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In this series that Skip called Playlist, we learn how God's identity affects our relationship with Him. We invite you to open your Bible and follow along in Psalms forty-two and forty-three as we find out how to deal with difficult circumstances and spiritual depression in this message called "Radioactive."
Music reflects life's journey. Using lyrics to explore the human experience has always been significant and powerful---even thousands of years ago in a playlist we now know as the book of Psalms. Pastor Skip Heitzig scrolls through the Psalms exploring the very nature of God and his relationship with humankind in the series Playlist.
We're about to read the lyrics essentially of an ancient worship song. That's what the psalms of David and the other psalms in this book were used as. They were used as part of the corporate, public worship of ancient Israel. But what is amazing to me is the theme that is in a worship song. The theme of these two psalms is essentially depression. And I just wonder what the choir thought when they were given the lyrics in this hymn to sing. I'm entitling this message "Radioactive" because it's reminiscent of a modern song that you heard by Imagine Dragons, "Radioactive."
And when the lead singer, Dan Reynolds, and he was also the coauthor of the song, when he was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine and they asked him about the meaning of the song, he said essentially it's about his own personal struggle with anxiety and depression. And so are these psalms that we are dealing with here. I'll give you a little bit more background before---or after we read them. But turn to Psalm 42 and 43. And if you don't mind, this morning I want to follow a more traditional practice and I'm going to have to you stand as I read these two psalms. Some churches will do this to show a respect for the Word of God and stating their belief that they trust in the authority of Scripture.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
"Where is your God?"
When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me---
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my Rock,
"Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?"
As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
Vindicate me, O God,
And plead my cause against an ungodly nation;
Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!
For You are the God of my strength;
Why do You cast me off?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me to Your holy hill
And to Your tabernacle.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise You,
O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
Let's pray before we have a seat. Father, we stand in your presence this morning as a token that we not only respect the Scripture, but that we stand our very lives, we stake our very souls upon what you have revealed to us. We stand in your presence so thankful for honest expressions like the ones that we find in Psalm 42 and 43. And we pray, Lord, that your Holy Spirit would help us to not only understand the meaning but to apply the truth. It's in Jesus' name we pray, amen. Please have a seat. The theme of these two psalms is essentially what I'm calling "spiritual depression." Now I did not come about with that phrase, it was a phrase coined by another pastor, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones was a medical doctor who became a pastor after G. Campbell Morgan of the great Westminster Chapel in London, England. And he wrote one of his greatest books ever entitled Spiritual Depression. Originally Psalm 42 and 43, we believe, were the same unit, the same song. Or that you have Psalm 42 and then as an appendix to it you have Psalm 43. And here's why: the same language is used in both psalms, the same chorus, if you will. We have in the first psalm a verse, followed by a chorus; a second verse, followed by the same chorus; and then in the next psalm the third verse, followed by the same chorus. So verse 1 the psalmist sings about dryness---in verse 1.
In the second verse he sings about drowning. That's the metaphor he uses. And in the third verse he sings about being dejected. If you will notice at the beginning of Psalm 42, the part we did not read, says: "To the Chief Musician. A Contemplation of the Sons of Korah." Now let me jog your memory back to Numbers, chapter 16, when there was a guy named Korah and he and 250 of his buddies rebelled against Moses' authority. And God simply had the ground open up and swallow them all till they died. That was his answer to that. Well, his son survived, according to Numbers, chapter 26, and we have the descendants of those sons that are represented here.
Essentially, it was their job to conduct a public worship in Israel, and there are eleven psalms that are ascribed to the sons of Korah. Now what is the occasion of these psalms? What's the background? We don't know for sure, but we could venture a guess. Some scholars believe that when David fled Jerusalem because of the rebellion of his son Absalom. Again, I'm jogging your memory to Second Samuel, chapter 15. When David left that he brought with him one of the sons of Korah, this Levite who wrote these psalms. And here they are out away from Jerusalem, longing to get back, and this Levite, one of the sons of Korah, longs to return and writes these psalms.
Well, we don't know for sure, but essentially the theme of these psalms is a person struggling, and struggling with God to make sense of the experience that he's had in his life. It is spiritual depression. It's what the ancients used to call the "dark night of the soul." Whatever you want to call it: having a bad day, being down, having the blues, being depressed. Some of you know what it's like to have your zest for life vanish, to have simple tasks feel like impossible demands, to have spiritual energy gone, to have words like "hope" and ""joy" become nothing more than just words without real meaning. In a word, you are "radioactive." That's how you feel. You have been exposed to catastrophic events that make you feel this way.
