Spiritual Depression

Matthew 5:3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (NIV)

I've suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, it gets so bad that I have to take medicine; at other times, I manage to get through on my own willpower and strength. It's not something that we who suffer from it can predict will happen, and because there is still such a stigma attached to it, we don't want to broadcast it or burden others with our woes. We just have to get through each day and hope that the gloom will lift eventually. I find that the winter months can be the most gruelling, which may have something to do with the shortened days and longer nights.

When I think about depression, I have my own ideas. Firstly, I think that everybody goes through some form of depression in their lives. Secondly — and I know it will sound crazy — I wonder if we're supposed to hibernate as mammals and slow down during winter. All our current busyness and hyperactivity seems to go against the natural order of things. Some scholars believe that in Mark 6:7-13, Jesus sent out His disciples on a winter mission while He took a break from teaching with his own family, and they regathered in the spring.

In my bleakest moments — and believe me, there are some real dingers — I turn to the Scriptures for help and comfort. Usually, a verse from the Psalms pinpoints what I'm experiencing, but overall, today's highlighted verse from the lips of Jesus keeps me focused on getting better and holding on to my faith. I guess this verse appeals to me because personally, depression feels like a time of spiritual poverty and emptiness in my soul that only God's presence and compassion can fill.

Perhaps you weren't expecting this kind of confession from me. After all, I'm a pastor, so I should be so full of the Spirit that depression should not be able to touch or affect me. But like many great characters in the Bible, I'm only human, so of course, I can succumb to depression — just like Abraham, Jacob, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Naomi, Saul, David, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Mary, Peter, Thomas, Paul, John Mark … and the list goes on.

Whatever you are going through today, please know this: as one who trusts Jesus, you belong to God and His kingdom, which means that you are loved eternally and embraced completely.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we all need to be reassured and loved. When depression overwhelms us, keep us safe in Your arms. When spiritual poverty besets us, enrich us with Your compassion and love. In Your holy name, we pray. Amen.

1 comment on this post.
  1. PresbyCan Feedback:

    Thanks,
    John, for the honest word. God bless.


    Thank you for being open and for a fresh look at “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.


    Thank you John for sharing a most difficult affliction. I can only imagine what you go through. God bless.


    Pastor John,
    I have followed you for more than 10 years. God bless.


    Our granddaughter got a SAD light for my husband for Christmas one year. That seems to help him. I guess it does not help everybody.
    (ON)


    I could have written this devotion. I know exactly what you are talking about. Thanks for sharing this. I particularly appreciate the last paragraph and your prayer. Blessings


    Elijah … wanted to die, when he went down the rabbit hole of depression, after having played a major roll in God’s work on Mount Carmel in dealing with Arab and the Baal prophets.


    Thanks for sharing this very human weakness John. Many would be too embarrassed but you hit the nail on the head. It is part of the human condition and the answer is not medication but Jesus.


    Dear Pastor John
    May the light from Jesus shine on you always as He carries you in the hard times and walks beside you in the good times.


    Thank you for this brutally personal, but inspiring, devotional this morning. The line “you are loved eternally and embraced completely” really says it all, doesn’t it?
    Blessings always.


    John
    Thanks for reflecting my experience and reminding me to move through it with God’s help.
    God bless you.


    I have been so blessed by your conversion story, your devotionals and now by this admission of depression. This devotional came on a day when I was feeling extreme spiritual poverty. Thank you for your ministry to all of your readers.


    Dear Pastor Stuart:
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with depression with a fellow sufferer. Your example of using your faith and scripture readings is an inspiration to me. God bless.


    Thank you for sharing so openly and with confidence through our Lord.
    I see attitudes changing because of people like you!
    Loved the closing line about spiritual poverty…it resounded with me. There are those days.
    (ON)


    Dear John,
    Thank you for opening your heart to us, as you have many times. What comes from the heart speaks especially clearly. Thank you for your words of encouragement, which will touch many.
    Blessings.


    Dear John Stuart,
    I pray for you as you suffer times of depression.
    Some folks recommend getting into the sunshine of a window for some time during the day when depression is worse in winter. I’m thankful to have a big south kitchen window.
    Keep writing.


