My parents in-law are going through tough times with weakness because of chemotherapy and confusion because of dementia. We can all experience such internal problems, which can be physical or mental. After all, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:33NIV).
Twelve of the psalms are prayers for God’s help for illness or depression (See Appendix; Ps 6, 13, 16, 30, 38, 41, 42, 43, 71, 88, 102, 116). In these lament psalms the psalmist brings their problems to God. But most of them (83%) end with praise to God. For example, Psalm 13 describes David’s suffering:
1How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts [he was depressed]
and day after day have sorrow in my heart [soul, spirit]?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes [restore me], or I will sleep in death [he feared death],
4 and my enemy [perhaps Saul] will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
He feels as though God is distant, that God has forgotten him, and that God is inactive in not punishing evil. And he suffered the constant humiliation of being on the losing side. But it ends with David’s joy as he anticipates God’s love and deliverance:
5But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for He has been good to me.
He is confident in God’s protection because of his past experience that God has been good to him. He feels assured that the prayer will be or has been heard.
How do we respond to personal problems? Let’s be like David and not be ruled by our personal circumstances. He was a man of prayer and praise who remembered God’s love and God’s deliverance. When we look to God to help us see beyond our troubles, they won’t dominate our perspective. Then our personal circumstances won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God. And our feelings won’t stop us remembering what God has done or stop us praising God. So let’s remember God’s love and God’s salvation in all situations.
The Jews had to travel to Jerusalem three times a year for corporate praise and worship (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16-17). We don’t have to travel that far, but the pattern set for corporate praise and worship in the New Testament for the Christian church is weekly. Let’s attend church regularly so we can offer praise and worship to God together and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And don’t stay away because of our feelings or personal problems. It’s only through God that we can see these in proper perspective.
Appendix: Twelve Psalms on God’s help for illness or depression
Psalm 6 Double trouble – Illness and enemies
David was weak and in agony due to illness. He prays for deliverance.
Ends with confidence that his prayer has been heard (v.8-10).
Psalm 13 How long will I suffer?
David was depressed. He prays for deliverance.
Because he anticipated deliverance, he finishes with an expression of confidence that he will be delivered (v.5-6).
Psalm 16 Trust in God when facing death
David continues to trust God when facing death.
Finishes with joy (v.9-11).
Psalm 30 A song of healing
A song for the dedication of the temple. David prays and praises for healing.
Finishes with praise (v.11-12).
“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (v.11-12)
Psalm 38 Prayer for deliverance from illness and enemies
David prays for deliverance from serious illness. Has no positive statements.
Psalm 41 Prayer for deliverance from illness
David prays for deliverance from illness.
Finishes with a doxology (v.13).
Psalm 42 Prayer and praise for the downcast
By the Sons of Korah.
Prays for deliverance from depression.
Ends in praise (v.11b).
Psalm 43 Prayer and praise for the downcast
Prays for deliverance from depression.
Ends in praise (v.5b).
Psalm 71 Prayer for help in old age
Prayer for help in old age.
Ends in praise v.22-24).
Psalm 88 Prayer for deliverance from constant suffering
Prayer for deliverance from constant suffering, near death. “Lord, you are the one who saves me” is the only positive statement (v.1).
Psalm 102 The prayer of one dying in the prime of life
Author afflicted and weak.
The prayer of one dying in the prime of life.
Gives reasons to praise the Lord (v. 25-27).
Psalm 116 Praise for deliverance from death
Prayer for deliverance from death.
Ends in praise (v.12-19).
83% (10/12) of these psalms end with confidence in God (praise or joy) and assurance that the prayer will be or has been heard. The remaining 17% (2/12) lacked any such confidence and assurance.
Written, January 2019
After the apostle Paul rescued a slave girl from demon possession, her owners realized that they could no longer make money from her fortune telling. So, they seized Paul and Silas and accused them before the magistrates (Acts 16:16-24). A crowd joined in this attack and Paul and Silas were stripped, flogged and thrown into the inner prison. This disappointing and painful situation could easily lead to depression and disillusionment. How did Paul and Silas react? Luke records: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV). In a seemingly hopeless situation, they sang praises to God. Where did their joy and encouragement come from?
God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the sources of encouragement for the believer (Acts 9:31; Rom. 15:5; 2 Th. 2:16-17). This kind of encouragement is not something we have, but something we get from God. The Greek words translated “encourage” and “encouragement” in the New Testament are paraklesis and parakaleo. The most common ways to get encouragement are to meditate on certain Scriptures, on the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ, on Christ’s return and on our Christian faith shared with other believers.
The Bible is encouraging because it is God’s special message to humanity. Paul wrote, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This means that the Scriptures are encouraging, and following them brings hope into our lives.
Paul taught that a local church was to be led by a group of elders (Ti. 1:5-9). One qualification of an elder was that “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Ti. 1:9). The “trustworthy message” that was taught by Jesus Christ, Paul and the other apostles has been recorded in the Bible. An elder encourages the congregation by teaching and following the sound doctrines of the Bible, the truths of Scripture.
After urging the believers to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter,” Paul wrote, “May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Th. 2:15-17). Also, prophets brought the message from God before the New Testament was available in a written form; and their messages “encouraged” the believers (1 Cor. 14:3,31).
The Gospel Message
The gospel is encouraging because it is the key to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When the synagogue rulers said to Paul and Barnabas, “If you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak,” Paul preached the gospel (Acts 13:15). He began with the Old Testament and concluded with, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:16-41). The gospel of Jesus Christ is always encouraging.
Paul described his mission this way: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). Here we see that encouragement is linked to an understanding that all believers are part of the Church (Col. 1:26-27). Paul also wrote, “We sent Timothy … God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith” (1 Th. 3:2).
Christians “may be greatly encouraged” because they “have fled to take hold of the hope offered to them” in the gospel (Heb. 6:18). In this image they are fleeing to heaven from a world bound for judgment.
The return of Christ to bring all His followers into heaven is encouraging because it means an end of the sorrow, suffering and disappointment of this sinful world. Believers are commanded to encourage each other with the fact that they “will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:18). The promise of Christ’s return so believers “may live together with Him” is a great encouragement (1 Th. 5:10-11). In view of Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead, believers should “meet together” to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).
The Christian faith is encouraging because it is the practical demonstration of living according to the Bible, the gospel and Christ’s return. Paul longed to visit the believers in Rome so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12). The encouragement here is from each other’s faith, not any external circumstances. He also wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5). Here, encouragement and unity are associated with following the Lord. Paul was also encouraged when he heard about the faith of the believers at Thessalonica (1 Th. 3:7). Likewise, John had “great joy” when told about believers who continued to “walk in the truth” (3 Jn. 3-4).
Let’s be encouraged by God’s promises in the Scriptures, in the good news of salvation, in Christ’s return and in the faith we share with other believers. These are all linked, with the gospel being the core message conveyed by the Scriptures and Christ’s return being the hope of the gospel. It’s interesting that these facts do not depend on our circumstances, but in fact bring encouragement amidst struggles and suffering.
Also, let’s “encourage one another daily” in the faith so we will not be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13). We are told to use these same means to encourage others (2 Cor. 1:4). Those with the gift of encouragement should exercise their gift amongst believers (Rom. 12:8). It seems as though Barnabas had this gift as his name meant “son of encouragement” and he encouraged the church at Antioch (Acts 4:36; 11:22-23).
When life is difficult, remember Paul and Silas in prison. Don’t follow your feelings or seek encouragement only from circumstances, as you soon will be disappointed. Don’t forsake the Lord when life gets tough. Instead, encourage yourself and others by remembering all that God has done.
Published, April 2008