Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

Friday, August 12, 2016

Prescription for a Depressed Saint

I need to tell you up front that I am an expert on this subject. I used to be ashamed and did all I could to hide it from others. But that’s another sermon. For now, just accept that I know what I am talking about.

 

I’ll begin by saying, “You have never locked eyes with anyone who doesn't carry around an area of brokenness.”

  • It could come from their family of origin, a dysfunctional family, in which physical or emotional abuse ran rampant. Or maybe a lack of love and intimacy was craved yet never given.
  • It could come from a broken marriage—one that is on the rocks, even right now—or one that already has ended.
  • It could come from a moral train wreck you steered yourself into, and now you carry the weight of guilt and shame.
  • It could come from being rejected as a child—maybe due to being overweight, the one who didn't make good grades, the one who never was popular—and was teased, bullied and now carries the relational scars to this day.
  • It could come from a crisis of faith. A God they thought was loving and kind, when seemingly He allowed the unspeakable to invade their lives.
  • It could come from the guilt created by some sinful act or habit or addiction.

 

Everybody is broken, somehow, somewhere—including you. I don't know where you are broken. I don't know how you are broken. I don't know if you're in touch with your brokenness. I don't know for how long you've felt broken; I only know that if you're a human being, you have some broken places. So do I. So where is God in our brokenness? Is God only for the holy, the ones who have it all together, the ones with…
• the perfect credit scores,
• unblemished driving records,
• tension-free marriages,
• valedictorian kids,
• successful careers, and
• who walk around with their Sunday smiles and their golden halos?

 

Or is He the God of the…
• divorced,
• grieving,
• confused,
• beaten,
• failures?

 

Is He the God of the…
•weak,
• the God of those who've been arrested,
• the doubting,
• the abused,
• the lonely,
• the rejected?

 

Do we have a God of the broken? The Bible gives a clear answer. It's one that courses through every page, every event, every story, every lesson. There's one passage that captures it, at least for me, and it's in Psalm 103 of the Old Testament. Let me read it for you:

 

"The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear Him. For He knows how weak we are; He remembers we are only dust" (Ps.103:8-14).

 

This is a God who knows how weak we are, who knows we are dust. This passage applies meaning to our lives in some very specific areas of brokenness.

 

We begin today with a man who was dealing with something millions of people deal with, and I know a lot of you do: depression. This was not just a mild case of the blues; the man we're going to be looking at reached a point of complete emotional exhaustion, leading to severe depression and thoughts of suicide.

 

I don't know if you've ever been there, but take a test with me. I'm going to list 10 feelings. As I go through these 10 descriptors, keep a mental list silently in your head of how many of these you can say yes to having experienced yourself. When I describe these, are there ones you can say you have experienced or have felt this way for as little as a two-week period? Just keep a tally in your head. Ready?

  1. Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood. Yes or no?
    2. Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex. Yes or no?
    3. Restlessness, irritability or excessive crying. Yes or no?
    4. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism. Yes or no?
    5. Sleeping too much or too little, early-morning awakening. Yes or no?
    6. Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain. Yes or no?
    7. Decreased energy or fatigue, feeling slowed down. Yes or no?
    8. Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts. Yes or no?
    9. Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions. Yes or no?
    10. Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and chronic pain. Yes or no?

Got the number of yes answers in your head? That's a test from the National Institute of Mental Health. If you have experienced five or more of those symptoms for more than a two-week period, you probably are dealing with some form of depression. Right now, the World Health Organization estimates depression affects more than 350 million people worldwide and is the world's leading cause of disability.  Those of you who have fought it know how disabling it can be.

 

I'll never forget reading something written by a young mother dealing with depression and its related issues. This was something a young mom wrote. Let me read it:

 

Depression is
Debilitating, defeating,
Deepening gloom.
Trudging wearily through
The grocery store,
Unable to make a simple choice,
Or to count out correct change.
Surveying an unbelievably messy house,
Piles of laundry,
Work undone, and I'm not even
Able to lift a finger.
Doubting that God cares,
Doubting in my prayers,
Doubting He's even there.
Sitting, staring wild-eyed into space,
Desperately just wanting out of the human race.

