While many articles on depression deal with it in abstract, what is needed is a bridge which connects the problem of depression to a day to day set of activities and a crystal clear strategy you can easily implement to see actual results. Therefore, at the end of this teaching is a link where you can download a very practical step-by-step guide to begin using today to help kick depression to the curb!
A Taboo Subject?
I find it odd, howbeit, perplexing, that as prevailing, damaging, and systemic as depression is in our society, it remains somewhat of a taboo subject among some Christian communities. This approach has led many followers of Christ battling depression to seek council outside the Body because clear solutions are not always articulated from within it, or because of fear of being stigmatized or looking less than ‘spiritual’. Supporting evidence as indicated in a Barna study  reveals that nearly 18% young adults leave church because their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience.
Furthermore, depression in a believer’s life is often erroneously perceived by others like king Agag was in King Saul’s tent, whom Saul hid after conquering the Amalekites: If you reveal its presence in your life, it must be because you acted in disobedience to God. The scriptures clearly reveal this way of thinking to be wrong. Examples such as Elijah, Jeremiah, David, Job, as well as famous preachers such as Charles Spurgeon are communicating to us through their life story that the presence of depression is not always indicative of a hidden sin or unrighteous living.
“Ministers” in particular suffering from depression tend to withhold voicing it for fear of losing respect or even losing their ministerial function. In fact, a statistical study conducted among those in pastoral offices indicated 70% (5 out of 7 pastors) are fighting depression (this study excludes other ministerial offices, so the number is likely higher). Regardless of your anointing, socioeconomic, financial, marriage, age, or gender status, all of us are at risk of depression entering our temple. All it needs is a small open window.
What is Depression?
Undoubtedly, depression is multifaceted with many cause and effect relationships. In a human life it is defined as a feeling of sustained sadness accompanied with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, a lack of energy, sleep, and appetite. This is not the sadness you experience when you drop a dollop of your favorite flavored ice-cream on the ground, but rather a long term sadness that intermittently increases in frequency and intensity. Many that have suffered from depression feel that a cloud of darkness and heaviness, a low pressure system if you will, is constantly over them pressing them down. Hyper spirituality only worsens the situation when a person is told to simply believe God, and get over it. To the individual that is battling depression, this can be detrimental.
The devastating implications of leaving it unchecked
Untreated depression can have lasting consequences across all types of relationships (e.g. marital, parental, social, professional, ministerial, etc.) and can lead to: drug and alcohol use, and suicidal thoughts or tendencies. While there are many root causes of depression and each case is different based on the individual, it usually involves 3 factors (or a combination thereof).
- The Physical Factors
- The Mental Factors
- The Spiritual Factors
Let’s look at some of these areas from a biblical and science-based perspective. A summary of items are listed at the end of each of section for convenience. Without going into a lengthy medical and scriptural exposition on each item, I have referenced supporting medical studies and verses next to the items listed.
#1: The Physical Factors
Note: Consult with your doctor first if you believe implementing any of the following points may adversely impact your health.
The prophet Elijah, immediately following a great victory, experienced deep and debilitating sorrow. He saw no hope, had thoughts of death, and requested to the Lord to take his life. His symptoms perfectly align with those of depression. What did God immediately do? Did He tell him to “just get over it”? What about condemn him for some secret sin? No. It’s fascinating that the first thing the Lord did for Elijah after he revealed his heart was give him something to eat. He used food as a tool for healing:
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” – 1 Kings 19:4
Jesus also used food for restoration immediately after resurrecting a girl from the dead. Although she was made alive again by His resurrection power, she was weak and needed to be physically restored:
And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat. – Luke 8:55
Certain foods and vitamins have been medically proven to combat depression. Likewise, other types of food have been observed to worsen it. See summary below for a listing of these.
God designed our bodies to move. The paradox of technology is that while it has made our lives easier and more productive, it has also made us less active. This has evolved and translated into almost every aspect of lives. We used to burn more calories rolling down our car windows with a cranking wheel (as it was in the 90’s) than we do now by the downward press of button with our index finger.
The scriptures tell us that physical exercise promises us benefits in this life:
“Physical exercise is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:8
While contextually the Apostle Paul is using an analogy of an athlete training for godly living, a small flicker of truth is revealed regarding the value of exercise: it promises us benefits in this life. One of these benefits that has been studied for decades, and new science has much more strongly confirmed, is specifically the benefit of aerobic exercise for depression. So much so that medical prescriptions for aerobic exercise, in lieu of Prozac, are now being given to patients who suffer from depression. Examples of aerobic exercise include running, hiking, kickboxing, etc. See below for recommendations.
Other physical items such as rest, exposure to sunlight, and blood sugar/metabolic stability aid in helping you defeat depression. Also, prescription medicine may be necessary as determined by your doctor.
