Can I Serve Others If I’m Depressed?

by | May 25, 2024 | Depression and Faith

There’s a beneficial, fruitful response to a period of depression that I’ve discovered late in life.

It isn’t a medicine or supplement, though those benefit some sufferers.

I’m not referring to one of the four primary means of  God’s grace I’ve tapped into that sustain me through severe depression: lament prayers; the body of Christ; preaching God’s promises to myself and participation in corporate worship.

It isn’t a new puppy or spending time outdoors absorbing sunshine, though research reveals that both help to mitigate dark moods.

It isn’t counseling, though a good therapist helps me identify triggers to a sudden dip in mood and suggests ways to mollify the effect of despondency on key relationships.

Then what is it?

I’ll begin with a story.


A Horrific Toothache

My freshman year in high school, over lunch I bit down on a hard food item and screamed. Horrific pain shot through my head. I couldn’t hold back the tears and moans.

I had neglected tooth hygiene, not mentioning to my parents a cavity in a wisdom tooth that had formed a small crater. What had been a minor discomfort instantly became the worst physical pain I’d ever encountered. I scored a direct hit on an exposed nerve!

From the principal’s office I called my dad, who rushed me to the dentist’s office for pain relief and a filling for that tooth. Between the moment I bit down on the tooth and the time the dentist treated me, about 90 minutes, the severe ache sabotaged my capacity to concentrate on anything but the pain. The only person I thought of other than myself was the dentist, who represented relief.

When acute physical pain overwhelms us, it’s hard to shift attention away from ourselves to other people or situations.


A Mental Toothache

That’s also true in the realm of mental or emotional pain, such as the despair of a depressive episode. When mired in the abyss of despondency, it’s difficult to think of others. There’s a turn inward, a form of self-absorption. The hopelessness so overwhelms us that expressing interest in others or in activities we normally enjoy is almost impossible. We just want the forlornness to go away.

Unless you’ve been severely depressed, you can’t understand what I’m saying. Even caring individuals who typically show sensitivity toward other people find it hard to act compassionately when they’re depressed or overwhelmed by a severe trial.

It’s difficult, but not impossible, to serve others when we’re hurting. And that’s the profitable and rewarding response to depression I’m recommending.

With God’s help, strive to serve others as a means of responding to a period of stifling depression.


Improving Our Serve

The single-minded focus on ourselves during a depressive episode isn’t a fault or evidence of poor character. It’s more of a symptom of our condition. But if you’re a Christ-follower, I want to affirm a vital principle.

When we’re despondent or hurting in other ways, serving others effectively is still possible. In fact, it’s a type of remedy that may release us from the bondage of self-centeredness. I’m not calling it a cure for depression; rather, it’s a way to alleviate the worst symptoms and perhaps shorten the stay of an episode of despair. At the very least, it’s a way to exercise ministry even if depression lingers.

This is possible because the Holy Spirit indwells us and enables us to do what, in our own strength and resolve, is impossible. Let’s ask Him to redeem our pain by making us sensitive to other hurting people. Let’s plead with Him to use us in another person’s life no matter how gloomy our own spirit or outlook is.

In Psalm 50:15, God says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” He gets glory when, in a time of weakness and utter dependency, we ask Him to do for and in and through us what only He has the power to do: help us focus on another person’s needs instead of our own. Yes, the moment we plead for and receive the most grace is the moment God receives the most honor.

There’s one caveat, though. I’ve already mentioned it, but it needs repeating.

You might not feel like checking on someone else or connecting with him or her. It may be the last thing you want to do. You’ll think you’re the last person who’s qualified to encourage, comfort or serve another hurting person.

But that’s patently false!

You can act and speak to others in a way that demonstrates your concern as well as God’s love for them, even if what you say or do isn’t prompted by feelings at all. When you’re mired in the slough of despondency, pray this: “Oh Lord, please don’t waste this pain! Even before you remove it, instill in me the capacity to think of others and lead me to someone You want to love through me. That way, You’ll get the glory for what I do, because I can’t possibly take credit for what would be a supernatural ministry.”

Want examples of what I mean?


A Depressed Friend

On a day when depression paralyzed me, I received an urgent phone call. The son of a friend said his dad mentioned suicide due to financial and job setbacks. Would I come over and sit with him a while?

“What a laugh,” I told God as I drove to his house. “You want me to help someone else who’s depressed, when I’m not sure I want to keep living myself? You have a weird sense of humor, Lord! You’re gonna have to love him through me today.”

For over an hour, I listened well, put my arms around him and prayed with him. My presence spoke louder than anything I said. He had told his son to call me because he knew my history with depression. After I brainstormed with him about ways to beef up his house painting business, the fog of pessimism lifted from his mind, replaced by hopefulness. The vise grip depression had on me also loosened.

On that occasion someone else took the initiative to turn my attention away from myself. It’s even harder when all the initiative comes from within me.


A First Class Ministry

On a bleak afternoon when unexplainable sadness enveloped me, I asked the Lord to help me focus on others in some manner. I asked Him to bring a specific person to mind for a contact. “Lord, help me serve someone else, even if I don’t feel like it. Even if the act of calling or writing takes every bit of resolve or grit I have.”

He directed me to our former pastor, who had a terminal illness. I served with him as a Christian Education director for part of his long tenure as our lead pastor. I wrote a handwritten letter in which I cited specific traits I admired in him, shared a couple of memorable anecdotes from our work together, and gave examples of his effectiveness in leading our congregation. I pinpointed ways in which God had used him to make a huge difference in the health of our church. He died a few weeks after getting my letter.

On another day when despondency loomed, after praying for God to direct me to someone to encourage, the name of a former student who pastored a large, thriving church in another state came to mind. That the Lord directed me to him surprised me. He led a rapidly growing congregation. I had visited his church as pulpit supply when he had been away. I heard numerous unsolicited expressions of members’ love and respect for him.

Yet I heeded the Lord’s counsel and wrote him a letter in which I shared what I appreciated  and respected about him. I told him that I prayed for him as I wrote the letter, for protection from the evil one and for discernment in handling any tough issues he encountered.

Later that week, in an email, he expressed sincere gratitude. He received the note the very week he needed encouragement due to a difficult-to-handle situation he faced. God’s perfect timing, as usual!

I’m not patting my own back through those anecdotes. God’s Spirit nudged me to pray for victory over my self-absorption and enabled me to redirect my concentration to the needs of others. Truthfully, I didn’t feel inspired as I wrote those two letters. I didn’t feel anything!  Penning each sentence took teeth-gritting effort. And neither letter immediately ended my episode of darkness. Yet I experienced a measure of deep satisfaction knowing that I had used my time well and had been obedient to the Spirit’s leading.


Questions to Ask the Lord When You’re Depressed

Who serves in a church or on the mission field that needs a word of encouragement?

Who in my neighborhood or local church has recently lost a loved one? Has received a discouraging medical diagnosis? Is looking for employment?

Who can I visit in a hospital? Who needs a home-cooked meal due to illness of the spouse who usually cooks? Who can I treat in a restaurant as a way of saying thanks for his or her impact on me?

What need within our church program can I help meet?


Serving others in the Lord’s name provides a good reason to get out of bed every morning…..even when you don’t feel like it!

















Please note: comments are closed after two weeks. You are welcome to contact me directly after that time if you would like to share your thoughts.



Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Follow by Email

Pin It on Pinterest