The depressed self tries to take over. Don’t listen to him. Talk to him. Yes, those who fear for your stability may think your depression means you’re crazy. Risk confirming their suspicions by talking to yourself! You have Psalm 42’s permission.
In his classic work Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones reflects on Psalm 42 and advises thusly:
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 start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment 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. . . .”
The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “Why art thou cast down”—what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: “Hope thou in God”—instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: “I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God.”
The depressed person must defy his depressed self. Stop listening; start talking. Don’t blather. Don’t mumble. Take hold of yourself and preach! Proclaim glad tidings of great joy. (This is not the same as positive thinking or “word of faith” theology’s false doctrine of the tongue’s power. That is magic. This is preaching the sufficiency of Christ.) Tell yourself that you are loved by God, that Christ has died in your stead, that the Spirit lives in you, consecrating you to God and guaranteeing your salvation. Inform yourself that Jesus is your defense attorney, that he pleads his blood in response to every charge brought against you. Tell your depression that its days are numbered, and even if it should—God forbid—last till your dying breath, it will thus be vanquished for all eternity while you escape to everlasting joy. That’s thumbing your nose at it! It won’t win. Christ won, so Christ will. You will outlast your depression, because Christ in you, the hope of glory, will outlast it.
Most of us have a tape that plays in our head. The tape is set to repeat, and its accusatory message loops over and over. The tape may play a message from the Devil or perhaps something that has burdened us since childhood. I have a tape that plays in my head every now and then, something that comes from the neuroses of my childhood, my desire for significance, and my timidity. Your tape may say any of the following:
- You can never be forgiven.
- God doesn’t love you.
- Jesus didn’t die for you.
- You aren’t smart enough to trust Jesus.
- You aren’t holy enough to trust Jesus.
- You are the failures of your parents.
- You are the failures of your children.
- You are your failures.
Our devilish accuser and our accusatory self are very innovative. They hear from us what would be the most crushing thing to hear, and that is what they record for us to listen to.
My tape says this: You are only as good as what you haven’t done.
This toxic message wrecked my inner life as a child. I would achieve or express talent, but it never seemed good enough. The voice inside always asked, “But what else? Is that it? That’s the best you can do?” This voice has been with me a very long time. It plays sometimes at a whisper, sometimes at full volume, at inopportune moments. When I have made a mistake as a parent, as a husband, as a pastor, it may blare in my ear without warning. It says “so what?” about any success or affirmation I have had; it asks “what else?” It tells me that I am only as good a parent, a husband, a pastor, or a Christian as my failures in these areas.
Since my moment of gospel wakefulness, the tape plays much less often, but when it does, I know just what to do with it. I do what you ought to do when your tape plays. Don’t press pause. Press eject. Remove the tape, drop it to the ground, and crush it under the heel of Christ, who is your righteousness.
Don’t listen to your tape anymore. Don’t trust your own reasoning. You can’t trust yourself when you are depressed. Richard Sibbes wrote a powerful little meditation for the depressed and the discouraged called The Bruised Reed, in which he tells us:
We must not judge of ourselves always according to present feeling, for in temptations we shall see nothing but smoke of distrustful thoughts. Fire may be raked up in the ashes, though not seen. Life in the winter is hid in the root.
You can’t trust depression, no matter how “reliable” it is. Defy yourself by believing God is doing something in and through you that you can’t see. Gospel yourself!
Your proclamation to yourself may sound something like this:
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar. (Ps. 42:6)
The psalmist is remembering something else now. He remembers times of God’s closeness. He remembers God’s historic faithfulness. He remembers the land of Jordan, where the river gives lush land, where the Israelites crossed from wandering to the land of promise. He remembers the land of Hermon, the pearly snow-capped summit, a height of heights. He remembers Mount Mizar, a smaller range, perhaps a place of exile and comfort. Whether these memories are personal recollections of places of intimacy with God or general recollections of God’s goodness to his people, the climax of God’s historic and localized act of faithfulness is this: the cross of Christ.
Is your soul cast down within you? Remember God, therefore, from the land of Judea and of Jerusalem, from Mount Calvary.
Always remember the cross, which is the historical verification of God’s justice and mercy. The cross is proof that God loves sinners.