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Overcoming Depression

Psalm 42:1-10

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

2 My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?

3 My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?

4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

7 Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.

8 Yet the Lord will command his loving kindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.

9 I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

10 As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?

11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.


Would you open your Bibles to Psalm 42. That will be the text for the sermon today.

I read in Reader’s Digest a couple of weeks ago a little quip about Christmas. It said, “Santa Claus was a jolly old gent who goes around saying ‘Ho, Ho, Ho.’ But who wouldn’t say ho, ho, ho, if you only worked one day out of the year.”

While Santa Claus goes around saying, ho, ho, ho, you know as well as I that at Christmastime there are a lot of people who are saying, woe, woe, woe. For it is a time not of joy to them, but a time of sadness. It is a time not of happiness, but a time of despair. I suppose that depression and despair become more real at Christmastime for more people than at any other time of the year. Although no person is ever immune to depression and to despair at any time in their lifetime. Some of the greatest, most productive people in the world have been subjects to bouts of depression. Buzz Aldrin, the second man who walked on the moon, came back to the earth and had a nervous breakdown. He described the event by saying, “When you have achieved all of your goals, depression sets in.” Winston Churchill, who probably more than any other single individual saved the Western world in World War II, continually fought what he called the “black dog” of depression. And Charles Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul, was continually fighting bouts of depression. When you read in the Bible about those great men and women of God, you discover that they were not immune to depression.

Read the book of Job and you will find a man in the very pits of despair. Read about Elijah and how he left Mount Carmel and his marvelous spiritual high fell into the black hole of despair. Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet because of the sorrow, the gloom that seemed to pervade his life. And David, the man after God’s own heart, was one who often experienced despair, depression. You get some insight into the life and the struggles of this man David in Psalm 42. It is a song of loneliness and despair.

You know that the book of Psalms was the hymnbook of Israel. And so they wrote about their emotions, their feelings, the things that were meaningful to them. And they wrote not only to tell us about they felt but to instruct us, for many songs are instructions for how we can gain victory in our lives. And so here is a song of loneliness and despair that is written to instruct those who are victims of those emotions to tell us what he experienced and how he came out of it.

You know that it is a song about despair because three times in this psalm of 11 verses you will find the words “cast down.” You will find them in verse 5, in verse 6, and verse 11. The root meaning of the Hebrew word that is translated to “cast down” literally means “to bring low.” It means to sink down. It means to be depressed. So here is a man who is depressed and he says very clearly that I am brought low, I am cast down, and he is asking himself again and again, why is this happening to me?

When you begin to study this psalm very carefully you will discover the cause of his depression. He has been separated from, deprived of something that is very important to him. He has been deprived of the opportunity to go to the house of God, to go to the Temple to worship God with the people of God. He is in the north country, in the general region of Mount Hermon, the headwaters of the Jordan River. And for that reason he cannot go to Jerusalem to worship God. We are not sure why he is there. He may be there due to an illness. He may be gone for the mountain air. He may be there on duty. He may have had an assignment there and had to stay. He may have been forced to go there. There seems to be an indication that he has some enemies and they have some control over his life. We are not sure why he is in this northern region, separated from Jerusalem and the house of God. We just know that he is there and he can’t get to the house of worship and being separated from that which is very meaningful to him makes him depressed.

Now, I think that you need to know that his separation was more than just a geographical separation. He felt that he was separated from God. He felt that he was isolated and alone out there. In fact he cries out at one point in this psalm, “God, why have you forgotten me?” And he begins the psalm by saying, “As a hart—a deer—pants after a brook, as he longs for water on a thirsty day or when he is being chased by the hunter, so my heart longs after God in that distant place.” He felt separated from God. He had lost contact with the people of God and the house of God and with God himself.

You say, well, that is no reason for a man to get depressed just because he can’t go to church. That depends on how much church means to you. All depression is related to a loss of something that means much to you. Sometimes it is related to the loss of a mate or a loved one through death or divorce. Sometimes it is related to a loss of health through an accident or through sickness. Sometimes it is related to the loss of a friend through a disagreement or perhaps you have moved away from all of your friends and your family. Sometimes it is related to the loss of self-esteem. You are disappointed in yourself. You have not measured up to your own highest ideals. You have failed at a job or you have failed at a career, or you have failed at some project and you feel a tremendous sense of losing esteem in your own eyes and in the eyes of others. But regardless of what it may be, depression is always related to a real or an imaginary loss in your life. And he had lost the chance to worship God in the house of God with the people of God, and that was such a tremendous loss that his soul was cast down, brought low. He was depressed.

