You would think that nothing ever bothered Winston Churchill. Even with Nazi Germany breathing down England’s neck and the pressure of World War II on his shoulders, Churchill never seemed to flinch. It was later, after victory was secured and his legacy mushroomed, that admirers and critics alike would learn of his bouts with depression. Churchill referred to it as a “black dog” that hounded him.
For anyone that has experienced depression or one of its relatives, the metaphor of being dogged makes a lot of sense, because chronic discouragement or depression is something that hounds you without mercy.
Like Churchill, just about everyone is followed by the black dog at one time or another. For some, however, it is more of a rule than an exception. For the easily discouraged person, the hound seems to always be nearby, crouching in the shadows – even in joyful times – ready to pounce as soon as it gets an opportunity.
It seems that this was the case for David in the Bible.
David was hounded in more ways than one. Saul, David’s jealous and relentless nemesis, literally hunted David like a bloodhound chasing a fugitive. There were times it was so bad all David could do was hole up in a cave and wait out Saul’s rage. All of this, no doubt, contributed to David’s self-described experience of severe anxiety and depression.
Psalm 57 is one example among many in the psalms where David “posted” publicly about his struggle. Here are a few things he did that are shareable and repeatable, to help when the black dog pursues.
Take cover under the sprawling mercy of God. Running to God is not the same thing as running from your problems. Not even close. When you are hurting, running to God and pleading His mercy over your life is a great first step, as illustrated so well here by David in Psalm 57:
1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
Because of Jesus Christ, you will never wear out your welcome at the Throne of Grace. Go there confidently in His name, receive mercy, and find the grace your heart craves (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Envision how God will demonstrate His glory over the situation. Just because David was in a cave didn’t mean he was “caving” to the problem. Rather, right there in the darkness of his cave he envisioned how God’s glory would ultimately pierce the darkness. Two times David prayed these words,
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
When you’re down, it feels so permanent, like this is the way it’s going to be for the rest of your life. But it isn’t. God still has glorious plans for your future.
Make the choice to give God thanks and praise anyway. Victor Frankl, a survivor of the living hell known as the holocaust, is credited with this profound insight:
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”¹
David’s situation was often bleak – physically and emotionally – but even while stuck in a dark and dreary cave, he willed himself to worship. Probably with tears in his eyes, he offered up these words:
9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. 10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of what to do when you’re being dogged by discouragement, but it’s a good place to start.
So maybe it isn’t a person that is harassing you today, but an internal thought or fear that won’t leave you alone, always nipping at your heels. Perhaps you are being treated for anxiety or depression and you’re not sure what’s next. Or maybe you are just down in the dumps and you’re not sure why. In any case know that God loves you, He is pursuing you, and He is way more relentless than the black dog.
It’s a new day with God. Run with it.
¹Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl, foreword by Harold Kushner