home > Pastor’s Desk > 2023 > August 11th > Things Christians Can’t Talk About, Part 2 – Depression

All of us feel sad at some point – even people who are usually happy most of the time will have moments of sadness. Usually for most people there will be some understandable cause of it. This might include the loss of a loved one, a certain disappointment, an accident, or sympathy for friend or family member’s struggles. This kind of sadness is temporary. Yet there is a kind of sadness that lingers for weeks or months which leaves a person physically drained, perhaps teary, thinking dark thoughts, feeling desperately lonely and debilitated. This is usually when clinicians consider someone is experiencing ‘depression’ and it is one of those things that Christians find difficult to admit to or even talk about. Perhaps this is because Christians are supposed to be filled with the joy of the Lord, and able to cast all their anxieties onto the Lord, and therefore, presumably, be immune from such depression. But two facts make this untrue. Firstly, even many of the heroes in the Bible seem to have experienced some form of depression at least for a moment; and secondly, we each probably know of a godly follower of Christ who has done everything right yet still experiences recurring seasons of depression. I consider this topic to be one of the main things that Christians can’t talk about and probably should, and to this end I have some wisdom to offer in how we should go about it.

¶ Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation  and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember You
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
¶ Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him,
my salvation and my God.
Psalm 42:5-6, 11

ABOUT DEPRESSION

Depression is not a ‘one size fits all’. It effects people differently. Some experience a lack of appetite while others experience an abnormal increase in appetite. Some experience continual suicidal thoughts, while many do not. Some are easily brought to tears, while others experience repeated bouts of anger. Some experience a heightened sense of anxiety while others are able to remain functional in their jobs and responsibilities.

Depression often universally results in prolonged negative, dark, unhealthy thoughts; and, social withdrawal. It frequently leaves a person feeling lonely (or alone), as if no-one cares, and a loss of motivation. However, depression can be treated so that its symptoms are dramatically lessened and even eradicated either through: medication, counselling, prayer, a change of diet, and regular physical exercise, – or a combination of these. I list several therapeutic remedies other than pharmaceuticals because, while I have good reason to believe that there is some benefit that can be attained from prescribed anti-depressant medication (largely due to my own interactions with those who have greatly benefited from taking it, and also my interactions with the many doctors who have reported to me the health benefits from their patients who have also taken such medication). But I suspect that many people now look exclusively to pharmaceuticals to solve their health problems. I must admit, over the past few years my cynicism about multi-national pharmaceutical companies’ motives for wanting people to think this way has only magnified. This is why I appreciate those medical doctors who take a holistic approach to helping their patients overcome their depression rather than just prescribing a life-long course of antidepressant pharmaceuticals.

 

BIBLICAL HEROES WITH DEPRESSION

One of the most startling examples of a man of God who had been used mightily by God, yet experienced a season of depression was the prophet Elijah. He lived in Northern Israel after the civil war which saw the ten tribes of Israel to the north of Jerusalem separate from the two southern tribes appoint their own king and establish their own Kingdom (to be known as ‘Ephraim’ or ‘Israel’) distinct from the Kingdom in the line of David and Solomon in the South (which became known as ‘Judah’). In First Kings 18 Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Ba’al to a duel to see who was the true GOD. The context involved offering a slain bullock on an altar of wood and to see which god or GOD would respond with fire to accept the burnt offering. The 450 prophets of Ba’al, despite their incantations, their enchantments, their spells (1Kings 18:26), and then finally the shedding of their own blood through cutting and lancing (1Kings 18:28), did not answer them or consume the sacrificial offering with fire. Elijah then offered them some unhelpful advice – 

And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying,
“Cry aloud, for he is a god.
Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself,
or he is on a journey,
or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
First Kings 18:27

 After these false prophets had finished and conceded that they (and their god, Ba’al) had failed, Elijah then asked for the sacrificed bullock and the altar of wood to be saturated in water twice over. Then Elijah cried out a short but profound prayer –

¶ And at the time of the offering of the oblation,
Elijah the prophet came near and said,
“O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant,
and that I have done all these things at your word.
Answer me, O LORD, answer me,
that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God,
and that you have turned their hearts back.”
First Kings 18:36-37

What happened next would have impressed Steven Spielberg (1Kings 18:38)!

