New Philadelphia Sermons

"How to Fight Depression"

14 Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. 15 And Saul's servants said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is skilful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well." 17 So Saul said to his servants, "Provide for me a man who can play well, and bring him to me." 18 One of the young men answered, "Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skilful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence; and the LORD is with him." 19 Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, "Send me David your son, who is with the sheep." 20 And Jesse took an ass laden with bread, and a skin of wine and a kid, and sent them by David his son to Saul. 21 And David came to Saul, and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. 22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, "Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight." 23 And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. 1st Samuel 16:14-23

3 When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 I acknowledged my sin to thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; then thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. Selah Psalm 32:3-5

I want to talk to you about depression. Depression is different from a temporary despondence that visits us because of the circumstances of life. A neuropsychiatrist from UCLA says that, if you want to imagine what depression feels like---that is a key phrase, "If you want to imagine what depression feels like, just imagine that you have jet lag, combined with an overwhelming grief." One long-time sufferer compared depression to, "...a migraine headache that never, ever goes away."

Now most of the time life wonderfully conspires to lift the spirits of those who are temporarily despondent.

If someone is truly depressed, this lift does not last. The music that David played on his lyre lifted Saul's spirits temporarily, but the evil spirit came back over and over again.

I am convinced that the reason that so many people never turn off their music, is because of depression.

Music is not the only thing that temporarily lifts the spirits of those who are depressed. I have a friend who goes on a spending spree each time depression hits. She recently told me that she has a houseful of junk that she does not need, but her depression comes back as soon as "she wears the chocolate" off her latest purchase.

And speaking of "chocolate," many people eat to receive a temporary respite from depression. Others take up smoking, or drinking, or use non-prescription drugs. The effects are temporary. The lift does not last.

Now there are a number of misconceptions about depression.

1. Some people think that depression is reserved for a few souls who are physiologically or psychologically weak. Indeed, depression bears a stigma of weakness. People who seek treatment often hide it from their friends and associates.

The truth is that it takes a strong person to bear up under depression. Saul stood a head taller than any man in Israel. He had broad shoulders and a strong constitution. But he was depressed.

2. Others think that depression is special hell reserved for the few. This is not so. It affects many.

An article in U.S. News & World Report, published in March of 1999, a primary resource for this sermon, suggests that we are entering "an Age of Melancholy." The World Health Organization says that, by the year 2020, depression will likely rank second only to heart disease as a disabler of persons. It already ranks first among women and fourth overall. On any given day depression affects 18 million Americans. 12 million go untreated. Chances are 1 in 5 that we will experience a major depression in our lives. The question is, "Will we seek help when we are depressed?"

When people refuse to seek treatment for depression, they hurt themselves and the people they love. One therapist says, "Depressed people do not love themselves." How can we love others if self-love is lacking? Jesus says that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in two commandments: 1) We are to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. 2) We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

3. Some people think that depression is just a mental illness.

Depression can be mental. It can be caused by something that happened long ago, that torments us not just consciously, but unconsciously.

Also, people are naturally depressed when they lose someone that they love. One writer said, "You show me a hero, you show me a heroine, and I will write you a tragedy." If you are caught in a tragedy, if you have lost someone you love, then you will be depressed; but it is a rightful depression caused by grief. The scripture says that we are not "…to grieve as those who have no hope." (1st Thess. 4:13) It never says we are not to grieve.

Some depression is caused by something that we have lost. Today, many baby boomers are depressed over the loss of youth. The loss of youth is harder on us than it was on our parents. We were reared in a pop-culture that has idolized youth and beauty. That culture is even worse today. No wonder depression is striking at a younger and younger age, affecting teenagers and preteens.

There are other environmental factors that contribute to a mental depression. Stress is certainly one.

We live at a pace that few truly comprehend. Indeed, some years ago I experienced culture shock after a visit to Honduras. The culture that shocked me was my own.

In Ahuas, there is only one vehicle, and no roads. One night I sat on the porch of Sam Gray's house and watched a man approach across the plain for ten minutes. When he reached Sam's, he threw up his hand in greeting. Then I watched for ten minutes more as he walked out of sight. Two weeks later, I returned to civilization by airplane. That did not shock me, in an airplane everything on the ground moves in slow motion. Then, I arrived in Tegucigalpa and got into a taxi. Suddenly, everything was moving so fast that I thought I was caught in a Keystone Cops movie.

