When Depression Descends, Do the Next Thing
In his 2008 sermon on Psalm 42, John Piper talked about spiritual depression; specifically, what should we DO when the darkness of spiritual depression descends into our lives? Here are the third and fourth directives John Piper draws from the text.
The psalmist sings to the Lord at night, pleading for his life. Psalm 42:8 says, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” This is not a song of jubilant hope. He doesn’t feel jubilant hope. He is seeking jubilant hope. This is a prayer song and pleading song, a song “to the God of my life” — that is, a song pleading for his life.
“On this side of the cross, we know the greatest ground for our hope: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and triumphant over death.”
But isn’t it amazing that he is singing his prayer! My guess is that this is where Psalm 42 came from. This very psalm may be that nighttime prayer-song. Not many of us can compose songs when we are discouraged and weeping day and night. That’s why a singable psalter is good to keep around — or a hymnbook with the whole array of emotions. For example, Isaac Watts wrote these verses to be sung:
How long wilt Thou conceal Thy face? My God, how long delay? When shall I feel those heav’nly rays That chase my fears away? How long shall my poor laboring soul Wrestle and toil in vain? Thy word can all my foes control And ease my raging pain.
The Psalter of 1912 contains these verses to be sung the way the psalmist of Psalm 42 sang at night:
How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord, Thou God of grace? How long shall fears beset me While darkness hides Thy face? How long shall griefs distress me And turn my day to night? How long shall foes oppress me And triumph in their might? O Lord my God, behold me And hear mine earnest cries; Lest sleep of death enfold me, Enlighten Thou mine eyes; Lest now my foe insulting Should boast of his success, And enemies exulting Rejoice in my distress.
These are not jubilant songs. But they are songs of faith. And they are shaped by thinking and feeling with God in the Psalms.
Next, the psalmist preaches to his own soul. Verse 5: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Oh, how crucial this is in the fight of faith. We must learn to preach the truth to ourselves. Listen to Lloyd-Jones take hold of this verse:
Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they are talking to you. They bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: Instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for a moment. I will speak to you.” (Spiritual Depression, 20–21)
On this side of the cross, we know the greatest ground for our hope: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and triumphant over death. So the main thing we must learn is to preach the gospel to ourselves:
Listen, self: If God is for you, who can be against you? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you, how will he not also with him graciously give you all things? Who shall bring any charge against you as God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for you. Who shall separate you from the love of Christ? (Romans 8:31–35, paraphrased)
Learn to preach the gospel to yourself. If this psalmist were living after Christ, that is what he would have done.