Paul: Depressed, Yet Rejoicing

“I’m numb inside and without passion for living.”

“I’m sad all the time.”

Saint Paul in Prison, 1627 Rembrandt
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These two descriptions are opposite, yet both express the experience of the depressed. Depression affects the mood differently in different people; differing circumstances. 

The symptoms of depression are contradictory because depression displays itself according to its host. In one, it presents as sorrow; in another, as emptiness. The medical community calls it a mood-related disorder.  If something is in disorder, it infers that the “order” is out of whack, broken, it isn’t functioning as intended. Hence, it is concluded that a depressed person is sick because of the painful feelings they describe. Their feelings are messed up, not working correctly.

For the Christian, the belief that a depressed person’s emotions are broken can be frustrating and confusing. Is it possible to experience intense painful FEELINGS, and still respond to God in an emotional way?

The Paradoxical Experience of Paul

Aside from the example of Jesus, the apostle Paul was the master at suffering with grace. In writing to the church in Corinth, he details the horrific circumstances he suffered as the good-will ambassador of Christ. He describes his emotional state as sorrowful, overwhelmingly sad. Yet, and here is the good news for those suffering from depression, he could still be filled with joy! He was always rejoicing! How could depressed (very sad) Paul, rejoice in the midst of his painful experience? He writes his solution to the Philippians.


Paul says, “Rejoice! Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!”

When I hear the word Rejoice, I try to conjure up a feeling. But, if I have a feeling-disorder, how can I get my feelings to work the way I wish? Or for that matter, how can anyone just make themselves feel a certain way? I don’t believe you can. And since I also believe that God would never ask us to do anything we can’t do, then when he tells us to rejoice, rejoicing must be something other than a feeling. Follow that logic?

I love the way The Message paraphrases the word rejoice: Celebrate! Now, I can celebrate even if I don’t feel like it. I’m not really a party person, so I have a lot of experience at it. This is what it looks like.

I go to the party remembering how much the person we are celebrating means to me. I think of all that she has done for me. I share the special things I know about her with others at the party. When I see the special person, I relate to her the things I’ve been thinking about, and express my love for her by joining in the activities planned at the party. And you know what? I usually end up enjoying myself, after all. This can be the “how to” of rejoicing in or celebrating God every day.

Pray and Give Thanks

Paul continues, “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.”

Have you noticed how anxiety and depression often go hand in hand? Christian, the solution for both is the same; a life centered around thankful prayer. This is something you can actively pursue. It is something TO DO, instead of trying NOT TO worry or feel blue. To me, that is positive encouragement.

Last year, my husband told me that we would not have the money to purchase plane tickets to Georgia for Christmas. Now, we ALWAYS go to my mother’s house for Christmas. In my mind, it is not optional. I didn’t storm about blaming him for not working hard enough to get the money. I didn’t take my revenge on him by giving him the silent treatment. I got depressed and worried about how I was going to survive Christmas away from all the normal celebrations. My daughter wouldn’t get to spend precious time with grandma! I’d be away from my sisters on the anniversary of dad’s death. Everyone would forget about us. Boo-hoo. I think you can understand? Now, a few years ago, this attitude would have gone unchecked for days or weeks. I would have been a miserable wreck; procrastinating housework, angry at my husband, impatient with the baby, sensitive and critical to any thoughtless act by friends. But, I have been practicing putting on a thankful attitude, so it only took about two hours before the Holy Spirit crashed my pity party with the realization that I was being ungrateful. I sat down right then, and begin to talk to God. I told him about all the wonderful things he had given me and how thankful I was for my life circumstances. It took ten minutes* and my spirit was restored. I felt at peace with the turn of circumstances, able to cope with my disappointment. Praise the Lord!

*A few years ago, it would have been a major struggle to correct my poor attitude, taking much more time. The habit of thankfulness becomes easier with use, so keep at it!

You Will Feel Better

Paul concludes, “Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.”

God assures us that his calm spirit is able to steer our thoughts and feelings. A person who belongs to Christ Jesus who has been diagnosed with depression, a mood-related disorder, can be assured that her feelings aren’t broken to the extent that she can’t obey God’s instruction to rejoice and give thanks. Like Paul, we can rejoice even in the midst of painful depression. 

Other depressed people in the Bible: Cain, Hannah, Jesus, Elijah, David

3 thoughts on “Paul: Depressed, Yet Rejoicing

  1. I agree with Matt. Being sad or down about something is not the same as having clinical depression, which is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Saying that one’s feelings are messed up when diagnosed with clinical depression is inaccurate and makes light of the situation.
    With that being said, I really liked the tactics you laid out to combat negative thinking, especially with regards to actively choose to rejoice!


  2. I don’t think your situation encapsulates clinical depression very well. There is a pretty big difference between being sad and disappointed at a situational set back versus going years at a time feeling like you are falling deeper into a pit of despair. Not being able to get out of bed, brush your teeth, shower or eat. The difference in scope could be compared to having a passing evil thought versus being literally possessed. I fear your advice might be disregarded based on your seeming lack of understanding of what clinical depression actually entails.


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