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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

How to Pray When You’re Depressed: A Look at Psalm 13

Depression Series - How to Pray When You’re Depressed

BCC Staff Note: You are reading Part 1 of a BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on depression.

Identifying with the Psalmist

Psalm 13 is a special chapter in my Bible. There is a date, March 12, 2012, written next to the chapter heading. That day I identified with the psalmist, and poured out my heart to God like never before. It had been five long years of dealing with chronic pain, two major surgeries, limited physical ability, limited ministry, and horrible side effects of multiple medications that had brought me to this point. I was tired, depressed, worn down and God was silent. That day I “got real” with God.

Since then, I have pointed others in the middle of their own dark days to this psalm. How can the depressed pray? Depression often robs us of our hope. The temptation in thinking that we cannot be honest with God about our situation deepens this hopelessness. Proceeding in prayer using the psalmist’s example in Psalm 13 breathes new hope into our lives.

Be Honest with Your God: Psalm 13:1-2

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Baptist minister, Andrew Fuller, once said of this psalm, “It is not under the sharpest, but the longest trials, that we are most in danger of fainting.” Often when one finds themselves in depression, it is a result of a long duration of trying circumstances with no foreseeable end in sight. During these dark days there is an intense desire to know the duration of the suffering.

Can you identify with the hopelessness of the psalmist? Honestly he cries out to God. He sees no end in sight and so he howls against the perceived neglectfulness of the Lord.

John Calvin said of these verses, “When we are for a long time weighed down by calamities, and when we do not perceive any sign of divine aid, this thought unavoidably forces itself upon us, that God has forgotten us.” Why has he come to this assumption? Because he was assaulted with the reality of his depression which battled against his understanding of who his God was.

So, in an act of faith, he continues to lament. Laying his heart wide open before God the psalmist communicates this battle for his soul. The circumstances dictated that God must have forgotten but his faith drove him to seek the Lord.

The battle continues into verse two. While searching for relief unsuccessfully, the psalmist also has to contend with his fellow man. He has exhausted every avenue of relief. This intrusion from the “enemy” only adds to his hopelessness in a crushing way. Peace escapes him. People are mistreating him.

When prolonged suffering occurs with no relief or answers, even our closest friends become frustrated with our plight. What some have termed “compassion fatigue” seems to take its toll and there is abundant exhortation to just “snap out of it” or to “repent” due to some unseen, forgotten or hidden sin.

My most discouraging moments came upon the insistence of friends that I “must” have sin in my life. Little did they know the hours spent begging God to illuminate the dark recesses of my heart! These comments tempted me to the brink of destruction in my depression. This is the desperate cry of the psalmist in Psalm 13.

Speak honestly with your God. Realize that your cries are statements of faith and belief in who God says He is. Understand that even though those around you may not minister to you well, that they too are finite creatures in need of the grace that has been lavished upon you. Be honest with your God.

Be Moving Toward Your God: Psalm 13:3-4

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

In the middle of darkness, chained to time, the psalmist begins to move toward God in his cries. He does this be focusing on the character of God. When we are without relief or release we often come to think that God must not see us or hear us. We do not believe that God is blind, but in faith we are crying out to him because we believe He does see.

Often the eyes disclose our depression. How many the days when I would say that I was “fine” when my eyes betrayed my speech! During these times there were dear friends that would move through the verbal resistance to enter into my pained state that they saw evident in my eyes. The psalmist is acknowledging that the light of life is reflected in the eye. He continues to speak to the fact that if God does not move on his behalf soon he fears death itself will be victorious.

Repeated is the theme of his enemy. Oh how the world can threaten our very existence! Remember this: the world may threaten, but God can restore.

And so the psalmist cries out to God to move in such a way that his enemies would not have reason to triumph. He understands the character of God to be such that God does not abandon His own. So, in a sense, he reminds God of God’s character.

As we speak honestly with God about our feelings in the circumstances of life, we also need to constantly be moving toward Him. Speaking in faith we can “remind” God of His promises and expect Him to move in accordance with His character. It is also important to see that the psalmist has move beyond trying to solve things in his own strength and is now totally reliant and dependent on God. This is a key stage in our prayer during our depression.

Be Trusting in Your God: Psalm 13:5-6

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist does not know if his prayer is of any profit at all. Yet, he continues. Now hope is beginning to well up within himself. He continues to focus on the character of God and this proves to be beneficial in the temptations of his depression. Deep in his own distress the psalmist declares his resolution to continue firm in his dependence of the grace of his God.

Because God is God, I don’t have to be. I can, in the middle of my distress, trust Him to bring about the good He has lovingly purposed for me.

There is also a sense of expectation at the end of this prayer. His heart will rejoice in the deliverance brought about by God and he will sing praise to God because of his gracious interaction. Even without the circumstances relenting he will continue to hope in the salvation of his God. He has not yet obtained release from the depression, but he promises to praise God for His grace towards him.

As you speak honestly with your God, moving toward Him as you focus on His character, you should prepare to celebrate in praise of the grace of God in your life. Time is a gift of God. We believe that one day we will stand in the presence of our God, removed from all pain, tears, and death.

Time is a gift in this life because we understand it in terms of beginning and ending. We experience our depression in terms of time. We also understand the hope of a time yet to come. If this life is “but a vapor,” how long then is our suffering? Even in the middle of your distress, be preparing to sing praises for the goodness of God in your life.

The final question I have written in my Bible is, “Am I persuaded that my prayers are effective?” God moves through answered prayer. When the depressed pray honestly, focused on the character of God, preparing to celebrate in praise of the grace of God, they can be assured that God hears them and moves toward them, inclining His ear to His children.

Join the Conversation

Are you suffering with depression? Take time to write out your prayer to God using the three points above as a guide.

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