So I want to look at in these two psalms the reasons for it and the remedies for spiritual depression, the reasons and the remedies. But I want to begin by just laying a little bit of groundwork. I want to first talk about the reality of it. You've all heard of the Four Spiritual Laws, I'm sure, in your Christian life. Well, I want to give you the "three spiritual flaws," not the Four Spiritual Laws. These are three spiritual flaws when it comes to this issue of depression that I just want to overturn. Flaw number one: "It's all in your head. It's not really real, you just think it's real. It's all in your imagination." That's flaw number one. So let me be quick to answer that by quoting what the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta says about it.
According to their findings they write that "Nine percent of American adults are struggling with feelings of hopelessness and despondency and/or guilt that generate a diagnosis of depression," 9 percent. Moreover they state: "At any given time 3 percent of adults have major depression, a long-lasting, severe form of depression." Did you know the Bible says that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made"? And that implies, besides the obvious, it implies the fact that we are very complex beings, and we're held together in a very delicate balance, which means a lot can good wrong. And certain factors like genetics, or family history, or personality factors, stress, and biochemical disturbances---all can add to those feelings.
For instance, if there is an imbalance in your brain chemistry, the neurotransmitters, those chemical messengers that work inside your brain, if something is askew, you can feel a certain way because of it. So if you're serotonin level is low, that'll disrupt sleep patterns. It will increase anxiety. If your norepinephrine levels are low, it'll produce fatigue and a depressive mood can follow. If there's the increased level of the hormone cortisol, it'll intensify your reaction to fear and to stress. All that so say, your brain is a real organ, and so to deny the possibility of clinical depression is flat-out wrong and certainly unhelpful. So that's flaw number one: "It's all in your head, just imagining it."
Flaw number two: "Well, Christians should never be depressed." If you believe that, by the way, never read the book of Psalms, you'll just be disappointed, because the guys who write this are all over the emotional map. They're on a high and then pshh they're crashing---in the same psalm sometimes. Some people will paint a false picture about coming to Christ, however. They will say, "Just come to Jesus and life's problems will be automatically solved. You'll always be healthy. You'll always be wealthy. You'll always be happy." And they feel the necessity to plaster a fake smile. "How you doing, brother?" "Good. I actually go to sleep just like this." [laughter] That certainly is not helpful.
Yes, we have resources the world does not have, certainly we have the joy of the Lord which is our strength, but being phony or portraying a certain emotion as something that happens all the time is wrong. In fact, let me also say that in some cases coming to Christ actually makes the road rougher. Think of Christians in countries where persecution is huge because a person gives their life to Christ. Think of the audience that Peter wrote to when we studied Rock Solid. They received Christ and life got instantly more difficult for them adding stress and pressure. So those two flaws: "It's all in your head"; number two, "Christians should never be depressed"; Flaw number three, "If you are depressed, it means you are unspiritual or at least immature."
If you believe that, you will have a hard time with most all of the Bible, and most of the heroes of the Bible, some of the great spiritual men and women of faith in the Bible, like David who said, "My soul is in anguish. O Lord, how long?" In Psalm 6 David said, "I make my bed swim . . . with tears." Elijah the prophet, spiritual guy, when he ran from Queen Jezebel out in the desert, he said, "It is enough! O Lord, take my life!" That's suicidal. Job, last time I checked God said he was the most righteous person living on earth at the time. "Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth." You gotta feel pretty low to do that.
Then there was Paul the apostle in the New Testament who said he was "burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that [he] despaired even of life." All of them great spiritual people. Over the years you've heard me quote, probably almost every week, one of my favorite, quotable pastors Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Ever since I was a young believer, I just loved how he said words. It's like, wow! People don't take like that. He's so quotable. But then I discovered that Charles Haddon Spurgeon also suffered severe bouts of depression. And he confessed as much to his own congregation, saying, that "I have been in depths of which I hope none of you ever go."
