No Christian is immune from depression. Is there anything we can do when anxiety, worry or depression threaten to engulf us?
Clinical depression is a serious illness, with various physical, mental and social symptoms, which can incapacitate people. The levels of certain chemicals in the brain can contribute to the problem. Those suffering from severe or chronic depression should seek specialized counseling and medical guidance in addition to applying the biblical tools mentioned in this response.
Depression, in more everyday terminology, usually refers to periods of unusual sadness, of prolonged fear or worry, or of feeling overwhelmed by stress or distress. The immediate response is often to forget past successes, to feel hopeless, vulnerable and to want to quit. No Christian is immune.
On occasion even some of the great men in the Bible suffered from depression. After a string of miracles and a long, close relationship with God, the prophet Elijah became prey to depression when Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him.
Elijah was tired following a long period of stress, and this probably exacerbated his sense of discouragement and hopelessness. Nonetheless, God did not want him to remain in this condition. In a quiet, compassionate way, God explained to Elijah what he could not see in his irrational state—that he was not alone and that God would continue to support him in the work he had to do. Read about Elijah's recovery in 1 Kings 19:1-18.
The book of Proverbs has much to say on depression and worry and offers useful guidance (see Proverbs 12:25; 13:12; 15:13; 18:14). In Luke 12:22-31, Jesus Christ explained the futility of worry, a trait that often leads to depression. In verse 28 He highlighted one aspect of the problem when He referred to His disciples as "you of little faith."
For a Christian, depression (again, the more typical variety, not the physiological malady) sometimes may be an outgrowth of lack of faith in God. It would be easier for Christians if, following water baptism and the laying on of hands for the receipt of the Holy Spirit, we could all be immediately filled with faith, love and patience. But it doesn't happen that way. Instead, God expects us to develop these characteristics through experiences and even trials, just as we learn obedience to His law.
Christians should not remain in a depressive state. As God dealt with Elijah in the Old Testament, so He deals with Christians today through Jesus Christ. By His own suffering while here on earth, Jesus learned compassion for His people (Hebrews 4:14-16). He knows that we are weak and prone to fears, doubts and worry that can lead to depression. But He is always there to help when we are overburdened and promises to give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30).
In practical terms, is there anything we can do when anxiety, worry or depression threaten to engulf us? There is, but it takes mental effort and it often means noticing potential problems before they take hold.
The apostle Paul instructs us to be "bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). When a fearful thought or a worry first enters your head, pray to God and ask Him for His help to dispel it. Do not give it either time or space to implant itself in your mind. This may be easier said than done at first, but with God's help, it does begin to work.
Prayer is a vital way of drawing close to God—as is the study of Scripture. Indeed, the Bible and its promises will help us to build faith. Paul pointed out that faith comes through hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17).
Paul also admonishes us, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
As Christians, we should be familiar with the promises God has made to us. Remember the great love the Father and Jesus Christ have shown us by providing a way by which we can be rescued from our sins. Meditating on these things can bring us comfort in times of sorrow. Read scriptures such as John 3:16-17, Luke 12:32 , Romans 8:18-39 and Revelation 21:1-7.
Try actively imagining what the coming 1,000-year reign of Christ will be like, or the New Jerusalem in the eternal age beyond. Scriptures such as Isaiah 11:6-9, 35:1-10 and Revelation 21-22 may help here. You could even imagine yourself being there. However, we should never lose sight of present reality.
Always ask God the Father and Jesus Christ for their help. But also tap into the support of other Christians. Having someone whom you can phone, e-mail or text can be a valuable help. Maybe a friend could contact you from time to time, just to let you know you are not alone.
If you have Sabbath services in your area, go along and meet people. Get involved in something that does not add further stress or anxiety, but that improves your life. Physical activities such as jogging, walking, ballroom dancing, swimming and team sports can all help. Another huge help is to get involved in helping others. Doing so can help get our minds off of our own problems as we focus on serving others.
Do not become discouraged if you cannot overcome depression or worry all at once. As the apostle Peter wrote, "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).
Climbing out of depression can be likened to trying to climb out of a slippery pit. We can set off with good intentions and then slide back in. It's a long journey, but we must keep at it with God's help. Christians are those growing to be like Christ, and we all still have much to learn.
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