    Thank you for today’s devotional, based on Matthew 5:3.
    I struggle with bipolar disorder, so depression and mania are well-known to me. Mania is no more pleasant than depression! To have thoughts or ideas that race so fast I could not possibly write them down, or feel like I’m kiteboarding on a very stormy ocean, is total chaos. I’m sure you get the general idea. Yes, I need meds every day.


    God bless you!
    Thank you for sharing this today. Yes, unfortunately depression does not care who it effects for sure. One thing that is good, is recognizing it for what it is. Praying for you that you will feel God’s protective arms around you in times like these and that there will be less and less times like these.


    Thanks for your insights on depression. My mother had many problems with depression and I’ve been somewhat fearful of having similar problems, and now I find that reading the scriptures and claiming the promises are my best help with the fears and depressing feelings that can come. In the last couple of years the Daily Lectionary Readings plus reading the schedule of Billy Graham—1 Proverb and 5 Psalms per day plus my favorite devotionals help a great deal.


    Hi John,
    I think you are right, we all go through periods of depression at times, times when we are “down in the dumps,” I had a couple of days like that a week or so ago, and then I say things or write things which are not good. I feel as you do, I believe in God, in Jesus, I should not experience this, but I think we all do at times. And then scripture will indeed help us.
    Thank you for writing


    I was interested to read your devotion. I too suffer from depression and have often said to friends and family that I was meant to hibernate in the winter.
    I am currently taking a maintenance dose of an antidepressant.
    For sometime I berated myself for just not having enough faith to get past this.
    It is comforting to me to know even a pastor can fight this fight.
    With God’s help we shall survive.


    John, I am the same, especially bad in Jan and Feb. winter blahs.
    You are definitely right about activity. Nature takes a rest, fields do well if they lie fallow, we are part of nature.
    Trouble is hard to keep your cool when so many other people are cranky. I just got a blast from a customer about something THEY did. Phew. Am trying to find some gracious way to respond. As a pastor you know what I mean!
    I really need your sharing today.
    Thanks so much.


    Hi John,
    I always appreciate the devotionals you write but want to thank you in particular for your devotional about depression. I found it very timely as I am experiencing great grief and depression in my life right now and am going to be preaching on joy!! How’s that for a challenge?! It is good to know that others in the ministry suffer from depression too, yet can still proclaim the Word like yourself.
    Hang in there. Others are hanging, too. You are not alone.
    Blessings,
    (Saskatchewan, Canada)


    Thank you, John, for sharing this honest devotional with us. Depression is indeed a bummer, but also a blessing because our sorrowful days propel us into the arms of our comforting Saviour. He assures us of welcome. “Come unto me all Ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (My paraphrase from memory.) While many interpret his words as referring to physical work and others think of the travail of childbirth, these words have always comforted me when I found myself in yet another black hole of despair. The thought of resting securely in my Savior’s loving arms encompasses and carries me through many a bleak winter day. Enough musing from me for now. Thanks again and many . . . Blessings.


    Wow. That was a powerful devotional. Talking about stigmas. Pastors are indeed human, as we all are, and God uses people like you, to show His power and grace through you. It is people that place pastors on a pedestal as well as teachers and so on, forgetting that we are all human, make mistakes, and are susceptible to disease, illnesses and mental breakdowns.
    I don’t know what it is like to suffer depression, but I have witnessed it in both of my girls. They are on medication and one is seeing a psychologist. Thank God for psychologists and medication. They are doing fine. Thank you for your honesty. It is people like you, that show others that we are not perfect. The time will come when we will be! Thanks be to God.


    Thank you for your Devotionals.
    I am saddened to see that there is a stigma attached to depression.
    Perhaps sometime you would be willing to write a Devotional to inform us of a course of action to take to support those who have times of feeling ‘poor in spirit’.
    My daughter-in-law was diagnosed as “bi-polar.” She will not talk about it; she will not attend family gatherings; and there are times when she is highly critical of both family and friends for no apparent reason. I love her; she is a good and caring mother. My son and all in our family try not to say or do anything that might hurt or offend her.
    Truly if there was something that we could do to help her we would willingly try.
    I will continue to uphold you in my prayers.
    Peace and blessings.