I suspect that there would have been a large component of dehydration, malnutrition, and exhaustion, in what happened next to Elijah. He heard that the wicked queen Jezebel who worshiped Ba’al had ordered that Elijah be executed (1Kings 19:1-2). In fear for his life, Elijah fled to the Southern Kingdom to hide from Jezebel’s assassins (1 Kings 19:3). In the pit of despondency Elijah prayed that he might die (1Kings 19:4). And what we see next is that GOD began to address the cause of Elijah’s depression (not just his symptoms).

  1. God gave Elijah sleep (1 Kings 19:5a).
  2. God gave Elijah company (an angel, 1 Kings 19:5b).
  3. God gave Elijah food and water (via the angel, 1 Kings 19:6).
  4. God reestablished Elijah’s mission and gave him something constructive to do which involved him interacting with people who are realising that his negative assessment of the situation was wrong (1 Kings 19:7, 15-18).  

Elijah is one example of many others recorded in the pages of Scripture who also experienced depression and who experienced almost exactly the same response from God (examples include Jeremiah, and Paul the Apostle).

 

BIBLICAL INSIGHTS FOR IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH

"Rubin’s Picture" - What do you see? Two things? Or the one thing that is actually there but is easily missed?

“Rubin’s Picture” – What do you see? Two people? Or the one thing that is actually there but is easily missed?

I am not being naively simplistic about the remedy for depression. (Being simplistic with someone who is battling each of these topics that Christians can’t talk about is a large contributor to why some Christians are reluctant to talk about these issues!) But I see something in the opening chapters of Genesis that I find extremely helpful in managing moods and mental health. Sometimes you have to look a little closer at something to realise what you’re actually looking at!

¶ And they heard the sound of the LORD God
walking in the garden in the cool of the day,
and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God
among the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3:8

Firstly, From this verse in the opening chapters of the Bible we see that God had created a paradisiacal environment for mankind to enjoy. (Mankind was not created to live apart from nature (gardens and wildlife). If all you ever see throughout your day is a screen, concrete and steel, your soul is being malnourished which then depletes our mental health!)

Sunrise over Mount Arthur in the background from Legana with apple orchards in the mid-ground, and native trees in the foreground

Mount Arthur in the background from Legana with apple orchards in the mid-ground, and native trees in the foreground

Secondly, mankind’s world was one in which they enjoyed a regular interaction with God. (Mankind was not created or designed to live without a vital communion with our Maker. Our prayerful interaction with God is nourishing for our soul.)

Thirdly, it appears that Man and GOD regularly walked together as they spoke with each other. There was a physical manifestation of God which enabled the first man and woman to “hear the sound of the LORD walking in the garden”. The simple act of walking and talking with God as you do is a spiritually replenishing activity. (Mankind was created to take a long daily stroll with God). Even several generations after Adam this was something that Enoch practised (Gen 5:22, 24) and benefited greatly from doing it.

Fourthly, Mankind were given an extensive fruit tree garden from which they could enjoy fresh, unprocessed whole foods. (Mankind was created and designed to eat a diet consisting largely unprocessed whole-foods. Our high-sugar, high complex-saturated fat, high processed diets have a negative impact not just on our physical health, but also on our mental and emotional health.)

Fifthly, Mankind was meant to live with a clear conscience by obedience to God and His Word. (Mankind was created monarchial, that is, royal. We were created in the Sovereign King of the Universe’s image to co-rule this world as His vice-regents. The serpent and its manipulating master, the Evil One, had nothing to offer our original parents except lies. Yet they willingly chose to reject the Truth and accept an outlandish lie. Today, the Evil One and his minions continue to dupe God’s Image bearers with malicious lies. Accepting these lies can only lead to poor mental health. This is why being grounded daily in the truth found in God’s Word is therapeutic for our souls and nourishing for our mental health.)

