Getting Out of the Blue
Speaker: Br. Tommy Liang
Good morning, church. It’s my privilege to speak to you as a Christian psychologist. I pray that our LORD will minister to you through his servant, and that you will respond to His calling today.
Joke: There were a father and a son. One morning the father said to his son, “It’s time to get up and go to school. Otherwise you will be late.” Then the son said confidently, “Dad, I don’t want to go to school. See, the teachers are bad, the students are naughty, and the classes are boring.” “Son,” the father replied boldly, “I also have good reasons for you to go to school. First, it is your responsibility. Second, you are already 45 years old. Third, you are the principal of the school.”
Many a time we are like the son. We don’t want to wake up. We don’t want to face the reality. We don’t want to take our responsibilities. When we are facing difficulties, we just want to avoid, or do something that keeps ourselves away from them. That’s the reason why so many of us are still stuck to our problems. This keeps us from growing and being used by God.
This morning we are going to see how we can deal with depression.
When I am talking about the Blue, I mean a constant state of prolonged sadness. I am talking about the common experience of a person having depressive mood. It could be due to our biological make-up, our personality, our early family experiences, or the circumstances we have been going through. My prayer is that we will become aware of the impact of this condition, and that we can choose to take appropriate actions to help ourselves and others in the light of the LORD’s healing grace.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), depression is becoming the second killer in the world by 2020. It is projected to reach second place of the cause of disability for all ages, both men and women. In a 14-country study in 2004, the prevalence of depression was found to be 1.7% in Shanghai and 9.6% in the United States. Where are we in India? In a population-based study conducted in urban South India in 2009, the prevalence of depression was 15.1%. Church, are you aware of this? In the August 1st issue of India Today, it was reported that 10 per cent of Kerala’s population suffers from psychiatric disorders. Although Bangalore has come out of the suicidal capital, we are just close to our neighboring state. Church, we are made in the image of God. Let us be concerned about our mental health, and give priority to the temple of the Holy Spirit.
In spite of these striking figures, there is no unanimous definition of depression because of the fact that it is a culture-specific experience. Its manifestation and prevalence vary according to ethnicity and nationality. Its notion is criticized to be social and discursive. As an emotional phenomenon, depression is defined as “a state of prolonged and ongoing sadness.” Nevertheless, mental health professionals have come up with some standardized measurements. One of these tools is as follows. You may check and see if you are having chance with depression. If you got 5 or more ‘yes’ in the last 2 weeks, you may be experiencing depression.
Have you had any of the following during the last two weeks?
Some of us may realize that it is easy for them to have depression because it is a fact that we as human beings are vulnerable and subject to change. Unfortunately, if you did not get 5 or more ‘yes’, it doesn’t imply that you are free from depression. It could be simply because the tool has not been sensitive enough to assess your
Here are two true stories. Real names have been replaced by fake names.
Anil’s story: I am a loner inside and an optimist outside. I do not have the privilege of thinking for myself and have fantasy because many people are dependent on me. My depression is connected to multiple expectations. I feel low, discouraged, and wanted to give up. I feel hurt when people do not pay attention to me. My low self-esteem and many of my depression are a carryover from my past experiences of childhood. I do not have true friendship, and do not share everything with my wife. I choose to talk to God alone because I believe in the presence of God and feel insecure of people. I feel unhappy and uncomfortable when I am not able to open up myself, but I wish I could. I keep myself with many things. I suppress my feelings. I do not enjoy the things I am doing, but I cannot say no, which made me more down. I have headache, acidity, fatigue, and sleeping difficulty.
Pramod’s story: I find it difficult to manage the challenges and perceive it beyond my control. Sometimes I do not find important things as important as they are and at times some small things become too big. The reason for my depression is mostly relationship issues. I feel empty and think that women could understand me better. I want a partner. I feel lonely when I am depressed. I do not think I could connect with every person in a deeper level. I avoid everything and feel bored. Depression is affecting my relationship because when I am quite depressed I do not connect with people. Whenever I feel depressed there is anger within, I do not express myself. I am not finding interest in meeting people. I want to be alone. When depressed, I want to sleep for a day without connecting with people. I lost weight within a week and became thin. I felt irritated and did not like to change dress whenever I was discouraged. I was angry and sad with somebody who said like me but in turn said no to me. I was also irritated when someone I did not like called me. I felt angry and would burst out for those who connected with me in a wrong way.
The story of these two persons is just the tip of an iceberg. In fact, the Bible honestly shows us examples of depressive experiences among well known characters. King David is one of them. In his psalm, he expressed, “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?” (Psalm 13:1-2). Jeremiah the prophet also cried, “I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? (Jeremiah 15:17-18). In the New Testament, Peter the apostle experienced depression as recorded in the gospel of Mark, “And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72). Imagine how painful it was for Peter to realize that he had denied his master three times. Even our Lord Jesus fell into great distress and trouble in the Gethsemane. “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.
