Depression is so prevalent among Christians that it impedes our work for the Lord. While the world is waiting for this Gospel, the devil is constantly keeping us in a depressed condition.
Depression affects the whole person. Generally, women are more depressed than men, and depression seems to especially affect those between the ages of 15 years and 24 years. Over 19 million people in the United States are depressed. “According to the World Health Organization, four of the ten leading causes of disability in the United States and other developed countries are mental disorders, including major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Approximately 23 percent of American adults each year have a diagnosable mental disorder and as many as 5.4 percent of American adults have a serious mental illness.” www.hereinmaine.com February 2008.
As I travel, I find that depression is prevalent within the Christian church. I am not saying that we are never faced with discouragement, but I do not believe, unless there is something biochemically wrong, that a Christian has to be controlled by depression.
Totality of Man
There is a relationship between healing and spirituality. Being separated from God brings about depression, I believe. Anyone separated from God is mentally ill.
In the beginning, “The Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7. These qualities may be associated with the three qualities of which man is made—the mental, the spiritual, and the physical. When Jesus asked, in John 5:6, “Wilt thou be made whole?” He was talking about the totality of man.
There is a direct relationship between the mind and the body. Further insight into this wholeness is given in Deuteronomy 6:5: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” So, heart = mental, soul = spiritual, might = physical. In Luke 2:52, we read: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” Here, favor with God = spiritual, wisdom = mental, stature = physical. As you can see, when we deal with wholeness, we deal with the totality of the individual.
When a person has a physical problem, what professional person does he or she see? A physician. When a person has a mental problem, what professional person does he or she see? A psychiatrist or psychologist. When a person has a spiritual concern, what professional person does he or she see? A pastor. We realize that these professional people are important. Have you ever known the pastor, the psychiatrist or the psychologist, and the physician to agree? Usually this is not the case.
When there is a problem within the human realm—in the body, the mind, or the spirit—it should not be departmentalized. The body, mind, and spirit should not be entrusted to three different people when they do not agree with one another. If that is done, the individual is not going to improve.
Jesus was a Counselor, a Physician, and a Preacher! He addressed the whole person. An example of this is given in Matthew 9. When Jesus healed the man sick with palsy, he addressed the whole person. In verse 2, addressing the mental, Jesus said, “Son, be of good cheer.” Continuing in that same verse, He said, addressing the spiritual, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” Then, addressing the physical, in verse 6 Jesus said to the palsied man, “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.”
In medical missionary work, the focus has most frequently been on the physical. We recommend some herbs and juice, but we neglect the most important aspect of the individual; that is, the mental and the spiritual aspects. Many people know about herbs, juicing, hydrotherapy, and fever baths, but when it comes to understanding the total physical, spiritual, and mental makeup of an individual, as medical missionaries we tend to overlook the totality. Yes, we will pray with the individual, but we may not understand how that impacts the life of the individual.
Addressing His disciples, Jesus said, “Be of good cheer.” Matthew 14:27. Fear is the opposite of good cheer. Discouragement is the devil’s most effective tool for destroying our peace. This tool may be called anesthesia—before he takes our hearts, he puts us to sleep with discouragement. If he can discourage us and get us to turn inward, rather than outward to Jesus, then he believes he can take us down with him. Even though we realize that God’s power is greater than the devil, we still allow ourselves to become discouraged.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. As Christians, it is a reality that we will have trouble as long as we are in this world.
Abraham is certainly an example of this as he traveled southward from the Chaldean plain. Of his experience, and others, Ellen White wrote: “Again his faith was tested. The heavens withheld their rain, the brooks ceased to flow in the valleys, and the grass withered on the plains. The flocks and herds found no pasture, and starvation threatened the whole encampment. … Trouble after trouble came upon him. …
“The Lord in His providence had brought this trial upon Abraham to teach him lessons of submission, patience, and faith—lessons that were to be placed on record for the benefit of all who should afterward be called to endure affliction. God leads His children by a way that they know not, but He does not forget or cast off those who put their trust in Him. He permitted affliction to come upon Job, but He did not forsake him. He allowed the beloved John to be exiled to lonely Patmos, but the Son of God met him there, and his vision was filled with scenes of immortal glory. God permits trials to assail His people, that by their constancy and obedience they themselves may be spiritually enriched, and that their example may be a source of strength to others.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 128, 129.
