About two years into my graduate studies, my battle with depression took a turn for the worse. I had experienced depression off and on my whole life, but during this particular season, a deeply unsettling lack of purpose, desire, and confidence continued to deteriorate my walk with Christ and consequently my relationship with others. With the counsel and support of my sweet husband, some close friends from church, and an advisor at school, I paused my graduate studies in order to direct my time, energy, and attention to fight this intense struggle I was facing. The below blog post and two more to come will give you a small glimpse into three passages that God used to completely change my life during those dark days.
If you are struggling with depression, I encourage you to see a counselor who loves Christ and his Word. I encourage you to visit your doctor to see if there are any medical factors involved. But above all, I encourage you to take a fresh look at the powerful Word of God that guides our way and lights our path, especially when it looks hopelessly bleak and dark. I want you to know from the outset that there is incredible joy and hope in our Savior that makes life sweet and gives purpose for every minute. This joy is there for you too. Let’s taste and see…
Passage 1: Philippians 4:4-8
The Power of Prayer and Faith-Filled Thought
Feelings and emotions are incredibly powerful. They fill our thoughts. They motivate our words. They are often the first response to circumstances and the reason for many of our actions. In times of despair, depression, or discouragement, the blunt force of feeling can be so strong that we can become frozen and unsure how to climb out of the depths of our own heart and mind. Just as a rock climber chooses the best way to scale up a cliff with the surest footholds, so also Philippians 4:4-8 provides believers with a path to navigate out of the despairs of the heart and mind using the firm footholds provided by God himself. This passage says:
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Commanding someone to rejoice when they are in deep despair appears incredibly offensive at first. It seems comparable to the miserable comforters of Job who said something along the lines of “this is all your fault, so stop complaining!” But instead of quickly taking offense, first remember who is writing this passage. The book of Philippians is a letter written by Paul who was sitting in prison because he was proclaiming the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11:16-32 we see that Paul was repeatedly beaten, shipwrecked, hungry, betrayed, and near death multiple times. I mean, this guy knew despairing situations, and even so, here he is commanding us to rejoice always in the Lord. Indeed, when we have the Lord, we always have reason to rejoice regardless of our circumstances. Though we despair, our Father still loves us and knows us deeply. The cross of Christ still saves, and the blood of Christ still washes us clean. This is always enduring, so our reason for rejoicing can never be taken away from us. Further, James 1:2-4 reminds us that our trials are reason for joy because the trial produces something in us, namely making us more like Christ. Though this is true and encouraging, when we are in despair it is difficult to know how to change our feelings even though we believe those truths. Paul gives us the how-to.
Rejoicing in this passage is the replacement for anxiety, which Paul tells us not to do. However, Paul does not tell us to muster up all of our might to stop being anxious. No, he provides a method by which we can progress towards a place of rejoicing instead of a place of anxiety. The method is prayer. Note that the specificity of the method requires not just general prayer, but the kind of prayer that includes asking something of God (perhaps to provide or intervene). Additionally, it is also the kind of prayer that includes thanksgiving to God (perhaps to remember how God has provided and intervened in the past). Both of these elements - requesting of God and thanking God - are direct evidences of a faith-filled disposition towards God. A person who asks God to help and thanks God for his previous provision is one who sees himself or herself by definition as one who is cared for by God. To pray to God fundamentally means that you find yourself in need of him and know that he is the kind of God that listens to your needs.
This anxiety-killing prayer method was one of the most drastic game-changers for me in depression. A person in despair and depression often feels trapped, stuck, oppressed, uncared for, and alone. To repeatedly go to God in prayer, thanking him for his past faithfulness and asking him to interject himself in the current circumstance builds the faith muscle stronger and stronger as we look to him for our help in times of need. While our circumstances may not change in the immediate, this kind of habitual prayer forces us to admit that when we have unrestricted access to the God of this universe, we are never trapped, stuck, oppressed, uncared for, or alone. In fact, by following this anxiety-killing prayer method, God promises that his peace will guard our heart and our mind in Christ Jesus. Oh, how we long for peace in our depression. Here is your roadmap to peace in the form of a promise that can be trusted.
Paul doesn’t stop there but presses us a bit further in our quest for the peace of God. Not only are we to rejoice and not be anxious by praying these anxiety-killing prayers, but we are to fill our minds with what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. To fill our minds with these things is also a command, which tells us that filling our minds with what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, ugly, condemnable, inferior, and worthy of shame likely comes more natural to us. So, actively filling our minds with these faith-filled things will by necessity require great effort and discipline. But isn’t the peace of God and the ability to rejoice in the Lord always worth the effort?
Three reflections to close:
- Are you praying the anxiety-killing prayers and replacing that anxiety with the joy of the Lord? Pray, ask, thank, and rejoice.
- Are your thoughts true? Honorable? Just? Pure? Lovely? Commendable? Excellent? Worthy of Praise? Think about what you think about and replace the ugly with the lovely.
- Finally, take notice that both of the above reflections take time as you build the habit and trust God as you wait. Peace doesn’t always come overnight, but even so, God’s promises are true.
May we take seriously these commands to rejoice, not to be anxious, to pray the anxiety-killing kind of prayer, and to think thoughts that a filled with faith. And in so doing, may we be overwhelmed by the peace of God that calms the fears of our hearts and stills the struggle of our minds. There may be many aids to help in overcoming depression, but most of all don’t underestimate the powerful Word of God that has relevance to us even (no, especially) in the midst of our darkest days.
Kristen Ferguson is a member of Lakeshore City Church. As a wife, mom, and Director of Online Education for Gateway Seminary, she strives to make Christ's name known around the world.