We are going to spend some time to study one passage in the gospel of John and see what a person with depression needs to do to come out of it. Let us read John 5:1-17 1. Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 4. and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease they had.) 5. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8. Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9. At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10. and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11. But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” 12. So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13. The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14. Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15. The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”
Five steps to getting out of the blue
Step 1 - Identify the problem areas
1. Outburst of negative thoughts
Imagine the place, the sound, and the smell where a huge number of patients are lying. What are you going to hear? What do you perceive from what they say along with what you see and smell? Grievances, self-pity, and grudges. Negative thoughts are hanging around. Depressed persons are prone to these thoughts.
2. Sense of loss.
What would be the feeling of long waiting? Will I be lucky enough to be blessed by the angel? Am I able to get into the water when it is stirred? How long shall I wait? Why have I not been chosen and taken care of? Depressed persons are always filled up with a sense of loss.
3. Habit /pattern formation
Behavioral scientists told us that it takes 30 days to 40 days for a person to develop a habit. How solid and strong a habit has been formed in 38 years! Have we been allowing ourselves to form such a strong habit? How many times you told yourself to stop but again keep thinking and doing what is wrong and harmful?
4. Mental distortions
When we have been in a condition for a long time, we might lose our focus or goal. We forget what we are seeking in the beginning and keep drilling into the problem. Small problems become big. Big problems become large. We exaggerate the situation. We go to extremes. We believe without any proof. This is what a depressed person used to do in his or her mind.
5. Core beliefs of helplessness and hopelessness
It could be true that we may not be as strong as our friends or relatives. We may not be as smart as someone. But comparing is not what the Bible expects of us. When we compare, we make excuses. When we make excuses, we don’t assume responsibility. The beliefs of helplessness and hopelessness are nowhere in the Bible for those who put their trust in the Lord. People with depression may find it difficult to trust in the Lord. Pray that we may have faith in the Lord.
Step 2 - Set the goals of healing
When Jesus heard the excuses from the man with depression, he responded, “Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.” (v.8). See “Get up” (v.8a), which is in contrary to “get in” (v.7). When Jesus requested him to get up, three possible meanings are implied. First, there is a shift of attention or direction. Getting up from the mat is different from getting in the water. One is getting away. The other is getting involved. Where are you now? Where have you been? What is your real goal? Second, getting up is awakening. Are we aware of our condition and dare to accept the reality? Remember the story of a father and a son in the beginning of this sermon. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Finally, when you get up, you need to help yourself.
Next, “pick up your mat” (v.8b) has something to do with rule-breaking. This can be understood in the context of verse 10, “The Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’” When we choose to get out of something, it always involves some changes in what has been maintaining our behaviors. We called this maintenance cycle. It is this cycle that keeps our habits, good or bad, alive. Our habits are also regulated well with some governing rules implicitly or explicitly. For example, some of us have been taught by our parents that agreement should always be reached even at the expense of telling the truth. However, the fact is that everyone can have different opinions as we are made unique. There can be unity even we have differences. Lastly, “walk” (v.8c) is the assurance of commitment to change. Change should always go with action. It is also followed by goal-oriented action. James said, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14).
Step 3 - Change from inside out
The Bible says, “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (v.9). Something must have happened before the man picked up his mat and walked. It is the healing grace of Jesus and the faith the man has in Jesus. How many a time we ask for healing but we don’t have faith in Jesus? Or we have faith in Jesus, but we don’t let our faith to be anchored within us. This is like what was told in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23). Healing comes from our faith within and our works without.
Step 4 - Sustain the change by continuing sanctification
“Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’” (v.14). Change is a lifelong process. We grow everyday by changing. As negative change is maintained by bad habits, positive change is sustained by sanctification. Paul reminds us, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Step 5 - Acknowledge Jesus as the everlasting source of healing
The Bible says, “The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.” (v.15), and “In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’” (v.17). Praise the Lord. It is Jesus who makes us well. He is still working. Let us sing the chorus of the song He’s still working on me:
He’s still working on me to make me what I ought to be.
What can we do?
Action #1 Self-examination (self-care)
The Bible says a lot about self-examination. We are expected to discipline ourselves in such a way that we will be able to pass the test. We are to go through regular health check, not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Here are some references: “Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” (Psalm 26:2). “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Psalm 31:24).
Action #2 Helping others to identify their problem areas and enabling them to actualize their potentials or gifts
Apostle Paul encouraged the believers, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:3-8). We are expected to do the same.
Action #3 Trusting Jesus as the truth, the way, and the life.
If Jesus is the truth, he must be our real need and goal. The psalmist says, “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4). It is our part to be joyful in the Lord and he will satisfy our desires. If Jesus is the way, he must be our direction. The Bible says, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11). Let us put our hope in him. If Jesus is the life, he must be concerned about our wellness. The Bible says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). We are expected to keep our body, soul and spirit fit if we trust the Lord.
Let us sing the classic What a friend we have in Jesus lyrics to remind ourselves of Jesus being our forever friend.
What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer. Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; Take it to the Lord in prayer. Are we weak and heavy laden, Cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge; Take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In his arms he’ll take and shield thee; Thou wilt find a solace there.
Note: Br. Tommy Liang is from Hong Kong and currently pursuing Ph.D. in Psychology at Christ University Bangalore. Br. Tommy and his wife Bless are part of the ministerial team at City Harvest AG Church, Bangalore.
This sermon belongs to the series Uncategorized. Other sermons in this series: