Hope and Practical Help for Those Struggling with Depression

Hope and Practical Help for Those Struggling with Depression

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Depression is a complicated problem that is the center of much debate. And though those arguments will always continue, there are a few things that you can do when struggling with depression. These practical suggestions will give you hope and will provide guidance for those who are helping the depressed.

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The Dark Jungle

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident (Psalm 27:3).

Mable is depressed. The weight of life weighs heavily on her soul. From her perspective, she sees no way of escape (2 Corinthians 10:13). She says she lives in a confusing, dark, and dense jungle, and so it is. Her truth is her reality, and her reality is pressing down on her. Your goal is to understand, but as she feebly tries to explain what she feels on the inside, Mable loses hope quickly as she slowly defaults to her “you have to be there to understand me” mantra.

In a way, Mable is correct, but you must not let her perspective discourage (or gaslight) you from helping her lift the mental chains that have created a lethargy toward life. As you listen to her, you quickly realize she does not live in the confidence of the Psalmist. Her zeal is nearly gone as a besieging army of hopelessness surrounds her. It is her depression that has captivated her mind. It is her hopelessness talking back to her. Mable lives according to her feelings rather than the truth claims of the Word of God. She is the unbelieving believer, functionally speaking (Mark 9:24).

Your call to action is to realize that she needs you, whether you’ve walked a mile in her shoes or not. As you “listen to her depression,” you must hear what she cannot perceive. You are listening in four ways: (1) the micro is what she is telling you—what she knows; (2) the macro is the exercise of peripheral vision to hear what she does not perceive at this time, (3) pneumatically, as you ask the Spirit to illuminate your mind for ultimate clarity, albeit subjective, and (4) Scripturally, as you run the previous three aspects through the filter of God’s Word.

Her Feelings Are Real

Trusting in her feelings is all Mable knows, which is more substantive than the ambiguity of faith. What is easier for you to trust: that which you can feel or can’t? Feelings are elusive, but they are real and feelable. Faith is a different animal, and feelings carry a lot of weight when you’re in the throes of confusion. Unfortunately, too many times, the weight of feelings takes you down to the depths of depression, which is what happened to Mable. When you talk to her about the bold claims of Jesus Christ, she says it has a “pie-in-the-sky” ring, not hope for the soul.

You who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

Faith is un-feelable. Mable is listening through a feeling filter, not a faith filter. It’s like trying to explain color to a colorblind man. He cannot see what you see. The glory of color is elusive to him. Though the solution is apparent to you, it is not evident to him. Helping Mable to get to the answer, which is in Jesus alone, through faith alone, will require much patience and gentleness from you. She needs to know who Jesus is and what He can do. Another way to say this is, “She needs a clear and practical understanding of the gospel.”

  • He is the way, the truth, and the life for Mable (John 14:6).
  • He is the lover of her soul, the servant who came to care for her (Mark 10:45).
  • He is her brother and friend who will never leave her nor forsake her (Hebrews 13:5).
  • He is her power for salvation, sanctification, and glorification (Romans 1:16; Romans 8:29-30).

Sadly, these truths are nothing more than echoes on the outskirts of her life. The gap between her feelings and what the Bible prescribes must shrink. No other technique or prescription can bring her out of her confusing, dark, and dense jungle. Mable is living in an emotional state rather than faith in Christ alone. Thus, you want to help her move from a “feeling orientation” to a “faith orientation.”

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Listen Carefully to Her

Feelings are descriptive (how she feels) and will help bring clarity to what is going on in her mind, but feelings are not solutions that provide a roadmap out of her jungle. Notice how her emotions are like an iceberg that points to something deeper inside her. If you’re listening correctly, you will hear how her feelings are describing a lack of faith in God. Mable’s emotions point to her unstable thought life. Initially, this process will be challenging for her and require learning a new way to live; it is a workout for the mind.

The danger for you is dismissing her feelings, which are “her faith” at this juncture. Marginalizing her emotions will damage “her faith,” which is the only real thing in her life. To minimize her feelings would be the equivalent of pushing her out of an airplane with no parachute. Mable does not have your faith. She does not have your filter. She is the colorblind man struggling to grasp your perspective on the glory of color.

