In part three of The Book of Ruth series (June 4, 2017 – “Depression” ) we observe Naomi reacting to losing her husband and two sons with a defeated heart that turns bitter toward God. If only she could have scheduled an appointment with a psychologist and gotten over herself, right? Well, God had a great and gracious plan in store to redeem her situation and restore her spirit. He provided for her the overwhelming joy of a grandchild through Ruth; the ancestor of King David and Jesus.
How fortunate that we have the whole Bible to apply to our everyday lives, as well as in times of trouble. Despite the occasional inevitability of depression, it is not a place for Christians to linger. We have a responsibility to find our way out of our dark times so that we are a light and a witness to the lost and help to our fellow Christians. The apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two about hard times, summed up his and our situation in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
More Than Relief From Trouble
Psalms 42 is perhaps the greatest Biblical text on depression and it is where we find five very particular directives for those Christians who find their souls “thirsting & panting” for communion with God more than the desire for just mere relief from trouble. The writer is clear that God is sovereign and good, and that redemption and restoration will come in short order.
- As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
- My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
- My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
- These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.
- 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.
- Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
- By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
- I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
- As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
- 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.
Verse nine tells us to ask God “why” your circumstances are present, to seek understanding but only in the context of what you know to be true. Here, the psalmist firmly believes God is still his “rock”. In verse five he confirms this by saying that he “shall again praise Him”. This is nothing like Naomi’s bitter attitude in Ruth 1:20-21. She all but said God was a bad God. She knew that wasn’t true but she had let bitterness set in and that caused her to lie to herself and anyone who would listen. We must get after this depression stuff as soon as it comes up and not let it twist our thinking because that will only lead us into sin. If you have a tendency toward doing this, I encourage you to read Always Sinning and get to your elders for some Biblical counseling before things get out of hand for you. So much depression could be nipped in the bud if we’d be honest with ourselves about the dark thoughts that fester in the sinful parts of our minds. They’re real and we have the ability to shut them down. However, if you secretly like the way those feelings feel and the resulting attentions your situation brings you, you’ll do nothing to stop them. You’ll end up reveling in your public pity-party just like Naomi.
I personally think this is the hardest step for American Christians today. We have to affirm God’s sovereign love, even as we realize He is also causing the suffering. It is when we are in the deepest of despair that God teaches us this truth. If you think I’ve gone down a Calvinist road too far, then I encourage you to set a mission to prove this wrong by reading God’s own words about the subject. Start here: Praying For Suffering Believers. God will either reveal me to be confused and vindicate you, or He will open your heart to the inexplicable joy that there is nothing the Almighty can’t control and that all is securely in hand for our good; especially the bad stuff.
In verse eight the psalmist encourages us to sing, especially in our sorrow. If you’re like me, not having a musical bone in your body and even less of a memory for lyrics, this seems like a step to skip, right? No! Because you’ve read at least this far into the blog, you obviously are saying to yourself that you have a need for relief from some suffering, either regularly or occasionally. Or maybe it’s that you know someone who does. Either way, this is probably the part you are going to have to extend effort on. So, I’ll help you out. Click here: Satisfied In You (Psalm 42) . Save it to your phone. Play it in the shower, the car and before you go to bed. The lyrics are slow and easy to learn. God has the only set of ears that count when you are alone, crying out in song.
I almost laughed out loud, right in the middle of church, when Pastor Wilson announced this step. Verse five teaches us to talk to ourselves. Yep, you heard me. Let the Saint side of you get all up in the Sinning side of you’s business. Oh, somebody give me an “LOL”. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes in Spiritual Depression,
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you. They bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Yourself is talking to you.”
Try it yourself.
“Self, listen to me. I know that all things work together for good for those who love God and that that is true for all of us who are called according to His purpose. Do you hear me Self? Are you listening to me? If God is for me, who can be against me? God didn’t spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all. How will He not also graciously give me all things. Self, who is going to bring a charge against God’s elect? I know you want to but you’re not qualified to do that. It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn me? Christ Jesus is the one who died but more than that; He was raised and sits at the right hand of the Father and is indeed interceding for me. Did you know that, self? Who shall separate me from God. No one, not even you! I am more than a conqueror in Christ. Self, find hope”.
This isn’t psychology. This is a fundamental Biblical perspective. This is what it means to stand on a rock while in the pits of despair.
Verse four tells us to remember. This is not a random, general suggestion. The psalmist is talking about the soul remembering the intense times within a church fellowship where he met with God’s people and worshiped God. It’s important. When you abandon this activity, you are leaving your soul vulnerable to all sorts of gripping darkness that you will not be prepared to handle alone, outside a fellowship. Worse yet, you endanger yourself with the potential of falling away from the faith, as well as abandoning your fellow Christians and your responsibility to “stir up one another” (Hebrews 10). To understand more about what God says on this subject, listen to Pastor Steve Wilson’s sermon Not Falling Away – Part 3
This is the “loving one another” part we so often miss. If God has commanded you to be present to love your fellow Christians in an actual fellowship and you don’t do that, then you are refusing God and risking your faith; not to mention your ability to have joy. How could any excuse be worthy of overriding this command when so much is at stake? I hope that it is simple ignorance that finds Christians not attending church regularly, and not defiance to God; because God loves you so much, that He will eventually get your attention. Are you going to be mentally and emotionally fit for that level of Godly discipline when you are already suffering?
Clearly the man in Psalm 42 is seeking relief. He doesn’t ask for it the way we commonly do. He never once asks God to make his difficulty stop. Why? Because in the midst of his trouble there is something that he wants more than relief: he wants God. Step six is all about what you really want.
The saying is true about a God-shaped hole in our lives that only God can fill. You were created with a deep desire (“deep calls to deep”) for your Creator. If, in your times of trouble, you find yourself wanting above all else for the pain to stop, and not for the arms of a loving God; then your trouble will not stop and you will have proved to yourself just how disconnected you are from your Creator. What good can come of that?
Time to refocus with the steps in this Psalm.
If you’d like to listen to this lesson in its entirety, click here.