Study Helps for Christian Depression

Part of how I tried to help a Christian who was struggling with some depression.

I do not want you to be discouraged or to conclude anything without prayer and guidance from the Word. As you move into approaching/encouraging her as a Christian (different than the first approach), your daughter (you being the teacher) may benefit from some instruction from the Word about God's character and ways. It would be a nice opportunity for you to draw close to her. The first thing I would say is that no matter how you feel, no matter how I feel (and I have been in this situation), God demonstrated His love toward us on the cross (Romans 5:8). It is a fact of history. Feelings can be telling us one thing but the facts are that "God publicly displayed Jesus as a propitiation in His blood" (Romans 3:25). He did this for all to see, the whole world sees it.

Another thing to do is show how Moses (Numbers 11:11-15), Job (Job 6:14; 27:2; 29:2), Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-8), Jonah (Jonah 4:3), and Jesus (Matthew 26:37-38) had feelings like she did. They were downcast in spirit. (1)Let her identify with their plight and situations and recognize that great men of the faith, even our Lord, were severely distressed. (2)See how they responded by noting the details and circumstances. (3)Ask her if they responded properly and what can she learn from them. Maybe she will identify with Hannah who was discouraged about being barren (1 Samuel 1:8-18).

Often times we need to preach to our souls and listen to them less. I do not encourage one to ignore one’s conscience but that the way we think is how we will feel. Proverbs says, “As a man thinks, so is he.” David preaches, even rebukes his soul for being downcast when he is losing hope in Psalm 42:5, 11. He says twice, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you so depressed within me? Hope in God, for yet I will praise Him.” He calls God the help of his countenance in verse 11. You do not want to tune your soul out but you want to avoid hyper-introspection which usually ends in despair. There are also Scriptures such as the following that will comfort:

But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish. Psalm 9:18

My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. Psalm 119:81

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Psalm 23:18

"A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoldering wick shall he not quench, until he sends forth judgment unto victory." Matthew 12:20

For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. Psalm 103:14


+Luther on Marriage

"Of course, the Christian should love his wife. He is supposed to love his neighbor, and since his wife is his nearest neighbor, she should be his deepest love."

Martin Luther—The Later Years and Legacy: Christian History, Issue 39, (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, Inc.) 1997.


What should I do If I Feel Cursed, Have no Peace, and Have no Joy?

(Recently I was emailed a question like the title and this is essentially how I answered)

