Monday, October 26, 2009

SERMON SERIES : The Christian and Depression #1

TEXT:       Psalm 42
TITLE: “Causes and cures for spiritual depression”
DATE:    The Lord's Day  13/ 09/2009   

For some time  I have  sensed the need  to  examine the  Scriptures with you  on the subject of  Depression  -  with particular application to  “ the Christian and depression” . 
Here in Namibia we commonly speak about “Octoberitis” – October is generally also known as suicide (and therefore depression month).  [  Editor's note : One of our members who  owns a hairdressing salon  has just told me  this past week  how many of her clients  pour out their depressed  souls to her at this time ! ]   This is primarily because the onset of the heat combined with the dryness before the rains eventually come. It clearly affects people’s moods. Other  contributing factors  to ‘ Octoberitis’   are  a sense of failed expectations  as  resolutions  and plans  having  been made at the beginning of the year   are now failing  to materialize  ,  connected also to the fact that there is yet so much to be done before the end of the year . 
For these  reasons  we must prepare ourselves  spiritually  for this time . Christians  are unfortunately not exempt from  depression . The Scriptures  in general ,  and the Psalms  in particular  reflect on this  common condition  . In this regard we shall   consider Psalm 42 today and next week. 

The subheading says:   “To the choirmaster. A Maskil of the sons of Korah.”
The sons of Korah were a group of priests who were in charge of the  singing in temple worship.  Therefore this psalm was probably used in public temple worship.
The Psalm is called a “Maskil.”  We are not quite sure what that  Hebrew term means.  There is a verb in Hebrew which means “to make someone wise or to instruct.“   This clearly fits into the category of the Psalms which are commonly referred to as ‘wisdom literature’. This Psalm is a  memorable  song  , one that  teaches  - particularly  as  it  gives us  insight into the causes and  the cure for depression .

You will note  that  the Psalmist says  3 times   in  42:5 ,11   and  also  in Psalm 43:5: “Why are  you cast down , O my soul , and why  are  you in turmoil within me ? “     He answers his own question by saying: “Hope in God: for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.“
This is the Refrain of the song.
What had caused   this condition in the Psalmist? 
I see four  elementary  causes here:  Deprivation; Exasperation; Desolation; Isolation

1. DEPRIVATION: The Psalmist had been somehow  been prevented from appearing before God in the temple (42: 1-4).
He is longing for the presence of God. He describes this in terms of his soul panting – thirsting for God.  He is like a deer panting   for water. He remembers the rich experiences of meeting the LORD in the sanctuary, as he used to go   with the assembled worshippers with glad shouts and  with songs of praise (42:4)Temple worship was anything but dead!
In Psalm 63:1-2   David repeats a similar thought: “O God, you are my God: earnestly I seek you ‘my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So have I looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory ...”. Here is the first cause of the Psalmists spiritual depression: An absence of seeing and experiencing God – deprivation!
Spiritual depression is found when God is not experienced – when one is deprived of ‘experiencing God’.   The Christian soul is made for communion with God - particularly for communion with God in fellowship with the saints.  The Psalmist misses out on going to church with the people of God in whose company the experience of God on this fallen earth becomes more profound!

2. EXASPERATION  :  The Psalmist also  experiences a   continuous taunting  by  his enemies  : (42: 3, 9, 10 )  -  “ Where is your God ?”  they say Spiritual depression  becomes accentuated when there are people around us that taunt us, - when they ‘rub in the reality’ of our experience.  The Psalmist is not experiencing God as he used to (being away from the temple)   , and this matter is made worse as he observes that there are ungodly people around him that also see this, and they taunt him. You can almost hear them say: “Here is this dreamer. He believes in God. But look at him. He is depressed. How can there be a God when he is so depressed.  His God doesn’t exist!

The next two causes tend to follow directly as a result of the first two. It becomes a “snowball” effect.