And he also said to them, "There are dungeons beneath the castles of despair." And, yet, for some reason some of us Christians feel that we need to add stigma to those people who are feeling low and down and depressed. And if they're not doing this, we say, "Hey, come on, how come you're not doing this?" So those are flaws. This stuff is real. Now I'd like to have you look with me at these two psalms and consider some reasons for it. Now, let me be quick to say that I am not a clinician and I'm going to confine my thoughts to the psalm, because I'm an expositor, and also to this theme of spiritual depression. But there are several reasons, though there are many more, I'm just going to give you what I see in the psalm.
Reasons for spiritual depression: reason number one, expectations, expectations, unfulfilled expectations. When you expect something to happen that doesn't happen, that's an unfulfilled expectation. Verse 1, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they continually say to me, 'Where is your God?' When I remember these things, I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept the pilgrim feast."
Whoever it was that wrote this psalm, this person feels cut off from spiritual life, isolated in this incident. Whether it was a Levite that was off with David when they fled Jerusalem, or it was somebody that wrote it years later, notice the expressions: like a deer, thirsty, panting for water, wanting to find refreshment, but finding no relief whatsoever. The Bible says in Proverbs 13 that "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Once again, think who is writing this psalm: the sons of Korah. Their whole life, their whole purpose is involved in the public worship system of Israel. Whenever our purpose is challenged or our usefulness is challenged, we become susceptible to spiritual depression.
This shows up when a person feels trapped in a marriage, when a person feels trapped in a job, when a person is forced into retirement because of a medical condition. They start asking questions: "What use am I? What is my purpose?" We all have expectations and some of them are realistic. When we do this, we expect certain things to happen. But some of our expectations in life are just flat unrealistic. The more unrealistic your expectations are, the more severe the depression will be. I found an interesting article I wanted to share with you. It caught my attention. It was a Vanderbilt University study. Listen to how it opens: "Pentecostals are three times more likely than any other Christian group to experience major depression."
That caught my attention. I just thought, "Well, that's an odd thing to say. How do you study that?" Well, Vanderbilt University studied 2,850 North Carolinians over a six-month period, and their findings were that the group experienced serious depression at a rate of 1.7 percent, whereas the rate among Pentecostals was 5.4 percent. And the question becomes: Why is that? And they couldn't be definitive, but they said it's---they believe that it's because, in part, people who were already depressed were attracted to Pentecostalism's promise of physical and spiritual healing: "If you come to Jesus, all your problems will be solved, and you'll be wealthy, and you'll be healthy."
And when you live with those expectations, and they don't happen, then you come crashing down. So, number one, expectation is one of the reasons. Here's the second reason: criticism, criticism. Verse 3, he's saying, "They say, 'Where is your God?' "Verse 10, "As with a breaking of my bones, my enemies reproach me, while they say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?' "Psalm 43 verse 2, "For you are the God of my strength; why do you cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?" Whoever this author is, he's surrounded by critics. He's surrounded by those who are saying these things to him, taunting him.
Whenever you suffer for doing good, for doing right, working for God, doing the right thing, but you're mocked because of it, produces anxiety. Proverbs 12:25 tells us, "Anxiety in the heart of a man causes depression. Think of the Christian student in a secular university who all day long---been there, done that---who all day long hear "Where is your God?" or the Christian worker amongst unbelievers who say, "Where is your God?" or a believing person with a family filled with unbelievers who are saying, "Where is your God?" That kind of anxiety can build up, as the Scripture says, cause depression. I know, I know, we know that Jesus said that we should "preach the gospel to every creature." We're to be about that mandate.
But when we preach the gospel to every creature, every creature doesn't like the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you get caught in the crossfire of it, and that's where the pain comes in. Sometimes you sort of feel like Linus, right? Remember Linus in the Charlie Brown cartoon Peanuts? One day he said to Charlie Brown, "I love mankind, it's just the people I can't stand." [laughter] And when you get the critical eye, and the critical comments from people, you feel like that. So, expectation, unrealistic; criticism; here's the third: accumulation, accumulation. It's one struggle after another struggle. It's the cumulative effect of many trials that just feel like they pile up.
Verse 7, "Deep calls unto deep at the noise of your waterfalls; all your waves and billows have gone over me." Now the metaphor is in the ocean. And I don't know how much time you've spent in the ocean, but I was surfing one time in Newport Beach at the tail end of a storm. I shouldn't have gone out. I almost drowned that day. Seriously, I almost died, because I got caught in just one wave crashing after another, after another. I couldn't get out. And this psalmist feels like it's just like one trial, one event after another. It doesn't end, it all piles up---accumulation.
