For many people, January can be a difficult month emotionally. In fact, the third Monday each January has been called “Blue Monday.” According to marketing research, this particular Monday of January each year is the most depressing day of the year for a majority of people. We aren’t sure if this is true or not (you can read about it here) but we do know that discouragement and depression are real problems not only after holidays or during winter, but all year long.
Here are 9 Biblical ways to help defeat it.
Allow us some preliminary helpful thoughts first.
We hope you’ll read the entirety of all nine, but at least scroll through the list below and allow God to use some of them to help you. You are not alone in your struggle. We realize this article is a bit longer than most that we post, but this is a difficult problem and we want to try to give you some good helpful information and not take it lightly. We also realize the sometimes overcoming depression may take the help of a good counselor. We can help point you to one if you let us know.
“The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
You are not alone in the struggle of life as it relates to discouragement and/or depression. You might be interested to know that numerous heroes of our faith struggled with these difficult types of situations.
Discouragement, where does it come from? Sometimes it feels like a dry, barren wind off a lonely desert. Something inside us begins to wilt. At other times, it feels like a chilling mist seeping through our powers, it numbs the spirit and fogs the path before us…it strips our lives of joy and leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed.
In the Bible, we see David struggled with these feelings. In Psalm 61:1–2 He writes, “Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to thee, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” We find it alluded to often in other Psalms as well:
Psalm 42:5-7, 9,11 – Listen to the Psalmist in these verses. Have you ever felt like this? Most of us have at one time or another. Note: Hover your mouse pointer over the Scripture reference to read the passage.
Another great Bible character, Paul, wrote of his struggle with difficult emotional, physical and spiritual anguish. 2 Corinthians 7:5–6
For when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus;Throughout history, we find Christian saints who struggle with discouragement and depression. We could list the godliest people we know and if the truth were known, we would discover that to a large degree, most if not all have had a struggle in this area.
Abraham Lincoln thought the pain would lead to death; the body couldn’t tolerate it. He said, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
Here are others from history who wrote about the pain we all feel at times:
You seem to imagine I have no ups and downs but just a level and lofty stretch of spiritual attainment with unbroken joy.… By no means! By no means! I am often perfectly wretched and everything appears most murky–John Henry Jowett, pastor of New York’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church and later Westminster Chapel in London to a friend in 1920
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and put an end to this miserable life.--John Knox
There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair.--Charles Spurgeon, who suffered debilitating bouts of depression all his life
I had my temptations attending me.… Sometimes I should be assaulted with great discouragement therein, fearing that I should not be able to speak the Word at all …at which times I should have such a strange faintness and strengthlessness seize upon my body that my legs have scarce been able to carry me–John Bunyan
Perhaps today you are a “weary pilgrim.” You have known the dark nights and the days that seem like nights as you struggle through discouragement. You can take heart – as you can see, you are in good company.
We will only begin to scratch the surface of the topic of discouragement/depression/and burnout. Though they are not equal, they usually go hand in hand, so I have lumped them together.
Before we begin, here are a few myths about the causes of discouragement and/or depression:
1. Depression is always the result of lack of faith in God.
2. Depression is always caused by self-pity.
3. Depression can always be removed by spiritual exercises such as prayer and fasting.
4. Depression can be removed by making a choice to be happy.
5. The term “Depressed Christian” is a contradiction.
6. All depression comes from Satan.
7. Depression is God’s punishment.
8. Depression is never the will of God.
To overcome depression, there are some necessary and needed adjustments we must make.
1. Look to others who have suffered and succeeded. (Heb. 11)
Depression makes us feel alone. Even in a crowd of people, we can feel as if we are somehow separate from everyone else. This makes the misery only deeper.
We need to remember that there have been others who have been through deep waters in life yet they succeeded. I have mentioned several in Scripture and in church history. One of the greatest lists of those who struggle and faced incredible odds is found in Hebrews 11. We read of the real men and women of the Bible who learned through hardship, pain and suffering to live by faith.
v.13 – they never saw the complete fulfillment of God’s promises – a land, a race, a city, but they had faith. Our faith too must extend beyond this life to heaven. That gives true meaning to what we experience in this life.
v. 36 – so we realize that everyone faces different and difficult circumstances, these had faith in God when life was at its worse. When the greatest potential for discouragement and depression came their way, they had faith in God!
When you get depressed, it is good to remember that others have been through every imaginable pain and hardship (physically, mentally, and emotionally) and they testify that by faith, we can make it as well. Their lives remind me that everything in this life is not “pie in the sky”, ease and luxury. Read their stories and you will not only discover their pain and suffering, you will see that they had the same questions you ask:
“Does God hear me?”
“Does God love me?”
“Has God forsaken me?”
They made it and so can we.
2. Look to God.
Revelation 19:6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
You might think that “the beloved disciple” of Jesus, the one who wrote five books of the NT would have a life of ease and luxury for his service to Christ. John was the last apostle to die. He suffered in exile on the Isle of Patmos – a Roman Penal Colony – because he would not say that the emperor was “Lord and God.”
At potentially the most discouraging moments of his life, John saw God.
This is our greatest need when we are depressed. God seems to be off the radar, so distanced from us that we have no connection with Him.
Remember the following realities about God:
God is good
God is all-powerful
God loves me
God is God
Write these statements in bold print in your Bible. When we are depressed, we need a proper look at God. Satan brings distortions and lies about God. John saw God for who He is – “The Lord God omnipotent reigns.”
3. Look to Jesus.
Hebrews 12:2–3 — Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.
