Psalm 42                                      April 2017


In the 2012/13 New Zealand Health Survey, they found that more than half a million people living in NZ at that time had been diagnosed with depression at some time in their lives

The average person has more than two hundred negative thoughts a day – worries, jealousies, insecurities, cravings for forbidden things, etc. Depressed people have as many as six hundred.

It’s interesting that some of the world’s great leaders, artists, composers and musicians suffered from depression.

Alexander the Great, Abraham Lincoln, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill to name a few. Church used to call depression his black dog.

I struggled with depression in my early years and when I became a Christian I thought that that was all behind me until I began training for the ministry and it all re-emerged. Some days I felt so desperate I just wanted to die.

I looked at some of my fellow Christians and they seemed to have it all together and yet here I was struggling with negative, depressive feelings and thoughts.  I felt like a phoney when we sang songs like, “Praising my Saviour all the day long” and “Now I am happy all the day”, because I wasn’t. And I didn’t want to put on an act and pretend.

The message I got was that Christians should be always on top of things and always full of the joy and exuberance of the Lord and because I wasn’t always on top of things I felt so disappointed in myself.

I have got to be honest with you and say that all through my Christian life there have been times when I have experienced depression, times of darkness when there has been no sense of God’s presence, when I have felt even like a machine going through the motions of being a Christian and when I went through burn out I seemed so fragile and susceptible to depression that little things would knock me and send me into a trough of discouragement, despair and hopelessness.

I share this with you, because I know I am not alone in this. I know many genuine believers who have struggled like I did and many of them feel that somehow they are failing in their Christian life.

Some feel guilty because they believe they should not be like this. Many have even began to doubt whether they are even Christians because of this.

If you are a believer and go through times of depression or even feeling down and low, you are in good company.

David, Elijah, Jeremiah and Paul experienced times of depression. Some of David’s Psalms are full of depressing thoughts.  Elijah got so depressed that he just wanted to die. Jeremiah got so down that he cursed is the womb that bore me.

Jesus got depressed …. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. In the garden of Gethsemane He told His disciples that His heart was so burdened with sadness that He felt like dying. On the cross He literally experienced darkness and He felt God had deserted Him.

Listen to that mournful depressing cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why…abandoned me.”

Paul expressed similar words…. when he spoke of his time in Asia. “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

Some well-known Christians who struggled with depression for most of their life were Martin Luther, David Brainerd, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, C.S Lewis.

Ill. All through his life, Martin Luther was plagued by morbid introspection and depression. His wife, Katie, was a runaway nun who became his light-hearted encourager, always looking for a way to lift his spirits. At one point, Luther was so depressed that he shut himself up in his study for three days and wouldn’t come out, and Katie was so anxious about him that she hired someone to remove the door.

Ill. Charles Spurgeon was often so depressed that he had to get away from the church for 3 months at a time until he came right.

This morning I want to speak about those down times that many of us believers experience. Those dark times when God seems a million miles away and things look so depressing and hopeless.


  1. At the spiritual level there is no awareness of God’s presence, love, joy, goodness, inspiration, uplift, support, comfort, power. There is nothing there but the feeling of spiritual deadness, emptiness, dryness.

These spiritually down times can last for hours, days weeks or years.

Ill. In the 17th Century Madame Guyon was imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris because of her faith in Christ. For 7 years she remained in that prison and during the whole time she was there she had no sense of God’s presence. It was as if God had abandoned her.  

Imagine being persecuted for being a Christian and then feeling like God has deserted you as well.

When Christians are down and don’t feel close to God. I often ask them, “Do you feel close to anyone at this time?” In most cases they will say no, not really.” So I say to them, “The problem is not God then, it’s your feelings. Your feelings are depressed, and it’s hard to feel anything. Which brings us to the next symptom of down times.

  1. At the emotional level we feel empty, flat, numb, discouraged, depressed, completely devoid of feeling. As I said, “It’s hard to feel anything when you are really down.” You are just overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness and negativity.
  1. At the devotional level, Bible reading and prayer is hard going. The Bible just seems like empty words and we feel as if our prayers are going no further than the ceiling.

Don’t feel guilty if you find it an effort to read your Bible and pray when you are down. Its times like this that others will be praying for you.

  1. At the thinking level. When you are depressed or down in the dumps, your thinking will generally be irrational. You won’t be thinking clearly or sensibly and that is why I urge people not to make any important decisions when they feel down or depressed, because they will regret it later on.

In fact most of your thinking will be influenced by your condition and will appear worse that it really is. It is during these times that we think the worst of situations and we reading into situations things that are not even true.

Because we feel certain things or don’t feel certain things we assume that what we feel is true.

Our feelings are very unreliable guides so we cannot allow them to control our decision making.


There are many causes of depression. Some depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, some is caused by traumatic events in a person’s life, some is genetically passed on from one generation to the next and for some people, it seems to be a personality thing. In one family you can have a child who is confident and optimistic and another who is fearful and pessimistic.

Often when people share with me that they are going through a time of spiritual darkness where they feel nothing towards God, I ask them about other areas of their life. Because our physical, emotional, mental, spiritual lives are all intertwined. In so many cases how we feel towards God is tied up with other issues going on in our lives.

Things like physical tiredness or sickness, mental exhaustion, emotional stress in relationships, change in circumstances, changes in life

Loneliness, bereavement, guilt, anxiety, childhood hurts, to name a few can have quite a bearing on our awareness or lack of awareness of God’s presence.

Sometimes it can be the result of one incident, or a series of incidents, or an ongoing unresolved situation.

