Let’s Talk About Spiritual Depression

In my first year of pastoral ministry in a small church in eastern Oregon, I saw a bumper sticker I thought described the Body of Christ perfectly. Recently, I found the same slogan on the internet: WE’RE NOT A MINORITY JUST A CHOSE FEW.

With all that is going on in the world and here at home, it is easy to have an Elijah complex:

"I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." [i]

Spiritual exhaustion brings spiritual depression. It is the deepest form of depression I know. The cure is very simple. Read on.

A man by the name of Asaph wrote about his spiritual exhaustion and depression in Psalm 73. It begins with a bold statement of faith:

“Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart![ii]

But these are only words on a page. What Asaph felt was the opposite of this statement because the world around him contradicted this statement. In the following eleven verses, Asaph delineated the prosperity and apparent blessings the wicked were experiencing. His thought was:

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure,
And washed my hands in innocence;
For I have been stricken all day long,
And chastened every morning.[iii]

Spiritual depression distorts our view of what God is doing. It relegates us to the pit of victimhood. God is not with us in that pit. The walls are too steep and high for us to escape. Our memories of the blessings of our relationship with God fade and our burdens are too heavy to bear. Every negative thought leads deeper into self-pity.

Asaph was brought to his senses when he thought of those around him. We may put it this way:

“But wait! What am I saying as I wallow in this pit?

He expressed it this way:

If I had said, "I will speak thus,"
Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children.
When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my sight[iv]

We live in a culture of me-ism. We measure everything by what we feel and fail to observe what others are feeling or misread their circumstances. Social media was supposed to bring everyone together. Instead, it has led to isolation. An entire generation of children has been raised to measure self-esteem by likes on a website. The world around them consists of bits of irrelevant or false information.

Notice where Asaph found the cure for his spiritual depression. First, he realized that wallowing in self-pity and talking about it betrayed those around him who looked up to him for assurance that the statement in verse 1 was true.

If I was writing a Psalm, I would say that one of the best cures of spiritual depression is not seeing a newborn baby, but seeing the godly stability of older believers who have weathered the storms of life and continue to strengthen those around them. They endure setbacks, aches and pains, and leave this life with praises to God on their lips. We need to remember that we are all in some way teachers and have others who watch us to see if we really live what we believe. Wallowing in self-pity spoils our testimony and discourages those around us.

The second part of the cure for Asaph’s spiritual depression was entering the sanctuary of God.[v] In his day, it was a physical place, Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. In fact, Asaph was probably the choir director as he was a descendant of musicians.

The temple of God today is the church, Christ’s body.[vi] This is why it is important to join together in corporate worship. Those who claim that sitting in front of a television on Sunday morning meets the requirement for Christian living are wrong. God never intended for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ to be an individual matter. If we don’t gather together for our own benefit, at least we should for the benefit of other believers of like faith and practice.[vii]

Failure to join together with others throughout the week and on Sunday leaves us exposed to spiritual depression. We need each other to keep us focused, not on ourselves, but on what God is doing in and through the body fellowship. This is the sure cure for spiritual depression.

Asaph concludes his Psalm:

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works.[viii]

Here we might conclude that Asaph was internalizing. However, look closely. He is restating what he said in verse 17 regarding the sanctuary of God. No one went to the temple alone. It was a public place for public profession of faith. For singing and preaching. For finding and giving encouragement from and to others. It was where Asaph could sense the nearness of God.

I have been privileged to participate in large and small Christian gatherings. I prefer the smaller assemblies because it is there that I can get to know and be known by individuals. Together we learn to depend on each other. To support one another with prayer and using our spiritual gifts. To encourage and comfort one another. It is in the smaller group that we can express genuine Christian love. It is there that we experience God and remind each other of His goodness. It is where we can truly sense the nearness of God and see how good He is.

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[i] 1 Kgs 19:10.
[ii] Ps 73:1.
[iii] Ps 73:13-14.
[iv] Ps 73:15-16.
[v] Ps 73:17.
[vi] 1 Cor 3:16.
[vii] Heb 10:23-25.
[viii] Ps 73:28.