 

Now, before we dig into this, let me say something about clinical depression as a medical disability which needs medical attention. This is not often talked about in churches, but let me say something about clinical depression: It is one of four diseases physicians call mood disorders. Just as diabetes has to do with a body's failure to regulate blood sugar, mood disorders result from the brain's failure to regulate chemicals that control moods. Specifically, nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine and serotonin are the two neurotransmitters involved in depression. When there is an ample supply of these neurotransmitters available to stimulate other nerve cells, you typically feel normal. You still can have ups and downs, but you aren't fighting the illness of depression.

 

In clinical depression, fewer of these neurotransmitters are released because the first nerve cell reabsorbs them before they've adequately stimulated other nerve cells. Antidepressant medicines work because they increase the amounts of norepinephrine or serotonin in the body.

 

End of medical story; there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that—it's a physical deficiency that can and should be addressed. Those afflicted with this should not feel any more awkward about taking an antidepressant than a diabetic should feel about taking insulin. Anyone who would try to make that some kind of badge of dishonor, spiritual failure, or something to feel awkward about, needs to be educated.

 

There's another kind of depression that is more tied to brokenness than chemical deficiency, and it's the kind that most of us feel. It's the depression that comes when you are emotionally depleted. You've had the crap kicked out of you, and you're lying in a fetal position. You've taken about all the hits and hurts you can handle. You've stood your ground until you can't stand it any longer. You did right until you didn't feel as if you had the energy to do anything right ever again. You're emotionally spent, emotionally empty, emotionally…broken.

 

There are those who have spent time reflecting on this, and I've gotten a lot of insight talking with people who've been there and hit the wall—and there have been times in my own life when I've gone through this. I read about a man that hit the wall and wrote about it. He and others note the first thing you do when this part of you is broken is you start skimming. Skimming is when you begin to economize in key areas of your life in order to keep all your balls in the air.

 

You begin to skim relationally, with a marriage that becomes more and more superficial. You respond by putting bandages on major wounds, looking for quick fixes. You come home at the end of the day hoping there are no problems because you just don't have the time or energy to deal with it—whatever it is. Intimacy becomes a thing of the past and eventually dies.

 

You start skimming with your kids. You're just not close anymore. You see a little problem going on with them, they start to veer off course and you see a red flag in their behavior…so you look the other way because you just don't have the energy to deal with it.

 

You start to skim emotionally. You don't pay attention to hurt, anger, guilt or sadness. You just start stuffing things, marching on, doing your duty.

 

You skim spiritually. Prayer is reduced to cries of help. Worship is reduced to thanking God for seeing you through another day without everything crashing down around you.

 

All of this leads to a diminished capacity to love, show compassion or sensitivity. When you are empty and spent, you can't feel compassion toward people because you don't have the time or emotional energy to summon any kind of feeling for anybody. You're just drained dry. There's nothing there. The tank is empty. You don't care about others; your heart gets small and hard and cold; and you turn inward. Does any of this sound familiar?

 

For a lot of us, simply the speed of life does this to us, the weight of life, the responsibilities of life. Life can become so saturated with activity to the point it began to fall apart.I think that's how a lot of us feel—all of life pushed to the limit. Racing here, pushing it there, extending ourselves somewhere else. We run the race as hard as we can, but then we reach a point where we just can't run it anymore. We max out, we hit the wall, and we burn out.

 

You know what comes with all of that? A vulnerability to sin. When you are pushed to the limit and drained dry, you desperately want to feel better. You look for comfort. You want to feel good, and you search for a release. You look for anything that will give your emotions a quick hit. When your tanks are empty, you can be drawn to stuff you never were drawn to before; things that never looked good start to look good. So you start looking at porn or open yourself to an affair or go on binges.

 

So where is God in all of this? Where is God with us when we are this way?

Let's find out by looking at the life of someone who fit this description to a T. His story is told very plainly, very bluntly, and in a very revealing way in the Old Testament.