Now the specifics of your life when you get depressed may be different from the specifics of David’s life, but I want you to know that the effects of that depression are almost always the same. Once you look in this psalm, scattered throughout it are the marks of depression in his life.

First of all, in verse 3 he says, “I am teary-eyed all the time. I am weeping all of the time.” In verse 3 he says, “My tears have been my meat.” What he means by this is that the tears are about the only food I have. He is filled with self-pity. Verse 4: “When I remember these things [he remembers when he used to go to church, when he used to be a part of the religious festivals, when he felt close to God], I pour out my soul in me.” Self-pity, pouring out my soul in me. Not to God, not to other people, but turned inwardly.

He is a man who is restless, finds no peace within. He says in verse 5, “My soul, why are you disquieted?” That’s the absence of quiet and peace and rest. In verses 6-7 he describes it this way, as he tells us he is on Mount Hermon at the headwaters of the Jordan River and the snow melts and the water runs down those mountains and forms waterfalls and when that water falls into the beginning of that river it is twisting and turning and roaring. He says, “That’s a picture of my insides. I am just torn up, twisted, restless on the inside.” He is a man who feels forsaken by God.

Look at verse 9. “When I say unto my God, when I say unto God my rock, why hast thou forgotten me?” he feels like God no longer knows who he is or where he is or cares. And people don’t help very much. There are some enemies who cruelly ask him. They asked it first in verse 3. They ask it again in verse 10: “Where is thy God?” And he says their words are like a sword in my bones.

Their words cut me to the very bone. So here is a man who weeps a lot. Here is a man who is feeling sorry for himself. Here is a man who is restless like the churning of water at the bottom of a waterfall. Here is a man who feels that God has forgotten him. And here is a man who is stressed at what other people are saying to him. I wonder if that sounds familiar to any of you. I wonder if you’ve been for some reason, because of some loss, where this psalmist was when he penned these words. Well, thank God, the psalm does not simply tell us about his problems, it tells us about the solution. When you read it carefully, it tells you how this man was able to come through that difficult experience and win the victory in his own life and I believe that his experience has been recorded to instruct us and to help us to know how to deal with the black dog of despair in our own lives and how we may confront these moods of depression, these downs in life, and continue to be victorious over them.

There are four suggestions that are found in this psalm. Let me share them with you and then I will enlarge upon them.

These are the four things you will want to write down on how to whip depression. First of all, you need to admit that you have a problem. And the psalmist comes face to face with his own need when he says, “My soul is cast down.” He admits his problem.

Second, you need to talk to yourself. You will notice in verses 5 and verse 11 he says, “My soul why art thou cast down. Why are you disquieted?” And then he answers himself. Do you ever talk to yourself? Do you get good answers? Well, you may find some encouragement to know that the psalmist talked to himself and asked himself questions and answered those questions. He got some good answers from himself.

The third thing is you need to be tough-minded. Here is a man who in spite of all he was going through refused to dwell on his problems. He kept bringing his mind back to God and he says again and again, “I will remember him and I will talk with him and I will praise him.” He refuses to be obsessed with his problems; he is rather obsessed with God.

And then in verse 4 he says, “Hang on to hope.” In verse 5 and verse 11 this little formula that he seems to gain strength from reciting is “hope thou in God.”

And he keeps reminding himself that his hope and his strength and his life and his help is not himself, it is rather in God. So he found help in admitting he had a problem, in talking to himself and examining his own life, in being tough-minded and refusing to let his problems overwhelm him and in hanging on to hope.

Let’s look at those four kinds of help that he found. 

