Dealing with Distress, Discouragement, and Spiritual Depression

Learning from Bible Characters Who Were Depressed

One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament deals with David and his band of men living in a place called Ziklag. Ziklag was a village or town that was under Philistine control. David had become weary of running from Saul and thought that it might be better to hang out in this outpost city. First Samuel chapter 30 records the details of David and his band of men returning from a long, three day journey; they were just about home and no doubt anxious to be reunited with their wives and children. As they crested the hill that lead to the town they called home, they were crushed because the town was smoldering and lay in ruins.

Several thoughts probably ran through their minds. Perhaps those they loved and cherished were dead, maimed or taken as hostages and captives. They hastened to the city to realize that everything physical they held dear was gone. Their families were gone, their possessions were gone, and they were physically and emotionally spent. The Bible states the men were so discouraged that they spoke of stoning David. He was their leader, and he had led them to answer the call of the lords of the Philistines; however, while they were gone, disaster struck. The entire band of 600 men plus their leader were brought to the very bottom in every realm of their lives.

The Bible does not sugarcoat stories to make them sound as if serving the Lord means a panacea of pleasure and no hardship. Throughout the pages of Scripture we find some of God’s great and choice servants dealing with discouragement and seasons of hardship and difficulty.

Noah listened to God’s call to build an ark in the desert, and he was mocked and ridiculed by the populace until the day God sent the flood upon the earth.

Abraham listened to God and left Ur, the city of his birth, his homeland, behind; he and Sarah followed God to Canaan! You would think everything would be great, but they were not there long before a sore famine hit the land.

Joseph did what he was supposed to do in life. He obeyed his dad and believed his God-given dream that his life was meant to accomplish something big; yet his pain was immense. I have to believe that there were great moments of discouragement through some of the years of Joseph’s life.

What about the great prophet Elijah? Here was a man who saw God sustain him for three and half years during great famine. God hid this prophet so well that King Ahab wasn’t able to find him. Then at the appropriate moment God sent him into the open to confront Ahab and the wickedness of Israel at Mount Carmel. It must have been quite a display of power when God struck the sacrifice with a flash of fire because of the simple prayer of Elijah. His adrenaline must have been pumping like a river! At his command, 850 false prophets of Baal and the grove died. The rain that had been withheld by the hand of God for three and one-half years fell with Elijah’s prayer, causing the draught to be lifted. However, the next day a letter arrived with Queen Jezebel’s insignia sealing its contents. When it was opened, fear entered into Elijah’s heart and he ran for his life. Jezebel promised that if she had any power whatsoever he would die, just like her prophets did.

Coming to the New Testament we find many men and women who have been busy serving God and doing a great work for Him. Yet in the midst of serving Him life took an ugly turn and they suddenly faced adversity. Shipwreck, prison, beatings, persecutions and other hardships are found throughout the pages of Scripture.

Not long ago, I had emergency surgery. Just before I dealt with that I felt like I was being inundated with a series of negative things. They included serious family problems that someone in our church family was dealing with, other good families leaving the church to pursue work out of state thus necessitating a relocation, and then right after my surgery, wind that the devil himself was at work to discourage some in our congregation. I was down physically from surgery, and I was down mentally from being physically hindered and not being able to do anything but sit and wait.

I actually think I dealt with some depression for a few days, but as I waited upon God and kept praying, little by little my fog lifted. That brings me back to 1 Samuel 30 and the men speaking of stoning David. The Bible states at the end of that chapter that David encouraged himself in the Lord. Do you know what that means? It means David reached down inside his being and understood the promises of God that had been given to him and he claimed them anew. He trusted God in the midst of the fog and told God that He alone could help him. Then he got up and did what he knew was right to do! God did help him and it was not long before David saw God accomplish His great purpose of making him king. Sometimes when God has great things in store for us, the devil marks our lives to attack with his darts of doubt, fear, and discouragement. The answer is always the same as James points out in his epistle:

“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” James 4:6–8

I find that throughout the pages of Scripture the answer to discouragement is found in waiting upon the Lord. It is found in sitting at His feet, reading His Word and speaking to Him in prayer. Those things alone are powerful anti-discouragement factors. God is able to do that which no one else can do!

One of my favorite passages is Psalm 13 where David gives six powerful verses. He begins the Psalm in the pit of despair and ends the Psalm on the mount of singing praise to God. God alone can lift the discouraged soul and we need to look to Him in those moments of frustration and heartache! He is there!

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