 

There is A Depressed Saint in the Bible. His name was Elijah.

 

Elijah was probably the most celebrated and revered of all Old Testament prophets. He lived during a time when people were chasing after false gods, worshiping idols and dabbling in all kinds of pagan and occultist stuff. God chose Elijah to be His spokesperson, His representative, His prophet to those people in those times.

 

Elijah—wow, you talk about having power from God—God empowered him to call for rain to end for three years…and then for rain to start up again simply by voicing the words. During a famine, he touched a jar of flour, and miraculously that jar never went empty. He touched a jug of oil, and it never ran dry. He raised a young boy from the dead, one of the few people God used to raise someone from the dead other than Jesus.

 

The climax came at a place called Mount Carmel. There, Elijah went head-to-head—I think it was like the cultural climax of that day or the Super Bowl of conflict—with 450 prophets of Baal.

 

It was a dramatic showdown. Here's the setup: Elijah went to the king of the land, prompted by God, and said, "You've come to think this Baal is god. I say the Lord is God. So let's settle it. You get everyone in Israel together—as king you can do that—and let's meet on Mount Carmel. Then we'll get two bulls and cut them up for a sacrifice, but we won't burn them ourselves. We'll each pray to our respective God to do the burning for us—although there are 450 of you praying and only one of me."

 

The king said, "Deal."

 

The prophets of Baal went first. They called on their god from morning to noon, but absolutely nothing happened. Then they danced around the altar, but nothing happened. They shouted, screamed, and cried out, "Baal, answer us!"

Nothing happened. (I don’t know about you, but I think this is comical.)

 

Let's pick up the story from the Bible: "At noon Elijah began to taunt them. 'Shout louder!' he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.' So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention" (1 Kings 18:27-29).

 

Then it was Elijah's turn.

He went up to the altar of the one true God that had fallen into disrepair because the people had abandoned it, and he repaired it. He arranged the wood and laid his bull on it. Then he took water and poured water on the wood to make sure it was soaked—three times so no one could accuse him of any kind of tricks or deceit.

Then this is what happened: "[Then]…the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: 'O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.' Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, 'The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God!'" (1 Kings 18:36-39).

 

Elijah then ordered the people to seize the prophets of Baal and then, before the idol-worshiping king could do anything in response, God miraculously transported Elijah to another city…all in all not a bad day for a prophet.

 

As you would imagine, King Ahab was none too pleased as to how the day went. His wife wasn't either, and she was the real power in the kingdom, the real source of evil. Her name was Jezebel. Yes, the Jezebel, the one whose name is used as a euphemism for evil, treachery and deceit. She sent a simple message to Elijah: "You're a dead man."

 

Now you'd think that after all God had done, Jezebel's threat would have meant absolutely nothing to Elijah…but it did. He was wasted. The entire affair had left Elijah emotionally spent, spiritually exhausted. He'd run as hard as he could, and he couldn't run anymore. His life, work, ministry, effort, responsibilities, duties, deadlines and demands, had left him completely busted.

 

So this is how he responded: "Elijah was afraid and ran for his life… He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, Lord,' he said. 'Take my life'…Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep" (1 Kings 19:3-5).

 

So what did God do? How did God react to that moment? Let’s imagine that God is a Medical Doctor who writes three prescriptions meant to cure Elijah’s depression.

 

 

First Prescription: The Physical


God did three things, and I want you to pay close attention to what He did. The first thing God did was care for Elijah physically. The Bible says: "All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, 'Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.' So he got up and ate and drank" (1 Kings 19:5b-8a).

 

I love that scene. God sends an angel just to give him a meal. Then that line where the angel says, "The journey is too much for you" was not condemnation but compassion and empathy. That was God saying through the angel, "I know. I know what you are going through. I know how you're feeling. This has been overwhelming."

 

Isn't that true for all of us at times? Do you ever have times when you say, "This journey is too much for me?" Folks, the first thing God would say to you when you are the end of your physical rope is that He understands, cares and wants to tell you to do one and only one thing first: Stop whatever you are doing, and rest!