3. DESOLATION  :  The Psalmist    feels overwhelmed : (42:7)  - because  He misses the presence of  God in temple worship , and he is exasperated because of the taunting of  his enemies . He says to God :  “All your breakers and your waves have gone over me“.  A spiritual tsunami has overwhelmed him. In verse 3 he confesses that he has been in tears because of these things.  
This easily leads to the next aspect of the ‘snowball’ effect

4. ISOLATION:  The Psalmist feels abandoned / rejected   by God: - Why have you forgotten me? (42: 9) Why have you rejected me (43:2)?   Feeling alone (unloved and unsupported) follows very easily from this .

These four causes, all working together, and piling upon one another   produce his depression, which is expressed in the refrain in 42:5, 11 and 43:5

How does he deal with this situation   ? 
How does he deal with this matter of Deprivation, Exasperation, Desolation and Isolation?   

“HOPE IN GOD”   : THE KEY PHRASE (42:5, 11; 43:5) 

The key phrase found in the refrain is   :  “Hope in God”.
Depression is essentially rooted in a feeling of hopelessness. The four key phrases   which I have used here, Deprivation, Exasperation, Desolation and Isolation are classic “Hope smashers “.  

No one can live without hope.
Hope is a foundational grace in the life of a Christian.
Paul locates the importance of hope as one of three key pillars upon which the Christian life is built.  He writes to the Corinthians  under inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “  Now these three abide ,  “ Faith , Hope and Love“ ( 1 Cor 13:13) . Love is the greatest of these three because love alone will continue to be a reality in heaven. We will not need Faith or Hope in heaven, because we shall live forever in God’s presence.  Faith and Hope will then be turned into sight!

But right now in this present time, we cannot live without Faith and Hope - and especially not without Hope!  In fact , should   you remove  any of these vital components in a Christian’s life  ,  the Christian  becomes  like a three legged cast –iron pot  that becomes unstable, because  that stabilizing  leg has  been broken off .
And so we must take note that people without experiences of love,   or faith or hope   are prime candidates for depression.
Look how hopelessness is described in Proverbs 13:12:
 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”   
Hopelessness makes the heart sick! The heart in Hebrew thinking is linked to the essential being of man.  A person that is depressed is “heart-sore”. This affects the entire personality: mind, will and emotions.
The way therefore to bring a Christian out of depression is to instill hope.

Where does the Psalmist begin?
By going to the    Psychiatrist   and Pharmacy to get “happy pills”?  By buying something new on  your credit card  or on  bank overdraft or doing something else that will temporarily lift him out of   his depression?  You have heard it said:”When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!”  Many people buy (on credit) to generate a temporary sense of hope.
The Psalmist does not do this. He takes himself to God   “Hope in God!”   
Now how does this help him?   Ah, this is where a solid knowledge of the Word and of the doctrines of the Word greatly helps. What does the Bible teach us about this God in who  we must put our hope?

Take a look at Romans 8: 18-39  
  1. He is all seeing and all knowing (omniscient). He sees the struggle and suffering of this fallen creation (Rom 8:18-27).  In all this He sees my struggle (because He is also omnipresent). He knows all about it . Nothing that happens to me catches Him unaware.  This leads us to the next thought …
  2. He is all powerful (omnipotent).  He can do something about my situation. And if He doesn’t  , well  then  He has a sovereign plan , that will work  for my good  ( Rom 8:28) ….and this in turn leads us  to the next thought …
  3. He loves His children: (Rom 8:31-39),” If God is for us, who can be against us? … nothing in all creation will separate us from the love  of God in Christ Jesus our Lord ” .

Now,  please note that by the end of the Psalm   there is no report  or testimony of the problem having been solved. He is not out of it. He is not worshiping at the temple. He is still in the presence of his enemies. Desolation and Isolation are still realities.
But his heart is now focused in hope upon God !

Next week we will consider 5 things from Psalm 42 by which the Psalmist   effectively designs to combat his depression.

NOTE: This sermon ended with the Lord’s Supper. We brought ourselves into  God’s  presence  , celebrating  as  the body of Christ  anew the fact that “ Our  hope is built on nothing less than Jesus  blood and righteousness “ 

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