Summary of physical aids to help:
- Aerobic Exercise- Recommendations are 3-5 days a week for 45-60 minutes at 50%-80% of your maximum heart rate. Supporting references/studies: Study 1, Study 2, Study 3, Study 4, Study 5
- Vitamins: C, B12, Omega 3 Fish Oil. Supporting references/studies: Study 1, Study 2, Study 3
- Probiotics-examples include: Kefir, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, probiotic pill form. Supporting references/studies: Study 1, Study 2
- Eat Breakfast. Supporting references/studies: Study 1
- Eliminate/reduce sugar intake. Supporting references/studies: Study 1, Study 2, Study 3
- Get Sunlight. Supporting references/studies: Study 1, Study 2
- Rest. Supporting references/studies: Study 1, Study 2
- Prescription Medicine (as necessary)
#2- The Mental Factors
Depression is often triggered and enhanced by a stream of negative thoughts that can undermine our quality of life and hinder us from making wise decisions. This means that errors in our thinking or thoughts concerning our current circumstances, especially when they are based on a lie, lead to an alteration in our mood. When this happens over an extended period of time, it can lead to depression. From our previous example of the prophet Elijah, we see this to be true in his life. He erred in his thinking that he was the only prophet left in the land:
He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”- 1 Kings 19:10
Elijah was not alone. There were a total of 7,100 others which the Lord had preserved:
For when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the LORD, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water. – 1 Kings 18:4
“Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him”- 1 Kings 19:18
So what is the remedy? Discipline your mind to dwell (or continually stay) on what is truth, what is pure, and whatever is worthy of praise:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. – Philippians 4:8
Identity and Purpose Crisis
Often those struggling with depression have a false self-perception (I am …. I am not…..) and are really facing an identity crisis. They have believed a lie which someone, or the enemy, or both, has planted in their minds as to who they really are as a person. Living out the work that you have been saved to do (Ephesians 2:8-9) enables you to live with ongoing sense of purpose and fulfillment. However, if we make people our ultimate purpose, rather than the Lord, when those people leave our lives, we then lose our sense of purpose to live. This is often seen when children leave the home or a spouse passes away. Our ultimate purpose is in a heavenly Father who gives us destiny, hope, and sonship. God has expressed who you are and your purpose all through the scriptures, but particularly in Chapter 1 of Ephesians.
Being born again, here are a few excerpts from Ephesians 1 which defines your identity in Christ:
- Chose YOU in Him before the foundation of the world….1:4
- He predestined YOU for adoption as sons and daughters according to His kindness – 1:5
- He freely bestowed His grace on YOU through His beloved- 1:6
- Redeemed YOU through His blood – 1:7
- Forgiven YOU of your trespasses – 1:7
- Lavished His grace upon YOU – 1:8
- YOU are a receiver of the Father’s inheritance – 1:11
This is closely linked to our thinking, but genuine laughter is like medicine to our minds and bodies:
A cheerful heart is a good medicine; But a broken spirit drieth up the bones: – Proverbs 17:22
One of the most important things we can do is to know ourselves; after all, we are uniquely and wonderfully made. Journaling aids in this and brings the reality of life to the table. The thoughts you record can shape the major decisions you make. You also get to see on an ongoing basis the hand of God at work over the course of your life, connecting together Kingdom moments while it unravels itself like a scroll which each strike of your pen.
Summary of mental aids to help:
Laugh more!! Supporting references/Studies: Study 1, Study 2
Journal. Supporting references/studies: Study 1
Understanding your identity and purpose: Supporting references/studies: Ephesians 1, Ephesians 2:8-9
#3- The Spiritual factors
When anxiety/depression comes, the supernatural peace ushered in by the Spirit of God when we pray is an experience that goes beyond any mental/physical factors influencing our situation. It is a process that Jesus uses which shuts off the valve that stops and flushes out the flow of negative/erroneous thoughts. However, this is an immediate correction. What is needed is long term strategy which prevents the flow from entering our minds to begin with which starts with dwelling on the right things. After all, Philippians 4:6 is before Philippians 4:8.
Not only did Elijah believe a lie which influenced his situation, but even worse he believed he was alone. He actually voiced this three times within 2 chapters:
I alone am left a prophet of the Lord…” – 1 Kings 18:22
And I alone am left; and they seek my life…” – 1 Kings 19:10
And I alone am left….1 Kings 19:14
We are designed to function together. When we do not and become isolated, we can easily fall victim to loneliness, which can lead to depression. But what if the ability to have life-giving, relationship-oriented experiences was just a door knock away? Thankfully, it is. God has created an institution, a living organism on earth, which when engaged in properly, becomes the epitome of community and the world’s greatest solution for loneliness. It is called the church. Authentic community enables us to move beyond ourselves to serve others. Furthermore, we are never alone. The Lord has declared over our lives that He will never leave us.
Summary of spiritual aids to help:
- Community. Supporting references/studies: Study 1
- Prayer. Supporting references/studies: Philippians 4:6
As previously mentioned, you can DOWNLOAD THE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE HERE as a one page summary of this teaching. It also includes a weekly tracker to help you implement the changes you need to help defeat depression. The guide is meant to start in the morning and end in the evening. If it seems overwhelming, start by putting 3 or 4 into practice a week, until all of them are active in your life.
How it works:
Post the guide on your refrigerator or your mirror. Having your goals visually in front of you and reviewing them often means you are more likely to do them. For the sake dignity, and because I am sure you don’t want to announce to every visitor in your home you are dealing with depression, I have titled the guide “Better Living Progress Log”. Record your progress: For every day you complete the activity, mark in the checkbox for that day.
Print copies as necessary: You may need to print multiple copies for different weeks/months, but hopefully after a while these activities will be so integrated into your daily life that you will not need the guide.
See study links