Sometimes it can be the result of something or some things that happened a long time ago but the negative messages and feelings attached to those incidents continue to affect us.

Sometimes the darkness can be a spiritual attack from the enemy, but not always.

Sometimes the cause for the darkness is not very clear at all. It just comes upon us for no apparent reason and we find ourselves feeling spiritually empty, discouraged  and cut off from God.

Listen to the words of Charles Spurgeon, probably the most effective preacher of the 19th century: “     I know by most painful experience what deep depression means, I am visited with it often. This comes upon me and it is so difficult to drive away. Depression without cause is not to be treated lightly. If those who make fun of it experienced it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion.”


One of the encouraging things about the Psalms is that they are so refreshingly honest. The writers didn’t hide their true feelings when they wrote the Psalms. They let it all hang out: the doubts, fears, disappointments, joys and the sorrows. And because of that we can identify with them.

In Psalm 42 the writer is battling with depression.

His present condition.

His past experiences.

His future hope.


He feels abandoned by God, vulnerable to enemy attack, deeply discouraged and overwhelmed by grief.

Abandoned by God

As I said before, when you are down and depressed, your feelings are depressed and so it’s hard to feel anything. Because of that, you probably won’t feel any sense of God’s presence and assume God has abandoned you. But that is not the truth – it’s just that you don’t feel anything at that time. In fact you probably won’t feel close to anyone when you are going through that, you feel very much alone.

Remember Jesus on the cross. “My God…abandoned me.” Had God really abandoned Jesus? No God was there, but Jesus was feeling overwhelmed with sorrow and grief.

Vulnerable to enemy attacks. “My enemies continually taunt me saying, “Where is this God of yours?”

Satan is a dirty fighter. He attacks us when we are most vulnerable and when we are down and depressed, He will try very hard to undermine our faith. He feeds us with lies.

He did the same to Jesus. After 40 days in the desert Jesus was hungry and Satan came along tried to get Him to doubt Gods ability to provide for Him and protect Him. “God won’t provide for you, you do it yourself. See if God will protect you, jump off the temple pinnacle.”

And in this Psalm the enemy was using people to try and undermine the Psalmists faith. “Where is your God? He’s not helping you now. Does He even exist? 

Deeply discouraged and overwhelmed by grief.

When we are down and discouraged things always look far worse than they really are and often there seems to be no way out, no light at the end of the tunnel.

No matter how much people try to help us or advise us, our depressed feelings are so strong that they speak louder than anything people say to us. We don’t have the emotional energy to fight against these negative feelings and we have just give into them.

“Day and night I have only tears for food.” I know people who have gone through depressing times when they just couldn’t stop crying.” This is very real.

The interesting thing is that the Psalmist doesn’t even know why He is feeling this way. Twice in this Psalm he says, “Why am I discouraged, why is my heart so sad.”

Listen. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for feeling depressed. Our feelings are so unpredictable. One morning you can wake up feeling on top of the world and next morning you feel as if the world’s on top of you.


In the depths of his despair, the Psalmist remembers the good times. The times when he was so aware of God’s presence, when he was full of the joy of the Lord. The times when he couldn’t wait to join God’s people in worship, praising and celebrating God’s goodness.

But now he doesn’t even feel like being with other believers or getting involved in worship.

He looks back on those times and longs and yearns to know them again. He remembers how good and kind and faithful God has been to him in the past and although he feels distant from God now, he doesn’t want to forget those good times.


Remember Jeremiah in Lamentations 3. He was so depressed as he sat among the ruins of Jerusalem and he said, “The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The steadfast love Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. Great is his faithfulness; I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” 

Ill. A fellow pastor was telling me of the time he went through burn out. He descended into such deep depression that he felt he would never recover. He resigned from his church and for months he dreaded the thought of facing another day because everything was so dark and he could see no light at the end of the tunnel.  

During that time he would often lie down and listen to classical music and one piece touched his heart. It was a Cantata by Bach called “Aus der Tieffen” based on Psalm 130 “Out of the depths I cry to you Lord”  “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.”  

Bach’s music is very repetitive and when this musical piece came to v5 the choir sings, “I hope, I hope, I hope.” As my friend listen to these words he realised he had lost all hope and in desperation he asked God to give him hope. And gradually he recovered hope and he placed that hope in God and that was the turning point. 

The interesting thing is that when he came through this long dark depressing time, he was a different man. Before this he was a self-confident, intellectual who thought he could handle any situation, but now he was a gracious, humble man who was far more dependent on God and with a far greater understanding of the others. 

I often reflect on those dark times of burn out and depression I went through and at the time they were very unpleasant , but I thank God that he allowed me to go through those times because I learned so much about myself and I was forced to face up and deal with issues that I ignored when things were going well. I can truly say that I grew spiritually and in personal understanding during those times probably more than at any other time.

This poem was found in the pocket of a soldier who was killed during the American civil war.

I asked for strength that I might achieve; I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy; I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men; I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I had asked for, but everything that I had hoped for. despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered;

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

I just want to say this morning that if you are in the depths and struggling with depression or if this is something that you battle with at times, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean God has left you, it doesn’t mean you are a second class Christian. Come to Jesus in your weakness and frailty. Come in your emotional numbness and discouragement and ask God to give you hope and then place that hope in Him.

Be patient and let God do His work in you during this time. 

James 1: 2 “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be complete and mature, lacking nothing.”

And I can promise you that you will come through it. 

The Psalmist says here, “I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Saviour and my God!”