Freedom from Discouragement and Depression
What is depression? Webster’s Dictionary says it is “the act of pressing down; a
low state. A hollow place, a sinking of the spirits; dejection; a state of sadness;
lack of courage or strength.”
People who are depressed lose interest in things they previously enjoyed, and
they often experience changes in sleep or eating habits. They may feel worthless
or be unable to concentrate. They may feel lonely and hopeless. I think the
feeling of depression is one of the worst feelings there is. I can honestly say that
if I had a choice between the emotional pain of depression or some type of
physical pain, I would prefer physical pain.
The Bible does not use the term “depression,” but instead refers to the feeling
as being “downcast.” Depression is a feeling, and this book is geared toward
teaching how to control our feelings rather than allowing them to control us. Can
we control depression? I believe the answer is yes. I don’t think anyone has to
permanently live with depression. All of us experience a low-mood day now and
then. Sometimes it is because of a disappointment or a loss, but at other times we
really don’t know why we feel the way we do. If it’s just a day here and there, I
don’t think there is much to be concerned about. We are complex beings with
many intricate parts that all have to work well together for optimum health.
Some days we just don’t feel well physically or emotionally, and it is usually
best to not worry about it, get some rest, and we will probably feel better the
In this chapter I would like to look at two kinds of depression. The first type,
“medical depression,” is caused by something physical that we cannot control.
The second type is “situational depression.” That is depression caused by our
response to circumstances in life. There is help available for both, but the
treatment is different for each type.
I am not a doctor, but I do know it’s common knowledge that hormone
imbalances, neurotransmitter imbalances, and thyroid disorders are at the top of
the list of root causes of depression that has a medical source. Various brain
disorders or cardiac conditions can also cause depression. At one point I began
to notice that I was feeling sad and down each morning for about two hours, and
then I seemed to get over it for the remainder of the day. I thought I was just
tired or thinking negatively and needed to “cheer up,” but when I went to the
doctor for my regular checkup, he noticed that my thyroid was borderline low.
He said that because the levels were in the acceptable range, it would normally
not be treated, but because I had told him I was experiencing low moods, he put
me on a very low dose of natural thyroid. I can honestly say that when I took the
first pill, the mild feeling of depression I had experienced disappeared and has
Because of the stress that most people live under today, many have
neurotransmitter imbalances that may cause low serotonin levels in the blood.
Serotonin is referred to as the happy hormone, and if we don’t have enough of it,
we are likely to simply not feel happy. Serotonin levels can be altered through
medicine, but it is wise to try to correct them naturally if we can. Eliminating
excessive stress, as well as eating a proper diet and exercising, can help
immensely to balance the brain chemicals.
Many women experience depression after giving birth or during their
monthly cycle simply because of hormonal changes in their bodies. These
changes may be temporary or they might require some medical attention. The
point I want to make is that not all depression can be cured without medical
attention, and I don’t want anyone to feel condemned if they have to take
medicine for depression. On the other hand, I believe that some doctors,
including psychiatrists, often hand out pills too quickly without even searching
for other medical conditions that may be causing the depression. I also want to
encourage people who do have to take medicine to realize they may not always
have to take it.
I know a woman who was going through a very stressful time in her life and
began to have panic attacks. She went to her doctor, who encouraged her to take
a medicine for anxiety, and it did help her almost immediately. She not only took
medicine but she made some lifestyle changes to help reduce stress and made a
decision not to worry about things she had no control over. After about six
months the woman wanted to see if she could get off the medicine. She slowly
cut it down until she was able to get off it completely and has been fine ever
Even if depression is caused by medical reasons, the things I am going to
share about situational depression will help people confront the feelings of a low
mood for any reason. Recovering from depression usually requires a well-
rounded treatment program that includes things like learning to think differently,
laughing more, and worrying less. As I said, I am not a doctor, but I have been
teaching the Bible for more than thirty years, and I am certain that we do not
have to let our situations and circumstances in life depress us.
