Most depressions are of the common-cold variety. The majority of people don’t necessarily have physical or deep psychological reasons for being depressed. We’re not suicidal; we’ve just lost perspective. What we need is a fresh encounter with God in the midst of normal struggles. And that’s exactly what Psalm 77 provides.
Psalm 77 was written by Asaph, a choir director, one of David’s key men, a godly man. His writings give us a pattern to follow to regain our equilibrium when life gets us down. For most of us simply learning to practice what we see in Psalm 77 will help us stay focused during difficult times. I’ve noted six life lessons found in this psalm that we can apply at such times.
Lesson One: Cry Out to God
1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.
3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
Depression can feel like a cold tunnel with no light at the end. The psalmist said, “I cried out to God for help.” He’s saying, “God, I can’t get through. Are you up there? I am hurting down here.” Life can get so confusing; you don’t know whether it’s anger or depression; sometimes life can seem so mixed up that you can’t even speak. In those times, cry out to God, even if all you can do is groan. When you feel brokenhearted and crushed, pour out your heartfelt cries.
Lesson Two: Recall Past Blessings
4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired:
As the psalmist lay wide awake, he reviewed his personal history. Asaph thought, “It didn’t always used to be this way.” He recalled when God felt near, and his words strike familiar chords in the hearts of those who have been depressed. They too have said things like, “I don’t get it, God. I used to feel your joy with me, but that seems like a distant dream.”
Asaph willed himself to remember past blessings. Taking time to recall God’s specific blessings in our past provides perspective and peace in the present. If you have a hard time seeing blessings today, list the best things that have happened in your life. Look back over the past week or month and jot down every possibility. If you go blank, look back over the past year. Cite times God answered your prayers or times you were protected.
Lesson Three: Ask God the Hard Questions
7 Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
Asaph asked several searching questions. You may think God wouldn’t tolerate such inquiries, but Asaph sincerely posed the questions that weighed heavily on his heart. When you get down, really down, do you ask some of these same kinds of questions?
Where is God?
Where is His peace and joy?
Where is the abundant life that God promises and that I’ve even experienced and have told other people about?
Where is my faith?
When life gets you down, it is normal to ask such questions of God. Some people are ashamed to admit this kind of inner turmoil, as if voicing such thoughts offends God. But I don’t think God was offended that Asaph asked Him questions. Invite God to help you understand what’s going on.
Lesson Four: Choose to Redirect Your Thoughts
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
Notice the shift in Asaph’s thinking: “Then I thought.…” That’s good. Sometimes we need to think our way out of depression. Asaph did just that when he added, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” It’s as if he were saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do; I’m going to look back. I’m going to force my mind back to the years when I saw God doing great things.”
Lesson Five: Magnify God to Diminish Your Problems
If you hold a problem closely and you focus on that, what do you see? You see everything through the lens of that problem. The psalmist demonstrated how we can pull back and get perspective.
13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
16 The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth
trembled and quaked.
Asaph used an interesting Hebrew phrase for God that literally means “God, the Most High.” The ancient name is El Elyon. It refers to God as the Creator and Protector of the universe. Asaph reminded himself that He was not a god, He is the God, Most High. This was written at a time when the Hebrew people lived among those who worshiped Canaanite deities. Ba’al was known as the Canaanite god of the sea, thunder, and storm. Asaph asserted that the God of the Hebrews is superior. Having made that claim, he reminded himself that God to whom he appealed is in charge of all nature and superior to any so-called deity.
After concentrating his attention on God’s mighty acts, Asaph then shifted his focus to God’s ways. There’s a progression: focusing on God’s acts leads to remembering His ways, which reveals His character. The word “holy” in this passage means “above reproach, in unapproachable light.” When we see God as holy and realize that He is on our side, this has a way of putting into perspective whatever is getting us down.
Asaph went on, “You are the God who performs miracles.” He reminded himself that God is not only holy but also great and powerful. Notice the three characteristics of God’s character that Asaph mentioned: (1) God is holy; (2) God does miracles, showing He is powerful; (3) God redeems His people, demonstrating He cares and loves.
Lesson Six: Trust God to Be Your Deliverer
19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Asaph refered to one of God’s greatest acts of power on behalf of His people—the time God parted the Red Sea and delivered the people from Egypt. God heard their cries and saved them. They were probably thinking, “We’re all going to die now!” But God met them in the midst of their greatest troubles and led them on a path through the sea and out of slavery. There seemed no way out, but God showed up as their mighty Deliverer and He made a way.
When we’re depressed, we tend to think that there’s no way out. But the psalmist said, “That’s not true historically. That’s not true theologically. That’s not true for me and it’s not true for you.” Even though the people of Israel never saw His footprints, God was there. God is invisible, but He is with you and will deliver you.
Asaph added that God leads as a shepherd. A shepherd treats his flock with wisdom, tenderness, and care. God is a shepherd who cares for each person individually. Even though you might not be able to sort out all the factors contributing to your depression, God can still lead you out of it. He will lead you to the help you need. It may involve medicine, counseling, spiritual direction, relational aid, or all of those. But God wants to meet you in the midst of your troubles and depression and lead you out.
Adapted from I Am With You Always, by Chip Ingram. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, © 2002. Chip Ingram (ThM, 1984) is president and CEO of Walk Thru the Bible.