Paul the apostle in Second Corinthians 11 writes of his own experience: "I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and I've often gone without food; I have been cold, I've been naked. And besides everything else, I face the daily pressure of my concern for all the churches." It's that daily pressure that adds up, that feels like waves crashing down. A few years ago there was a book put out that I just found interesting and helpful, to be honest. It was called the Executive Stress Manual. It was two authors who wrote about stress. And they looked at the experiences that people have in life and they try to determine why is it that some people experience nervous breakdowns and deep depression.
And so they assigned numbers, what they called "life change units" to events that happen in life, life change units. According to their findings if a person has between two and three hundred of these life change units in a year period, they're set up for a nervous breakdown or depression, deep, deep depression. So here's some of the numbers: the death of a spouse will yield 100 life change units; a divorce will yield 73 life change units; marital separation from your mate, 65 life change units; detention in jail or an institution, 63 life change units; death of a close family member, 63; major personal injury or illness, 53; marriage, 50 life change units.
See, stress is stress, whether it's good stress or bad stress, it still has its effect. Marriage, 50 life change units; being fired, 47 life change units. Interesting that that's only three less than marriage. [laughter] Retirement from work, 45 life change units; pregnancy, 40; vacation, 13; Christmas, 12 life change units. So, accumulation. Here's a fourth reason: recollection, remembering the past, but doing it the wrong way, the wrong use of your past. Verse 4, "When I remember these things," says this author, "I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept the pilgrim feast." This author has memories of better days, what it used to be like.
And if we think that it will always be this way, because it has always been that way, you set yourself up for a crash. Life doesn't always stay the same. The past will either become a rudder to guide you, or an anchor to hold you back. It's interesting to me that there's this huge market for nostalgia these days. I think there always has been, but it's big right now. And I'm even attracted to nostalgic things. You know, we talk about the "good old days." The good old days is in part a bad memory, to be honest with you, because I remember my parents speaking during the good old days about it not being so good during those days. But it's amazing what a lapse of time will do as we look backwards.
And so whether it's in music or clothing, there's just this huge attraction toward the good old days. And the psalmist is looking back to "I remember what Jerusalem smelled like and sounded like, and it's not that way now"---recollection. Fifth and final one: preoccupation, preoccupation with yourself. When you are preoccupied with yourself, you are in the swirls of a depressive behavior pattern. Now, we're not going to do it, but I've done it for you. I counted in these two psalms 51 personal pronouns. Listen to this: the psalmist uses the word "I" 14 times; "me" 16 times; "my" 21 times. I know, you might be thinking, "Yeah, but this is his personal experience, of course he's going to talk about himself."
However, at the same time he mentions "God" 20 times, he mentions the "Lord" once. Twenty-one times "God," 51 times "me"---that's a preoccupation with self. It's out of balance, because in part this is his prayer to the Lord. His plans aren't being fulfilled. His life is crashing down. His past has been changed. And though there are many reasons that lead to depression, one of them, one basic problem is self-centeredness. So, we've seen the reality. We've looked at some of the reasons, as per these psalms. I want to close with remedies. How do you mitigate against that kind of thinking, or those kinds of experiences and your reaction in your thinking to them? What are the remedies for it?
Well, there are lots of remedies, by the way. Many of them are not good remedies. Some people will drink as a remedy, or smoke something as a remedy, or shoot something up as a remedy, and it gets worse and worse and worse. Did you know that 35 percent of people who have been or are depressed say that they solve it by watching television. Oh goodness, that makes it worse. [laughter] What are the remedies? There's three of them. I'm going to sum it up in one word: replace, replace. Take something out and put something in to replace that with. So here they are, here's the three things: replace your thoughts with his truth. That's number one, replace your thoughts with his truth; second, replace yourself with your God; and, number three, replace your past with your future.
All three are present here. Replace your thoughts with his truth. Did you notice that the psalmist in these two psalms talks to himself? Did you see that? Did you see how three times he goes, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me?" It's like he's talking to himself. "Hey, you, in there, soul, you, I'm talking to you. I'm preaching the sermon to you." He's talking to himself and he says, "Hope in God." According to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, that medical doctor who became a pastor, in his book Spiritual Depression writes: "We must talk to ourselves instead of letting 'ourselves' talk to us! Most of your unhappiness," he writes, "in life is due to the fact that you're listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself."