    From another person who has battled depression for years, sometimes with medication and sometimes not, I really appreciate your message.
    Last year both my mother and sister died within two weeks of each other leaving me to do the one estate and watching my sisters family reshuffle.
    I keep thinking of Job’s story knowing I do not have it as bad as he did at this time. Your mentioning how many other biblical people had suffered this depression and the rest Christ took in winter really helped me.
    Thank you John for sharing what many of us struggle with at many times of the year or in our lives.
    Peace and Hope be with you,
    (Ontario, Canada)


    Good morning John. Thank you so much for your devotional and for your sensitivity in sending it at this difficult time of the year, as you mention. I have copied it to pass on to my friend, as her son suffers painfully from depression. I think your open honesty will perhaps help my friend and perhaps even her son. I suffered deep depression only once, following some loss of vision and I hope never to be in the whirlpool again. I was helped by several friends and family members and I know by prayer. As I began to recover, my biggest question was what is the point, there is really no reason to live. It was then that I remembered our catechism. “What is man’s chief end” and the reply “Man’s chief end is to Glorify God and to enjoy Him forever “. I thought oh, I can do that, that is important, I sure can do that and I would say that is also what keeps you rocking. Thanks be to God.


    Greetings from Canada, John!
    This winter so far has been brutal, I can’t remember this much snow and cold spell since 1969!
    This February is quite a challenge not only to me (who does not have a history of depression) but for my family members and dear friends it’s been a struggle.
    Thank you for sharing this incredible devotion!
    May God strengthen you! Child of God. We are not alone!
    Spring will be coming soon. Thank you!
    Enjoy, and have a blessed and great weekend.
    God bless you.


    You put it better than I could, but accurately.
    Thank you.


    John, Thank you for sharing so honestly. It will help. My husband suffers from depression and feels he has always. He doesn’t know what being happy means. I do believe at times we all feel sadness but not the depth that he feels. And of course, that depth is different at different times. I admire him that each day he gets up and makes it productive and pray for him and myself that remember the great gift that Jesus gave us and that God loves us more than we can every know.


    Dear John Stuart,
    Your devotional about Spiritual Depression was sent to me by a friend this morning. I must say it is beautifully honest. I suffer from a rare mental disorder where I can have negative thoughts and voices from time to time which spiral me into depression. This can also work in the opposite direction as well.
    I am thankful to have a loving husband, family, friends, pets, church, and professional support. They help carry me from each episode. I stick to my medication regime.
    Depression is like a dark force in the brain that can cause despair and even confusion. It is not of the brain but it can take hold of it.
    Wintertime is a good time of year to absorb as much sunlight as possible. Listening to music, taking short walks, exercise, reading devotionals such as yours, preparing and eating comfort food, keeping medical appointments, and spending time with others and pets, and prayer and Bible study are all helpful.
    God bless you and keep you.


    Not crazy at all. It should be called brain disease. We don’t call heart disease “emotional disease”.
    Sometimes I’m asked why I never talk about it. The answer is, because it’s depressing.
    May God keep you.


    Good morning John
    Once again your message comes at a time that is meaningful for me. Prayer and keeping positive help me each day. Please continue your Devotionals.
    Sharing our blessings.


    I believe Charles Spurgeon dealt with great times of depression and yet God used him mightily just like he is using you. We are not neatly tied boxes and where the rubber meets the road, He graces our journey with His compassion. I have read your devotional messages for many years. Many have made me laugh, think and give thanks for His unspeakable gifts!


    Many thanks for your uplifting words – a balm to my soul! I am going now to look up the Mark 6 reference.


    Dear Reverend Stewart,
    I have given a lot of thought concerning your problem with depression.
    My mother had that problem for many years. She was adopted and consequently thought her parents didn’t want her. I don’t know she was ever told anything about her parents. My grandparents were wealthy and provided my mother with luxuries few people in their community were able to afford.
    My Dad was from a large family and they were very poor, which was another reason why it was difficult for them. But they loved each other and my siblings and I were dearly loved.
    I have been a widow for many years and still find it hard to be without him. But, thankfully I have family very close to me. They take very good care of me, for which I am so very grateful.
    I pray for all my family and also for those who send the much appreciated devotionals.
    With love and hope for better days ahead.