Arming Yourself Against Depression: Prayers for Strength

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Last week, I talked about 2 Chronicles 20 and how some battles are won simply by getting our minds off a problem and focusing on God. As I also mentioned, that doesn’t always mean God will solve the problem while we aren’t looking at it. He often requires us to take an active hand in tackling the problem, both to make us stronger saints and to let us serve His world directly.

Do we remain conscious of God’s strength once it’s time to get up from kneeling prayer and into battle? Or do we forget about God and revert to tackling the problem in our own strength–or do we tell God how it should be tackled, with the implication we’ll accept His help if He concedes our approach is best?

Strength to Make the Right Decision

At least as important as praying for the physical-world strength to do what needs doing, is praying for the strong wisdom that accepts what needs doing. A lot of depressed people get that way because they believed in God’s strength to help them overcome a problem, but they didn’t really believe in His wisdom to know the best solution and reveal it in His own timing. When their plans failed despite their confidence God would help; when they asked again and again for an outcome they never achieved; when the thing they feared most came upon them despite their prayers–they concluded God had abandoned them because they did something wrong, or that He simply didn’t care.

If you’re praying for God’s strength to deal with a problem, and seem to be making no progress, it may be that you’re letting your own strength clog the channel. Surrender your will all over again if:

  • You’ve been so committed to one particular outcome that you haven’t even considered there might be any other possibility.
  • There’s any deadline by which you think God must act or it will be “too late.”
  • You’re pretty much convinced it’s already too late–that if God had any serious intention of acting, He would have done so by now.
  • You have a solid idea of what God wants you to do–even if it’s simply to “wait”–but you keep on praying in hope of getting a different answer. Or, you’ve traded actual prayer for attempts at convincing God and yourself that your own preferred course of action isn’t that bad.

Strength to Do the Right Thing

If you’ve gone so far as to be seriously considering an action your conscience knows isn’t God’s will, stop right now! Another well-traveled road to depression is paved with bricks of expediency, engraved with the rationalization “I had no choice.” And if you’ve already gone down that road, get on your knees immediately and confess “I have sinned, forgive me and lead me back,” rather than continuing to hack at the dead-end wall with the “no choice” chisel.

Conversely, if you know what God wants you to do and you do want to do it, but you’re discouraged by the obstacles in the road or the opinions of others or (especially) your own inadequacy, remember the Lord’s words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” And do as Paul did: accept your weaknesses, even thank God for them. And thank Him for the great things He will do in and through your struggles. Plus the incalculable blessings He has waiting for you.

Ultimately, praying for strength is less about asking God to increase our strength than about rejoicing that His strength works through us.

Recognizing Your Personal Weaknesses

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If you’ve ever been in an addiction recovery program, you know that having an organized relapse prevention plan is part of staying clean–and part of an effective relapse prevention plan is knowing your personal “triggers” or weak points. One recovering alcoholic may be easily roped into “drinking away” her troubles; another may habitually reach for the bottle when bored; still another may be used to celebrating special occasions with a glass of wine. And these categories have subcategories: one person’s greatest stressor is socializing at networking events; another may be invigorated by networking but turn into a bundle of nerves over bad news on CNN.

Even if you’ve never been tempted by any chemical stronger than coffee, everyone has areas of special vulnerability to sin that starts with “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” While sometimes we get caught off guard and can only cry out to God for His “way of escape,” it’s just plain foolish to deliberately walk into a situation we know brings out the worst in us.

If you aren’t sure of your weakest areas, recall the last several times you acted in ways that left you convicted of sin, and ask God to help you see what these situations had in common. (You may want to get help from a trusted friend or spiritual mentor.) Some “sin triggers” that are common problems for believers:

  • False guilt. Not every unsavory impulse or failure to give what’s expected is a sin. One of the devil’s favorite methods of tempting believers is to first soften them up by convincing them they’ve already done wrong: he knows about human tendencies to reason “I’ve already blown it so I might as well go in deeper.”
  • Overload. Another of the devil’s favorite tactics is summed up in the saying, “If Satan can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” When we feel we have to fill every need that comes our way, to the point we neglect prayer and rest time, we become ineffective at best. And, frequently, highly susceptible to sins of resentment and pride: “I work so hard and not even God gives me the acknowledgment and reward I deserve. Everybody’s just a selfish jerk!”
  • Fatigue or illness. Being worn down and under the weather brings out the worst in people. If you find yourself frequently getting irritable or making promises you can’t keep, often the most spiritual thing you can do is take a few weeks’ vacation without email. Or at least start saying “Sorry, I can’t help with that” more often, and going to bed earlier and eating more vegetables and protein.
  • Ingrained habits. Returning to the addiction example, there are people who really can’t take a sip of beer or log into a Facebook account without careening into a binge of the worst order; that first move may be a conscious decision, but their brains are literally programmed to take it and run with it, and the only way they can control themselves is to abstain from the activity altogether. Even people without diagnosable addictions have brain neurochannels programmed to respond in specific ways to specific situations: i. e., habits. There are two rules of breaking bad habits: find healthy habits to replace them, and think long and hard before going “just a little” way down the trail that consistently takes you into wrong behavior.

The good news is, God can use even our weaknesses for His purposes–which is one reason He doesn’t always eliminate our weaknesses even when we’re eager to be rid of them. Follow the example of St. Paul: give your weaknesses to God for His use, even as you trust Him to use your strengths.

Everything He creates–even the temptation-vulnerable areas of our personalities–He creates for a good reason.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be released this spring. Join the 100 Ways email list for up-to-date news, special offers, and teaser optimism tips!

 

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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