In the face of life's trials, we need to know how to stay on the path of positive Christian growth.
Do you ever get discouraged?
Do hard times get you depressed?
Are you overtaken by feelings of despair and hopelessness?
A recent survey showed that 45 percent of the men and 57 percent of the women interviewed admitted to feeling depressed during the past year. Some specialists feel that 80 percent of Americans, for example, are experiencing differing degrees of depression at any given time.
So it would seem that depression is quite common. How do you deal with it when it enters your life?
Depression can range from occasional bouts of moodiness and discouragement to continued and extended periods of chronic despair. Some may experience it occasionally. To others it may be a way of life.
Winston Churchill, though renowned for his optimism in times of adversity, suffered from prolonged and recurrent fits of depression. Many circumstances in his life contributed to this depression.
As a youth, Churchill had little contact with his parents. He was sent to boarding school, where he was unhappy. He received severe beatings from the headmaster. While he was in school, his parents seldom wrote; when his father did write, it was to rebuke his son.
At age 20 Churchill was in the army. In World War I he planned the Dardanelles campaign, in which many men lost their lives. This episode brought Churchill under heavy political attack and forced him to resign his command. Later, World War II brought many more moments of despair.
Yet Churchill was, for the most part, able to defeat his depression.
Negative thoughts originate with Satan the devil, who can capitalize on difficulties in our lives. Sickness, job pressures, other severe trials — the devil can use negative episodes like these to generate feelings of dejection.
"His own name for depression was 'Black Dog'... In the course of his life, he experienced many reverses: disappointments which might have embittered and defeated even a man who was not afflicted by the 'Black Dog.' Yet, his dogged determination, his resilience and his courage enabled him, until old age, to conquer his own enemy, just as he defeated the foes of the country he loved so well" (Churchill: The Man, Anthony Storr, pp. 207, 245).
Of course, Churchill is hardly the only great person who has grappled with depression in adverse life circumstances. The Bible is replete with examples of servants of God who, in the face of intense trials, got discouraged. Their situations got them thinking negatively. They were tempted to give up.
Job, for example, felt that his trial was just too much to bear. He was despondent to the point of wanting to die (Job 6:1-4, 8-10).
Moses, to whom God personally gave the Ten Commandments, was dejected enough at one point that he asked God to kill him (Num. 11:11-15).
This was also true in the case of Elijah. God used Elijah to work many mighty deeds, yet he, too, was subject to depression (I Kings 19:4).
How about you? How do you cope with depression? Although these people had their trials, they found the strength to fight and win their battles with depression. We, too, must learn to thwart discouraging and depressing thoughts.
The origin of negative thoughts
To conquer depressing and discouraging thoughts, we must first recognize the cause of such thoughts. We need to realize that negative thoughts ultimately originate with Satan.
Satan can capitalize on the difficult circumstances that happen in our lives. You or a family member may be sick. You may be experiencing intense pressure on the job, or may even be out of a job. Or you may be wrestling with another severe trial in your life.
The devil can use these trials and negative episodes to generate feelings of dejection.
Satan, the "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), can also broadcast negative feelings and moods into our minds even when there is no circumstance or apparent reason for us to be "low." These thoughts can enter our minds quite subtly. For example, you might start thinking about all the things you don't have but would like to possess, but for which you lack the money. Or that your personality or health is not as dynamic as that of some of your friends. Or that you get lonely sometimes.
Matters like these start to fill your mind. Before too long you can become depressed without even knowing why.
The way to protect ourselves from this kind of attack is to be constantly on guard against such depressing thoughts. And when they do start to grip us, to seek the counteracting help of God (Jas. 4:7). God is the one who will help us control them (II Cor. 10:4-5).
We have to trust God to help us in times of discouragement. This involves drawing on the power of God's Holy Spirit — the mind, attitude and nature of God Himself. We have to walk with God.
Walk with God
Let's face it: We usually get depressed because we are far from God. It is easy for negative moods to overtake us w hen God is not the center of our lives. Satan can easily take advantage of these moods and influence us to sink into even deeper despair.
