Practical Ways to Fight Depression
Those of you who are familiar with my articles know that they typically narrow in on a specific topic related to depression or anxiety. But in this post and the next, I want to paint a broader stroke of some ways we can fight depression and anxiety on a practical level, and then use that as a blueprint for articles in the future.
This list may be especially helpful if you are new to these conditions and have no idea where to begin to address them in a godly way. So with that, here it is.
1. Do not immediately assume you need medication. | Fight Depression
We as Christians with a biblical worldview should not adopt the same paradigm as the world in regards to the causes of depression. Secular psychologists will argue that we are merely a physical organism and thus, the root of depression must lie predominantly in an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. They often separate this “clinical depression” from just having a bad day, or going through brief time of grieving. What’s wrong with this mindset? It leaves God and His Word out of the equation, and does not consider our souls and the impact of our spiritual lives on our emotions. Instead, we ought to see ourselves holistically and accept that the causes are most likely a mixture of many things, perhaps physical, but also circumstantial and spiritual.
Our view on this topic affects how we approach treatment. While doctors may be quick to write you a prescription for an anti-depressant, do not immediately assume you need one. Instead…
-Identify, with the help of others, what factors may be causing your depression, and how extreme and serious it is. If you are having suicidal thoughts, talk to your elders and loved ones immediately about ways to keep you safe.
-Talk to your elders, family, and closest friends, particularly Christians, and ask for wisdom regarding medication.
-Consult Scripture and seek God’s counsel in prayer.
-Evaluate yourself and try addressing the problem without medication first, using the strategies listed in this article.
-Meet with an elder and/or a Christian counselor who can walk you through this difficult time.
If you and the church do decide you should try medication, take into account the risks and proceed with great caution. Never assume you have to be on medication for the rest of your life; the goal should be to eventually get off medication once you have learned ways to defeat depression without it.
2. Continue in the means of grace: prayer, Bible study, church meetings, and Christian service. | Fight Depression
It can be very hard to keep reading the Word and praying when you are depressed. I remember days when the Bible made no sense to me and prayer seemed like empty words uttered into an empty room. But your faith–though as small as a mustard seed–will keep you doing these things, because you know in your soul that the only hope you have is in Christ. And the only way to grow stronger in faith is to continue in the means of grace.
Prayer redirects your focus on God and His sovereignty, and is a cure for worry as you cast your cares on Him. The Bible teaches you and sanctifies you. Church meetings edify you and others. Christian service reminds you to think of others and their needs, humbling you. Depression is sometimes fed by self-centeredness; do not look inward, but look outward at Christ and the Church.
Persevere in the faith and abide in Jesus by relying on Him to help you as you struggle to keep reading, praying, and doing the work of the Lord.
3. Defeat the lies of Satan and hold fast to the Word of truth. | Fight Depression
I have many articles going into more detail about how to do this, but one strategy I used (as shown to me by my pastor) was to write down the lies I was believing and, next to them, the specific truth from the Bible that would defeat it. I made a T-chart, with lies on the left side and Scripture on the right, and jotted them down. Then I preached the truth to myself. I prayed over the list, that God would help me believe the truth. This strategy helped me immensely, and it is one that I highly encourage you to do.
4. Repent of sin, and obey the Lord Jesus in everything. | Fight Depression
Sometimes–not always, but sometimes–our depression is the result of the loving discipline of God. But take a look at how the Westminster Confession of Faith describes this experience:
True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair. -XVIII.IV
It is when God withdraws “the light of His countenance” that we may experience spiritual depression. We should examine ourselves to see what indwelling sin we may be allowing to fester, and bring it to the light in confession and repentance. Then, we must continue to seek to obey Him in all things, trusting the Spirit to revive our assurance of faith. When we are depressed, it may seem impossible to please God, since our faith is so shaken. But we must look to the gospel for strength. Obedience to the Lord is ultimately rewarded with joy. Sometimes the joy can’t be experienced right away, but we have the hope of the fruit of righteousness if we embrace the discipline He is giving to us and trust in Him.
