Depression - Psalm 42

There is a common word we use in many ways - the word is "press." Simply, the word means "push." When you "press" the button, you simply push it. When you "press" clothes, you push the iron down as you move it back and forth to eliminate wrinkles. But there are also many compound words related to this word, "press":

  • “impress” which means push into, like when an image is pushed into the paper by an official seal,
  • “express” which would mean to push out, as in when you express juice or words,
  • “oppress” which obviously means to push down, as when a malevolent dictator keeps the people "under his thumb,"
  • “suppress” which is when something is pushed under.

The “press” word for our study is “depress”, which is similar to "oppress" and simply means to press down. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “tuwgah”, translated “heaviness” means depression. It is found in Ps 119:28, and Pr 10:1 and 14:13 and in Pr 17:21 (“sorrow“). “Depression” can be used in reference to material things. For example, tropical depressions, a weather condition just under that of a tropical storm which in turn is one step below a hurricane. However, most of the time we think of “depression” as it relates to a mental state, what is known as a "lowering of spirits." We may feel deprived, defeated, defective or deserted.   

     For many Christians, this topic is off limits - the very idea of depression is associated with a lack of faith or evidence of serious spiritual weakness. Perhaps we think that if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen to us or if it happens, it should remain hidden at all costs.

     There are many different levels, or degrees, of depression. Any bit of bad news might depress us. Financial problems often depress us. Someone might say, "My team lost. I'm depressed." Depression in its various manifestations (insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, stress, vague aches and pains, etc.) is a common complaint heard in doctors' offices. Statistically, one in twenty Americans, (5%) suffers from a depression severe enough to require medical treatment. One in five Americans will have a depression at some time in his or her life. An estimated $40 billion is lost to the direct and indirect costs of the illness each year. The suffering endured by people with depression, and the lives lost to suicide, inflict a great, immeasurable burden on individuals, families, society and yes, churches.

Some causes of depression.

Sometimes genetics play a part, or there may be physical problems such as thyroid conditions, hormone imbalances, viral infections, medication issues, or chronic pain. Christians must be mindful not to ignore a potential need for medical solutions. Of course, grief and loss are major factors triggering depression, or any external event such as chronic illness, financial problems, divorce or the death of a loved one. At times environmental factors may play a part, like poverty or abuse, or living with a depressed family member or an ill parent. 

Some symptoms of depression

Notice these have been organized to spell the word "wilderness," for that's exactly how we feel when in depression, like we're in an emotional and perhaps even spiritual wilderness.

W - Worthlessness, helplessness, or inappropriate guilt

I - Irritability

L - Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities

D - Death thoughts, and even suicide attempts

E - Eating disturbances such as loss of appetite and weight, or weight gain

R - Real difficulty in remembering, concentrating, or making decisions

N - Non-treatable chronic aches and pains

E - Energy diminished

S - Sleep disturbances such as insomnia, early-morning waking, or oversleeping

S - Sadness and crying persistently 

When a person experiences such problems and unwanted feelings, does that mean he or she is not a Christian? If that were true, there are times when any of us would  be among those who would doubt their salvation, for some form of depression is as common as grains of sand on a beach. Besides, many people used mightily by God were apparently depressed, people like Job, Elijah, David, Jeremiah and Jonah.

It's time to dispel this persistent myth that claims that Christians are always happy. In fact, the person who says they're never depressed isn't being totally honest, for it's very normal, and to be expected that ups and downs will come and go - there are beautiful, bright mountain tops, and there are deep, dark valleys. There are Mounts of Transfiguration and Gardens in Gethsemane. The Christian walk takes us both up and down. But even as Jesus would not allow His disciples to remain on the mountaintop, He doesn't want them to get stuck in the valley either.

We are designed to have a healthy emotional fluctuation between joy and sadness, excitement and serenity, busyness and quietness up to the mountain, down to the valley. The very rhythm of life is suggestive of this oscillation between activity and rest - there's day and there's night, there's breathing out and breathing in. Rather than being seen as a curse, short-lived or mild depression can be seen as at least normal, if not necessary. However, when depression persists there are many common sense and medical solutions possible, but our focus will be on the Bible because Christians should apply Godly advice as found in Scripture. We are not responsible for the condition, but we are accountable for our response.

One such source for Biblical advice can be found in Psalm 42.

     This Psalm is referred to as a “Maschil” meaning “Instruction”. It is “by” the sons of Korah who were spared in grace (Num 26:11) after Korah died by Divine judgment (Num 16:31-35). It is directly linked to Psalm 43. What are we being instructed about? It concerns David at the time he hastily abandoned Jerusalem, when his son Absalom revolted and threatened to take over the kingdom (2 Samuel 16:15). David fled across the Jordan, and perhaps as he did, he could see the deer rushing to the water's edge, panting for thirst so he opens the Psalm with these words, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God", identifying his own awareness of needing God during his time of extreme stress.

     David is painfully aware that he has been cut off from the tabernacle. "When can I go and meet with God?" (v. 2) "I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving." (v. 4) He thus feels cut off from God and wonders when will he be able to return to join the congregation in praise and worship. Quite often, depressed people feel that they are cut off from God, and they will never again enjoy His love and peace.