God in His providence allowed trials to come upon Abraham. Abraham did not understand the providence, but he did not look back from whence he came, and he did not allow circumstances to control his life.
Mrs. White continues:
“The very trials that task our faith most severely and make it seem that God has forsaken us, are to lead us closer to Christ, that we may lay all our burdens at His feet and experience the peace which He will give us in exchange.” Ibid., 129.
We need to become masters of our circumstances. Yes, trouble will come, but we should greet it with “good cheer,” for peace will follow.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States, is credited with having said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear breeds upon the unknown. Disease, especially terminal disease, brings fear into and puts stress upon a person’s life.
Job said, “By the great force [of my disease] is my garment changed: it bindeth me about as the collar of my coat.” Job 30:18. Interpreting the word garment as character, Job was intimating that physical condition affects disposition.
Ellen White wrote:
“The relation that exists between the mind and the body is very intimate. When one is affected, the other sympathizes. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression.” The Ministry of Healing, 241. [Emphasis added.]
Mental depression and anxiety may come from things that have not been put to closure in our lives. The devil does not read our minds, but he keeps a profile on each of us. He knows the sins of our fathers, the things with which we have struggled in our lives. There are things in all our lives that we should get rid of, but we all hold on to them. Even as Christians, we have some emotional baggage that we continue to carry and with which we have not dealt.
This quotation continues: “Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death.” Ibid. Mrs. White is not saying that there is something wrong with grief. It is a natural emotion. But if we should stay in a state of grief, it would destroy us. Most of us have experienced worry, anxiety, apprehension, and unease of the mind. As Christians, these words should not be in our vocabulary, but they are because we doubt the power of God. Often we become uneasy because we anticipate the future. We do not know the outcome. We human beings like to be in control of situations. We think if we could only know what is going to happen tomorrow, we will be satisfied, but that is not the way God deals with us.
Signs of Depression
The occurrence of depression has increased over time and has impacted over 200 million people. It is estimated that almost 17 million people are affected today, and remember that depression affects the whole person.
There are at least ten signs of depression:
- You feel like crying more than normal.
- You frequently have a sense of hopelessness.
- You have less motivation and interest in activities.
- Your sleep pattern changes.
- You have thought that life is not worth living.
- You dread the beginning of a new day.
- You are anxious and stressed.
- Your eating patterns change.
- You have less energy than usual.
- You are not functioning well.
What About Elijah?
Read again the story of Elijah in I Kings 17, 18, and 19. In James 5:17, we are told that Elijah “was a man subject to like passions as we are.”
Elijah experienced the exhilarated adrenaline rush of Mount Carmel and the depressed state of having his life threatened and his mission in shambles. He focused on the circumstances and allowed them to form his decisions. He lost hope, and he wanted to die. He was self-focused—he was looking inward rather than outward to God. He also had high expectation. Now, there is nothing wrong in having expectation, but we better be sure that the expectation is of the Lord.
So, Elijah feared. He was self-centered. He was shaped by circumstance, high expectation, and he ended up with disappointment, resentment, anger, and self-pity.
Danger of Anger
One minute of anger can suppress the immune system for six hours. Anger is only one letter from danger. An unforgiving spirit, a vindictive spirit eats the heart out, and when we have an unforgiving spirit, the devil is controlling our lives.
An angry man is always full of poison. An angry, bitter, unforgiving spirit produces negative chemical by-products that are health destroying.
Almost a decade ago, scientists stayed away from dealing with faith, religion, and health, because they could not put faith in a test tube. Now, however, they are realizing that those who have a relationship with the Creator and have faith in a God recover quicker from depression than those who do not have faith.
