Editor’s Note: This article is from a series on mental heath from the Biblical Counseling Center of Arlington Heights, IL. Perhaps the most common mental health struggle that many people deal with is depression. While many would consider depression an unwinnable battle, Matt Black shares his personal experience with depression, how he fought some of the spiritual battles, and a few of the lessons he learned along the way. Depression is more than a physical struggle; we respond spiritually to suffering. This post can point you to how God might meet you in this common mental health struggle.
How does a young boy go from being happy-go-lucky to completely depressed for three years? From ages 12 through 15, I was paralyzed with a deep depression.
I was convinced I was not “normal.” My thoughts raced at times, and most of the time I was not hungry, feeling like a terrorist had just pummeled me. I didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to die either.
At the age of 15, I came to know Christ, and just like that, all that despair and depression went away. Then at age 28, now a missionary in Spain, suddenly, all the despair and depression flooded into my soul like a tsunami.
I was unaware of the enormous stress of culture shock, and it sucker-punched me into a very dark place. Over the next three months, I studied, counseled, and learned to renew my mind, and slowly, I was released from the depression.
What had paralyzed me for years when I was a child, did not have to keep me stuck as a believer.
If you are struggling with depression or caring for someone who is, I want to give you hope from a firsthand basis of how I have learned to be free from the control of depression by applying God’s Word to my heart and mind.
While there are many biblical strategies that will help you respond well to feelings of depression, I want to share four choices I found to be helpful in my battle out of the hole of depression.
1. Choose a New Master
When we are feeling controlled by depression, we will often let it be our master and control many aspects of our life. We will listen to our own negative thoughts and obey their feelings.
- I need to stay in bed. I can’t get up and go to work because I’m so depressed.
- I can’t perform my normal responsibilities at home or work like I used to. I’m just giving up.
- I can’t wear that shirt because it reminds me of the trauma related to this depression.
- I can’t go down that elevator, can’t go that way to work, can’t…. etc.
- I will do anything to get rid of this fear (drink, fornicate, watch porn, etc.)
We as Christians must not think this way. We have one Lord. We cannot be slaves to depression. There is a way out.
We should have the mentality: “I am going to serve Jesus however he leads me no matter what I feel like.” Jesus alone is my master. Depression is not my master.
Choose to do what Christ commands no matter what you feel like. We as Christians are not to wallow in depression because we must have no other master but Christ.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Matthew 6:24
You cannot serve God and depression.
Sometimes I cannot control the feelings of overwhelming anger, anxiety, loss, or loneliness which lead to depression, but I can choose who is my master. I can choose not to obey the thoughts of depression and instead put on the Word of God.
In short, we need to ask, “How can I please God?” and not “How can I feel better?”
2. Choose to Reject Negative Self-Counsel
There are times when theologically we know that God will never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5), but we often experience what feels like abandonment.
Our faith says: God will never leave me. But sometimes our foggy human view feels: we are totally alone.
This is common to the human condition. Our emotions will often tell us we are completely alone and forsaken by God. We feel abandoned. The Bible tells us often to reject negative self-counsel.
Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires. – Ephesians 4:22
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. – Proverbs 3:5
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9
If you want to get unstuck from depression, you must first counsel yourself and stop listening to yourself.
I love the following words of Martyn Lloyd Jones:
“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?… Talk to yourself, and though the devil will suggest that because you do not feel, you are not a Christian, say: … ‘Whether I feel or not, I believe the Scriptures. I believe God’s Word is true and I will stay my soul on it, I will believe in it come what may’.” 
As long as you have an inward self-focus, you will be harassed by depression. Choosing to walk in the Word on a personal level and counseling yourself on a daily basis, is going to result in a peaceful, strong mind.
What about you? Are you choosing to reject negative counsel from your own heart? When distracting or discouraging thoughts come, are you latching on to them?
Instead, you need to reject those thoughts and then in place of them begin to plant God’s promises.
3. Choose to Trust God’s Promises
You can put off negative self-talk by putting on godly, biblical self-counsel that encourages and edifies.
Depression is living in such a way that is without hope. If you are struggling with depression and despair, I want to show you how to stop living in it and live in the hope of God’s love and good plans for you.
God’s promises are many! God welcomes his children no matter how you feel about yourself. He says: “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isa 43:1). Indeed, He is reluctant to allow pain into our lives but is eager to do good to us (Jer 32:37-42). He says that He’s carved and “graven your name upon His hands” (Isa 49:16).
Why then do I feel this way?
One reason is that God is refining your faith. Job says, “He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (23:7). Everything God allows in your life, including bouts of depression, is meant to bring you to what you are predestined to: conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29).
God will use this depression to reveal wrong ways of thinking and living and to give you the infinite love and grace to help you out of it.
But how can I get out of this casket of depression and get unstuck? The Psalms are wonderful guides to “get out of the casket” of your own web of despairing thoughts. Here are some examples.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6 and my God.” – Psalm 42:5-6
David confronts his negative thoughts and quickly gets his eyes off himself and onto God. Another example is Psalm 13. Notice how the Psalmist puts off negative thinking and clings to God’s promises.
“Save, How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” – Psalm 13:1-6
The Psalmist gets his eyes off himself, his feelings, his circumstances, and his fears, and instead puts his eyes on God’s steadfast and unrelenting love for him.
Joy does not come from ourselves, our feelings, or from our present circumstances changing, but from our salvation in the Lord which can never change.
4. Choose to Deal with Idolatry in Your Heart
Depression keeps us stuck, but most often depression is a multi-layered problem that has many roots beneath.
If depression is coming from suffering in your life (loss of a loved one, loss of health, a tragedy or trauma) then drawing near to God in your suffering will bring comfort and will often eventually lift the depression. Yet, because we are fallen sinners, depression can often come from unfulfilled desires that act as idols in our hearts. We may have a wrong view of God, and that can cause deep despair.
Some thoughts that reveal idolatry are: “God isn’t caring.” “God is punishing me.” “God isn’t for me, but He is against me.” The Bible actually says the opposite of these things.
Part of the reason you are depressed may be that you are worshipping an image of God that is not from the Bible but from your own thinking.
Despair and depression also can reveal various idols of personal comfort or entitlement. “I would be happy if… I had a better marriage, better job, better health, children closer to me, more financial security, etc.”
John Calvin rightly said that man’s heart is an idol factory.
How can you get rid of these idols of your heart?
- You have to give up desires for personal comfort. “I’ll be depressed unless I get… [fill in the blank].”
- You must readjust your view of God as your dear heavenly Father Who loves you. He’s not against you. He’s not punishing you. He cares for you.
- You must get your view off of self, feelings, and circumstances and onto the Lord and what He is doing to make you more like Christ.
We do not lose heart… for momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
He has made everything beautiful in its time. – Ecclesiastes 3:11
It’s also important to get help. Let someone know of your struggle. Get into regular discipleship and spiritual enrichment with a biblical counselor, an elder, or with a stronger believer that you trust.
Make sure you worship with a local congregation each week. You can’t do this alone.
Depression can be a paralyzing and harassing problem in our lives. However, there is hope! There is a way forward!
We are all going to get stuck from time to time, but how we respond to it is what changes us.
I’ve been seriously depressed at various times since I was a child. The first time, I was without Christ, and it lasted 3 years. It’s happened a handful of times since then, and the duration has lessened (usually no more than several weeks to a month).
Each time it reveals areas of my life where I need to trust in the Lord.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 20-21.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols., Library of Christian Classics 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.5.8.