     As with Job's comforters, the people around David isolate him even more by assuming that God has purposefully abandoned David, certainly it must be because of some sin of his. Thus David is cast into despair, crying day and night, and lamenting, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?"

Let's note some of the recognizable symptoms:

David admitted to crying incessantly (v. 3).

Instead of eating properly, he cried, replacing food (meat and drink) with tears; his sleep was also interrupted by his weeping "day and night".

There were feelings of being overwhelmed ("all your waves and breakers have swept over me" v. 7).

David feared God had abandoned him ("Why have you forgotten me?" - v. 9)

He understood that this was an inner matter of the mind - his soul was "disturbed", "disquieted" (v. 5). Literally, the word means "make a roaring noise like the sea" - as if the inner pain was drowning everything else out.

He also experienced physical agony ("My bones suffer mortal agony" - v. 10), even to the point of fearing death.

So what did David do?

1. He let himself cry. Let's abandon the idea that crying is a sign of weakness - it is a healthy emotional response to loss.

2. He verbally admitted to the truth about his feelings. Twice in this chapter he stated, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?" (vs. 5, 11) Every once in a it’s OK to say, "You know? I'm just feeling kind of down today."

3. David determined to hope in God. He said to himself, "hope thou in God." Later in the Psalm, he referred to God as "Rock" (v. 9), indicating his secure faith. Talking to oneself can be very valuable when seeking to find encouragement in the Lord.

4. He praised God in the hard place. Even though David found himself on the other side of the Jordan (v. 6), had lost so much, and his future appeared very bleak, yet he chose to praise God.

5. He prayed with singing - even at night (v. 8). Don't just listen to music, sing it! When we gather for worship, think of it as practicing our songs so that when we find ourselves alone and down, we will be able to sing the songs of praise that will lift the spirit. Notice here that David is able to sing because he reminds himself of God's love ("By day the Lord directs his love" - v.8)


What is the Biblical pattern for dealing with depression?

1. Acceptance of discouragement and frustration. Not wrong to get "down." Problem comes when we are "down and out" in despair, believing that there is "no way through." (2 Cor. 4:7-18)
2. Confession of sin that causes guilt - 1 John 1:9
3. Faith

    a. recognizes God's presence - Matt. 28:20
    b. recognizes God's sovereign sufficiency - Job 42:2; 2 Cor. 3:5
                           God's grace - 2 Cor. 12:10
                           God's Spirit - Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18
                           God's preservation - Phil. 1:6
    c. is receptive to His activity. Heb. 11:6
    d. is a trusting contentment with God's provision in all His providential opportunities - Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-8; Heb. 13:5
4. Hope - Confident expectation of God's continuing activity. 1 Tim. 1:1

5. Comfort and care for others. Neh 8:10

6. Confide in God. Ps 32:10

7. Seek God’s direction for your life. Ps 37:23,24

8. Operate in God’s strength and God’s time. Isa 40:28-31; 41:10

9. Look to the Holy Spirit for fulfillment. Ro 15:13

10. Follow God’s formula for peace. Phil 4:4-9

11. Acknowledge God’s sovereignty. 1 Pe 5:6,7

12. Heed the words of Christ. Mt 11:28-30


Christians are responsible for the health of body, soul and spirit. We need to take the lead in reversing the normal stated order - give primary attention to take care of the spirit, then the soul and lastly the body. Christians must not be taken over by depression but rather, show the world that there is peace, there is hope. When the events press us down, we respond by pressing in to God, because of Who He is, what He does, and what He provides.


*8 References (1 by title, 7 by attributes)

* 1= Unity, Commencement   7= Spiritual Perfection, Completeness  8= Resurrection, Regeneration

v.1 - JEHOVAH-ROI = Jehovah My Shepherd

       - JEHOVAH-JIREH = Provider ("I Shall Not Want")

v.2 - JEHOVAH-SHALOM = Sender Of Peace ("Still Waters")

v.3 - JEHOVAH-ROPHEKA = Healer ("Restoreth My Soul")

      - JEHOVAH-ZIDKENU = Righteousness

v.4 - JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH = Presence ("Thou Art With Me")

v.5 - JEHOVAH-NISSI = Banner ("In The Presence of Mine Enemies")

       - JEHOVAH-MEKADDISHKEM = Sanctifier ("Anointest")


There are three stories in the Gospels where the Bible uses the word "press." In each of these accounts, people were hindered in their attempt to get to Jesus because of the "press" - the pushing together of large numbers of people.

The woman with the 12 years of bleeding who "pressed" through the "press" to touch the hem of His garment (Mark 5:27)

Zaccheus, who couldn't get to Jesus because of the "press" (Luke 19:3) - he pressed in by climbing the tree.

The paralyzed man whose friends couldn't get him to Jesus because of the "press" (Mark 2:4) - they pressed in by opening a hole in the roof.

For us, the "press" may or may not be other people, but whatever depresses us, let's be like them and "press" into, push ourselves onto God, the source of all healing.