Bible Studies for Life
Matt Ward, associate pastor
First Baptist Church, Thomson
A recent Gallup poll has been making the rounds (including on the Baptist Press site): “Most Americans still consider their mental health as excellent (34 percent) or good (42 percent).”
That might not seem too bad, but it’s actually a significant drop from the same poll from 2019. The year 2020 was a stressful year for many (do I need to remind you?), and some agencies have reported a threefold increase in cases of depression in the US during COVID-19. (We talked about anxiety last week; that’s also on the rise.) But that Gallup poll included an important caveat: “The only group of respondents who reported a better mental health outlook were those who attend religious services weekly.”
Our Psalm this week, Psalm 31, gives us valuable insight into how our relationship with God can help us overcome depression. The psalmist was David, who endured some dark times in his life. The situation surrounding Psalm 31 was particularly bleak, as he is in absolute depression — he has been abandoned by his friends, overwhelmed by his enemies, and forgotten as if he were dead. Need proof that this psalm was written from the pit of despair? Jesus quoted it while on the cross. But even then, David declares his way out: God’s faithful love and mercy.
Though the Bible identifies David as the psalmist, we are not told the circumstances surrounding this psalm. In the years between David being chased out of Saul’s court and finally uniting Israel as king, he was constantly on the run, under threat of assassination, living among enemies, engaged in active warfare, and enduring friends and supporters being killed. Any one of those individually could easily cause depression; all of them together over the course of years could (should?) be devastating.
The pattern in Scripture when dealing with depression and despair is very consistent: it starts with being brutally honest about one’s circumstances, and it ends with asking God’s help in dealing with those circumstances. David tends to blend that pattern together, weaving his description of his needs with requests for God’s help and declarations of trust in God’s power.
In Psalm 31, he opens with his request of God, but as the rest of the Psalms of David explain, he has been in consistent dialog with God. And that is the key to David’s mental and spiritual health: consistent dialog with God. By now, David knows he can go to God in his need and that God will deliver him. God has, time and time again.
It has been well said that our prayers are not for God – they’re for us. God knows our situation, and He knows our need. David could speak so matter-of-factly to God not in demand, but in expectation. David’s history with God gave him complete confidence in his future. Depression and sorrow focus our attention on the negatives of our current circumstance. Sometimes, David’s approach of declaring truth in spite of feelings is the only way forward.
Even for us today, if we do an honest inventory, we each have many examples of God taking care of us in our need. (Remember, God often uses other people to take care of us!) Let that be a foundation for your ongoing dialog with God and your hope in the future.
FDR once said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” David did him one better. He reached the end of his rope and asked God to hang on to him. Throughout the psalms of David is a tension between the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. David desires to follow the righteous path, but it’s so hard. Rather than give up, he instead calls on God to give him the strength needed to endure. Because of his part history with God, David’s despair never precluded hope.
You might have recognized the words Jesus quoted while on the cross. From all earthly perspective, Jesus was without hope. But God transcends our earthly perspective. In this life and for eternity, God’s faithful love never ends for those who have come to His Son Jesus for salvation. David, a thousand years before Jesus, saw faintly what we get to live every day.
Your circumstances might be pretty rotten right now. But ask yourself these questions: Do you believe that God is with you? Do you believe that God has the power to preserve you? Do you believe that God holds your soul in His strong hand for eternity? If so, let that be the foundation for your dialog with God helping you overcome the sorrow or depression you feel. If not, use the resources available to you to find out how you can answer “yes” to each question.