 

God knew Elijah was tired and hungry. So God fed him and then put him to bed. When Elijah got up, God fed him and put him to bed again.

 

Did you ever think that might be God's prescription for you? Because it's God's prescription for you, it's legal and legitimate. How many people have you come across who feel guilty when they rest? That's insane! Rest isn't weird. Not resting is!

 

We need our rest, our sleep; and if we don't get it, our bodies will break down, and our emotions will follow. So that's first.

 

 

Second Prescription: The Spiritual


Let's look at what happened next.

 

"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.' Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper…[and] Elijah heard it" (1 Kings 19:11-12).

 

That is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. In his depressed, discouraged, depleted condition, God showed Elijah exactly where to find Him. He wasn't in the activity, the efforts, the full court press. God said to Elijah, "You're going to find Me and hear Me in the quiet and in the stillness. You haven't been going there much lately, and you're wondering why you're feeling this way."

 

When was the last time you were alone and quiet and spent time with God—time that really allowed you to pray, to be reflective, to listen to His whisper? He's not found in the wind, earthquakes or fire—much less the noise, busyness, activity and speed of our lives. He's found in the stillness, the quiet, the whisper, in the silent movement of His Spirit on the waters of our souls.

 

One of my favorite stories about this comes from the colonial history of Africa. A traveler took a long journey, where he had recruited some local tribesmen to assist him in carrying his loads. The first day they moved fast and travelled far. It was a great day, and they were ahead of schedule.

 

On the second day, he got up, but the tribesmen refused to move. They just sat and rested. The traveler, who wanted to get on with his journey, asked them why they wouldn't keep going. They told him they had gone too fast on the first day, and they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

 

That is what God would say to a lot of us. You need to let your soul catch up.

So first, God addressed Elijah's physical condition, tended to him, told him to rest. Then God spoke to his spiritual condition, told him to quiet himself and let his soul catch up.

 

 

Third Prescription: The Relational


There was still one more thing God wanted to do for him, one more prescription to write. Let's keep reading: "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu" (1 Kings 19:15-18).

 

Now you might be saying, "What was up with that?" One thing that had drained Elijah emotionally was that he was utterly, terribly alone. Really, you study his life, and he was alone in almost everything he did. He had no support, no encouragement, no one to stand by his side or watch his back. So what did God do? He told Elijah to invite some people into his relational orbit, people who would join him, help him, stand with him.

 

God would say the same to you. Who are you letting into your life right now to help you do life? I know guys in particular would say, "I don't need anybody to help me with my life." OK, you're such an idiot. That's not a sign of strength but a sign of stupidity and weakness. We do best with teams, guys. We do best on teams. We need other men to run with us. Women, you need people to run with you, too.

 

I want to ask you this:

  • Do you have a spiritual friend, someone who is following Christ who will encourage you to keep following Christ?
  • Do you have a mentor?
  • Do you have someone you can talk to who will pray with you and will serve you?
  • Have you taken advantage of good Christian counseling for some of the hits and hurts you've accumulated along the way?
  • Are you in a small group at church?
  • Have you taken advantage of a recovery group that might help with everything from addiction to divorce to grief to parenting?
  • Are you flying solo, or are you part of a family?

God wants you on a team and in a family. He wants you surrounded.

Really, sometimes what we need most is people to do life with us, to walk with us, talk with us, listen to us, put their arms around us, pray for us, rejoice with us when we rejoice, weep with us when we weep.

 

That's what God told Elijah he needed, and God was only too ready to provide it. Elijah didn't know who to surround himself with, and you may not either; but if you pray and open yourself to it, guess who does know? God. He'll bring those people into your life.

Friends, this is the kind of God we have: the God who knows the journey is too much for us, who knows we are weak, who knows we are just dust, who does not get mad at us when we collapse before the finish line, a God who says, "Listen, go to bed. Let your soul catch up. Let's get some people around you. I love you, and I'm not mad at you. I want to care for you."

 

 

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