It's Winter here in the Midwest, a time when there is less sunlight, the weather turns colder, and for many a season of melancholy comes over us. For many of us, we have learned to balance these feelings in our life, but for others this aggravates a series of issues already causing depression.
Before I begin, I know that there are some medical conditions for depression such as Diabetes, insomnia, hypothyroidism, other glandular problems. If your depression is caused or aggravated by a medical condition, please seek the help of a medical doctor.
However, “Spiritual depression” is rooted in a spiritual issue. We describe this as a slippery slope that has four distinct levels spiraling emotionally and spiritually downward.
The person who starts his slide can move downward through these four levels very quickly. This depends on his beliefs and maturity in Christ and the Word and his habituated patterns of thought.
The good news is that a person can stop his downward slide toward depression at any level and move back up and out of depression if he is willing to bring God and His Word to bear on his thought patterns. When he applies biblical truth to his thoughts, beliefs, and actions, he will see his emotions change.
Disappointment is the first level. It is not a sin to be disappointed or experience disappointment in life. We are all disappointed at times for various reasons. Disappointment comes when a person doesnʼt get something he really wanted or thinks he deserved.
Maybe he didnʼt get the pay raise or the recognition he expected. Perhaps he is disappointed by the gift he received, expecting something better. Maybe the baby wasnʼt the desired gender, or there was no baby at all after many years. On and on, disappointments come with hopes and dreams dashed.
There is also disappointment when a person gets something he didnʼt want or deserve. Maybe it was a layoff or loss of a job unexpectedly, or a breakdown of a relationship. Physical problems, life-threatening illnesses, or loss of loved ones are disappointments we all experience but certainly donʼt expect or ask for. We experience grief and sadness over a loss, and confusion over unfulfilled expectations.
How our heart responds to these disappointments determines the direction we go, either reaching up to God or down the slippery slope of depression.
Christ Himself faced many of disappointments, yet He never sinned by allowing Himself to slide downward the next level. He continued to place Himself in the hands of a sovereign, loving God, just as each of us must. We must know God who has a purpose for every disappointment. Disappointment must be seen as HIS Appointment for us.
Trust in HIM, that He has never made a mistake in what He allows in our lives, and He never will. When a person fails to deal with situations at the disappointment level he slips downward to the discontentment level. He wonʼt be satisfied without getting what he expected, what he thought he deserved. He wonʼt find contentment in a condition or circumstance he believed he did not deserve.
Disappointment has slipped into discontentment, and discontentment is sin on the slippery slope toward depression. It is dissatisfaction with what God is doing in his life at that moment, a self-righteousness that says he knows better than God, or a self-pity that sees himself as the undeserving victim of unfair circumstances.
This leads to anger and bitterness toward God and others. A person can learn to live with disappointment and find contentment. However, he must see God as bigger than the disappointment. God has a far greater, sovereign purpose for the disappointment in his life than he is able to see at the moment.
Paul said that contentment, even amidst negative situations, is something that every believer can learn (Philippians 4:13). He also instructed Timothy, Godliness with contentment is great gain (1Timothy 6:6).
The inverse is also true, that ungodly thoughts and attitudes with discontent is great loss. When we slip from disappointment to discontentment.
Despair is the next descending emotion down that slippery slope toward depression. The Greek word means “no way out, no way through.” Despair believes there is “no way out” of the discontentment over disappointing circumstances. The discontented person is dissatisfied and believes there is “no way through” to reach contentment or a better circumstance. This is where many give up on responsibilities and check out of life, thinking it will never be better.
Of course the person in despair is deceived by his own desires (James 1:14-15). He believes a lie that “there is no way out.” He is blinded by disappointment and wonʼt be content until he gets the result he wants. He is stubbornly seeking his own way and not Godʼs way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The despairing person will find no way out until his will, his wants and desires are submitted to Godʼs desires for him. When he continues looking for a way to escape the pain by trusting only his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), he will never find the right (Godʼs) escape route. Someone must be there for him to confront the lie he is believing and to show him the truth and the way of escape.
He must be reconnected to a faithful God who has indeed provided a way to escape and who will help him bear the disappointment and not break under it. He needs to experience and practice the truth of and trust in the Lord with all his heart, and to let this faithful, loving and sovereign God direct his path out of the disappointing circumstance in his life.
As the person in despair is lovingly and gently guided to see the lie his heart has believed, he must be encouraged with hope. A wise brother must help him to see and then walk with him through the application of biblical truth that will replace the lie.
This person must be counseled to develop his trust in God and eventually to see Godʼs sovereign purposes every time for all of lifeʼs disappointments (Romans 8:28,29). If the person in despair continues to be convinced the lie is true for him, he will slide further downward to the fourth level to the destructive mode in the middle of depression and find himself at the bottom both emotionally and spiritually.
The desperately destructive person could act in a way out that would damage his employment, finances, or even his own life or the life of another. This purposeless, despair-driven direction ultimately damages his spiritual and emotional life even more.
Until the person looks upward to realize that the God who loves him is still with him and wants to help him through, the person may seek foolish, destructive ways out of his low spiritual and emotional circumstance.
He needs a brother to walk through this difficult but hopeful time with him. Will you be that brother or sister?
If you or a loved one is trapped in depression, there is help. You can contact The Biblical Counseling Center to book an appointment in person or by skype, or you can call The Discipleship Center and we will counsel you or refer you to a local counselor.
----This article is based on a work by Ron Allchin for the Biblical Counceling Center .org----