Most people who experience trouble, disappointment, or tragedy are tempted to
sink into depression. Because our moods are directly linked to our thoughts and
words, when our thoughts descend into negative territory, our moods tend to
follow. We can easily depress ourselves merely by thinking and talking about
everything that is wrong in our lives and the world in general. When God gave
us the ability to control our thoughts, He gave us a wonderful ability. We have
the ability to cheer ourselves up no matter what our circumstances are. Sadly, a
lot of people don’t know this wonderful truth. It is easy to go through life with a
victim mentality, simply believing that you can do nothing about the way you
feel, especially if you have encountered a major disappointment in life.
When God gave us the ability to control our
thoughts, He gave us a wonderful ability. We
have the ability to cheer ourselves up no
matter what our circumstances are.
Here is one simple solution the Bible gives for depression: Put on the
garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (see Isa. 61:3). What God offers us
is greater than anything the enemy offers. Praise will neutralize sadness, but we
must remember that we are instructed to “put on” praise. We cannot be passive
and merely hope the sad feeling goes away.
I have been reading a Christian classic by Hannah Whitehall Smith titled The
Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life. I was amazed and encouraged when I read
that, despite the difficulties she encountered in her life, she made a decision that
she would always believe God—with or without feelings, in good times and in
Hannah married Robert Smith when she was nineteen years old. He seemed
to be a very devout and romantic young man who managed a family-owned
business. However, it soon became clear that he was impulsive and emotional.
He was also inclined to make rash and unwise decisions, in both his business and
his personal life. Robert bankrupted the business. After having had a strong
encounter with God, Robert began to preach the Gospel. His preaching ministry
was abruptly ended by accusations of sexual misconduct. His health deteriorated
and he eventually had a nervous breakdown. Through all these difficulties,
Hannah continued to trust God and frequently said, as did Job, “Even though He
slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
Hannah and Robert had seven children, but four of them died. One daughter
was stillborn. Her oldest son, Frank, died at the age of eighteen from typhoid
fever. Her daughter Nellie died at the age of five from bronchitis. On Hannah’s
birthday, February 7, her eleven-year-old Rachel died of scarlet fever. But
Hannah clung to her faith tenaciously through all these difficulties.
She became a trusted and sought-after Bible teacher and preacher. She
experienced a real crisis in her faith when she diligently sought evidence of the
Baptism of the Holy Spirit or, as it was often called in those days, the second
blessing. Many people she knew, including Robert, had glorious experiences, but
she never did. Filled with self-doubt about her faith until it almost drove her to
despair, she made the decision to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit by faith
alone and to never doubt God again. Hannah learned in her life that her own
effort to achieve holiness was useless and that she must depend wholly on God
to do the work in her. This complete dependence became the bedrock of her
Robert died in unbelief and her adult children lost their faith. In 1911 she
died peacefully at the age of seventy-nine. Throughout her life she never lost her
faith or dishonored God. Hannah was able to say, “I have given my best and
could do no more.” Although writing was a labor of love for her and not
something she really enjoyed, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life has been in
print for 125 years and has sold millions of copies.
I hesitated to tell Hannah’s story because I don’t want to leave the impression
that the Christian life is one that is filled with only tragedy and sorrow because it
isn’t that way at all. But I do want to strongly make the point that even though
her circumstances were tragic, God led her through it all, used her mightily, and
she apparently was quite happy during most of her life—happy enough to write a
book on happiness! Hannah’s joy was in Jesus, not her circumstances.
Most of us won’t experience the degree of difficulties that Hannah did,
although some may, and the reasons why must be left in the hands of God.
Have a Chat with Yourself
When I realize I am in a bad mood, I often have a chat with myself. I say,
“Joyce, what’s your problem? Look at how blessed you are, Joyce, and stop
feeling sorry for yourself. Get your mind on something that will cheer you up
and try doing something nice for someone else.” It is amazing what good results
I get just from reasoning with myself; you should try it!
The psalmist David asked himself a question when he was feeling downcast.
He said, “Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan
over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for
Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God” (Psalm 42:5; also see
42:11; 43:5). David’s solution for depression was to hope in God and expect
something good to happen. He told himself to put on praise while he was waiting
for a change in his circumstances.
This is certainly a great example of someone not letting his feelings manage
him. David made a decision that had nothing to do with how he felt.
