Handling Despondency

in Handling Personal Problems

A number of years ago Ohio had a very rainy fall. The ground was so wet, farmers could not get in their crops. One anxious farmer had purchased a very costly piece of farm machinery in order to facilitate the task. Shortly after gaining access to his field, the machine bogged down in the deep mud. The farmer secured a tractor to pull it out. As he tugged and yanked, the expensive machine broke apart. He got down from the tractor, went back to his home, and killed himself.

We have all suffered from despondency on occasion. About 15 percent of American adults suffer from serious depressive illnesses each year, and it has been estimated that one third of all adult women have been depressed to the point of considering suicide. Despondent people often express how lonely they feel, that they are unloved and uncared for. They have a feeling of hopelessness and may feel helpless. Nothing seems to have meaning or purpose. Who has not felt this way, even if only for a brief period of time? These periods of despondency or depression often reoccur and can be a factor in our lives that must be dealt with.

There are both physical and psychological reasons for feeling despondent. Despondency can occur because of periodic changes in the body brought on by the menstrual cycle. It can occur because of anemia, low blood sugar, post parturition blues, hormonal changes, or fatigue. Any of these causes can be addressed and aided by dietary adjustments or changes in lifestyle. Some may want to use food supplements. Others may prefer medications. But there are psychological causes that cannot be handled in a physical manner. Both physical or psychological causes need to be determined, and this may take some effort.

Ask Yourself Why

Since we all suffer from despondency occasionally, it would be beneficial to consider what might be causing it. Though we might not always be able to tell, we should try to determine the reason. Consider Job, for example. He suffered terribly and was very despondent. No matter how hard his friends tried to convince him that his trouble came because he had done something wrong, he adamantly defended himself and insisted he hadn’t. The fact is: Neither they nor Job knew the cause. Only later, when God revealed the reason, did they understand. It often happens that when we suffer depression it is only afterward that we realize how we contributed to it. Sometimes, however, we are not the cause at all. Depression can occur because of events beyond our control, such as upsetting circumstances like the death of a spouse or family member, divorce, a jail sentence, job loss, forced retirement, or loneliness. Reasons for which we may be responsible are guilt, hatred toward others, negative thinking, lack of a goal in slife, self-pity, and self-centeredness. The fact is: In this life we are bound to suffer from despondency on occasion, and regardless of the cause we must be fortified against the cloudy and dark day ahead. There is always cause and effect. Nothing happens without a reason. If we can think in terms of facing difficulty, we can be on guard and do what we can to thwart it, or at least lessen it. Here is what Solomon wrote: “I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness” (Eccl. 7:25).

Bertrand Russell once wrote that he became famous because he occasionally sat down and thought things out. He said anyone could become successful if he just sat down and thought things out once a year. Yet most people suffer through one problem after another, and the depression that goes along with it, never taking the time to evaluate why such things are happening and how they can avoid them. They never ask why they feel the way they do and what factors were involved to bring them to a despondent condition. Solomon’s statement above says a lot. A serious mistake can be made when one leaves God out of the picture. The best solutions that men can offer are generally temporary.

The Bible tells us: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil” (Prov. 3:5-7). It is difficult for many people to be completely honest with themselves. For this reason, when despondency results from their own doings, they cannot face it. Human nature is deceitful and generally biased. The Bible tells us: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Yes, indeed! Who can really understand it? This is why it is so important to learn to trust God for understanding.

Probably the most common cause of despondency is self-centeredness. We will comment on this in a later section. One of our most common proclivities is believing that the world revolves around us. This attitude is responsible for innumerable problems. When we find that others refuse to accept us because of this view, or that it is opposed by people or events, we tend to get upset and hostile. Anger is directed toward what we feel has thwarted us. Frustration then sets in, which in turn leads to despondency. Hatred and bitterness are manifestations of self-centeredness. Such people fail to realize that happiness does not come from self-centeredness but from manifesting outgoing concern for others. Hatred and bitterness mixed with despondency are devastating to the soul.

One of the major characteristics of the “last days” is self-centeredness. The Apostle Paul wrote: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Tim. 3:1-2). It has been said that the origin of war begins with theft. How true. Nations always strive to fulfill their self-interests, often at the expense of other nations and even of their own people. Hatred and bitterness toward other nations are generated to justify grabbing the wealth of others. How much despondency for the innocent victims has been created by this self-centeredness. We only have to view the refugees and the starvation that arises because of war to witness this. Regardless of the degree of self-justification, the consequences of self-centeredness have led to a world that is full of despair and despondency, hopelessness, and dejection This is seen in both those who feel deprived of what they feel they deserve, and for innocent victims who have been physically harmed by the self-centeredness of others.