We are all caught in a Keystone Cops movie, and our cars, and computers, and cell phones---all of which I use, and all of which use me, have robbed us of the human scale of life.

But depression is not just mental. Depression often has has physical causes, and physical consequences.

Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the body. Improper diet, inadequate rest, or inadequate exercise can also cause it. So can an extended illness, or a constant pain. I read recently that, in America, back-pain is a leading cause of depression.

So, too, left untreated, depression attacks the body as well as the mind. Researchers say that much of the worst long-term damage from depression can be linked to cortisol, a stress hormone. It is harmless in small doses, but ravages the body when pumped continuously into the system by depression or anxiety. It can rob us of energy, our mobility, our sex drives, our memory, and (mark this well) our ability to feel basic human emotions.

Not long ago a man came to me and said, "I no longer feel anything for my wife, my mother, my father, or my children. I used to lie awake at night and cry about this, but I have lost the capacity for tears."

I told him he was depressed and encouraged him to seek help.

Depression affects the body so adversely that it can contribute to an early death. Many depressed people take their own lives. Others allow themselves to dissipate gradually, over a period of years.

The mention of "gradual dissipation" reminds me that depression can also be a spiritual condition.

In Psalm 32, the Psalmist, reported to be David himself, writes:

3 When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
4. There is a fourth misconception about depression. Some religious people feel that depression is nearly always the result of sin, and that depression itself is sin.

This not so. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great 19th Century Baptist, who has been called "the prince of preachers," suffered from depression most of his adult life. Likewise, some scholars have suggested that St. Paul's "thorn in the flesh" may have been depression. I am not sure of that. I will say that Paul had every right to be depressed. After all, his kin, his people, his race largely rejected Jesus as the Messiah. And what about some of those churches? Maybe he was depressed by the failure of the churches he planted to live out their life in Christ. They were a constant anxiety to him. (2nd Cor. 11:28) And what about Abraham Lincoln? At the height of the Civil War, Lincoln said, "If the misery I feel was equally divided among every member of the human race, there would not be a single smiling face among us."

But we cannot blame all depression on things like the pace of life, stress, and chemical imbalance. We must not overlook the possibility that unrepented and unconfessed sin is a major cause of depression.

Saul had every right to be depressed. God anointed him to be King of Israel. Saul looked like a king, he was a mighty man of valor, and popular with his people; but Saul disobeyed God, and though it did not happen all at once---a man seldom hits bottom all at once, God took the kingdom from him and gave it to David. Likewise, David surprised his servants when he was able to recover so quickly after the death of his son; but his sin, his adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, continued to depress him.

I suspect that a great many people would be rid of their depression if only they were rid of their sin.

5. There is another misconception about depression, the idea that depressed people can diagnosis themselves. Sometimes, we find it hard to admit depression, and it takes a friend or friends to tell us.

Did you notice verse 15 of the passage from 1st Samuel?

15 And Saul's servants said to him, "Behold now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you."
In a culture where depression is less socially acceptable than x-rated movies, Playboy, sex outside of marriage, cheating on our taxes, and climbing over everybody else to get to the top of the corporate ladder, people find it is hard to admit that they are depressed. If we love these people, we must confront them with their need. We have lots of opportunity. 12 million Americans are walking around depressed and without treatment. Some of them may live in our homes. Some of them may live in our own skins.

Let me say a word of warning to depressed people and a word of challenge to those who would help them.

First, a word of warning: Researchers warn that depressed people are not themselves. Don't make any major decisions when you are down. I know from 23 years in the ministry, that most people live to regret the decisions they make when depressed. They regret the house they sold. They regret quitting their jobs. They regret bailing out of a good marriage, and leaving behind a loving family. They regret turning their backs for a time on God. When you are depressed, don't make any major decisions---it is not the real you that is making them.

Now let me say a word to those who would help those who are depressed. It is not enough simply to tell someone that they are depressed. We must be willing to stand with them as they seek to battle their way up from depression. Their personalities have been deeply affected by their depression. If they are to become themselves again, we must stand with them as they make their way back.

