Psalm 42 is an honest expression of spiritual depression—what the ancients often referred to as a dark night of the soul. In it, the psalmist described his soul thirsting for God in the way a deer pants for water, calling his tears his "food day and night" (v. 3). He found no relief in going to the temple, worshiping, or being in the company of other believers, crying out, "O my God, my soul is cast down within me" (v. 6).
There's a lot that a trained therapist could analyze here, but I'm going to stick to what the text shows us. Over the course of his lament, the psalmist used the term God thirteen times and the Lord once. However, he used personal pronouns—I, me, and my—some two and a half times as often. That reveals a preoccupation with self. The psalmist was out of balance, partly because he was stuck in his own head.
It seems that self-centeredness both enables depression and makes it worse. We get overwhelmed by our problems and our perception of them, and we lose sight of God. So what do we do when God seems far away?
The remedy is found in a single word: replace. Take out the bad and replace it with the best. Psalm 42 shows us three ways to do that:
1. Replace your thoughts with God's truth. Three times the psalmist said his soul was cast down. But then he flipped it around and started talking to himself, saying, "Why are you cast down, O my soul?... Hope in God" (v. 5). This talking to yourself is what the New Testament calls "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB).
As soon as you hear the chatter in your head, stop it. Replace your thoughts with God's truth. Be honest with God about what you're feeling, but also remember what He has said about Himself, His love for you, and the power He has given you in Christ. You are a new creation, an overcomer, and His strength is made great in your weakness.
2. Replace yourself with your God. It's human nature to be self-absorbed in suffering, but at some point, you need to bring God into the picture, as the psalmist did: "The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me" (v. 8). Your outlook is determined by your uplook. You must turn your thoughts upward and recognize that God is still God, even in your pain.
3. Replace your past with your future. The psalmist ended by saying, "Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him" (v. 11). The apostle Paul wrote about "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead" (Philippians 3:13). So what's ahead for you as a believer?
Read Revelation 21-22 to get a glimpse of what you have to look forward to. In short, God will "make all things new" (Revelation 21:5). You will live in a glorious city, New Jerusalem, in a glorified body designed not for tears and heartache but a joy-filled eternity with Jesus.
Depression doesn't mean you've failed God, or even yourself. It just means you're a member of the human race. God will help you overcome any spiritual dejection you come across. Start by replacing everything that's letting you down with the One who will lift you up.