Go to God for Help

It is a part of the human experience to suffer-some to a greater degree, others to a lesser degree. “Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him” (Eccl. 8:6). Regardless of the cause, there is a source of encouragement available for all. That source is God. He is there to help us in all our tribulations. We can rely on God’s help by focusing on Him during these times. In this life human beings are bound to experience difficulties and trials, and sometimes these trials may last for a long time. “Although affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:6-7). We must learn to take these trials patiently.

What does the Bible say? “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7). By laying our problems at God’s feet, He will ultimately help us through. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth. He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them” (Ps. 145:18-19).

Jesus emphasized the need to always trust God. God does not always intervene immediately because there lessons we must learn first. Jesus illustrated the importance of persistent prayer.

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. “And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? (Luke 18:1-7)

While this parable illustrates how a judge of this world would react to a widow’s persistent request, more importantly the parable demonstrates that for an answer to our prayers, we must be diligent in seeking God. We must learn to rely on Him to help us overcome despondency and despair.

Ask for Wisdom

Many of the problems and difficulties we experience are brought upon us because of a lack of wisdom. This is why the Bible tells us: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). Wisdom has been defined as knowledge that flows together as a stream. That is, one who has wisdom knows how all the facts he has learned should make up an integrated whole that makes sense. One who lacks wisdom makes mistake after mistake, and consequences must be paid for these mistakes.

People lacking in wisdom generally lack foresight. The Bible states: “A prudent man foresees the difficulties ahead and prepares for them; the simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (Prov. 22:3 TLB). The source of wisdom is God. The fact is: No true wisdom can exist apart from holiness. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments . . . ” (Ps. 111:10). “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). When one relies on the Word of God for a guideline, in most cases he will be able to discern the source or cause of his despondency. There are eternal principles found in the Bible that can be applied to every situation that arises, even in this modern world. This is why relying on God is so important. Above all, do not trust in your own wisdom. Why? “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God . . . .” (1 Cor. 3:19).

Be Persistent in Seeking God

Sometimes people who pray fail to get answers to their prayers. Why? God does not hear sinners. One who knowingly is doing wrong should not expect God to hear his prayer. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me ” (Ps. 66:18). “The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous” (Prov. 15:29). “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” (Prov. 28:9). “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1-2). One with a right heart before God and who honestly seeks His will, can expect answers to his prayers. But he must be persistent.

Jesus gave this example:

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity [persistence] he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:5-10)

Jesus went on to say that God is more willing to give us His Holy Spirit than we are willing to feed our hungry children. Through the power of God’s Spirit, we can overcome despondency and despair. But we must exercise faith in God. Paul tells us: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).

Help is available in time of need.

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

By going boldly to God’s throne, and by being persistent, we can overcome the many trials and difficulties of life. By this means we can conquer despondency, hopelessness, and depression.

The Problem of Guilt

A major cause of despondency is guilt. In fact, guilt is considered the greatest single cause of depression for the Christian. These guilt feelings can be for either past or present sins. Countless numbers of people are unaware that man’s conscience was placed in him by God. Paul wrote that the Gentiles who had never been given God’s revelation, practiced certain principles of right and wrong, and evaluated those principles by their conduct. Paul wrote: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:14-15). Generally, when one receives an understanding of what God really requires of man, the conscience is aggravated and guilt increases. Paul explained: ” . . . I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead” (Rom. 7:7-8). A better way to phrase verse eight would be: “For I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not lust. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment (that commandment which expressly forbids it) wrought in me all manner of lusting.” (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft). Paul went on to say: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (v. 9). That is, Paul had now become aware of lust to the degree that he realized he was under the penalty of death. Guilt placed an important part in this realization.

While some psychiatrists may attempt to alleviate guilt by convincing the guilt ridden that the problem is merely a minimum phenomena of life, the fact is that unresolved guilt has led to such disorders as mental instability and even suicide. Guilt cannot be erased except by means of repentance. Repentance includes coming to understand what sin really is, and then in deep sorrow to turn from that sin, that is, to stop doing what is wrong. Christ took upon Himself the penalty for our personal sins. When we realize we have been guilty of causing the death of Christ, then sorrow for sin will be godly sorrow. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10).

The sorrow of the world is only temporary remorse, lasting until the next temptation. What is sin? The Bible states: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). The violation of the Ten Commandments, both in intent and deed, constitutes sin in the sight of God. In order to erase guilt, this is what we must repent of. The Bible directs: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov. 28:13). “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

Attempts to remedy guilt by other means give only temporary relief. Other means may include engaging in physical activity such as exercise, involving oneself in an interesting hobby, going to movies, reading a book, surrounding oneself with bright colors, or listening to enjoyable music. These activities may help for a while but will not erase the cause-violating God’s Law in one form or another. The key to ridding the heart and mind of guilt is repentance. This is the only workable and lasting solution.