There are other places in Scripture where David describes feeling very low
and discouraged, and with good reason. He had many enemies, and God did not
always deliver him from them quickly. David was anointed to be king of Israel
twenty years before he actually wore the crown. Because of his jealousy and
fear, the king in power at the time, Saul, tried multiple times to kill him. David
literally hid in caves for many years, waiting for God to do something. No
wonder he had to chat with himself often and make a decision not to let his
emotions control him. He looked beyond how he felt to the God he knew to be
You can fight the feelings of depression by reminding yourself of blessings in
your life. You can listen to music or sing. Even getting your mind off yourself
by doing something kind for someone else will help immensely. Don’t forget
that our moods are connected to our thoughts; therefore, I urge you to take notice
of what you’re thinking about when you feel depressed. You may find the source
of your problem.
Talking about past victories in your life can also be a way to cheer yourself
up. Fight the good fight of faith and do everything you can to help yourself.
Compared to eternity, our days on earth are short, and we want to enjoy each one
of them. Depression and joy simply can’t dwell in the same heart, so I urge you
to find so many things to be happy about that there is no room left for
The Root of Depression
Situational depression always has a root source. Quite often it is disappointment.
When expectations are defeated or desire is frustrated, we usually feel
disappointed, and it is understandable to feel that way. If I put a lot of effort into
a thing and it bears no fruit, then I feel that I wasted my time and start to feel
discouraged. I am sure a farmer would feel that way if he did all he could to
ensure a good crop and right before harvest time a storm came and destroyed it.
Dashed expectations lead to disappointment. We expect certain things and
behaviors from people and yet we don’t always get what we expect. Sometimes
the way people behave shocks us and leaves us disappointed. We also expect
certain things from ourselves and then let ourselves down. We expect things
from God, and for reasons known only to Him, He doesn’t do what we expect.
The best thing to do when we feel disappointed is to get reappointed. Shake off
the disappointment and get a new dream, vision, goal, or plan. Often, the best
medicine for a woman who has had a miscarriage is to get pregnant again as
soon as it is safe for her health. The same principle will work for you anytime
you get disappointed. In God, there is always a place of new beginnings. It is
never too late to begin again! Each morning when the sun rises it declares, “It is
a new day; let’s start over.”
Discouragement is another root of depression. The discouraged person is
disheartened; she feels like quitting or giving up; she has lost hope and feels no
courage to keep going. When we are deeply discouraged, everything about us
feels down. Discouragement can come from being disappointed, or you might
feel that you’re in a season when life seems hard to deal with, or there seems to
be trouble everywhere you turn.
I mentioned earlier that I am having some back problems right now, and one
of the things that irritates the pain is excessive sitting. I can’t write standing up,
so I could get discouraged. I need to meet a deadline, so I need to do the writing
now. Instead of getting into a spirit of discouragement, I am adapting and getting
up frequently to stretch, using ice to combat the inflammation and taking plenty
of acetaminophen. Naturally I’ve thought, Why does this have to happen now, of
all times? I didn’t get an answer, which is normally the case when we ask,
“Why, God, why?”
Several people have remarked that I have a good attitude about this situation.
It would not be cool if I were writing a book about not letting our emotions
control us at the same time I was letting mine control me! I think it is important
for you to realize that everyone has challenges, including me, and they are never
Sometimes we see the prosperity of the wicked and that discourages us. As
children of God, we expect to be blessed more than those who are not serving
God. We might paraphrase a portion of Psalm 73 this way: “It looked to me as if
the wicked were better off than the righteous, until I realized God’s patience
does run out and He will deal with them.”
It is a serious mistake to look at what other people have and compare it to
what you have. God has an individual and unique plan for each of us, and
comparison only tends to be a source of discouragement or pride. If we feel we
are better off than others, we may become prideful (thinking more highly of
ourselves than we should); if we feel they are better off than us, we may become
discouraged and even depressed.
The Bible emphatically states that the wicked in the end will be cut off, but
the righteous shall inherit the land. I don’t think “the end” necessarily means the
end of the world or the end of our lives. I think it means when all is said and
done, in due time (God’s time), the blessings of the child of God will surpass
those of the wicked. The Word of God says in Galatians 6:9 that if we refuse to
become weary in well doing, in due time we shall reap if we don’t faint.