When it comes to helping the depressed, feelings must not win over the Word of God. There is no place for impatience and harshness, which are manifestations of the self-righteous heart. But how you communicate this truth will make all the difference. With that said, anything other than God (His Word) cannot be trusted. Feelings and faith are not coequal. One will lead the other. What you feel may be real to you, but real feelings can deceive if they are not rooted in the Word of God.

Feelings Versus Scripture

If your oscillating emotions are your guide, you will go on a roller coaster ride (James 1:5-8). When I feel like responding in anger to my wife, I must stop there at that moment, repent of those unbiblical feelings, and trust God’s Word. I cannot subject my mind to control my passions (James 4:1-3), choosing instead for the controlling power of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16). If I don’t do this, I will “go off” on my wife, giving her a piece of my emoting mind.

But if I learn a new way of thinking, according to the Word of God, over time and through much prayer and practice, I will yield to the controlling power of the Spirit of God, who cooperates with the Word of God. This process is what Mable must learn to do. Her responses, born out of a new belief system, must rule her mind more than her feelings. The Word of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, encouraged by the people of God, is the roadmap she needs to come out of her jungle of depression.

This challenge is a sanctification process that is not unlike any other struggle in which we battle. Nearly all of our problems are battles in our minds that hope to control our souls. This “battle for the mind” is what Paul was teaching us in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6. He warned us about the nature of the battle.

The Battle of the Mind

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

There is a battle for Mable’s mind. The questions for her are,

  • What will she believe?
  • Who will she trust?
  • Where will she place her faith?
  • Who is going to control her thinking?

Mable’s feelings have always held sway over her, but God wants to retrain her mind according to His weapons. Her new allies are the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the community of God. These are divine weapons, not according to the flesh. Mable’s main problem becomes a matter of faith, which is a spiritual matter primarily. Though there may be physical components to depression, the key continues to rest in who she will ultimately trust.

Spiritual Versus Physical

Let me illustrate. If your goal is optimal health from birth to the grave, no help will satisfy you. But suppose your objective is to find empowering and transforming grace for your situation, though it does not improve. In that case, there is strength for your weaknesses, including your physical ones (2 Corinthians 4:7). Too often, folks become side-tracked with never-ending discussions about the physical components of depression, which keeps them from faith’s solutions. If Mable becomes side-tracked by the “physical arguments,” she will be a slave to them and never have a chance to change.

But if she responds according to the Word of God, she can have victory regardless of the organic liabilities (2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Some people crave personal achievement so much that they interpret it as being healthy, whole, and problem-free. That erroneous worldview is not a promise from the Word of God. Being strengthened by God while living in a body of death is a biblical promise (Romans 7:24-25). This kind of biblical faith releases you from falling prey to the argument that depression is a disease and the Word of God does not speak to your struggle.

The Word of God does not provide a cure to my chronic back pain, for example, but it does teach me how to have victory while debilitated. One of the things you want to do with Mable is to reorient her mind to God’s Word. Quite frankly, she needs biblical brainwashing. Our culture has no qualms about brainwashing us. Thus, you must choose if you want a secular brainwash or a biblical one. God’s Word is the perfect brainwashing tool.

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Mind-Reorienting Texts

You’ll need to remind her that learning the Bible is not a magic pill. Here are three helpful texts for her to begin memorizing so a brain cleanse can begin. These texts are just words, that’s all. But if you walk her through what they mean, pray through them with her, asking the Spirit of God to practicalize them to her mind, you will see the beginning of change.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers (Psalm 1:1-3).

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12;1-2).

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 (Philippians 4:6-8).

Call to Action

  1. Do you struggle with ongoing disappointment or depression? If so, what is the source of your problem? How you answer this question will determine the solutions you employ.
  2. How would folks describe you primarily—as faith-oriented or feeling-oriented? If you’re not sure what they would say, will you ask someone who knows you and will be honest with your question?
  3. Though there are physical components to our spiritual struggles, why is it vital to start with the spiritual things you can change?
  4. Is God’s grace not encompassing enough to help you be stable even when the physical things in your life are not improving? What does it mean to be strong in weaknesses? How are you doing with that, and how do you need to change?
  5. What issues do you have with practically applying God’s Word to your life so you can be faith-driven, not feeling-driven? Will you find someone to talk to about your struggles?
  6. My two books, Suffering Well and Change Me, will help you as you continue to work through your struggles.

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