What to do about Discouragement
All of us know what it means to be discouraged. Researchers tell us that over four million people a year need treatment for extreme discouragement, the kind that can wreck your life and even drive you to suicide. In fact, doctors tell us that there are at least 20,000 suicides annually from “undetected depression.”
We know that discouragement comes, but what should we do about it? Should we change our situation and hope that a new location will mean a new beginning? There are dozens of pills on the market for fighting depression (they are called “mood elevators”); is that the answer? Or perhaps we just need to “have fun” and forget our problems for a few hours. Well, there is plenty of entertainment available!
I would not discount the value of a trip to the country, or a few hours at a ball game, or even competent medical help. But in the long run, the problem of discouragement (or depression) is an inside matter. We have to face it ourselves and learn to get victory. In these two psalms—and they really belong together—the writers comes to grips with depression. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?” He discovers that the problem is with his outlook, for after all, outlook determines outcome. Let me suggest three changes in outlook that must be made if you and I are going to get victory over discouragement.
1. We must stop looking at self and start looking at God.
I counted 52 personal pronouns in these two psalms! Of course, when we pray, we do become very personal; but I seem to get the impression that the psalmist is looking more at himself than at God. You see, discouragement is basically a selfish thing. We are unhappy because our plans fell through, or our feelings were hurt, or our questions went unanswered. Notice how many questions the psalmist asks: Where (vs. 4)—Why? (vs. 5 and in four other places)—When? (vs. 2).
Now, there is nothing wrong with asking questions of God; but when our questions become very self-centered, then we get into trouble. When I get to the place where my plans, and my feelings, and my ideas are more important than God’s will, I am selfish and I am going to be discouraged. You see, the self-centered person can look anywhere he pleases and he will see only himself and his problems. The spiritual person looks out at life and sees God; the selfish person sees only himself.
For example, the writer of these psalms went out into the wilderness, and there he saw a lovely deer come down to the brook for a drink. Instead of saying to himself, “God is taking care of that animal, and He will take care of me!” he says, “Oh, I am as thirsty for God as that deer is for water! When is God going to satisfy my thirst?” As he walked up the brook he came to a waterfall or a cataract (vs. 7); but instead of seeing God’s power, he saw his own troubles! “All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me!”
The point I am making is this: unless your outlook changes, a change in circumstances is never going to solve your depression problem. We need to stop looking at ourselves and start looking at God. When Jesus looked at nature, He saw God. He saw God’s grace in the beauty of the flowers, and God’s love in the fall of a sparrow. He was able to sing, “This is My Father’s world” and really mean it. And this is what you and I need to do: not look at God through our difficulties, but look at our difficulties through God’s eyes.
How do we do this? To begin with, it means surrender. Just turn yourself and your problems over to the Lord by an act of faith. Then, it means getting into the Word. What depressed people need is more faith, and “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Read the Bible and see what God did for people in the past! Saturate your tired, disturbed mind with the medicine of the Word of God! Third, it means prayer—not the selfish praying of the believer who thinks he is the only one with problems, but the opening up of your heart to God in love and trust. Prayer works! And while you are praying, stop to let God speak to you in the recesses of your heart. Listen for His calming voice. Obey what He says to you. You may not experience deliverance from depression immediately, but keep trusting and keep praying. The clouds will pass. “Hope in God: for I shall yet praise Him!”
2. We must stop looking at the past and start looking at the future.
The writer of these psalms is preoccupied with the past. He remembers all the tears he has shed (vs. 3), and he remembers his past joys in going to the temple to praise God (vs. 4). One of the surest causes of depression is a preoccupation with the past, saying “Oh, I wish we were back in the good old days!” The good old days! Memory is a great gift, and we ought to cultivate it. The entire Book of Deuteronomy is written about that one theme: “Remember what God has done for you!”
But when memory of the past causes us to lose the blessings of the present and the future, it is sinful. In verse 6, the psalmist finally gets the right outlook: “I remember THEE!” When you remember the past, you get depressed with the present; but when you remember God, you get encouraged. We cannot recapture the past; but we still have the God Who blessed us in the past and Who will bless us today and tomorrow.
He finally gets the future outlook: “Hope thou in God.” In Psalm 43, we see what happens when you start looking toward the future. First, God gives you light (43:3). Light in the darkness! What a tremendous blessing! And, God gives us leading (vs. 3)—guidance into the will of God. In verse 4, God gives us laughter—the psalmist is actually rejoicing! And all of this comes out of a difficult experience of depression, when we turn to God and get the future outlook.
One of Satan’s chief weapons is discouragement. He wants us to think that the God of the past is a greater God than the God of the future. What a lie! The Bible makes it clear that the Christian life gets better and better, not worse and worse! We don’t have to go back into the past to enjoy life; we have all that we need right now in Christ—and the best is yet to come! When you feel yourself discouraged, it may be because you are living in the past. Start looking to the future! Lay hold of the promises of God!
3. We must stop looking for answers and start looking for assurances.
Don’t you get the impression that the psalmist is complaining to God? Why? When? Where? I have counted five times when he asks, “Why?” How prone we are when we become depressed to ask God to explain things to us! Why am I sick? Why is my family in trouble? When will God answer? Where is His power? Like a fretful little child, we are prone to ask questions; we are looking for answers, and when they do not come, our depression becomes deeper.
God does not have to give us reasons or answers: He has already given us promises. Suppose my son falls down and breaks his leg, and I sit next to him and explain how the accident happened, how the bone broke, and so on. Will this make him feel any better? I doubt it. What my heart needs is not answers but assurances. When you find yourself discouraged, don’t complain to God and ask Him to explain everything to you. Just turn to His Word and rest upon the blessed assurances that are there.
Right here in Psalms 42 and 43 we can see so many assurances about God. He is the caring God (42:1)—He cares for nature, and He will care for us. In verse 2 He is the living God, not a dead idol that is too weak to do anything! In verse 3 He is the faithful God—day and night come and go, and God keeps His promises. In verse 8 the psalmist discovers that God gives a son in the night! He is the smiling God in verse 5—“the health of His countenance.” When God smiles upon you, it is the smile of spiritual health and joy. He is the God of the mountains (vs. 6) as well as the God of the valleys. And He is the God of strength (43:2), and His strength can see us through.
You will never solve the problem of depression by reasons; you need promises. Reasons may help the mind, but promises and assurances heal the heart. Depression comes when we look away from God and His Word and start gazing at ourselves and our own needs. This is rather selfish, isn’t it?
Outlook determines outcome. If we look at self, if we look at the past, and if we look for reasons, we will become depressed and our depression will increase. But if we look by faith to God, through His Word and prayer; if we look at the future; and if we look for assurances, then we can get victory over depression and live in the light instead of the darkness.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul?”
You answer the question for yourself—and apply the proper remedy.
Of course, the man who does not know Jesus Christ as his Savior ought to be discouraged! What hope does he have? None at all! If you have never trusted Christ, please open your heart to Him. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”