Another root source of depression and discouragement is feeling bad about
yourself. Feeling ashamed of who you are or suffering from abnormal guilt can
easily make you depressed. If you don’t like yourself, the bad feelings you have
inside will be a continual source of inner pain. It is vital that you learn to accept
and respect the person God made you to be. All of our behavior may be far from
what it needs to be, but if we are willing to change, God will keep working with
us, and every day we will get better and better in every way. Don’t despise
yourself because of your imperfections; instead, learn to celebrate your
successes, even small ones.
If you are depressed, try to determine what the root source is. Is it medical?
Have you been deeply disappointed? Are you discouraged? Have you
experienced a loss in your life? Do you compare yourself with others? Do you
feel a lot of shame or guilt because of past mistakes or being hurt by other
people? Do you get enough rest? Do you maintain balance in your life? What are
your eating habits? Are you deep in debt? Do you have good friends whom you
enjoy? Understanding the source of depression may help you overcome it.
Have you ever felt true despair? It is a place of total hopelessness. The person in
despair feels that there is no way out of his or her situation. The psalmist David
said that he would have despaired had he not believed that he would see the
goodness of God in the land of the living. He knew that if he allowed himself to
become totally hopeless, despair would ensue. He avoided getting to that place
by continuing to believe that something good was going to happen (see Psalm
27:13). In his classic My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers pointed out
that when Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled,” He was affirming that we
do have control over how we will react to our circumstances. “God will not keep
your heart from being troubled,” Chambers said. “It is a command—‘Let not…’
Haul yourself up a hundred and one times a day in order to do it, until you get
into the habit of putting God first and calculating with Him in view.”
Even if you have a difficult time saying that you truly believe something
good will happen, start by saying it out loud again and again, and soon you will
start believing it.
Suicides are increasing rapidly. One national hotline that takes calls 24-7
reported that in April 2007, 38,114 people called the hotline. In April 2009 the
same hotline received 51,465 calls. That is an alarming increase that I believe
has a lot to do with world conditions and negative media.
Four out of every 10 callers reported financial stress as one of their problems.
A downturn in the economy can affect our attitudes and create fear and
depression if we do not keep our hope in God rather than in the world system.
A Charlotte Observer story provides some startling statistics about suicide
attempts in North Carolina. Charlotte police reported a 55 percent increase in
suicide attempts over the previous year. A county suicide hotline fielded three
thousand more calls in March 2009 than in March 2008, and a local hospital saw
a 9 percent increase in patients who’d attempted or considered suicide. Dr. Paula
Clayton, medical director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,
stated that for every suicide, there are probably one hundred attempts.
Most of us have at some time or another in life felt that we just could not go
on and momentarily wished we were dead or thought of putting an end to it all.
Even the great prophet Elijah told God that if he was going to constantly have
enemies after him, he would rather be dead. It is one thing to have a momentary,
fleeting thought of suicide; it is quite another to either attempt or be successful at
committing it. How tragic when someone is in such despair that they would
rather be dead than go on living. Jesus died so we could have and enjoy a
wonderful, powerful, prosperous life, but we must resist every attempt the devil
makes to steal it from us.
Habits and Decisions
Depression and discouragement can become responsive habits for some people.
It is the way they respond to disappointment or trials of any kind. I had a habit of
feeling sorry for myself when I didn’t get my way, but I broke that habit with
God’s help and have formed the better habit of choosing to be happy whether I
get my way or not. I try to trust God to help me acquire what He wants me to
have, not merely what I want to have. It may sound overly simplified for me to
say, “Break the habit of depression.” But for some people, it could be just that
simple. You may have had a parent who was depressed and you grew up
thinking it was just the way to be, so your habit became the same as theirs. My
father was very negative and I became just like him, until I learned that I could
choose to be positive.
I strongly encourage you to begin managing depression or any other related
moods. Life is too precious a gift to waste any of it living in the black, empty
hole of depression.
Decision and confession: Depression and discouragement will not control me. I
will be happy and enjoy my life.