If there is one topic that doesn’t need much introduction, it is depression. Depression affects all of us to some degree. It is the common cold of our emotional health. But for millions of people, depression is far worse than a cold. It's paralysis. It is a chronic, debilitating problem that takes a devastating toll on the overall quality of one’s life. Not all depression is the result of sin. It is usually due to some deficiency, genetic or otherwise, within our lives. Depression can beset even the most godly of men and women.
Paul and Jesus were pressured with the worries of the world.
Do you remember some of the phrases the apostle Paul used to describe himself last week? Troubles. Hardships. Distresses. Sleeplessness. Sorrowful. It would take no stretch of the imagination to add depressed to Paul’s self-description. Even Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, at the lowest point of his life was known to have said in Mark 14:34 (NIV), "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." In Hebrews 2:18 (NIV) we're told emphatically, "He himself suffered when he was tempted." In Hebrews 4:15 (NIV) we're told that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he has, "been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin."
Another translation for tempted is pressured. Jesus has been pressured in every way. He has felt the weight of the world bearing down on his shoulders, crushing him, and depressing his spirit. If that can be true of Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul, then it can be true of any of us.
Many Christians today suffer from depression.
It would seem that none of us are exempt from depression. It is part of the natural roller coaster of godly living and ungodly living. But it is also the by-product of our life choices, our biology, upbringing, circumstances, physical condition, loneliness, personal loss, self-destructive thinking, and grief. Most of us know the sources of our depression. There is great value in exploring the causes in our own lives for depression. This morning I want you to avoid the temptation to let your mind drift off and feed on those causes. There is nothing we can do about the past except understand it, be forgiven of it, and find grace to forgive those who perhaps have misshaped it. It is a waste of time to hope for a different past or to wish our past could be changed.
We can institute positive patterns in our lives to lessen the intensity of depression.
Instead, there are some positive patterns we can bring to bear on our lives that will enhance the quality of our lives and lessen the intensity of depression so we can function. I mention patterns because there is no silver bullet or magic medicine. There is no single action that if taken will remove the weight of depression. There is not a single insight that if uncovered in our past will forever free us from the tyranny of our depression.
Instead there is a pattern. There is a pattern of emotions. There is a pattern of relationships. There is a pattern of thinking and living. As these patterns are worked into our lives and gain momentum, the forces of depression are overcome.
There was a moment in Jesus' life when he was at the breaking point.
To illustrate these patterns and to understand how powerful they are, I want us to enter into one of the darkest moments in Jesus’ life on earth. A moment when Jesus was at a breaking point and under extreme pressure. Please take a moment and turn in your New Testament to Luke 22:39-46 (NIV).
Luke 22:39-46 (NIV) says, "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, 'Pray that you will not fall into temptation.' He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.' An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 'Why are you sleeping?' he asked them. 'Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.' "
We can identify several patterns at play in Jesus' entire life that culminate here in this passage. They are patterns that were established early in his life and continued to the end.
Jesus had an intentional emotional pattern.
Make a simple observation in Luke 22:39 (NIV). "Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives." The operative phrases are, "as usual" and, "Mount of Olives." Throughout his life Jesus carefully established places to where he could retreat from the pressures of life in order to find renewal and refreshment. After his baptism, with the pressures of messiahship and the expectations of the Jewish people on his shoulders, he retreated into the wilderness. While in the region of Galilee, Jesus would go out on water in a boat with his disciples in order to escape the emotional intensity of the crowds. Between towns where he ministered, Jesus would walk great distances, sometimes for days, through the quiet hills and picturesque landscape of Palestine. At the end of his life while in Jerusalem, he would slip out to the garden of Gethsemane in order to unplug and rest from the stressful encounters he’d had throughout the day.
There is something to be said about our emotional environments. Sometimes we are always up, but never come down. If we are always on and never off, we will pay a substantial price. Take a mother for example, who is with her children all day and night, every day from sunrise to sunset, tending to every cry and dirty diaper. Receiving little support from her husband. Never getting much rest. Never catching her breath.
