A Scripture Prayer based on Psalm 120

As the pilgrims ascended for worship in Your city,
the city of peace,
where you and your glory dwells,
they longed to encounter You there.
We too long to have a fresh encounter with You.
We long for the day when the final door will open
and we will ascend and pass into your glory forever.
For then we shall know you perfectly
and experience a deep, abiding peace
– no more hostilities, no more misunderstanding,
no more deceit and no more falsehood.

Thank you that from You alone
comes deliverance from all these things,
especially lying lips and a deceitful tongue.
How many times have we wanted people to think well of us
and lied and stretched the truth.
It is a curse-like existence
to live among those who hate peace and love war.

Thank you that Jesus did battle with the devil at the cross of Calvary
and that now we can not only experience peace,
but promote peace among our friends and families.

Enable all who claim allegiance to the Prince of Peace
to proclaim: “I am for peace.”
Lord, I claim with the Psalmist “I am for peace.”
I know true peace comes only to a heart, a marriage,
a family, a nation
only through Jesus Christ who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

Would you be pleased to bring peace to the war-ravaged parts of your world…
namely the Middle East and the southern border of our own country.
In Your church, cure Your children’s warring madness
and bend our pride to your control.
Bring peace, reconciliation,
forgiveness and restored relationships
for Your glory and the building up of Your church.  AMEN.


When the Darkness Will Not Lift – The Causes of Spiritual Depression

This morning at Panera Bread restaurant, I begin a men’s group focused on the Psalms of Ascent with additional insights gleaned from Euguene Peterson’s book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.If you’re not in a men’s group at Trinity, let me encourage to come be a part of ours. It’s a small group focused on studying and sharing life together.

This morning we began by focusing on lifelines for our journey through spiritual depression from Psalm 120. At various times in all of our lives we suffer from spiritual depression. We become overwhelmed with a sense of oppression, negativity, and despair so  much so that God seems absent from our lives.

As he begins his journey, the Psalmist feels far away from God. A spiritual melancholy has enveloped him. Do any of you ever struggle with a melancholy spirit? Does a gloomy state of mind ever plague you? Have you ever felt far from the Lord when no enthusiasm for God’s worship or God’s Word? The thought of doing good for others absolutely wearies you. This malaise that comes upon us from time to time is called spiritual depression.

Martin Luther called it Anfechtung – spiritual assault and distress. Anfechtung is an assault on either the body, mind, or soul, involving fear, conscience, sin, and/or guilt, that always test your faith. It is all the doubts, turmoil, pains, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man.

What is spiritual depression? In verses 1 and 5, the Psalmist describes his emotional state as one of distress. So much so that he pronounces a woe upon himself. Distress – being in a narrow and confining place that causes emotional pain due to unfavorable circumstances.

Secondly, spiritual depression can occur due of Satanic assault. Also, at times our physical and hereditary make-up can make us prone to spiritual depression. It is important that we don’t overlook the physical. The condition of our bodies makes a difference in the capacity of our minds to think clearly and of our souls to see the beauty of the hope of the gospel.

The greatest and the best Christians when they are physically weak and exhausted are more prone to an attack of spiritual depression than at any other time. There are great illustrations of this in the scriptures. Elijah knew spiritual depression. After his great spiritual battle and victory on Mount Carmel against the prophets of Baal, we find Elijah sitting beneath a juniper tree, utterly dejected, despairing and wishing to die (1 Kings 19:1-19).

Where is God in all of this? The two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Spiritual depression often results from the trauma of God’s apparent hiddenness, impotence or unconcern. For example, you believe that God is loving and sovereign and your four-year-old daughter dies of leukemia.

What are the causes of Spiritual Depression?  Spiritual depression can result from many causes. Our Psalm highlights two causes for spiritual depression.

The warring ways of the world (vv.1-2). The sin of others. These warring ways are seen in our sins of speech. Lies…Deceit. Lying lips and deceitful tongues wreak havoc in all our relationships. We cause others to suffer by our harsh, critical, and unloving words.

Samuel Cox wrote on this passage back in the late 1800s. He says that “half of the miseries of human life spring from the reckless and malignant use of the tongue… These tongues wag fastest behind a person’s back.”

Grima the Wormtongue. Grima was the counsellor of Theoden, the King of Rohan in Middle Earth. He betrayed his master by becoming an agent of Saruman. His directive was to weaken King Theoden in preparation for an invasion of Rohan. Theoden slowly succumbed to the whisperings of Grima, the wormtongue. Slowly and deceitfully, he had squeezed all life and health from Theodan with his deceitful lies.  BUT… deliverance was near. Hear the words of Gandalf:

“The wise speak only of what they know, Grima son of Galmod. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth.” But Gandalf comes to reclaim and rescue. And in sort of an exorcism of sorts, he frees Theodan from his pitiful condition.  I love the pastoral counsel of Gandalf to King Theodan: “Breathe the free air again.”

The world is more than just a hostile and antagonistic place for us. Yielding to the world’s allurement. For the Psalmist, rubbing shoulders with other believers and being sharpened had been withdrawn and he was in danger of compromising his faith.

The second huge cause of spiritual depression is the alluring ways of the world (vv. 5-6) as well as our own sin. The sin of worldliness. The verb “dwell”… to be too much at home in this world.

