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.

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I Have Sinned–Or Have I?

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You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.       -Martin Luther

A person’s conscience ain’t got no sense.       -Huckleberry Finn

When we read, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV), we tend to assume the prophet was speaking of those who justify their sin because “something that feels so good can’t be bad.” But heart and conscience can deceive in the other direction as well, convincing us God will be angry if we can’t keep every “bird” of impure thought from “flying” over the “head” of our consciousness (and occasionally dropping something less firmly constructed than a nest but still pretty messy).

Those of us with sensitive scruples run up against false guilt regularly:

  • “What’s wrong with me that I let myself think about things like that?”
  • “I haven’t had a drink in months. Why can’t I stop feeling the urge every time I pass a beer ad?”
  • “I’m supposed to love everybody. I must be a terrible person to be annoyed that my boss keeps nagging me to work Sundays.”

And, sadly, there are thoughtless and selfish people (not to mention that master of discouragement we call the devil) who are always ready to take advantage of false guilt with such comments as, “I thought you cared,” “But we were counting on you,” or even, “I thought you Christians were supposed to be so generous/understanding/pure.” Even well-meaning friends can unwittingly lay false guilt on us when their priorities don’t coincide with ours–and perhaps not with God’s will for our lives.

It’s not a minor concern. The quicker we are to blame ourselves for what goes wrong, the more likely we are to avoid seeking God because we fear He’s disgusted with us anyway.

Of course, it’s vital to pray continually whether we’ve done anything wrong or not. (Please, don’t read that and scold yourself for every time you let your consciousness turn from God in the past week.) But instead of immediately crying, “God, forgive me!” at every fleeting temptation, we’d do well to evaluate the situations that trigger our feelings of guilt. Then, we can decide whether we truly need to confess a sin, or whether what we really need to ask God for is discernment, confidence, or comfort.

Try evaluating guilty impulses by these criteria:

  • Did I actively seek this out, and willfully continue in it? If you feel an impulse of self-pity on not getting your own way, that’s not sin in itself. But if you spend the next hour mentally rehearsing how badly life and God always treat you, you’re turning temptation into willful rebellion.
  • Am I expecting myself to be perfect? Being human means you will always do careless things in this life. Mistakes, even thoughtless ones, aren’t necessarily sin, and God is ready to treat our slip-ups with tender understanding:  “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

And remember that much sin comes down to our heart attitudes. The person who says, “God will forgive; that’s His job,” is already in trouble–and so is the person who takes personal credit for every temptation avoided. But those who trust God to keep them humble are justified in His sight. And regularly asking God for His strength and wisdom is the best way to escape false guilt.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be available 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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