A good counselor frequently helps those who are depressed. Why? Because the depressed person is surprised to find that their counselor actually likes them, and believes in them. Given this ray of hope, recovery is often possible. Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? How he took his inheritance, and went to a far country, and wasted his inheritance in riotous living. He hit rock bottom. Then, says the text, "When he came to himself…." What wonderful words! "When he came to himself, he said, … I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.'" But when he got home, he found his father waiting! How wonderful it is to discover that someone is waiting, and watching for our return, "to ourselves."

6. There is a sixth misconception about depression. Some people think that it is always bad. This is not so. As crazy as it sounds, depression can be a blessing from God.

In the passage before us, the Holy Spirit departs Saul, and God sends an evil spirit upon him. God causes his depression. In Saul this spirit from God was evil, because Saul refused to repent. God took the kingdom from him, and gave it to David, but Saul refused to let it go. Perhaps, had Saul confessed his failure, and let go the kingdom, he would have saved his sanity, and recovered to live a happy life. He did not. I am sure that Saul "thought" the Spirit from God was evil.

There is only one thing that I can think of that is worse than a life of depression. A life that is so dead to the stirrings of God's Holy Spirit that we ignore it, or, worse yet, begin to think that our evil is good, and that which God requires of us, is evil. When we do that we are beyond help, because it is impossible to repent. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the unforgivable sin. (Matthew 12:31)

Most of the time, when our depression is caused by sin, it is the Holy Spirit that God sends to depress us. According to Hebrews 12: 6, "God chastens those whom God loves." When we "Grieve the Holy Spirit of God," (Ephesians 4:30) the Holy Spirit grieves us right back. The Spirit convicts us of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. (John 16:8) The Holy Spirit can use depression to accomplish God's goals in us.

If we are in sin, and depressed, we ought take a measure of comfort, because we still have hope! There remains the possibility that we will humble ourselves before God and receive God's aid and God's healing. 7. Finally, there is a misconception among the depressed that their particular depression is untreatable. Most depression can be treated. Eighty percent of those who seek help for depression receive at least a measure of relief. If all counselors considered the spiritual dimensions of depression, this number might be even higher.

Those who suffer from a "mental" depression are frequently helped when a psychotherapist helps them uncover their past, and then make changes based on the discoveries. Some therapists encourage depressed people to adopt what they call a "tragic worldview." This tends to reduce stress-provoking thoughts. A tragic worldview is the philosophical belief that for every loss, something is gained. That is Biblical. A time of depression can be a time of great spiritual growth.

Those who suffer from a physical depression are often helped by medication. There is no "magic bullet," but drug therapy can sometimes restore a chemical imbalance. Of course, discovering the right drug therapy can be a lengthy process that requires commitment on the part of the patient and the doctor. Likewise, many depressed people are helped by a change of diet, rest, or by taking up exercise. I read some years ago that it is impossible for most people to be depressed while actually exercising. I know that to be a fact for me.

So, too, if a person's depression is genuinely spiritual in nature, the result of sin, that person can find release by turning to the God who loves them.

Psalm 32 continues:

 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, O, Lord, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; then you forgave the guilt of my sin. 6 Therefore let every one who is godly offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, in the rush of great waters, they shall not be reached. 7 God, you art a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with deliverance.

Some years ago I had a young man in my congregation whose depression was so bad that he dropped out of college and committed himself to a mental hospital. In the course of his stay, I visited him. In conversation, I discovered that he was deeply ashamed of and burdened with certain sins he had committed. I said to him, "Listen, as a Christian, you will always remember your sins, but you can remember them like they happened to someone else. 'Jesus Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross.'"

He said, "Say that again! I want to write that down." I did and he did. Some weeks later he was back at home. He came to see me. He handed me an index card. On it was written, "I remember my sins, but I remember them like they happened to someone else."

He confessed his sins, and made huge steps on the road to recovery.

And how about you---are you depressed? Are you willing to seek help for that depression? Help is possible, but not until we seek it.


Dr. Worth Green

New Philadelphia Moravian Church
4440 Country Club Road

Winston-Salem, N.C. 27104
September 10, 2000