The Psalmist longed to be home in Jerusalem, but for some reason he found himself far away from Jerusalem as it was possible to get. Meshech is thought to be near the Black Sea in what we would call the Baltic Republics. In the south, ‘among the tents of Kedar’ in the Arabian desert. He was in a place and among a people that were far away from Jerusalem and that were hostile to faith!

Isolationism – the holy huddle… Over-accommodation to our culture.

Thirdly, spiritual depression can result from our unwillingness to let go of some cherished sin. This is why we regularly take time in our corporate worships to confess our sin. John Piper writes in his booklet, When the Darkness Will Not Lift: “In doing this, we are all prone to make two mistakes. One is to make light of our sin. The other is to be overwhelmed by it. However, the biblical approach is to take our sin seriously, hate it, renounce it, and trust Christ as our only Savior from its guilt and power.”


Lifelines for Spiritual Depression

Lifelines for those journeying through spiritual depression from Psalm 120:

Martin Lloyd Jones in his book entitled Spiritual Depression sets forth a radical notion that has proven most helpful to me personally. He writes that “most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself.”

He counsels us to “take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why are you in despair? What business have you to be depressed? You exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope in God’ – instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must remind yourself of God, who He is, what He has done, and what He has pledged Himself to do (pp. 20-21).”

Here are five lifelines on how to do this from Psalm 120.
A.    Recall God’s past faithfulness in your life. “I called to the LORD, and he answered me” (120:1). Such personal evidences such as answered prayers and God’s deliverance and provision in the past serve as powerful antidotes to spiritual depression. Actively call to mind one way that you have personally seen the Lord’s faithfulness in your  past!

B.    Recognize that your only source of hope is in the name of the LORD (120:2). The great tragedy of spiritual depression is that, those who suffer from it tend to think that they must overcome it before they can come to God, but the reality is that we are powerless in and of ourselves to overcome it. We must acknowledge that there is only one source of help. This source is set forth in our Psalm – the LORD – Yahweh. This most important name for God is used twice in Psalm 120.   Dr. Bruce Waltke, an Old Testament scholar, reminds us that the following two words capture the significance of this name for our God – loving loyalty. It is the Lord’s personal and covenantal name. It reminds us that He has pledged to be our God and take us to be His people and that He refuses to give up on us. Let us heed the counsel of John Stott, the pastor emeritus of All Souls Church in London, England: “The cure for spiritual depression is neither to look in at our grief, nor back to the past, nor round at our problems, but upwards to the living God. He is our help and our God, and if we trust in him now, we shall soon have cause to praise him again.”

C.    Pursue peace with God by declaring war on your sin (120:3). We tend to treat our sins of speech (lying lips and deceitful tongues) lightly until we are the ones lied to or slandered. The Psalmist prayer for deliverance from a  “deceitful tongue” in Psalm 120:3 might not be somebody’s else, but his own. Here are a couple of applicational questions to declare war on your sin: Are there any ways that you have spoken unadvisedly, bitterly, or untruly this past week? Confess it to the Lord. Is your gloomy state of mind and sense of despair caused by your unwilling to really trust God to be faithful to His promises? One of my biggest sins in this area of spiritual depression is simply unbelief and allowing myself to be dictated to by my feelings and emotions rather than actively trusting God’s promises. For us to trust God’s promises we must be familiar with them. Today, why don’t you select a promise of God from Scripture and memorize it so that you can have it as a ready weapon for your next bout for spiritual sanity and health? Psalm 42:11 would be a good place to start: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

D.    Rejoice that divine judgment fell upon another – the Prince of peace (120:4). Jesus himself took all the sharp arrows that were due us when He suffered on our behalf and died in our place. He bore in his body all of our sins of speech, despair and unbelief.  In our moments of desperation, we cast ourselves on Jesus and thank Him for absorbing the judgment that was due us. What joy it brings to know that I am no longer condemned but forgiven. I am no longer rejected, but accepted by the one who matters ultimately. May the wonderful truths of the gospel bring you out again into the sunshine of the Father’s love for you!

E.    Remember that your deep longing for peace will one day be fully satisfied (120:5-7). The key word here is SHALOM. According to the Scriptures, our  journey’s destination is not the earthly Jerusalem, but the heavenly Mount Zion – the new Jerusalem (city of peace). In it, there will not be even one day of doom and gloom. There will be full shalom – complete mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being, wholeness, health, prosperity, safety, tranquility, rest, harmony, and the absence of all agitation and discord.

“All of us have a deep longing for peace… to be released and set free from the babble of voices both within ourselves and outside ourselves. Jesus was a man of peace; he came into our world, and was worshipped at his nativity as the Prince of peace. He lived and died to make peace “by the blood of his cross.” When he was going out of the world, he said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” When he was risen from the dead, and made his first appearance to his disciples, he said to them. “Peace be to you.” He is the ultimate peace-maker. His gospel is the gospel of peace. It contains the peace of God which passes all understanding.”
– Samuel Pierce, quoted in Charles Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David

William Cowper was a man who struggled mightily with spiritual depression. He wrote a wonderful hymn entitled “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” The second verse serves as a lifeline for others struggling with depression: “Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds you so much dread. Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head!”