A Depression Observed, Part 2 – Shocking Discovery

(You are reading part two of a 12-part series. Visit noeldear.com to read all articles as we post them throughout December 2023.)

I'm a to-do list person. I have a list for everything. I start every day with a list. Not just work or busy days, but even off-days and vacation days. For every problem I face, I sit down and make a list of steps to overcome the problem. For every life goal, I have a list. For every relationship, I have a list. If I watch football games on television on a Saturday, I start with a list of the games, the times, and the foods I hope my wife will prepare. And the true mark of any radical list-fanatic... I have a list of my lists.

So, when I hit this wall of despair, I made a list. I made a list of the things I needed to do to fix me. As it turned out, I didn't do most of the things I put on my list. My list-making was largely an exercise in self-deception. I suppose if I were that much in charge of my actions and emotions, I wouldn't have been where I was to start with. Further, much of what I did do from my list turned out to be less than helpful. One thing, however, became a source of real encouragement and strength.

The helpful task was number two on my list. I planned to saturate my mind with the Psalms. I wanted to read some in the Bible book of Psalms every day and multiple times each day. I was hopeful I would find something in the Psalms that would help. I wasn't sure if the treasure I would discover would be one of encouragement or solace or wisdom or peace. But I was looking under every rock for anything that might help, and I believed the Psalms might be a good place to begin.

Pretty quickly, I read through Psalm 1, and Psalm 2, and Psalm 3, and so on. I loved (and love) reading the Psalms, but honestly there were no epiphanies. I read on: Psalm 4, Psalm 5, Psalm 6...

There were some encouragements in the testimonies of the psalmists and the promises of the Lord. I was encouraged by the assurance the psalm writer, David, embraced when he wrote, "I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me" (Psalm 3:5). At one point, David must have struggled with the timing of God's provision and rescue, but his trust in the Lord remained strong, and he wrote, "The Lord HAS heard my plea for help; the Lord accepts my prayer" (Psalm 6:9). And he went on to say with confidence, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress! He is my deliverer, my shield, and my stronghold" (Psalm 18:2)!

David was committed to waiting on the Lord even in hard times (Psalm 25:5). Furthermore, David was pointed and clear in his counsel to those who, like me, were struggling to bear up under the stresses of life: "Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the Lord" (Psalm 27:14)! Then David gives testimony of how the Lord came through for him:

Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you healed me. . . . You turned my lament into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness! (Psalm 30:2, 11)

Twice, I was encouraged when reading about the perseverance of David's faith when he experienced fear and flirted with his own feelings of hopelessness. When David felt like his entire life was collapsing and no one understood, he wrote, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he rescues them." Then, when his fear and hopelessness peaked, he wrote, "Lord, do not abandon me, My God, do not be far from me" (Psalm 34:7, 38:21)!

I love God's word, and there was no question in my mind that reading through the Psalms brought me a measure of peace. But, I found no silver bullet. I unearthed no secret formula. Discovered no wonder drug. No cure-all. No rescue. And really, none of the help I so badly needed.

But all of that changed when I came to Psalm 39.

I've read that psalm and all of the other psalms many times, but I could not have told you anything about Psalm 39 had you asked me before I stumbled across it in this desperate search for hope. I knew Psalm 42 was the psalm people often turn to when they are discouraged or depressed, and as I got closer to that psalm in my reading, I was likely reading too quickly in anticipation of getting there. Consequently, my expectations were low as I read the thirty-ninth Psalm.

Two words should never be placed next to each other: amateur and electrician. Over the years, like many men (and women), I have tackled a few amateur electrical projects around the house. These have been mostly simple things like replacing an outlet or switch. I've always been careful to turn off the breaker and double-check that the wires I worked on were not energized. But one day, years ago, I was replacing a switch in an electrical box that also included three or four other switches. I turned off the breaker to the switch I was working on and double-checked the leads with a multimeter—standard practice. However, what did not occur to me was that one of the switches in the outlet box might be on a different circuit. So, with the full (and false) assurance that no electricity was flowing through the box, I proceeded to stick my screwdriver in the box to loosen some wires, and bang! I got the shock of my life! I'm not sure what was worse: the pain of the shock or the shock of the shock! The unexpected jolt left a mark on my memory that has not faded.

The same thing happened when I read Psalm 39. With no expectations of anything out of the ordinary... With no suspicions of the power that flowed through those verses... With no thoughts that this psalm contained live wires, I stuck my screwdriver in between the lines and began to casually read through the dozen-ish verses of the next psalm in the book.

Surprising and shocking news can be a good or bad thing. Sometimes surprising information is bad and breaks your heart or derails your life. Sometimes the surprising revelation is good news, the best news, and it brings relief or joy or celebration!

Honestly, when I read the thirteen verses of Psalm 39, with hot tears streaming down my face, I didn't know into which category this new information would fall. I didn't know if this was good news or bad. Maybe, somehow, it was both. But I knew when I read this psalm that this was a message from the Lord for this season of my life.

I got stuck on Psalm 39. Instead of reading several psalms further each day, I read Psalm 39 over and over and over. Without exaggeration, I can tell you I read it well over a hundred times, probably hundreds of times. I found a really good version of the psalm set to music and listened to this one psalm for hours. I discovered a couple dramatic readings of the psalm that I felt captured its spirit. I listened to these reading so often they have become a voice in my head. Surprisingly, not much has been written on this psalm, but I read everything I could find. From the early days of the church, Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome wrote about Psalm 39. This psalm became a foundational passage for the Benedictine monks in the Middle Ages. Not much from the Reformers with the exception of Calvin's commentary, but the Puritans had much to say about these verses. Spurgeon often taught about Psalm 39. And, of course, contemporary Bible teachers and scholars have something to say. But mostly, Psalm 39 just speaks for itself. Or maybe it is better said that the Lord speaks powerfully through this psalm.

Let's walk through the thirteen verses of this psalm together. We will spend about a chapter on each verse, and I'll share my story, my journey. I'll show you how the Lord has intertwined my journey with the journey David's describes in the Psalm. We will explore the questions this psalm proposes and discover the peace and encouragement this psalm delivers.

Perhaps you or someone you know is on this same journey. May the Lord use this Psalm to encourage you like he did David and he is doing for me.


Pastor Noel