 

TALKING ABOUT IT

As with each of these topics, I want to encourage you to talk about these things — but I especially want to encourage you (and hopefully model) how to listen to those who do open up about their struggles. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone in those moments is a listening ear and the knowledge that someone cares enough to take the time to seek to understand what they are going through. And, as I have already stated here, and will repeat in Part 3, we should not offer judgment or simplistic answers. It’s my conviction that there are many lonely people in our church and especially outside of our church who long for someone who might offer them these two gifts of a listening ear, and understanding. I hope you can join me in being one of these gift givers.

Your Pastor,

Andrew

Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.

4 Comments

  1. LYDIA

    It is early in the morning and I hear the postman knocking at the gate…oops things have changed. Andrew I couldn’t help but smile when you wrote: (Mankind was not created to live apart from nature (gardens and wildlife). If all you ever see throughout your day is a screen, concrete and steel, your soul is being malnourished which then depletes our mental health!) Good comment.
    Working in the garden and talking to the creatures and working at the pc desk playing around with photos of those gardens and creatures on God’s green earth, and then editing them for another book, if heaven is perfection then this is pretty close to it. And then while letting the creative juices flow there are the sermons to be listened to in the background or something related to them. In other words…BALANCE. Balance in all things right across the board is a very healthy way of living. And let’s not forget the interaction with all those who have been placed on our pathway of life:), blessings to numerous to mention whether this is where we work or where we punch the keys or talk to the wildlife or domesticated chooks.
    Thank you for your encouragement.

    Reply
  2. Ron Darby

    Really enjoyed that Andrew. We’re living in a great time in history but also with great things diminishing our joy, influence & effectiveness. Much by our own hands. You’re so right, we need to be better listeners to understand.

    Reply
  3. Chris

    As someone affected by chronic depression this is one of the most considered, constructive and compassionate articles I’ve read that has been written from a Christian perspective. Well done Pr Andrew, thank you.

    Reply
  4. Michele Welch

    Appreciate your considered comments on depression, especially the exhortation not to judge or give simplistic
    answers but to really listen. Although I am a Spirit filled believer I have had major depression since the birth of my second child. For me, medication, exercise in nature, people and limited stress all work to help me enjoy life and enjoy God. Keep up your encouraging teaching ministry.

    Reply

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PENTECOSTALISM, THE TWO SIDES OF REVIVAL

home > Pastor's Desk > 2024 >June 21st > PENTECOSTALISM, THE SIDES OF REVIVAL Pentecostalism began with a move of God - a revival. This happened on a Jewish Festival called the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). This was when the Holy Spirit was given and poured...

MY BIGGEST BURDENS

A burden is something that weighs on you. You could be burdened emotionally because a relationship that is weighing on you. You could be burdened psychologically because of the weight of a looming deadline. You could be burdened spiritually because of the weight of guilt you are carrying. You could be burdened physically because of your weight and depleted strength. We all carry burdens. There are seasons in our lives where some burdens a big and you do not feel that you will be able to bear up under the enormous pressure you are under. Those seasons will pass. For those in leadership there is the constant burden of the weight of responsibility that must be carried. (Have you ever noticed what this kind burden bearing does physically to a President or Prime Minister over their term in office?) In the Bible we read that GOD actually gives people burdens so that they become stronger, wealthier, happier, and more productive. These types of burdens always involve caring for others. (Have you ever considered why Jesus was sweating great drops of blood as He was praying just before He went to the Cross via His hours of humiliating pummelling, beating, scourging, hair-pulling, and mockery?) I want to share you with you why I am now carrying an enormous burden that I would consider that biggest burden I have ever had to carry. I do so in the hope that this might help you to bear your burdens with greatest expertise and joy. Yes, joy.

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR RELATIONSHIP SKILLS

This year we have been laying a foundation for knowing God and then each Sunday building upon it. Throughout June we are focusing on how knowing God enables us to find our joy in Him and consequently to discover that He enables us to find joy in our relationships with others. But sadly, for many people who have vowed to love, serve, and follow Jesus, this has not always been easy to do. This is why the current sub-theme of humility is critically important if someone desires to truly experience joy in each of their various relationships with others. 

