I have written 21 Things That Helped a Depressed Christian and it is my prayer that people who find themselves in the darkest night will benefit from the things that God used to comfort me.
What happened to me?
I appeared to be moving along smoothly as a Christian. After 37 years in the classroom, I was still very much enjoying teaching. Being admitted to a psychiatric ward could not have been further from my mind. However, within a relatively short time, anxiety forced me to pace day and night with only a few hours of sleep. I also experienced slanderous and blasphemous thoughts totally out of context.
I lost a lot of weight. I had a powerful vision of being thrown into hell which I could not get out of mind. On another occasion, I had a very strong thought of “Why don’t you just curse God and die”. Afterwards, I walked in a fierce lightning storm asking God to strike me down. Intense suicidal thoughts compelled me to ask to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
Advice on helping a depressed friend
Don’t necessarily expect results when you just say to your depressed friend; “have more faith”. The solution is faith in Jesus however we must realize that just saying “have more faith in Jesus” will not necessarily help a depressed person. I repeat; faith in Jesus is the solution although don’t be surprised if your depressed friend tells you; “Just saying over and over again to me, “Just have faith”, doesn’t help.”
Very importantly, do not think you are invincible and that you will never fall into depression or suicidal thoughts. You might say; “I don’t feel I’m in a fierce supernatural battle like what you have experienced.” That may be so but, if you are a Christian, you are in such a battle!
Moreover, don’t be surprised if strange things happen to you. Just naturally, when your nervous system ‘breaks down’, you may have strange symptoms. On the spiritual side, Christians have a hateful, furious and supernatural enemy (the devil) who delights to attack when you are down. So don’t be shocked at what is happening … expect strange things.
Not all depression is a direct result of sin
Sin and unresolved guilt and shame can easily be at the heart of depression but not all depression is a direct result of sin. The birth of a child, a trauma like a divorce, a death of a loved one, an accident or a difficult operation may cause depression. Physical conditions can contribute to depression so it is essential to visit your local doctor for a check-up.
Our human response, when you see someone suffering, is like the disciplines when they saw the blind man; “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2). But Jesus responded that “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). Although God used Job’s situation to show Job some of his pride, Job’s suffering, and the depression that was a result of this suffering was not due to Job’s sin. God said; “Job … is blameless and upright … though you [the devil] incited me [God] against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3).
The book of Job
The book of Job shows Job suffering and his friends reaching out to him. Job’s friends did some very good things. They came to help Job and spent a lot of time patiently sitting with him and their weeping showed they empathized with him. His friends ‘mourned with those who mourned’ (Romans 12:15) and this would have very much comforted Job. (See Job 2:11-13). But God was very angry with three of Job’s friends (Job 42:7). Job’s friends made an incorrect assumption that Job was suffering because of his sin. God, when speaking with Satan, said otherwise. “Job … is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3).
The wrong attitude
Richard Sibbes shows us the wrong attitudes people can have towards bruised Christians: “Ungodly spirits, ignorant of God’s ways in bringing his children to heaven, censure broken-hearted Christians as miserable persons, whereas God is doing a gracious, good work with them. It is no easy matter to bring a man from nature to grace, and from grace to glory, so unyielding and intractable are our hearts.” 1
I know how easy it is to get puffed up with pride when I try to help others so watch out for this pitfall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Think of how difficult it would be for you to cope with what your friend is going through. This will put you in a better frame of mind to help your friend.
Many blessings to all of you who reach out to the hurting and may God give you the grace, empathy, strength and wisdom to do so. Your friend needs you!
1 Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, The Banner of Truth, 2016, p. 6