Or take, for example, that health professional who works long hours day after day, week after week, tending to the sick, performing critical life and death procedures, watching people suffer and some even die, taking the brunt of criticism, and being a punching bag for people angered by their conditions.
Or take the student, for example, who lives in a conflicted home full of violence and anger, where divorce is a reality, where betrayal and distrust are commonplace, and where she never knows what the next day will bring. She goes to school hoping to find something different, but finds even more rejection there. She cannot measure up academically or athletically or physically. She's teased, bullied, and humiliated at school.
Depression results from continual emotional pressure.
Depression is the paralysis that results when our spirit is under continual emotional pressure with no relief or downtime or rest or break. Jesus knew to withdraw himself from an emotional situation before it took its toll. He knew his limits and his breaking point. He refused to reach his limit, even if it meant saying "no" to the legitimate needs of others.
This summer I did one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I purchased a boat. Being outdoors on the water, fishing, drifting, speeding around, or whatever, provides an emotional environment that reinvigorates me for those high pressure moments. On the water there are no phone messages, telephones, pagers, e-mail, doorbells, books, paperwork, pressing needs, demands, expectations, or mail. There is just rest and relaxation. After a long day, even if it's 10 PM at night, Lara and I will go out on the water. Even for just an hour.
Jesus withdrew intentionally to quiet places where he could unwind and refocus. Places where he had no pressing needs or worries dogging at his heals. He took emotional mini-vacations at critical times throughout the day, and between high stress activities in order to free himself, even momentarily, from the mounting pressures.
Jesus had an intentional relational pattern.
Notice that when Jesus withdrew in Luke 22:39 his disciples followed him. Jesus was always with people, from the beginning of his ministry to the end. He obviously wanted to train men and women in the work of God’s kingdom. But we sometimes forget that Jesus needed relationships as much for his own mental health as for the benefit of the kingdom of God.
He made it a point to surround himself with people he enjoyed spending time with, who energized him, who strengthened his spirit, who made him laugh, and who made more emotional deposits than withdrawals. When Jesus entered into his darkest moment, he entered it with close friends. He didn’t start digging around for friends at the last minute as if he were in some last minute act of desperation. His disciples followed him into the garden because they wanted to be there. Their imperfect love was just what Jesus needed to get through the night.
When we are surrounced with poor relationships, depression can intensify.
One thing that intensifies depression is being surrounding with poor relationships. It is hard to be surrounded with people who are always making emotional withdrawals and no deposits. Jesus surrounded himself with healthy relationships by living an example of a healthy relationship. He refused to be a user. He refused to overload people with his needs by demanding their love and attention, and by always taking and never giving. He gave himself completely to people so that when necessary, they could give themselves completely to him. Few things are better for our souls than surrounding ourselves with healthy relationships. We surround ourselves with healthy relationships by being a living example of a healthy relationship.
Depression is less when we correct the imbalance of unhealthy relationships in our lives by loving people, giving to them, serving them, reciprocating mutual love and concern, making more deposits than withdraws, and listening to them. Such friends will be loyal to us and will follow us into our hour of need, no matter how dark.
Jesus had an intentional thought pattern.
There is an interesting contrast between Jesus and the disciples. While Jesus prayed, the disciples kept falling asleep. Several times Jesus woke them up and told them to pray so that they would not fall into temptation or fall under pressure. Jesus on the other hand, was alert and knelt down on his knees and prayed earnestly. In that prayer Jesus wrestled with God’s will. "Take this cup from me. Make this pressure go away. Release me from this suffering."
It has similarities to Paul’s prayer in 2 Corinthians 12:8 (NIV). "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me." In both of these prayers the immediate answer was a resounding "no". However, in the process of praying an interesting transformation took place in the minds of Jesus and Paul. They came to grips with God’s heart, his perspective, his will, his purpose, and his plan. Their eyes were opened and they caught a glimpse of heaven. They were changed.
Depression occurs when our negative thoughts run unchecked.
