of Self for Christian Workers:
Stewardship of Self for Christian Workers:
By Ron Koteskey & Marty Seitz
this as a pdf file
Christians are not immune to emotional disorders, such as
depression. Although a clinical term that is not used in the Bible,
depression appears to have been relatively common among early leaders of
Early church musicians who wrote Psalms 69, 88, and 102 expressed the
despair of depression in the context of hope. Moses, a leader of God's
people and well-known author, asked God to put him to death because he
could not carry the burden of the people God had asked him to lead
(Numbers 11). Jonah, a successful early cross-cultural missionary, also
asked God to take his life when his anger resulted in a wish for death
(Jonah 4). Elijah, a leader with the gift of prophecy, fell into the
depths of depression. He prayed to die immediately after intense spiritual
warfare and a great victory over the forces of evil (1 Kings 19).
Therefore, even those actively involved in ministry can become depressed.
Depression and its causes
Although depressed Christians may have many different symptoms, the
core of depression always includes depressed moods (sadness, emptiness,
tearfulness) or loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. In
addition, it may include changes in weight, sleep, energy, emotions, and
thoughts. It has many causes, including:
- Genetic and biological-depression runs in families
- Medical-the side effects of some medical conditions and some
medications may include depression
- Background and family causes-childhood experiences can lead to later
- Stress or significant loss or changes, such as separation, birth of
a child, or death may result in depression
- Learned helplessness in situations where we feel like we have little
or no control
- Thinking in ways that overlook the positive and see only the
- Anger turned against yourself
- Sin and guilt leading to self-condemnation and hopelessness
- A lack of positive or pleasant experiences
- Having a lack of meaning in life
How do I know if I'm depressed?
The definition of depression changes slightly from time to time, but
currently a person must have at least one of the following symptoms most
of the day, nearly every day, for two or more weeks to be considered
- Feel sad, depressed, or empty
- Lose interest or pleasure in almost all activities
In addition, the person must have more than three or four of the
following nearly every day for the same two or more weeks:
- Great increase or decrease in appetite
- Sleeping much more or less
- Agitation or sluggishness
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Decreased ability to think or decide
- Thoughts of death or suicide
These symptoms must be bad enough to distress you or impair your daily
functioning. If you do not have at least five of these symptoms (including
one of the first two), then you do not meet the definition of
"clinical" depression. Even if you are not clinically depressed,
suggestions in this brochure may be of benefit to you. (Note that if your
symptoms have been moderate and have lasted two or more years, or if they
include great swings in mood including periods of elation, recommended
treatment may be different from that recommended below.)
Although it will not give a professional diagnosis of depression, a
depression questionnaire at the following web site will help you determine
if you may need to see a mental health professional: http://mentalhelp.net/guide/dep2quiz.htm
What can I do if I'm depressed?
Consulting a mental health professional would be ideal. Also ideal
would be getting a thorough physical exam. Depression can have physical
bases, and your physician may be able to evaluate you for an
antidepressant if necessary. However, some Christian workers live in
isolated areas where there are no mental health professionals. Others have
no health insurance or only insurance that does not cover mental health,
and they cannot afford to pay the bills themselves. But if you are feeling
tempted to act on suicidal thoughts, that indicates you need immediate
help from someone other than yourself. The following are specific
applications of our "General Principles of Stewardship of Self."
You may find one or more of these helpful in beginning to care for
- Read portions of Scripture that seem particularly well-suited
to expressing the feelings and thoughts of persons when they are
depressed. For example, pray Psalm 13 with King David, leader of God's
people. Also read Scripture passages filled with hope, such as Psalm
40, Psalm 42, or 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.
- Find information about depression on the Internet at sites
such as the one maintained by the National Library of Medicine at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/depression.html
or the one at http://mentalhelp.net/disorders/.
These web sites have numerous links to reliable information about
depression. (Remember that the domains .gov and .edu tend to be the
- Read good books about depression, such as Feeling Good: The
New Mood Therapy, The Feeling Good Handbook, or Ten Days to
Self-Esteem, all by David Burns. Or read Happiness is a Choice: The
Symptoms, Causes and Cures of Depression by Frank Minirth and Paul
- Keep a log of your symptoms of depression to find events or
thoughts that occur before the symptoms get better or worse. Then
avoid those events or thoughts that precede depression and increase
your participation in events or concentrate on thoughts that prevent
or decrease it.
