-ability” when darkness envelops me. What follows are six primary texts I’ve memorized that my unstable emotions often prompt me to review. There is no significance to the sequence of the texts.
- “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence” (Psalm 42:5).
The Psalmist is talking to himself, not to God. Yet he is giving a rebuttal to despair by reminding Himself of God, which leads him to believe that better days are ahead. From a number of Psalms, I have learned to “preach to myself” truths as a means of resisting lies from the evil one, or negative thinking that is not in alignment with God’s Word. (For another example of a Psalmist who preached to himself, see David’s words in Psalm 62:5-8.)
Psalm 42:5, as well as my personal experience over the years, remind me that depressive episodes come and go, that there is normally an end to the dark mood that often consumes me. I do experience days when I laugh a lot and walk with a spring in my step. (I’ve especially learned to laugh at myself. He who learns to laugh at himself will never cease to be entertained!)
2. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me” (Psalm 50:15).
In his analysis of the original language of this verse, John Piper emphasizes that there is a direct grammatical link between calling on God in a time of need, and Him receiving honor.
Imagine: God gets glory when we are helpless and plead with Him to intervene. He does what only God can do. He either strengthens us to face the adversity, or He removes the stressor altogether. He comes through, and we praise Him as a result and tell others what He did for and in us.
No other verse in God’s Word prompts me to pray when I’m downcast as much as this one. When I start a day depressed, despite classes to teach, or a writing project waiting on me, or student papers to grade, I cry out and tell Him I don’t want to live, much less fulfill those responsibilities. I tell Him, “God, it is a day of trouble for me. But You have promised to intervene in some manner, in a way that magnifies Your name and makes You look good. This is a great opportunity for You to receive glory.” Meditating on the verse and praying it back to God boosts my faith and often rejuvenates me for that day’s demands.
3. “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Just look at the divine promises packed into this single verse! God says He is with us, will strengthen us, will help us and uphold us. And twice He adds a word for emphasis: surely!
Though I desperately want to feel God’s presence, to go through each day with a keen awareness that He is with me, that is often not the case. But I tell myself that I do not have to be conscious of His presence for it to be a reality! I remind myself that His Word, which insists that He is with me, is far more reliable than my feelings, which often whisper that He has abandoned me.
A promise is only as reliable as the person who gives it. And in my book, God is pretty reliable. According to Titus 1:2, He “cannot lie.”
4. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore, I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:22-25).
Why are these verses special to me?
*The words “lovingkindnesses” and “compassions” are in the plural form. When it comes to His care for us, God piles it on!
*Each day starts with new opportunities for the Lord to display His care for us (“new every morning”).
*He is faithful. Awareness of this attribute is rooted in our past, as we look back and see answers to prayer and ways He has formerly sustained us. We can go through difficulty now a bit easier when we remember how He enabled us to do it in the past.
*When I’m downcast, the words that tell me what to do are wait (yes, very difficult!) and to seek Him. So my waiting for the dark mood to lift is not a passive thing. Even when I don’t feel like it, I can seek Him through prayer and through His Word, as well as through other means, and He will honor that obedience.
I recall an early morning in 2003. I arrived at my office at the university well before sunrise. I was mired in perhaps the deepest, longest episode of depression ever. I stood in the lobby of the dorm outside my office, faced the sunrise, then quoted these verses to myself. Then I said to the Lord, “I am not living with an awareness of your lovingkindness or compassion, but I believe these verses are true. I believe You will be faithful today by enabling me to fulfill my ministry. I choose to believe that You are good, even though inner voices are telling me You are not. Thanks for reminding me, through Your Word, that the truth is often polar opposite from how I feel.”
5. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather He who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:33-34).
Have you ever received a phone call from a friend who knew you were sick or hurting, and he or she prayed fervently for you over the phone? Or perhaps, as I experienced during a long period of strange physical symptoms many years ago, a person comes to your house for the sole purpose of unhurried intercession for you.
In May 1982, after my first year of teaching at Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University), weariness and stress overwhelmed me. The first year as a prof is typically difficult, since you are preparing courses and lessons for the first time. Then I received a two-page, handwritten letter in the mail from the lady who had preceded me as the undergrad Christian education prof at CBC. She understood experientially how exhausted I was.
But she didn’t address a single word to me! The entire letter was a prayer on my behalf, asking the Lord for replenishment of my energy, for sustenance and rest before the second school year started, and for my heart to stay pure and intimate with the Lord.
What encouragement to know others are praying for us!
But when we are despondent, we especially need to realize that our Savior Himself is interceding for us. This realization from Romans 8:34 boosted my spirit one morning when I awoke with a heaviness of spirit, and didn’t even feel like praying for myself.
In fact, The Holy Spirit is also an intercessor on our behalf. According to Romans 8:26-27, “The Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
So when you feel so low you don’t want to admit it to others so they can pray for you, and you are so numb emotionally you can’t get a prayer out for yourself, remember that two members of the Trinity are, indeed, interceding for you at that time.
6. This verse describes existence in the new heaven and the new earth: “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death, there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain…” (Revelation 21:4).
Unbelievers often accuse sincere Christians of being so heavenly-minded that they are of no earthly good. Tragically, the reverse is true: we are often too earthly-minded to be of any heavenly good.
What perspective enables a person to keep saying no to relentless temptation to sin? What insight instills hope in a person experiencing debilitating physical pain every day of his or her life? What truth keeps a person faithful to Christ, in holiness and ministry, despite horrific episodes of depression?
What keeps me from losing heart is the realization that the temptations, the physical pain and the emotional despair are all temporary!
Like Paul, we must view current hardships through the lens of eternity: “Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
The distance runner who concentrates on the finish line perseveres through lung-gasping, muscle-cramping pain, knowing the race will soon be over. The boxer entering the final round wards off debilitating fatigue because he knows the bell that ends the fight is only three minutes away. Similarly, the believer who is enduring strong bouts of spiritual warfare or bodily pain or emotional lows doesn’t quit, because he knows that either physical death or Jesus’ return will eventually usher him into the presence of the Lord, sparking a raucous celebration.
Our bodies won’t ache forever. Tears generated by the devastating effects of sin will one day dry up. The Son will one day break through the low-lying dark clouds of despair and we’ll wear a face-splitting smile that we won’t have to fake.
Through these verses I’ve cited, The Holy Spirit whispers to me, “Terry, hang on a while longer. This won’t last forever!”
Which of these Bible texts encouraged you most? Why?
Which text, if you memorize it, will most likely strengthen and sustain you in the future?
Can you think of someone who is hurting who could use the faith-boosting perspectives of these Bible truths today?