‘You will find a baby… lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:12 NIV
One Christmas in London Phil Yancey went to hear Handel’s Messiah. He says: ‘I’d spent the morning viewing remnants of England’s glory—crown jewels, a gold mace, the Mayor’s gilded carriage… such images must have filled the minds of Isaiah’s contemporaries who heard the promise, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” (Isaiah 40:5 KJV) No doubt the Jews thought back to the glory days of Solomon when “silver and gold [were] as common as stones.” (2 Chronicles 1:15 NIV) The Messiah who showed up, however, wore the glory of humility… The God who could order armies and empires like chessboard pawns emerged as a baby who… depended on a teenage couple for shelter, food and love. In London I caught glimpses of the way rulers stride through the world: with bodyguards, trumpet fanfares… bright clothes… flashing jewellery. Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the US with 2000 kg of luggage… 2 outfits for every occasion… her own hairdresser… and a host of other attendants… God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants and nowhere to lay the newborn King but a feed-trough. A mule could have stepped on him! The sky grew luminous with angels, yet who saw that spectacle? Illiterate hirelings who watched the flocks of others, “nobodies” who failed to leave their names.’
The Christmas story inspired an Episcopal priest visiting Bethlehem in 1865 to pen the familiar words: ‘How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts of human hearts the blessing of His Heaven. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin; where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.’
‘I smiled on them… my cheerful face gave them comfort.’ Job 29:24 GNT
If you think you’ve nothing to smile about, consider these words from a man who’d just experienced the death of all his children, the loss of his entire fortune, and was now covered from head to toe in boils. ‘I smiled on them when they had lost confidence; my cheerful face encouraged them. I took charge and made the decisions; I led them as a king leads his troops, and gave them comfort in their despair.’ (Job 29:24–25 GNT) That’s the power of a smile!
One Christmas a big department store posted this sign: ‘The Value of a Smile: it costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive it, without impoverishing those who give it. It happens in a flash, and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich that they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits. It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the countersign of friends. It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and nature’s best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, for it is no earthly good until it is given away. And if in the last minute rush of Christmas buying some of our salespeople should be too tired to give you a smile, may we ask you to leave one of yours. For nobody needs a smile so much as those who have none left to give!’
Start a chain reaction this Christmas! Walk round around with a smile on your face and see what happens.
‘These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature.’ 2 Peter 1:4 NLT
The story is told of a pastor who was invited to dinner with one of the families in his congregation, so the woman of the house decided to impress him. After dinner she wanted him to read something inspiring to the family. She said to one of her children, ‘Please go and get the Good Book, the book we love, the book we read every day.’ Guess what happened? The child came back with a shopping catalogue!
Seriously, just as you cannot thrive physically without a daily intake of good nutrition, you cannot thrive spiritually without a daily intake of God’s Word. Everything you need for living a joyful and victorious Christian life is found in your Bible. ‘By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself… He has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.’ (2 Peter 1:3–4 NLT) What did Jesus use to overcome Satan’s temptations in the wilderness? Intellect? Willpower? No, He used the Scriptures because He knew Satan has no defence against them.
Do you want to succeed in your career, in your home, in your relationships, and everywhere else? ‘Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.’ (Joshua 1:8 NLT)
‘[Jesus] made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.’ Philippians 2:7 KJV
The hardest thing you’ll ever do is to put others first and yourself second, because we intuitively look out for ourselves. Self-preservation is man’s first instinct—but it doesn’t work. Do you know how two goats respond when they meet on a narrow path above a river? They can’t turn back, and they can’t pass each other because they lack the smallest bit of spare room. The goats instinctively know that if they butt each other they’ll both fall into the river and drown. So how do they handle it? Nature has taught one goat to lie down so the other can pass over it; and as a result both animals survive and arrive at their destination safe and sound. Instead of seeing itself as a doormat to be walked on, the goat sees itself as a bridge to be crossed over. So it becomes a win/win.
The Bible says Jesus ‘made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.’ (Philippians 2:7 KJV) And to do that you must focus on other people’s needs instead of your own ‘rights’. President Calvin Coolidge once said: ‘No enterprise can exist for itself alone. It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others; or failing therein, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist.’ And what’s true for any organization or business operation, is true for you.
And here’s the best part: Every time you sacrifice in order to serve someone, you’re sowing seeds of blessing you will surely reap.
‘We all… beholding… the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… by the Spirit of the Lord.’ 2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
Many Christians think God is just waiting to pounce on them for their failures, and their wrong believing produces wrong living. When you view God that way you can’t help but live in constant fear, insecurity and anxiety over your sins and struggles.
Today make a decision to turn your eyes away from yourself and place them on Jesus, for He has already made you righteous with His blood. (See 2 Corinthians 5:21) The more you behold Jesus, the more you will be transformed into His likeness. ‘We all…beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV) Keeping your eyes on Jesus leads to the greatest expression of holiness. Many of us think we have to do more in order to be more holy and accepted by God. As you focus on Jesus and see His love, His forgiveness, His abundant grace and His gift of righteousness purchased for you with His own blood, your approach to Christian living changes and you are transformed—from the inside out.
Holiness comes by focusing on Jesus, not yourself. This is not outward behaviour modification, it’s inward change sustained by a heart that’s been touched by grace and an emancipated conscience that’s freed from guilt and condemnation. As a result you begin to walk in victory instead of defeat. And this is the life that God wants you to experience today.