1. You need to admit that you have a problem.

The first one was to admit that he had a problem. And so he says in verse 6, “O my God, my soul is cast down.” The psalmist is realistic enough to admit that he’s got a problem. Now not everybody is able to deal that realistically with their life. But until we admit that we have a problem, we never do anything about that problem. It really doesn’t matter what the problem is, whether it is a financial problem, or an emotional problem, or a drinking problem, or a marriage problem. Until we admit that we have a problem we can’t begin to solve the problem.

So he begins to say, “Lord, my soul is cast down. I am depressed.” Once he admits that he can do something about it. It takes a lot to be honest with yourself. Perhaps the most difficult person in the world to be honest with is yourself. But you never accomplish anything until you admit what is true, what other people oftentimes recognize, what sometimes you know to be true, that you have a problem.

2. You need to talk to yourself.

Notice in verse 5 and verse 11 he says exactly the same thing: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted?” So he starts by investigating his own life. He starts by being introspective, by looking inwardly to try to examine his own life. “Why am I having this problem? What’s bothering me? What’s the real problem confronting me?” He begins by looking at his own life and asking himself questions. This question that he asks himself, if handled honestly, may lead a depressed person to some deep personal discoveries.

For example, you may discover that your problem is physically related. You’re not getting enough rest. You’re not exercising like you ought to. You’re not eating correctly. We may discover that we have a depression related to physical causes. If you came to me and you had a serious depression the first thing I would recommend to you is that you see a physician. Let’s find out if there is something physically wrong with you. And when you begin to look at your own heart and ask yourself, “What’s wrong with me? What’s going on inside of me?” you may discover that you have some physical needs. You may discover that you have an attitude problem. Anger and bitterness and resentment are at the root of much depression. In fact there are some psychiatrists who believe that all depression is related to anger. Sometimes you are angry at another person. Sometimes you are angry at yourself. You are disappointed in yourself. You have failed to measure up to your own highest ideals and you just get mad at yourself for doing something or for letting something happen to you. Sometimes people get angry at God for what has happened to them. And you may discover that your problem is your attitude that you have anger and bitter and resentment in you. And, dear friend, those attitudes will ultimately destroy you and they set you up as a candidate for depression.

You may discover as you look honestly at yourself, as you ask yourself, what’s wrong with me. I feel guilty over some sin. Now you cannot, as a child of God, if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot live comfortably in sin. You cannot go merrily on your way living any way you want to without having some emotional and spiritual repercussions in your life. In fact, if you as a Christian can sin without a guilty conscience you need to examine your relationship with God. I wonder if you are really a Christian. And guilt brings with it despair, depression. 

You may discover as you ask yourself, what is wrong with me, that you are just spoiled. Do you know there are a lot of people today who think they have a divine right to a trouble-free life? They think they ought to never have any problems. They ought to never have financial problems, ought to never have health problems, ought to never have any problems with their children, ought to never have any problems in their marriage. And the first time they have some problems it kicks the props out from under them and they land flat of their back because they think they have a divine right to a trouble-free life.

That comes back to attitude. That comes back to a misunderstanding that’s especially common in spoiled America today. But let me tell you that no person, not one of us, has a divine right to a trouble free life. Not at all. And what happens to other people may very well happen to every one of us.

Albert Schweitzer said that every man must bear his share of the world’s sorrow and you are no exception. You may discover as you look at your life that your problem is self-centeredness. You know there are some people who never think of anyone but themselves. They never get outside of themselves. And I want you to know that you are not exciting enough to keep yourself out of a depression if you live only for yourself. If you are living just for your pleasure and your ease and to get things for yourself and you think the whole world is centered around you, it won’t be long until you’ll be bored stiff with life. You will be depressed and rightly so. The happiest people, the healthiest people are those who are able to get outside themselves and to find somebody else in need and to minister to them.

The great psychiatrist Karl Menninger was asked one time what he would do if he felt a nervous breakdown coming on. And you might expect him to have said, “Why, I would check myself into a hospital or I would make an appointment with a psychiatrist.” That’s not what he said. He said he would walk out of his house, go across the tracks, and find somebody else in need and in helping them he would be helping himself.

Friend, I want to tell you, if you want to help yourself have a good healthy outlook on life, then get outside of yourself and find somebody else out there and start doing something for them. And as you do something for them you will be doing something for yourself. The best thing you can do for yourself.