Dear friend,

I thank you for reaching out and asking the hard questions that people usually do not even go near. Most people avoid thinking about their standing before God and you have come right up front and center and have faced the music head on. The fact that you are concerned about your soul's state is a good thing. I say that because people who do not care about their choices, their failures, or eternity, do not show evidence that they are spiritually alive. The questions you have asked are difficult to fully address because they require various follow up questions and a discernment of your emotions and feelings but I will nevertheless give some basic diagnostic and practical things you may want to use. The first is the complex issue of emotions.
1. Emotions are a God-given faculty. They go hand-in-hand with your thoughts and often follow right behind them. "As a man thinks, so is he" (Proverbs). I have been through discouragement and wrestle with this often. Sometimes, I will see something happen in my life and I will start to question if God is withdrawing from me at this moment for some reason. If it is not true that He is unhappy with me, the fact that I am doubting and starting to interpret the doubt and its accompanying feelings to sense God is often futile. This is so because doubt concerning one's status with God often illicits feelings of uncertainty and worry which spiral deeper into a depressed spiritual state. The way to see where God is in one's life is not to continuously doubt, but to trust Him that He is near, and if something is wrong, to ask Him to reveal it to you. A certain level of doubt is good, when it conforms to reality but God wants you to know what is going on in your life and He wants you to have faith, all the time. There are so many injunctions in the Scripture to believe, and to have faith. God is good to show us when we need correction and will be consistent in doing so. So my conclusion is that sometimes emotions are an incorrect gauge of spiritual status. Other times, however, emotions correctly cause to us experience what our state before God is. When Cain offered an improper sacrifice and his brother's was accepted (Genesis 4:1-6), "his countenance fell (v 6)." He was downcast and rightly so because he sinned by not bringing God the best of his crop. Then he killed his brother because he was jealous of him. But his countenance, or face, fell, or it was downcast in shame perhaps, or in guilt or in sadness. But if this is the case, God often wants to remedy the situation quickly. Notice how He tells Cain "If you do well will not your countenance be lifted up?" (v 7). If Cain did right after falling short things would have been restored. So there are times when we must address a situation and the result will be that our mood will lift as well.
2. If you have turned to Christ from sin then you are saved, never to fall from salvation. This is the objective side of salvation and you need to start here. What I mean is that anyone who is saved will not ever be lost, even if they do lose their joy and sense of assurance. These things often flee us when circumstances arise but our salvation does not leave us because God declared us righteous when we believed Jesus died on the cross. Your salvation does not depend on your righteousness, your feelings, or your holiness, it depends on what Jesus accomplished for you. He was righteous and holy and God gives the righteousness of Jesus (His perfection in thought, word, and deed) to the believer when he or she places their faith in Him (see Romans 5:17-19 where righteousness comes to us through one man's act). He is pleased with Jesus and by extension is pleased with you because you have trusted Jesus. God also accepts Jesus' substitution on the cross. Jesus' sacrifice was enough for the Father to declare you righteous. So, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, it does not matter. If you have believed in Christ you are eternally secure. Any peace or joy must start here. It must start in something outside of you. Restoring your joy is something subjective which you will need to ask God for.
3. A life that pleases God will have a certain measure of joy in it. It will not be perfectly joyous but will have the characteristic of joy. We must not forget that we will sin and that sin remains in us as we live on this earth. So as holy as we are, we still will have to battle sin, and battles are often tough and hard and unpleasant. Joy corresponds to our fixation on the final outcome. We must remember that we are victorious in the end and that God "who began a good work in us will complete on the day of Christ" (Phil 1:6). Some people are more prone to being despondent than others. Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, even Moses and Elijah fought times of depression. But ultimately, they were lifted up by God.
4. The best diagnostic for anyone wrestling with their spiritual condition is to spend a good deal of time in prayer regarding it. In fact, be consistent in your prayer about the matter until you get an answer. Those who diligently seek God will find Him, and those who ask for wisdom believing they will receive it freely obtain it and that without reproach (James 1:5). God is the best source on what is troubling you and why. And I have been in your situation, and the best advice I can give you is to seek God daily. Don't expect the instant result of joy. Also, let yourself be grounded in the truth. I went through a time where I forgot I had been "purified by my former sins" (2 Peter 1) because I had been living off track for while. Now to get back to where I was took months, but actually I went farther than I was originally and grew enormously but did not see the results as they were happening. I was only able to see the growth as I looked back after a few years. A major catalyst in the equation was learning about certain doctrines concerning salvation. One of them is divine election. Election is the doctrine God has chosen individuals for salvation, and we are saved because God has chosen us. Ephesians 1 tells us that "we have been chosen before the foundation of the world" - so salvation depends on God's act not on ours. Also, salvation is secured forever. A believer will persevere until the end of his life. Jesus said "No one will be able to snatch them out of My hand" (John 10:28-30). Romans 8:30 also tells that those who have been justified are also glorified. It is spoken of as if it already happened - yet it is still in the future. God holds on to us, not the other way around. There is a sense to where we have to get the focus of ourselves and our emotions and onto some truth and God who never fails. "Who can bring a charge against God's elect?" No one! Not one thing can separate us from the love of Christ!
5. Take an overview of your life as a Christian. Do you remember when you were saved? Was there a change in your behavior afterward? Usually, when someone becomes a Christian there is a new outlook on life with new spiritual desires. There might be an increase in longing for the Bible or an increase in evangelism. Also there might be the laying aside of former practices of sin. Do you see God answer your prayers at times? Being brought into God's family means that you have a relationship with Him that is personal and close. You are able to call Him "Papa" or "Daddy" as in Romans 8:15 (Abba). This means He hears your every cry and prayer. There will be some experience of this at some time in your Christian life. Do you delight in His Word? Do you have a desire to show love to other believers? These are practical evidences of salvation found in 1 John. They are not to examined in your life on the level of perfection, but as an abiding evidence.

Ultimately, you are in a good place. You are desiring to find a remedy for your downcast spirit. Please, be encouraged. You might also want to confide in your pastor or a close friend or two who can help you in this matter. Reality might remind you that this might be a battle in your life for some time. Or it may not. God is able to do more than we ask or think!