When we go through pain and suffering we are also looking for meaning. Many people comment that if they could understand the purpose of their pain, then they could more easily handle the pain. However, that revelation of purpose rarely comes when we think we need it. Job had no idea of the Heavenly aspect to his earthly dilemma. Joseph went through decades without answers. Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
When we experience depression we must look to Jesus! V. 3 tells us why “lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” It literally means “to give out.” During times of discouragement, we want to give up.
4. Look to the truth.
John 17:17–18 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. It has been said that if you tell a lie long enough, it will be believed as the truth. I think we can argue from history that this happens regularly. We are very susceptible to lies. Sometimes it is because we can’t verify them one way or another. Sometimes it is because we are gullible and sometimes it is because we want to believe them.
We need to be careful about what we listen to especially when we are discouraged. It is easy to listen to lies:
“God doesn’t care”
“God is not with me”
“No one has ever faced this before”
“God is gone”
These lies and hundreds of others feed discouragement and depression. It is easier to believe lies because we have to take no steps of action. All we have to do is live by our feelings. Feelings change constantly. Truth never changes.
When you go through the valley of depression you must “remember in the dark the truth you learned in the light.” Depression often happens as a result of replacing the Word of God as the driving force for our actions. Even the physical causes of depression require a Biblical response. If we don’t replace the lies with truth we will have a “…faulty interpretation of the available information.”
I want you to mark several key references that are the truths you need to remember to combat the lies when you are discouraged.
1. God never fails – Heb. 13:5b
2. Pain has a purpose (it purifies) – I Peter 4:1
3. God answers prayer – John 14:13-14
4. God is with me in my struggles – Ps. 46:1
5. Good will be the result – Rom 8:28
6. This will make me like Jesus – Rom. 8:29
7. This is temporary – II Cor. 4:17
8. God is in control – Deut. 33:26-27
9. God gives me strength – Is. 40:31
There are times when we can only cling to God and His promises. That is a choice to live by faith and not to give in to our feelings. Remember, “People who give up are people who have first given in (to their feelings).”
Mark, memorize and study these truths from Scripture. They are the truths that will set you free.
5. Look at the past.
Many people are depressed because of their past. As they think back, there may be many, if not hundreds, of failures. Failed projects, rejection, abuse, misrepresentations, sin, failure as a parent, spouse or friend, school failures, failures in relationships. The list could be endless. Why would anyone want to think about the past to overcome discouragement and depression?
Though this is not my main point, I should point out to you that caution should always be exercised when we think about the past. Our mind may distort the facts. Since we can rarely remember events exactly as they were, we may exaggerate the severity of an incident or we may minimize the good that has happened. It’s easy to be the victim when we are discouraged. Be careful how you remember the past! The apostle Paul taught us that he forgot the things that were behind because his remembrance of those things would be a hindrance.
That does not mean that we never remember the past. We don’t live in the past. And we don’t have to allow the past to control us.
What should we remember about the past?
Lamentations 3:1-9, 15-20, 21-25
We need to remember that the God of the past is with us today. There may be necessary, even unexplained, pain and difficulty. But, as Jeremiah remembered, so must we. In order to “crowd out the hopelessness” that can evade our lives we must have three memories from the past:
o God’s inexhaustible supply of loyal love (“mercies”)
o God’s warm compassion (Hebrew word that basically means “the womb”)
o God’s forever faithfulness (His dependable support that will not let me down)
When we are discouraged, “It is though what we know by faith is struggling with what we are experiencing.” One of the ways that the Israelites learned to not forget God was to build/have memorials. The rainbow, is a great example of God giving a reminder. Gen. 9:13-16
We too need memorials of God’s faithfulness.
Keep a journal – answers to prayer, favorite verses, times of God’s special favor
Write in your Bible
Review with a friend
Specific provision by God
We need to be careful that we don’t forget God’s faithfulness and promises!
6. Look to the future.
The grim shadow of depression creates false images and impressions. Like a restless night, we think it will never end. We admit that there are many difficulties, heartaches, pain and struggles in our lifetime. Psalm 34:19 “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” For some it seems worse than for others. It is easy to lose perspective when we are the ones facing difficulty. When discouraged we should look at the future:
Job did – Job 19:25-27 "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me."
Jesus did – Heb. 12:2 "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Paul did – II Tim. 4:7-8 "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.As a Christian, we can honestly say that the future is brighter than today. We have to be careful that we don’t look only at our present distress."
“When will it ever end?” may be the cry from our hearts. I certainly cannot answer that question. We may go through depressing times that last days, months, or years. You might have chronic pain or an extended illness. But “if in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable” (I Cor. 15:19)
To overcome discouragement, we must realize that there is an eternity with God. There will be no more pain, suffering, disappointment, heartache, injustice, or tears. We will worship and enjoy God forever . . . that is our future.
7. Look at the benefits.
At first glance, it would seem that there are no benefits from struggling through the realities of life that cause us discouragement and depression. Yet we find benefits listed in Scripture. Here are a few to consider:
Job 23:10 – you will have greater value
Psalm 119:67,71 – keeps you from going deeper into sin
Romans 5:3-5 – you develop patience, experience, and hope
II Corinthians 1:4 – you will have a ministry to others
II Corinthians 12:9 – you will experience God’s strength
Hebrews 5:8 – you will learn obedienceveryvery
Our difficulties in life can either bind us to the point of discouragement, depression and despair or we can see how everything that touches our lives has a divine purpose. It is literally true, “No pain: no gain.”
I am not suggesting that you go out and look for circumstances so that you can experience difficulty and discouragement. They will automatically come to you! However, since we know they will come, we should look at what God can and will do in our lives when we face the inevitable hard times.