The New Testament calls this "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." As soon as you wake up in the morning and you hear the chatter in your head, stop it. Replace your thoughts with his truth: "This is what the Bible says about this. This is what the Bible says about that." And that's the grid that you approach your life with. So replace your thoughts with his truth. Second, replace yourself with your God. I know it is human nature to be self-absorbed in suffering, it's the nature of suffering, but at some point you're going to bring God into the picture. That's what verse 8 and 9 are all about. "The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me---a prayer to the God of my life. I will say to my Rock, 'Why have you forgotten me?' "
That's how he feels, but at least he's saying it to the Lord. " 'Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?' " He's now focusing from inward to upward. Remember what Corrie ten Boom the survivor of the Nazi war camp said? She said, "Look around and be distressed. Look within and be depressed. Look to Jesus, be at rest." Your outlook is determined by your uplook, and the psalmist looks up. Now, others can help you do this. I love the story about Martin Luther. For several weeks he just sort of hung his head and moped around the house and looked really bummed out and said just negative things. And one day his wife Katie, she was quite a pistol, she wore all black.
She dressed all in black. Now back then it wasn't you wear black because it's slimming, you wore black because you were going to a funeral. So she comes out in a black dress and Martin Luther says, "Katie, who died?" And she said, "God is dead." And he said, "Whatever do you mean?" She said, "I've been looking at your life the last few weeks. It must only mean that you believe God is dead. By your attitude around the house, God is dead." Well, that shook him to the core. It is said that Martin Luther wrote a single Latin word, vivit, which means "he lives," and placed it in his study, so every day he'd walk by it and be reminded of the truth "God lives, God lives," and the need to bring God and replace God with myself.
So replace your thoughts with his truth; replace yourself with your God; third, replace your past with your future. Three times in these two psalms the word "hope" appears. The word hope appears and the truth of hope appears in Psalm 43. Essentially, the psalmist is hoping God will defend him from his enemies, that's verse 1 and 2; hoping that God's truth and light will lead him, that's verse 3; hoping that God would restore that place of worship back in the temple, that's verse 4. It's all forgetting the past in Psalm 43 and looking ahead toward the future. Remember what Paul the apostle said, "Forgetting those things which are behind, looking forward to those things which are before"?
One of the best things you could ever do is to go home and read Revelation 21 and 22. That's your future. Whatever has happened in your past, it is your past. Much of it cannot be changed. Most all of it cannot be changed. But replace your past with your future. I want to quickly conclude by saying if you are experiencing what the ancients refer to as the "dark night of the soul," as a Christian brother or sister you are not a failure, you are a fellow member of the human race; that's all it proves. You are not a failure. Many years ago there was a young, Midwestern lawyer who was suffering deep depression. It was so bad that his friends thought, "We gotta keep any razors or sharp objects from him."
And they took him out of the house. He couldn't see any purpose for going on. He couldn't see any purpose for his future. And he wrote these words: "I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forbode that I shall not." But somehow from somewhere that young lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln got enough courage and encouragement to press ahead. It is my sincere prayer that just being among God's people today in God's house and hearing a message like this would give some of you the encouragement needed. Father, we pray that that would happen. But right now we want to pray for those who are among us.
Wherever we're seated there's somebody in front of us, somebody behind us, somebody to the sides of us, some we know well, some we don't know at all, but you know them and you know the depth of what they're facing. We pray right now for them, for the burden they're carrying, for the load that they're negotiating and struggling under. And, Father, we pray that you would be their strength. We pray, Lord, that you would give them sure reminders of your ability this week. And we pray that if not today, eventually the joy of the Lord would be their strength once again, that they would not be just words to them, that joy and peace and hope would be realities they live with. Strengthen them, in Jesus' name, amen.
What a relief to know there's a remedy for spiritual depression: God Himself and His truth. How has He carried you through difficult times? Share your story with us! Email email@example.com. And just a reminder: you can give financially to this work at calvaryabq.org/giving. Thank you for joining us for the Calvary Albuquerque with Skip Heitzig Podcast.