I know from personal experience the difficulty of battling depression, condemnation, and anxiety. The fight can take many forms, ranging from legalism to thoughts of suicide. Whatever the case, it is all overwhelming. I love Jesus and he loves me. But I have struggled with fear, anxiety, condemnation, and even depression my whole Christian life. I actually struggled so much with these issues that I had to resign from my first pastorate. I wasn't eating, I couldn't get out of bed, I was having demonic nightmares, and I was thinking about suicide. I'm not out of the woods yet, but I have learned a few things in going through these struggles about God's grace despite our failures to trust him.
Though each of us faces unique circumstances, here are a few lessons I have learned that I pray will help as you, too, battle depression, condemnation and anxiety.
1. Look to Jesus.
It’s tempting to believe that what you need is to find more answers or to “do better,” or to get yourself out of depression by sheer human effort. But what you need to do is rest in Jesus and his finished work. His job is to deliver you; your job is to rest in him. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. He wants you to rest, allowing him to fight the battle for you, through you and with you. Don’t run to legalism. Run to the Savior who will deliver you when you can’t deliver yourself.
Set aside time once a week to worship the Lord through music. Anxiety and depression focus your eyes on yourself, as the enemy wants you to focus on anything except Jesus. Worship focuses your eyes on Jesus. Don’t feel as though you have to “get your worship right.” If you don’t feel like singing or your thoughts feel very confused, then just listen to the music. Let God minister to you. You might even set up “worship nights” where you ask a few friends to come over and worship with you and pray for you.
3. Be around community.
The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Just as a lion wants a gazelle to step away from the herd to destroy it, so the enemy wants you away from people so he can destroy you. When you are facing anxiety, depression and condemnation, being by yourself is extremely difficult. Being alone too long can send you into “self-destruct mode,” and your thoughts can seem to “own you.” Being around people provides a source of community and helps you from keeping your thoughts on you.
4. Don’t answer the “broken record” questions in your head.
“Maybe I’m not really saved.” “Maybe God doesn’t love me.” “I need to clean up this area of my life before God will save me.” Anxiety and depression feed on a pattern of asking the same questions over and over, even if we’ve already answered them satisfactorily. It can feel like, as one man put it, “Vietnam is going on in my head.” Taking thoughts captive is not just a practice for issues like lust or anger. Taking thoughts captive sometimes means not answering the questions or condemning thoughts that pop into your head at all.
5. Talk to God more than you think about him.
God is a person who exists in reality outside of your mind. It is helpful to remember that he understands everything and, unlike you, is not stressed. He is absolutely confident in himself and his ability to save you. Rather than making God a puzzle to solve, remember he is a person. Talk to him. Don’t just think about him.
6. Realize that perfect faith is not required.
Don’t penalize yourself for lacking faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is disobedience. Our faith has never been and will never be perfect this side of eternity. It is okay to have faith the size of a mustard seed and to cry out to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).
Service gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto others. Find a ministry that needs help in tangible ways and set aside time to serve. Think hard about the needs in your own home that you could focus on meeting. Are there household chores, child care tasks or maintenance projects you could take on for the sake of serving your family? Who in your neighborhood or community could use your help with a project or cause? Look for ways to shift self-focus through service to others.
8. Meditate on Scripture.
When you’re battling anxiety and depression, your tendency will be to read the Bible looking for everything that is condemning, ignoring the rest. Make a list of verses that point you toward hope and God’s love. Make a list of verses that celebrate grace. Make a conscious decision to approach Scripture through the lens of God’s love and grace rather than his judgment. Ask a trusted friend or mentor to help guide you toward reading that will edify.
9. Get counseling.
You need an outside perspective on what you’re going through. Whether it is at Recovery Groups or at a biblical counselor’s office (biblical counseling versus generic “Christian counseling”), it is helpful to get advice from godly pastors and counselors to help you navigate the path to wellness.
Battling depression, condemnation, and anxiety requires you to embrace a number of reversals: Resting instead of striving. Grace instead of works. Asking instead of doing. It also requires a tremendous amount of patience. God is determined not to allow you to remain in the shadowy valley of worried, anxious Christianity, desiring instead that you would rest in gracious, peaceful Christianity. I know firsthand that he is able to lift your shadows and restore your soul.
Take hope that he remains faithful when we are faithless, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).
[© 2014 The Village Church, Flower Mound, Texas. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Adapted from “9 Ways to Battle Depression, Condemnation and Anxiety.”]