In 2020, I wrote a prayer that captures, in abbreviated form, what I often say to the Lord when a depressive episode envelops me. See if you identify with the symptoms I describe in the opening paragraph. Determine if you want to ask the same things of God that I do in the remainder of the prayer.
Dear Loving Father,
Right now, despair envelops me. Hopelessness makes me think I’ll never smile or be happy again. It’s as if there is high humidity in my heart that leaves me gasping for breath, sapping my energy, draining me of motivation for things I normally enjoy. I’m stumbling in the dark, afraid I’ll fall, without anything to light my path. Today, I’d have to stand on tiptoe and reach way up just to touch the bottom. At this moment, despondency eclipses things I know about You and believe about the gospel.
But I still believe in You, Father, or else I wouldn’t voice these feelings to You. No one cries out to someone who he believes isn’t there.
Once again, Father, I plead with You to penetrate my darkness with Your light.
Inject Your strength into my weakness.
Replace my pessimism with joy and with a deeper trust in You that generates hope for the future.
Keep reminding me of who You are, what You have done for me in the past, and what You have promised for my future.
And somehow, please redeem this pain. Use it to wean me from self-sufficiency so I serve You in a way that can only be explained by the words, “God did it!” Let others see Your power working in, for, and through me so You, rather than I, get the credit for anything I accomplish.
Father, I have nowhere to look but up, but show me why that is a great place to be! In Jesus’ name, Amen.*
Now let’s shift from how I pray when depressed to a devotional on the #1 strategy I’ve employed over the years to assuage despondency and shorten its stay.
Preaching to Yourself: A Biblical Strategy for Fighting Depression and Other Threats to a Vibrant Faith
In my lifelong battle with depression, oh how greatly I have benefited from the following cries of three different psalmists!
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
“My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God” (Psalm 62:5-7).
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
Who is each writer addressing?
Many psalms are prayers to the Lord, but these are examples of psalmists who “preached to themselves.”
Preaching has a negative connotation in the minds of some people. If I come on too strong while witnessing to an unbeliever, I’m criticized for being “preachy.” When my grown sons were adolescents, if I exasperated them by nagging about their behavior, they sometimes replied, “Don’t preach to me!”
Yet preaching God’s Word is integral to church vitality and to personal spiritual health. And believe it or not, it is something God wants us to do in relation to ourselves.
The most important sermons you will ever hear are not the ones your faithful pastor delivers, nor the ones you hear from well-known preachers on social media. The most life-changing, soul-nourishing messages you will ever hear are the ones you preach to yourself.
Definition of “Preaching to Yourself”
“Preaching to yourself” is the act of combating temptation, discouragement, or any harmful thought pattern with the truth of Scripture. It is giving a biblically informed rebuttal to thoughts or feelings that tend to drag us down spiritually, which are erroneous or negative.
In the previous Bible verses I quoted, the psalmist talked back to despair by focusing on God as a source of hope (Psalm 42:5). He described God as a rock, a stronghold, and a refuge (Psalm 62:5-7). After acknowledging his own weakness and failure, the psalmist reminded himself that God is his source of strength (Psalm 73:26). He “preached to himself” by focusing on God: who He is, what He has done, and what He has pledged to do.**
We, too, must preach God’s truth to ourselves in order to keep living and serving strong.
This isn’t just a strategy for responding to despondency. I employ it when I am severely tempted to sin, when I’m threatened by events or forces I cannot control, such as terrorism or the Covid-19 pandemic, and when I feel inadequate to fulfill a ministry to which God has called me. The bullet points that follow represent situations or times when I desperately need to wield God’s Word in this way.
Select one of the following line items and digest the related Bible texts. What you examine will provide the raw material for the next sermon you preach!
Preach to Yourself When….
- You don’t feel God’s presence: Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 28:20; John 14:16; Hebrews 13:5.
- You don’t believe you can overcome a particular temptation: 1 John 4:4; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3.
- You’re discouraged or depressed: Psalm 42-43, 54:4; Micah 7:8.
- You’re threatened by the spread of terrorism or a pandemic: Psalm 46:1-2,10; 56:3-4.
- You’re experiencing excruciating delay or uncertainty: Psalm 27:13-14; 37; 62:5-8.
- You’re feeling hopeless: Lamentations 3:22-25; Romans 15:13.
- You doubt God’s goodness: Nahum 1:7; Isaiah 30:18.
- You think God is angry at you: Romans 8:1; 1 John 2:1-2.
- You’re carrying a burden: Psalm 55:22, 68:19; Matthew 11:28-30.
- You fail or feel weak: Psalm 73:26; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7.
- Your heart is broken: Psalm 30:5, 147:3.
- You don’t feel adequate to serve the Lord: 2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Philippians 2:13.
- You’re experiencing trouble and you need God’s intervention: Psalm 50:15.
- You need more resiliency and endurance to finish well in your faith pilgrimage: Revelation 21:4; Hebrews 10:36-37; 2 Corinthians 4:14-18.
- You are in special need of God’s mercy and grace: Hebrews 4:14-16.
The Word of God is the fuel that faith needs in order to function well. “So faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). If you memorize a few of the references I cited, the Holy Spirit will have high-octane fuel to work with when your spirit isn’t firing on all cylinders.
*Chronic Joy (Chronic Illness Ministry) first used a version of my prayer on the “Depression” pages of their excellent website. Chronic Joy is a global resource ministry dedicated to compassionately serving all those affected by chronic illness, chronic pain, mental illness, and disability by providing accessible, easy-to-use, faith-based educational tools and resources.
**I recent years, I have published a couple of posts in which I illustrate how I utilize the concept of “preaching to myself” to combat a depressive episode. Here’s a link to one of those articles, which will make this concept come alive for you.