‘They are trying to kill me too.’ 1 Kings 19:10 NIV
Here’s another mistake that triggered Elijah’s depression: He exaggerated the negative. It’s that old ‘everybody’s against me!’ thinking. The fact is, almost nobody was against Elijah. Only one person opposed him, and her threat wasn’t real. Queen Jezebel didn’t dare kill Elijah. Think about it: if she’d really intended to kill him she wouldn’t have sent a messenger to warn him, she’d have sent a hit man! Jezebel feared Elijah’s influence. If he’d ended up a martyr, that would have increased his influence and likely caused a revolution. Having just witnessed what God did to the prophets of Baal, Jezebel was probably afraid of what God would do to her if she touched His prophet. So her words were empty threats. But instead of stopping to realistically evaluate the situation, Elijah ran away.
When we’re depressed we tend to exaggerate the negative. In reality, Elijah wasn’t the only person still faithful to God. There were seven thousand other prophets who hadn’t succumbed to pagan religion (see 1 Kings 19:18), but Elijah exaggerated the problem and ended up sinking lower than ever.
If you feel depressed today, put your trust in God. Rise up and say, ‘This too shall pass. What does not destroy me will only make me stronger.’ Here’s a promise you can stand on with complete confidence: ‘How great is the goodness You have stored up for those who fear You. You lavish it on those who come to You for protection, blessing them before the watching world.’ (Psalm 31:19 NLT)
‘I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty.’ 1 Kings 19:10 NLT
After Elijah fled to the desert and hid in a cave, God asked him, ‘What are you doing here?’ (1 Kings 19:9 NLT) Whereupon Elijah replied, ‘I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with You, torn down Your altars, and killed every one of Your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.’ (1 Kings 19:14 NLT)
Another thing that causes depression is assuming false blame. When we take on a responsibility God never gave us, it’s too heavy a burden to bear. If you’re in the habit of helping people, you soon realise they don’t always respond in the way you’d like. And that’s the case whether it’s your children, your friends, your spouse or the people you work with. People react in many different ways, and you can’t assume personal responsibility for their responses. God has given each of us a free will, and when you accept responsibility for other people’s decisions you take on a burden that will only depress you. At best, you can influence people but you can’t control them. The final decision is theirs, so don’t let yourself get down over something that you can’t control. When you know you’ve done what God told you to do, trust Him to do what you can’t do. Any time you try to convict, convince, convert, control or change another person, you’re setting yourself up for misery.
The Bible says, ‘It is God who works in you [and others] to will and to act in order to fulfil His good purpose.’ (Philippians 2:13 NIV) So when you’ve done your part, back off and let God do His.
‘Lord… take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ 1 Kings 19:4 NIV
Another cause for depression is comparing ourselves with other people. We think, ‘If I could just be like so-and-so I’d be happy.’ When you compare yourself with other people you’re asking for trouble. (See 2 Corinthians 10:12) There’s only one person you should strive to be—and that’s yourself. When you try to imitate another person and act like them, invariably you end up depressed. You need to be honest with yourself, and be who you are. That’s all God wants. That’s all He expects.
When we start comparing ourselves with other people, we fall into another trap: we compare our weaknesses with their strengths. We forget that those people may be weak in areas where we are strong. What’s more, we try to motivate ourselves through self-criticism and condemnation. We do it by ‘should-ing’ ourselves: ‘I should be able to be like that person. I should be able to act better. I should be able to accomplish it. I should be able to stop it’—as if whipping ourselves verbally is going to change us! Nagging doesn’t work when we do it to another person, and nagging ourselves doesn’t work either.
So what’s the solution? Start reprogramming your mind with God’s Word. ‘By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself…has given us great and precious promises…that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.’ (2 Peter 1:3–4 NLT)
‘He… sat down… and prayed that he might die.’ 1 Kings 19:4 NIV
The Bible says: ‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life… into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life…”’ (1 Kings 19:3–4 NIV) What was Elijah’s mistake? The same one we sometimes make when we’re depressed: we focus on our feelings rather than on the facts of the situation. It happens when we get down. Elijah felt like a failure because of one incident that intimidated him. He thought to himself, ‘I’m such a coward—why am I running?’ And because he felt like a failure he assumed he was a failure.
Feelings often lie; and when we focus on how we feel instead of focusing on reality we get into trouble. For instance, when we make a mistake in one area, we tend to feel like we’re failures at all of life in general. That’s a misconception. Everyone is entitled to make mistakes, and you can fail in some areas without being a failure as a person. Mental health experts encourage us to vent our feelings and get them out. But that’s not the complete answer, because feelings are notoriously unreliable. God doesn’t tell us to get in touch with our feelings, but to get in touch with the truth of His Word because ultimately that’s what sets us free. (See John 8:32)
To overcome depression you must study God’s Word and practice bringing your feelings into alignment with what it says.
‘Elijah was as human as we are.’ James 5:17 NLT
Elijah, who’d been fearless for three years, became frightened when Jezebel threatened his life. So he ran to the desert, where he became depressed and announced, ‘I have had enough, Lord… take my life.’ (1 Kings 19:4 NIV) Elijah became a prime candidate for depression when he got physically tired, emotionally drained, and felt threatened. He was a basket case of emotional problems: fear, resentment, guilt, anger, loneliness and worry. And the Bible says, ‘Elijah was a man just like us.’ He wrestled with the same problems we do. He got so depressed that he wanted to die!
Why do we get ourselves into such emotional messes? Sometimes it’s because of what happens to us—bad circumstances that occur in our lives. But more often it’s due to faulty thinking. The truth is our emotions are generated by our thoughts, and when we think in destructive ways we are going to feel depressed. Our emotions spring from how we interpret life, and if you always see things from a negative viewpoint you’re going to get down. To rid yourself of harmful emotions you must learn to change the way you think.
That’s why the Bible talks about being ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ (Romans 12:2 NKJV) To overcome depression you must learn to correct your wrong thinking and attitudes about life. In the words of Jesus, when you ‘know the truth… the truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32 NIV) Looking at things from the right point of view—God’s viewpoint—is the path to overcoming depression.