I read an article in last month’s Reader’s Digest about Mother Teresa. In that article there is a quotation from a young Canadian man who had devoted some years of his life to ministering with Mother Teresa and her group in the hospitals of Kolkata, India. Those primitive hospitals, the barest of necessities where people were dying in filth and in hunger and squalor every day. And he wrote this note home to his parents in Canada. He said, “I have never been more alive than I am in this place of death. And I have never been so close to heaven as I am in this hell.” And then he went on to say, “You almost feel selfish because you benefit so much from helping other people.”

What I am talking about here is not just giving some money to missions, although that will help you. I’m not talking about just baking a cake and taking it to a neighbor down the street, although that is good. I’m talking about finding somebody who has needs. Somebody who is old, somebody who is sick, somebody who is hungry, somebody who doesn’t have enough clothing. I’m not talking about making a one-time visit at Christmastime. That’s superficial. That’s putting a Band-Aid on a cancer. I am talking about investing your life in the needs of other people. Get outside of yourself and you will find new health and new vitality and new hope.

There is no wonder some people stay depressed. They are at the heart and the center of their whole life and they are soon bored with their selves. As you look at your life and ask why is this happening to me, you may discover the answer. When you discover it, do something about it. If your problem is anger and resentment and bitterness, get rid of it. You don’t have to live with that.

You know as well as I do that you are in control of those attitudes in your life and you don’t have to have anger and bitterness in you. If it is in you, it is because you want it there. If it is guilt then confess your sin, claim the forgiveness of God, and forgive yourself. If your problem is that you are spoiled and you think that you have the divine right to a trouble-free life, wake up and join the human race. Look around you and see that nobody has that right.

If your problem is that you are self-centered and bored, then get outside yourself, because there is a whole city around us and a whole state around that city, and a whole nation and a whole world around that in crying need. Do something for them. And you will do something for yourself.

3. You need to be tough-minded.

I think it is amazing how tough-minded David is. As he talks about his problems he reaches out to God again and again as if to say, “I cannot let my mind dwell on these things that are happening to me.” So he says in verse 6, “I will remember thee.” He says in verse 8, “I will talk to, I will pray to thee.” You see that instead of focusing on his problems, he focuses on God. I will remember God. I will talk to God. I will praise God.

I tell you, to whip a depression, you have to be tough-minded. You have to say, “By the grace of God and the strength of God, I will whip this. It won’t whip me.” And if you give up, you can be whipped by it. But you can be like the psalmist who says, “I will remember God. I will talk to God. I will praise God.” He made up his mind about what he was going to do and he did it, whether he felt like it or not. Sometimes we have to make ourselves remember God. You find yourself in a hospital room or in a nursing home or shut in in your own home or fired from a job and you have to be tough-minded and make yourself remember God and his blessings.

Make yourself talk to God. Make yourself praise God and thank God for his blessings. It takes tough-mindedness but God through the Lord Jesus can give you that kind of strength.

4. You need to hang on to hope.

David says this twice in Psalm 42: “Hope thou in God.” That’s a little formula he seemed to repeat to himself. He kept telling himself, hope in God, hope in God, hope in God. By the way, if you read Psalm 43 in the last verse of that Psalm, verse 5, he says the same thing. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? ” Many people believe, and I believe, that Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 were once just one psalm. God divided it through the years. They both have the same reoccurring theme. It is one song in three stanzas and in every stanza comes back as he asks himself that question: “What’s wrong with me?” And he gives himself the answer: “Regardless of with what’s wrong with me, hope thou in God.”

I want you to notice how he describes God. In verse 8 he says, “God [is] my life.” In verse 9 he says, “God [is] my rock.” In verse 11 he says God is my help. In Psalm 43:2 he says, “God [is] my strength.” In verse 4 he says, “God [is my] joy.” God is my life; God is my rock; God is my health; God is my strength; God is my joy.

If we will hang on to hope in the darkness of the night, the sun will shine again. And joy will return and we can share in the victory as did the psalmist.

Admit that you have a problem, talk to yourself, ask why you are this way, be tough-minded, refuse to dwell on your problems, dwell on God, and hang on to hope. That’s what helped him. And I’ve been there too and that’s what helped me.

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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

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