Have a Worthwhile Goal

A lesser known cause of depression is the lack of definite goals, both daily and long ranged goals. The sense of accomplishment in realizing these goals generates feelings of satisfaction and success. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (Prov. 13:12). “The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul . . . .” (v. 19). The danger in this, however, is making ourselves slaves to the goals we have set. Goals should be means to a the end, not the end in themselves. Some people set unrealistic goals and then work feverishly to accomplish them. They often end up frustrated and guilt ridden because they feel they have failed. This is a negative use of something that should be positive.

There is one other side of the coin to consider in the accomplishment of physical goals. There can be a downside. The letdown that often occurs following success can be a cause of depression and despondency. The body needs to readjust to a normal state after the emotional thrill of some achievement. The larger the success the more the letdown. This is why there must be a goal larger than the physical.

All physical goals are limited. Only by achieving a spiritual goal can man’s potential be fully realized. We may recall what happened to the Ohio farmer at the beginning of this article. Had his goal in life been spiritual, he would have seen his monetary loss as only temporary. The only worthwhile long range goal is to attain to eternal life. This is a lifetime process that requires many trials and tribulations. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all” (Ps. 34:19). Paul told the Christians in Asia Minor ” . . . that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Paul described his quest for this goal. He spoke of Christ and said that his desire was to:

. . . Know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:10-14)

Much understanding of the purpose of life can be gained from studying the Bible. Today, the vast majority of people have no understanding of why they were born, what life is all about, and where they are going. They have no grasp of simple Bible principles, and the need to overcome the pulls of the flesh. They do not really understand what God’s plan of salvation really is. Their whole lives are wrapped up in the amenities of this physical life and what it has to offer. They have no goal of lasting value. While physical goals are necessary and serve a temporary purpose, they do not truly satisfy the needs of the soul. Consequently, many suffer the constant recurrence of despondency and depression- a routine part of their lives. Those who have Bible insight and understand the things mentioned above have much for which to be thankful.

Appreciate What You Have

Many find it difficult to be thankful for who they are, what they are, and for the things they possess. In a myriad of ways, they constantly compare themselves with others. Because they are self-centered, their minds are entirely wrapped up in themselves. Self-centeredness leads to negative thinking, which in turn has harmful effects on both the mind and body. As noted earlier, self-centeredness is a major cause of despondency. Some suffer from physical ailments because they can only see the down side of every circumstance. Being extremely unhappy, such people are in a constant state of depression. This affliction is habit forming and may continue for life. Self-pity is another facet of self-centeredness. Caused by failure to appreciate the many blessings they possess, they evaluate life on the basis of the immediate around. They have little understanding about the lack of opportunities and of the low standard of living in developing nations.

Christians should not allow themselves to cater to self-centeredness and negative thinking. This wrong view of life can be displaced by focusing the mind on positive things. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Above all remember that God is the Giver of all things. He gives us the air we breathe, the food we eat, the home in which we live, our children, family, and friends. Our responsibility is to obey Him, to respect one another, to work hard, to be a good example of positive thinking. And also be thankful and appreciative for what we have.

The Bible emphasizes the importance of thinking positively and being thankful. Consider the following texts:

I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people” (Ps. 35:18).

“Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Dan. 6:10).

“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17).

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).

“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18).

“Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Ps. 106:1).

“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col. 3:15).

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6).

“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15).

Those who can realize the value of the above texts will have minimum trouble suffering from despondency. They will be able to see through the trials of life and anticipate the blessings that follow with happiness and peace of mind.

Give to, Help, and Share with Others

A sure way to get the mind off the self is by giving, helping, and sharing with others. This can be done in a number of ways. Sadly, the people who are the most miserable are those who are the most selfish. They refuse to do one thing for, or give anything to others, especially those in need. Elderly folks often need help in their homes, or help with their yards. Sick people need encouragement and a helping hand. The poor often need food, clothing, and shelter. Contributions can be made to worthy causes for these folks. One who has little to do would find it very positive to volunteer in programs designed to lift up the downtrodden. What can one expect in return? Solomon wrote: “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Eccl. 11:1). What this means is that if one is willing to give and share, the good he has done will eventually return to him. God takes account of all these things. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).

What did Jesus say?

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. (Matt. 25:32-45)

The Apostle Paul said this: “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). When the rich young man came to Jesus, what did Jesus say to him? ” . . . If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matt. 19:21). We are not all rich, but we can follow Jesus by giving, sharing, and helping others. This is an important way to overcome despondency. Why? Because it gets the mind completely off the self, and self-centeredness no longer can rule our emotions and ruin our lives. Two final texts should suffice to help us realize the value of helping others. “Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s”(1 Cor. 10:24). The word “wealth” is not in the original Greek text, and the simple meaning is that we are to seek the good of others. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15:1).

If we can apply the various principles outlined in this article we can handle despondency and all the ensuing problems that accompany it. Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that if we repent of our sins, are baptized, and receive God’s Spirit, we will have the help we need from God to be filled with joy and happiness. For ” . . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).

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