The solution, of course, is to continually walk with God, particularly at times when we feel a mood of depression or discouragement coming on. The nearer we are to God, the more we develop the sound mind of God (II Tim. 1:7).
So how can we walk with God? Here are seven powerful ways to stay close to God and conquer depression and discouragement.
• Pray every day. Prayer is crucial. Without it our attitudes are easily battered by the world around us. We can overcome the world and its moods, however (John 16:33), by using the stabilizing, strengthening tool of prayer every day.
• Realize God's presence. God is omnipresent, continually aware of what is happening in our lives (Ps. 139:7, Heb. 4:13). Nothing takes place of which God is not aware. Christ recognized this (Matt. 10:24-30) and we should, too.
During periods of depression there is a tendency to feel cut off from God or completely alone. But we can, and ought to, seek God's help anytime (I Thess. 5:17).
• Respond to the Holy Spirit's lead. David was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). He sought God swiftly when situations in his life began to overwhelm him. He "made haste" when it came to obeying God (Ps. 119:60).
If we are being led by God, we will be moved to seek Him. The more effectively we can develop the habit of responding immediately to the influence of God's Spirit, the more quickly our minds will take on God's thoughts, replacing thoughts of discouragement and despair.
• Study the Bible daily. The Bible contains many encouraging and inspiring passages. It includes examples of faith of people who faced virtually insurmountable odds and yet overcame. The Bible shows us the greatness of God and the vastness of the master plan He has lovingly designed for the whole universe.
The more a Christian reads this book, the more he takes on the mind of God. This is why daily Bible study is essential. We need to make the Bible the basis of our behavior and the basis of the sound-minded, uplifting thoughts that dispel despair.
• Live the give way. Depression many times begins when we start to focus on ourselves. Thoughts of our own problems, fears and worries begin to fill our minds instead of the thoughts of God.
Pretty soon we lose perspective and our own little world starts to overwhelm us. We must not allow this to happen.
An excellent way to overcome feeling sorry for ourselves is by living the give way of life. We must always look for ways to help others, but especially at times when we develop an unhealthy preoccupation with ourselves (John 15:13). Maybe it is a matter of visiting those who are sick or cheering up someone who is feeling down. It might be writing a letter of encouragement, taking someone out to dinner, helping a person to move, serving a widow or the fatherless.
It is a matter of giving happiness to others. It is very difficult to feel discouraged when you are doing these things. Giving is a natural, unbreakable law that produces happiness for the giver. The key is to get your mind off yourself.
• Make each day count. Paul says that we are to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16, Col. 4:5). The New International Version translates Ephesians 5:16 to read that we should be "making the most of every opportunity."
If we allow ourselves to get lethargic in our approach toward life, we give ourselves time to start thinking how much better off we ought to be.
Every day is a chance to grow, serve and produce. Do you view life as something that you must endure, or do you take the initiative and strive to accomplish as much as you can in serving others and the Work of God? How you answer that question will determine how God judges you (II Cor. 5:10).
Every day you have a chance to make an impact, whether it be on the job, at home, with your family, with your friends or elsewhere. There is much you can do within your own individual sphere of influence.
• Hold on to God no matter what. The Christian life is not an easy one. Everyone whom God calls can expect difficulties (Acts 14:22). At times these difficulties and problems can get the better of us. When this happens, we must, in spite of how bad things may seem, hold on to God and not let go.
In spite of his many hardships, the apostle Paul relied on God and did not allow himself to get depressed. He told the Corinthians:
"We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed... therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day" (II Cor. 4:8-9, 16).
Paul certainly had many reasons to get discouraged. His letters and the book of Acts record many unpleasant predicaments in which he found himself (II Cor. 6:8-10, 11:23-33). Yet he did not let circumstances dishearten him!
"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:11-13, NIV).
As long as we hold on to God, God will not forsake us (II Tim. 3:11-12). He promises that He will deliver us (Ps. 34:19).
You need not suffer under the cloud of depression and despair. By applying these principles and by building the right positive mental habits, you can develop a happier, more positive outlook. You can win the battle over depression!
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