What do we need to do when our thoughts attempt to sink us into despair?
The first thing to do is to identify the proper object of hope. We saw it in the first exhortation the Psalmist gives to his soul in Ps.42:5—Hope in God. What we need to understand about this is that this hope is not general nor lacking in definition. Here’s a verse that says the same thing—Ps. 130:5 I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, And in His word, do I hope. Believers hope in specific truth God has said in his word. This means we must have a vastly different category for how we hope for our desires versus how we hope in the promises of God. The former we must hand over to God for him to determine when and if we receive them. The latter we can bank on with our entire lives. This is why I like asking myself and others: What specific promise are you placing your hope in? What exactly are you confident God is going to do and where exactly did you get that confidence?
Part of the reason we get stuck in a downcast state is because our hope is in things God hasn’t specifically promised, so we spend most of our time trying to twist God’s arm to change our circumstances and then we become despairing because we can’t change it ourselves. And keep in mind, much like the Psalmist’s desire, this even applies to good things that God hasn’t provided yet or ever. So instead of longing to please Christ in our circumstances, we attach our hope to our desires with liquid cement and then we start saying things like this: “Oh Lord, I’m just longing that you will give me what I want and I just know you’re going to do it.” At that point, our mouth testifies that we’re just “trusting in the Lord,” but our hearts and our attitudes are testifying to the fact that we’re getting increasingly bitter. Then instead of delighting ourselves in the Lord, we start making comparisons between our lives and other people and jealousy starts to permeate our thinking. And left unchecked, we start to justify our jealousy and when the Spirit brings the appropriate guilt and conviction, we start to feel overwhelmed due to the internal battle between the flesh and the spirit. And if we’re not willing to repent, our soul is beat down and brought low and then James 3:16 sets in—For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. At that point we lose clarity about the truth and our discernment on even other areas of life. This means we don’t default to the biblical perspective on many things, but we quickly adopt a self-centered perspective. And this perpetuates the guilt and depression to the point that we feel like we’re trapped with no way out. And this is all because we did not adopt the proper object of our hope.
You can see how that’s very important, but after identifying the proper object of our hope, we must then consider God’s will for us in our current situation. Our circumstances do not prevent us from honoring God; rather they are unique opportunities to bring him glory. Our current lives are what God has for us now and our current lives are what are best for us to grow in Christlikeness. Anybody can respond to things they don’t like with anger, entitlement or jealousy. That’s a worldly response. A response guided by the Holy Spirit is one in which we readily acknowledge that God will never put us in a circumstance in which we cannot glorify him.
So instead of spending all of our mental energy wishing things were different, we need to be asking: What does God want from me now? What exactly does it entail to please him in my current responsibilities and circumstances? This guards us from focusing our thoughts on glorying in the past or placing a false hope in changed circumstances for the future. How can I glorify him in my thoughts, words, and actions right now?—Right when someone tramples our kindness, steals from us or lies to us or slanders our character or defriends us. We can certainly wish for things to change, but we have so much to work on in the meantime as God unfolds his perfect plan.
These are some of the ways that hoping in God attacks depression.