5. Turn to other believers for encouragement and edification. | Fight Depression
Spending time with other Christians is essential at all times, and especially when you are depressed. It can be hard to do if you feel alone and even embarrassed about your struggle. Yet you may be surprised how many other believers have had the same trial of faith. The 18th century hymn-writer William Cowper, who suffered with depression his whole life and even attempted suicide several times, sought refuge with John Newton, who took in his dear friend and cared for him. Charles Spurgeon, the great “Prince of Preachers” as he is often called, suffered with depression and spoke about it frequently, with his congregation and his wife, using what he had learned to comfort others. (In fact, you can read a sermon he gave about it here; search the archives for other messages as well).
Even if your friends and fellow church members have never been through depression, they have the full counsel of God to help them as they seek to encourage you at this dark time. Confide in them, and be thankful for the spiritual blessings God has given you as part of the body of Christ.
6. Sing psalms of lament and praise. | Fight Depression
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Colossians 3:15-16)
The Book of Psalms is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I have probably turned to it more than any other for help during times of suffering. But many Christians and churches today no longer sing the psalms. For the first five years of my Christian life I never sang them. Now, I sing them twice a day at least. Something happens when you join the voices of the psalmists and the congregations of old in declaring God’s praise. It gives you joy to recognize the great history of God’s providence working in the lives of His people. It reminds you that His purposes are so much bigger than you and me, so much bigger than our temporary trials–that He Himself is greater than all these things.
Many psalms are laments–of inward struggles with sin and sorrow, and of the wickedness of men. Here we find empathy in our own experience of fighting enemies within and without. We also discover that our deepest sorrows can be transformed into our greatest joys. That’s what happened when the worst event in history became Christ’s greatest moment of triumph. If it happened then, it can happen now in our lives, too.
As we sing praise to God, we are filled with hope. The Spirit in us rejoices in the Father and the Son, and we join in, communing with the Triune God. Nothing in the world can touch us then; earthly suffering fades into obscurity as we are caught up in heavenly bliss.
7. Constantly remind yourself of the gospel and God’s promises. | Fight Depression
A word of rebuke is necessary at times, but so is a word of consolation. In Isaiah 40:2 God says, “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord‘s hand double for all her sins.” Psalm 94:19 the psalmist declares, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.” We hear in Psalm 119, the great love song written out of adoration of God’s Word, that “this is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me” (v. 50). And lastly, there is this kernel of truth: “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (Proverbs 12:25).
As you can see, if we are Christians, God’s Word, and particularly the gospel, is our source of ultimate comfort in distress. We must tell ourselves the gospel–when Satan is tempting us to deny it, when our flesh is urging us into unbelief, when the world is trying to sell us cheap lies in exchange for our souls. Learn to recite it to yourself. “I am a sinner, we are all sinners–but Christ came and died on the cross for me. He took my sin upon Him and nailed it to the cross. He was buried and He rose, defeating death and the grave; they have no more power over those who belong to Him. No matter what happens to me in this life, I am united to Him; everything that happens is for my good and His glory; my life is Christ and my death is gain; I will be forever with Him.” These words will console you more than anything else, since they are the words of life. The Bible is also full of rich illustrations of God’s attributes as it recounts the history of His dealings with men, and contains instruction in holiness. We are transformed by it through the power of the Spirit.
And finally, look to Christ as you look to His Word; find Him in it everywhere. As you behold Him, you will be changed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Joy will be restored to you as you see the suffering Servant, the Savior of men, vindicated and reigning in heaven. He has a special love and care for you if you are one of His flock. His knowledge of you far exceeds your own; He knows what is best. Let the rod and staff of your good Shepherd comfort you. He will make you lie down in green pastures, where the sorrow and pain of this life can harm you no more.
There are many other things I could address here, but this is a start, at least. I pray God has great mercy on you as you struggle through the dark night of your soul. Remember that it won’t last forever; you will be delivered, either in this life, or the life to come, and you will enter into everlasting joy:
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)