Ephesians 4:26 counsels us, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
Solutions to depression are given in I Kings 19. Ellen White also identifies these solutions:
“As Elijah sleeps under the juniper tree, a soft touch and pleasant voice arouse him. He starts at once in his terror, as if to flee, as though the enemy who was in pursuit of his life had indeed found him. But in the pitying face of love bending over him he sees, not the face of an enemy, but of a friend. An angel has been sent with food from heaven to sustain the faithful servant of God. His voice says to Elijah: ‘Arise and eat.’ After Elijah had partaken of the refreshment prepared for him, he again slumbered. A second time the angel of God ministers to the wants of Elijah. He touches the weary, exhausted man, and in pitying tenderness says to him: ‘Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.’ Elijah was strengthened and pursued his journey to Horeb.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 291. [Emphasis added.]
In a depressed state, Elijah fell asleep. How does sleep deal with depression? Well, even two hours of sleep before midnight is equal to four hours of sleep after midnight. In the pineal gland, a neurotransmitter called serotonin is synthesized into melatonin as night falls. Melatonin modulates wake/sleep patterns. The duration of melatonin secretion each day is directly proportional to the length of the night. These two neurotransmitters affect us not only physiologically but psychologically. Sleep is recuperative. When we do not get enough sleep, our reasoning power is affected.
An angel came and touched Elijah. Touch is essential to emotional support. There are children who have never experienced the security, the emotional support of a loving touch from father or mother. They have not had emotional security in their homes, and without emotional stability, they have been set up for depression.
Touch is important to healing. Of Jesus we are told: “Jesus kindly received the sick, and disease and approaching death fled at a touch of his hand.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 3, 25. [Emphasis added.]
The worst thing to do when a person is depressed is to cast them off as a friend. We need to have an understanding and try to give our depressed friend as much emotional support, based on the Word of God, as we can give. Realize that Job’s friends, as long as they did not open their mouths, gave him support.
Elijah needed food. This is not referring to “comfort food” or eating because of depression. This is referring to the fact that we need nutrients. If an individual does not eat breakfast and does not eat a balanced diet of proper foods, he or she cannot adequately strengthen the brain function to fight depression.
When Elijah was instructed to “Arise,” to get up he had to move. Exercise produces a hormone that food does not produce—endorphins, sometimes called “happy hormones.” Exercise also helps the neurotransmitters mentioned previously, and exercise has the capacity to help decrease stress level.
The angel once again ministered to Elijah. We are social creatures. We need moral support, emotional, and social support. This is why the Bible tells us we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. (Hebrews 10:25.)
That “pleasant voice” spoke to Elijah. Elijah needed to hear the Word of God.
These seven aspects—sleep, touch, friendship, nutrition, exercise, social interaction, and spiritual—are all key factors in recovery from depression. When Elijah put them together, he realized that he had a work to do.
It was mentioned previously that Elijah had high expectation. What was Elijah’s expectation when God told him to go and challenge the prophets of Baal? It was reformation. God was on his side, but he expected there would be a revival, a reformation, especially with Ahab and all Israel. That was and is what God wants. However, Elijah did not see the bigger picture. There was other work God had for Elijah to do, so when that reformation did not take place, as Elijah perceived it, he became depressed.
Have you ever been in a situation such as this? You have had an expectation, but it was not met the way you thought it would be, and you were let down? You might not go into depression, but you may become discouraged.
Our expectation must be of the Lord. What we expect of people must be through the eyes of God. If we see that, then we are not going to be let down. People should be trustworthy and honest, based on Christian principles, but in this world, to keep from having blood pressure problems and depression, we should put our expectation in God.
A Work To Do
There is a therapy. We know the Elijah therapy as the third angel’s message. Elijah represents the people of God in the last days.
We have a work to do. As we prepare to reach out to the community, God wants His people to be ready to reach out to the community with power, not being controlled by circumstances. We need to shift our focus from ourselves onto the great work that is before us.
The best way to beat depression or discouragement is to go to work for the Lord.
Thomas Jackson is a Health Evangelist and Director of Missionary Education and Evangelistic Training (M.E.E.T.) Ministry in Huntingdon, Tennessee. He may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at: 731-986-3518.