Anxiety, depression, and I are old friends. I regularly invite them in, and they also just show up unannounced, sometimes even without a special occasion. Every visit is an opportunity for me to grow in the knowledge of my Savior and see my faith increase. But if I am being honest, those are not usually the first thoughts that come to mind.
With depression, I sometimes find myself sinking too quickly to set my hope on God. Other times, I am too distracted by whatever I am depressed about to even try to set my hope on God. I often forget God’s goodness and instead feel alone. When I do turn to the Lord, I find myself feeling like Asaph in Psalm 77. I cry aloud to God (v. 1), I seek the Lord (v. 2), I stretch out my hands (v. 2), and I meditate (vv. 3, 6). Yet it sometimes feels like I am met with silence. Where is God? And why won’t this darkness lift? Although I think that I am doing all the right things, and the cloud still remains.
Like Asaph, I am left with a choice to make. I am tempted to ask questions like he does:
- Will the Lord spurn me forever, and never again be favorable? (v. 7)
- Has His steadfast love forever ceased? Are His promises at an end for all time? (v. 8)
- Has God forgotten to be gracious? In anger, has He shut up His compassion? (v. 9)
The questions themselves are not sinful. It is okay to ask questions, even hard questions, when I don’t understand what is going on in life. But these questions leave Asaph and me with a decision to make. When I am depressed and it feels like God has turned His favor, love, grace, and compassion away from me, do I believe it to be true because of my current circumstances? Or, like Asaph, do I choose to “remember the deeds of the Lord” (v. 11) and remember His wonders from of old. This is Asaph’s turning point in Psalm 77, and it can be mine as well.
I must continually remind myself of these truths about God, because in the darkness of depression I don’t feel like they are true. His past faithfulness brings a rock-solid assurance of His present goodness. For Asaph, remembering God’s deliverance of His people as He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt was what He focused on. And I too have a redemption story. I was purchased out of slavery to sin by the mighty hand of God. His favor, love, grace, and compassion have been eternally given to me through the work of Christ on the cross and are mine daily through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. As Asaph remembers, God leads His people like a flock. He is a kind shepherd. A loving shepherd. He tends to His flock with great care as He leads us on our journey toward eternity with Him. This is how I fight depression (sometimes daily or moment by moment). It isn’t a cure or a fix. It isn’t even a promise that circumstances will change or that I won’t feel the ongoing oppressive weight of depression. But it is an assurance that God has not turned away from me in anger. I can be confident of this because He already poured out His wrath on Christ. Now I receive grace upon grace, even in the most difficult days.
The same is true with anxiety. When I am anxious, I tend to have constant thoughts running through my mind. One author has said that anxiety “steals mental real estate and emotional energy”1Paul Tautges, Anxiety: Knowing God’s Peace (P&R Publishing, 2019). and I agree. But when anxiety starts to carve out a corner of my mind to call its own, I have once again forgotten God. I have forgotten that if God cares for scavenger birds and feeds them even though they don’t plant or harvest food, then surely He will care for me. If He beautifully dresses flowers in a field that are alive today and dead tomorrow, then surely He will care for me.
And Jesus equates this anxiety with little faith (Matthew 6:25-33). Instead of seeking God’s kingdom, I sometimes have my eyes set far lower on the cares of this world. And in my anxiety, I convince myself that if I just wrestle and toil a little bit more with this problem, I will solve it—I will create my own rest. I convince myself that I can do what God has already promised He will do. At times I even become overwhelmed and melt into a heap of uselessness.
But Paul’s reminder in Philippians 4:4-9 is that the cure for an anxious heart isn’t more toil (or a breakdown), but rather reorienting my thinking. His first encouragement is that the Lord is near. God is not absent. He is not aloof. He is near. He is an ever-present God, which means He is well aware of my circumstances. And if He is near and knows, that means I don’t have to be anxious. Paul’s charge is to put off anxiety and replace it with prayer. And specifically, prayers that are filled with thanksgiving. Anxiety tends to focus on the negative and sends us spiraling downward. Praise, on the other hand, lifts our eyes to the heavens where our hope comes from. And this is precisely where we find peace in the storm. I tend to think that I will have peace if I can just solve the puzzle in front of me and answer all the questions that my anxious heart is raising. But Paul says peace comes as I remember that God is near. I can come to Him in thankful prayer, and I can think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise instead of what is making me anxious.
Just like with depression, peace is found when we remember the Lord. For many of us this will require moment-by-moment remembering. Dave Furman has said it this way, “How do we embrace God in the midst of our trials? How do we kiss the wave when we feel like we’re drowning in despair? We remember the Lord. We remember what he has done for us. We look to God and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places that he has given us in Christ. We choose to live in the privilege of our adoption and the comfort that we are known by God. We glory in our Redeemer who died on the cross to save us from our sins. We rest in his finished work and know that our God is in control over everything. He is our refuge, and he will never leave us. He will keep us to the end, and there will be a day when all suffering will cease and we will be face-to-face with Jesus for eternity.”2Dave Furman, Kiss the Wave: Embracing God in Your Trials (Crossway, 2018).