Depression occurs when we don’t tend to our emotional environment. Depression builds when we don’t cultivate healthy relationships. But depression also accelerates when our thoughts run unchecked by the word of God. Well known psychiatrists Frank Minrith and Paul Meiers write, "As one becomes depressed, his thinking becomes progressively more painful. In other words, he feels more and more hopeless, helpless, worthless and guilty. He becomes very self-critical and self-debasing… it is a cycle. Inappropriate thinking leads to more inappropriate thinking, and so on." Happiness is a Choice
Prayer helps us set aside inappropriate thinking.
What is prayer, if not an attempt to seek understanding and wisdom from God? The purpose of prayer is to get our minds back on track and set aside inappropriate thinking. The only way the writer of Ecclesiastes was able to snap out of his depression was to realize that the fear of God was the beginning of all wisdom.
In the Psalms we find all these depressing, weighty prayers. But at the end of most every psalm there is a positive twist as through prayer, God begins to work. He transforms the minds of the psalmists. He touches their hearts. They "get it."
When Paul prayed about the thorn Jesus said in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV), "my grace is sufficient for you." In Romans 8:28 (NIV) Paul encourages the depressed by saying, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." So prayer realigns our minds with the thoughts of God. Right thinking leads to right feeling. Right feeling signals the defeat of depression.
Its interesting that in scripture God is primarily concerned about our pattern of thinking. While the world tries to condition our thinking in one direction, God takes us in another. In Romans 12:2 (NIV) we're told, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." In Colossians 3:2 (NIV) we're told, "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." In Philippians 4:8 (NIV) we're told, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things."
A prayer will unlikely be the silver bullet that takes the depression away. But a series of prayers, a pattern of a praying, a habitual routine of seeking God’s perspective day in and day out will lead to a renewed mind. Jesus renewed his mind daily in prayer. He patterned his thoughts after God’s thoughts. Prayer. Bible study. Scripture memorization. Journaling. Worship. These are disciplines through which God renews our minds and undoes destructive thinking.
Jesus had an intentional action pattern.
Simply note that in the end of his prayer time, Jesus renewed his commitment to pursue God’s will. "Not my will, but your will be done." Perhaps it needs to be said that depression is the result of sin in our lives, or at least the result of sinful actions of others against us. We feel guilt or shame. We disappoint ourselves or God or other people. We violate our consciences. So we feel bad.
In Psalm 32:3 (NIV) King David said, "When I kept silent (about my sin), my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." In Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV) Jesus promised, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
The point is that sin crushes us, it depresses us, it destroys our souls, and it causes us to waste away emotionally and spiritually. In contrast, renewing our commitment to pursue Christ’s will restores us, refreshes us, invigorates us, lightens our burdens, gives us rest, and frees us from depression. We enter into depression not with a single act, but through a process. Our old patterns are the reason we find ourselves depressed and beaten down. But it is these new patterns, patterns that Jesus lived by, that promise us rest and renewal.
The new patterns that Jesus lived by promise us rest and renewal.
Take a look at your emotional environment. What patterns exist? What causes you to swing up and down? Have you built into your schedule emotional mini-vacations? Have you found activities that refresh your soul such as exercise, sports, reading, hiking, or other hobbies?
Take a look at your relationships. What patterns exist? Are you loving people, or demanding to be loved? Are you building healthy relationships that will sustain you in your need, or are you depleting all your relationships before they ever get off the ground?
Take a look at your thoughts. What patterns exist? What inappropriate thinking fills your mind? What messages and condemnatory self-talk do you keep replaying? Do you feed your pessimistic side or your optimistic side? Do you beat yourself up? Are you in the word daily? Do you pray? Do you worship God throughout the week? Do you fill your mind with whatever is excellent and praiseworthy? Do you memorize scripture? Do you read, listen to, and watch wholesome programming?
Take a look at your actions. God wired us up to be most unhappy while sinning. Sin is synonymous with misery. Depression is a byproduct of sin. What area of your life do you need to recommit to obedience in order to break your depression?