KNOWING GOD

In the past few months, we have been hearing in Church and also by reading the Pastor’s Desks that through the Psalms and by the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, we can know God more. The Psalms show God as our Shepherd, God’s character is unchanging, we can be still and know Him, and that He is poetic. The Fruit of the Spirit reminds us that God is faithful, gentle and kind, and that we need to stay close to Him in the same way a baby gets nutrients from its mother through the umbilical cord. Knowing these things, we can become more like God as He helps us outwork His character in our lives. Philippians 3:10 challenged me in this regard some time ago.

RULES RULES AND MORE RULES

What comes to mind when you hear the word Rules? For some, it is a welcome relief to all the chaos surrounding us. Rules can provide comfort, safety, stability, predictability and protection. But for many others, as soon as you hear the word rules, it causes you to sigh loudly, followed by the instant urge to do the opposite. It can cause an immense sense of frustration along with that feeling of being boxed or caged in. Then some rules are plain silly as they make no sense, or there appears to be no apparent reason for why the rule/s exists in the first place. 

The Vine and the Umbilical Cord: Life, Abiding and Bearing FruitThe Vine and the Umbilical Cord: Life, Abiding and Bearing Fruit

Jesus’ allegory in John 15:1-17 of the vine and the branches provides a beautiful picture of the intimate and living relationship available to those who would abide in Him, the true Vine; and it illustrates how naturally the Holy Spirit is able to produce fruit in the lives of those who are willing to be branches abiding in the vine.

Knowing God Through The Fruit Of The Spirit

I’m sure you can picture an occasion where food delicacies are served and someone is there who has lost all sense of decorum to the point of being rude to get to the food before others and is unable or unwilling to engage in any level of conversation for the sake of finding the choicest of foods. Maybe that was you or me on occasions. Or an All You Can Eat challenge restaurant. It is a picture of complete lack of self-restraint (especially if Homer Simpson is involved). Whilst we are away, I am looking forward to visiting a town (Kenilworth) with a bakery tourist attraction that sells 1kg doughnuts. I’m not sure what will happen there, but I can imagine many have risen to a challenge.

WHAT CHARMING BETRAYERS DESERVE ACCORDING TO THE PSALM OF KING DAVID, NUMBER 55

Australia is now grappling with a national crisis — the violent abuse of women by men. Every four days in Australia a woman is being murdered [Source]. The sad probability is that she was murdered by “a current or former intimate partner” [Source]. But added to this alarming statistic is the even greater and more horrifying statistic of number of women who are experiencing abuse – physical; sexual; verbal; financial; psychological – daily. In fact, it is so prevalent that most people working in this arena know that most domestic abuse incidents in Australia are not reported. Abuse is oppression. And since the Bible is so clear and consistent in its condemnation of oppression of the vulnerable you would naturally assume that this national crisis was being thundered and denounced as a great evil from the majority of pulpits around our country at the moment. This assumption is further reinforced by the guesstimate that one-in-four women in every Australian church is regularly abused in some way by a man. But I suspect that it is not.

KNOWING GOD THROUGH PSALM 23

My cat, Lola, had a beautiful, fluffy, soft coat. I had her for 13 years so I knew her very well. She loved a cuddle and snuggling at night sleeping in the crook of my arm. She loved me but with others she could be a rascal, hissing or swiping her claws. She never scoffed her food but was a grazer. It was common to hear her crunching her biscuits for a midnight snack and she loved ice cream. She loved hiding in cardboard boxes or in the pantry. She particularly hated the car evidenced by her continual mournful meowing til she got out. As I knew her, she also knew me. She knew I would feed her and give her pats or cuddles. When I called her she knew my soft voice, my touch, my smell. She knew my growly voice when she had done the wrong thing. When I’d take her to the vet she would be still in my arms as the vet examined her and vaccinated her. If she was injured or sick I would look after her.

KNOWING GOD THROUGH PSALM 22

The Bible is an amazing book. As we look through the book of Psalms we can so unbelievably clearly see God at work. And also most poignantly, this Psalm – Psalm 22 – prophetically points to, and closely mirrors Jesus and the events of the cross mentioned in the New Testament. This Psalm is well over 1000 years prior to Jesus.There are some well known passages of Scripture that stand out as being prophetic promises of the Messiah. These prophetic words show us that God is Omniscient; He knows everything. The first Messianic prophecy shows that the seed of the woman would eventually defeat the devil.