- Find ways to reward yourself for thinking or behaving in ways
that decrease your depression when you discover what helps. For
example, if saying, "This too shall pass" helps, pat
yourself on the back by also saying, "I'm putting feet to my
prayers by talking to myself this way."
- Do activities that once were rewarding or pleasurable, even
if you do not think they will bring you pleasure now. If you cannot
think of any, do something that most people find pleasurable, such as
enjoying nature, listening to music, or reading a good book.
- Take time to be out in the bright light of the sun while
protecting your skin since sunlight often helps reduce depression.
- Confess a fault or sin to an appropriate person in order to
- Make a caring confrontation if you need to confront someone
about things they are doing that are hurtful to you or others.
- Ask for help from trusted friends, family members,
physicians, or counselors.
- Make a choice to take the first step in putting feet to your
prayers for overcoming depression by deciding on one thing you can do
for yourself today. Then do it.
- Tell someone else about your commitment to take that step to
actually do something.
- Ask that person to hold you accountable for taking that step.
- Express the sadness, grief, and pain of loss or frustration. Isaiah
is often interpreted as referring to Jesus as the "Man of
Sorrows" (53:3-4). John recorded that "Jesus wept (11:35).
- Focus thinking on things that are good, pure, lovely, true,
noble, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). These are things that give us
hope. Take off the "dark glasses" and look at the good that
can come from your troubled situation. Remember the old song that
said, "Count your many blessings; name them one by one."
- If no medical professional is available, several herbal
supplements are effective for the treatment of mild to moderate
depression. St. John's Wort and Sam-E are widely available-but if you
take these, be sure to tell your physician when you see him or her.
- After checking with your doctor, if one is available, gradually work
up to exercising (after beginning to perspire) for at least
twenty minutes at least three times during the week. Such aerobic
exercise has proven effective in reducing depression.
- Force yourself to be with people even when you do not feel
like it. During depression the tendency is to withdraw from others,
but being with people may actually help relieve your depression.
- If you cannot make yourself socialize, ask someone else to coax
you to be with others even when you persistently resist.
- Find a trusted person or group with whom you can share your
struggles. Just as you have wept with those who weep, let others weep
with you. If you are in an isolated location, numerous Internet
support groups are available on-line.
- Monitor your thoughts for self-talk that is despairing and
hopeless. Then tell yourself, "Stop!" Do not continue to
think that way but choose to repeat true and hopeful thoughts.
- Read or sing or listen to hymns or choruses or other
Christian music that are hopeful, such as "It Is Well With My
Soul" or "This Is the Day."
- Think of things that helped in the past when you were
depressed. Then do those things again.
- Ask other people what they have done when they were
depressed. What worked for others may work for you.
- Write out your thoughts and feelings on paper. Create a poem.
Compose a hymn that expresses both the pain of your depression and the
hope for relief.
- Do something to help someone else with no expectation of
receiving anything in return. This will get your focus off yourself
and on to helping others.
- Do not be afraid of bringing others "down." You may be
giving them an opportunity to minister to you-and you can set an
example of vulnerability that encourages them to be honest.
- Specifically pray for direction from the Holy Spirit about
what is causing the depression and what to do about it. Remember that
he is the great Physician.
- Ask others to pray specifically for you about your depression
and its symptoms.
- Take advantage of healing services offered in your church.
- If nothing you try seems to help, try to discern how God may
use your depression in the larger context of his kingdom.
- It may prepare you to minister more effectively to others by
giving you empathy (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
- It may help keep you humble and dependent on God (2 Corinthians
- It may produce spiritual blessing (James 1:12) or demonstrate
God's power (John 9:1-7).
- It may be a sign that you belong to Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19).
- God may use it to test your faithfulness (The book of Job).
You may not be able to do all of these things, and they do not all work
with everyone. However, all of them have helped some people, and one or
more of them may be just what you need to reduce your depression.
Member Care Consultant