Truth fades quickly when it competes with the chronic pain of depression. Frequent trips to Scripture and truth were the order of the day. “I have tried to have resets throughout the day by reading a wise book or devotional.” A few followed this time in Scripture by “repenting of misplaced hopes and trust.”
In the summer of 2021, a question appeared on the CCEF website: “What has helped you to endure in the midst of depression?” We received 365 responses—each one a gift. Thank you. If you were to read them, you would have been strengthened in your faith in Jesus. I certainly was, and I plan to read them again. They remind us that there are many fine people, some of them within reach, who fight every day, with every speck of life and every resource the Spirit gives them. They are heroes of the faith whose strength and beauty are seen by some of us now, by all when faith becomes sight.
Everyone who endures hardships by faith in Christ stands in the tradition of witnesses. Israel was called upon to be a witness to the greatness of God in contrast to the emptiness of idols. “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord (Isaiah 43:10). Witnesses are those who believe that God exists, and they draw near to him even when they have only heard his words and not yet seen him (Hebrews 11:6). They continue to draw near when they endure fiery tests.
Here is how these witnesses were helped as they endured depression.
The basic summary of the answers is what you might expect:
- daily time in Scripture supplemented by anything spiritually good,
- time in prayer,
- time with people who understand and care well, and
- wise routines.
These might seem ordinary, but they are evidence of the Spirit’s power, and they are truly impossible when you feel as though all life has left your body, soul, intellect, and affections. When Scripture suddenly becomes a foreign language, a normal person will not take the time to decipher it, but those who endure by faith will keep trying. When you live with accusations—“you are a failure, nobody loves you, you don’t deserve to live”—why would you turn to God? When you believe that even if God loves you, he loves you less than the upbeat people in the church—why would you turn to God? One person wrote: “I ruminate on things that are so unhelpful.” Those ruminations were about how God was displeased with him. But those who endure work hard to not give these questions or their answers the last word. Instead, they turn to Jesus because they have a faint memory that he “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev 1:5). And they know they will not find life anywhere else.
Here are some details from the survey.
1. Time in Scripture. For the depressed, this can mean: the truth, force-fed. “I have to remind myself that God loves me every day, and pray every day, whether I feel like it or not.” If you ever had to eat when you had absolutely no appetite, you know how hard this can be.
Aim for “slow listening.” By this, this individual meant that he waited to hear one thing that could possibly be good for his soul, and then he held on. Respondents slow listened to Isaiah 61:1–3, Psalm 27, Psalm 131, Zephaniah 3:17, Romans 5, Hebrews 11, 1 Peter 1, or anything that said, “but God,” or a hymn book, or the Book of Common Prayer. Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy made a few lists, as did biographies of old saints of the church, especially those digested by John Piper. Some were able to read. Others could only listen — to sermons, podcasts, music, and a spouse who “just read Scripture, even Leviticus.”
“I have to think hard about the suffering of Jesus and the eternal joy that followed.” Think hard? Amazing. Most of us don’t think hard about spiritual truth after a good night’s sleep and a day that seems manageable. Another said, “I lost my ability to think.” This is a common reality of depression. But here is that evidence of power: “At that bottom, I was met by the Man of Sorrows and high priest who had suffered.” And then, they must find him again tomorrow. Truth fades quickly when it competes with the chronic pain of depression. Frequent trips to Scripture and truth were the order of the day. “I have tried to have resets throughout the day by reading a wise book or devotional.” A few followed this time in Scripture by “repenting of misplaced hopes and trust.”
About 20% of respondents found refuge in God’s sovereign control over all things, including their depression. This is more than I anticipated, but it should be no surprise. Job and Habakkuk have led the way. Both men, each approved and loved by God, faced great suffering, and both had very personal encounters with the Lord. They asked God questions, and he actually spoke with them. In visitations such as these, people bow to God’s greatness and authority. They learn that he is the LORD. Habakkuk said, “I hear, and my body trembles . . . I will quietly wait for the day of trouble” (Hab 3:16). Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6). The eyes of both men were diverted from the troubles of the day to something bigger, which freed them to grow in simple obedience and joy.
One woman was led to this same place through the greatness of God’s presence and love.