Observe Your Thinking

The next step in dealing with depression is to observe your thinking. Let’s keep reading the story.

There (Elijah) came to a cave, where he spent the night. But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)

After the angel attended to Elijah’s physical well-being, God met personally with Elijah. In the course of conversation, God asked Elijah a question – “What are you doing here?” We need to understand that when God asks a question, it is not because he lacks information.

In the garden, when God said, “Adam, where are you?,” it was not because God could not find where Adam had gone. God is a gifted counsellor. He does not immediately direct Adam. Instead, he asked questions because he wanted Adam to acknowledge where he was.

When Jesus was talking to the disciples, he said, “Who do people say that I am?” Had Jesus forgotten his name? Had he lost his identity? No. He wanted to hear who they thought he was.

So when God said to Elijah, “What are you doing here?,” he wanted Elijah to observe his own thinking patterns. After Elijah had an encounter with God that included thunder, earthquake, fire, and a small still voice, God asked him the same question again. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13)

Because Elijah was feeling so depressed, his thinking had become distorted. When you are depressed, your thinking becomes very negative. Have you ever been in one of those halls of mirrors, with all those funny mirrors? You look into one and you are twice as tall as you really are. You move on to the next one and you are half as tall. You look like a little pygmy. Then the next one, you are about three times as wide. You quickly move on from that one and then have look into one where you are really thin. You tend to stand there for a while.

What is happening? The mirrors are giving you a distorted view of what you really look like. That is how depression affects our thinking. Things that are small become exaggerated. Things that are quite big become minimised.

Look at Elijah’s answer to God’s question.

Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” (1 Kings 19:10)

In answering God’s question, Elijah revealed his thinking. Was his thinking accurate? Well, first of all, he had forgotten his experience on the mountain top. Think about it, God answered by fire and all the people said that they would serve God. Elijah had forgotten the great works of God. As a result he had concluded that his work was unfruitful and that his life was not worth living. He had lost confidence in the triumph of God’s kingdom and wanted to withdraw from the battle. When you are depressed, you selectively remove the good things that God is doing in your life.

Not only that, Elijah distorted how bad things were. He thought that he was the only one left. A little later on, God said to Elijah, “Yet I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (1 Kings 19:18)

The situation is 7,000 times better than Elijah had made them out to be. God came and through conversation with Elijah sought to get him to observe his thinking and then begin to adjust it and right size it back to reality.

Our thinking has a powerful affect on our feelings and also our behaviour. No wonder the Bible talks about guarding our heart (Proverbs 4:23), renewing our mind (Romans 12:1-2), and taking captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5). When we feel low, our thoughts and memories are usually selectively bad. This tends to make our feelings even worse.

Depression can be a similar to a downward spiral. We think negative. We feel negative. We act negative. In fact, it is a cumulative effect. You think depressing thoughts then you feel depressed. You feel depressed then think more depressing thoughts. Then when you think more depressing thoughts, you feel even more depressed. This downward spiral is very hard to break free from.

We need to observe our thoughts and seek to get rid of the depressive bias. The downward spiral needs to be reversed by working to change the negative thinking patterns. As thinking becomes more positive, the depression often starts to lift, and produces more positive thoughts and feelings. Notice that God did not start with Elijah’s feelings, which were the symptoms, but rather with his thinking. He went straight to the root of the problem.

Thankfully, the Bible has given us the promise that the Holy Spirit is there to help us renew our mind. That is why reading God’s word is so important because it is an accurate mirror that shows us the way things really are. It is not exaggerated nor does it minimise things. It helps us to realign our thinking – about God, ourselves, other people, and life in general.

Tomorrow: Another Step