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9 Hymns For Christians Who Struggle With Depression

My name’s Jonathan Aiger, and I struggle with depression. So please know that when I wrote a post like this, I do so out of experience and deep empathy.

These are not just vapid gospel songs that salve the soul but offer little truth. I’m not going to tell you what others have said; that if you just praise God all your troubles will melt away. Those are evil lies. Reliance upon God doesn’t melt away your troubles, and those who say so have either had terribly easy lives or, more likely, are lost in religulous delusion.

But what these hymns, and especially worship in Word and Sacrament, can do is to aid us in seeing the world, and ourselves, through a Christ and cross-shaped lens. Then in the midst of the deepest, darkest night of the soul, we can find the tiny morsel of faith within us to keep going.

These are beautiful hymns of strength and substance that carry enough truth to help you mount a resistance in your heart and mind.

Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us

This is one of the finest texts adopted from the Sunday School hymn tradition.

Written for children to sing, the childlike quality of the poetry is juxtaposed with the most glorious theological reality: Jesus the Good Shepherd tends and feeds us, and is with us when we’re lost in eerie solitude.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use thy folds prepare:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou has bought us, thine we are.

We are thine; do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou has promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou has mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow’r to free:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to thee;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to thee.

Early let us seek thy favor;
Early let us do thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With thy love our bosoms fill:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou has love us, love us still.

Now Thank We All Our God

This is one of my family’s table blessings, and that’s how the first two stanzas originated during the Thirty Years’ War.

The poet, Martin Rinkart, was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg, Saxony, and was thus tasked with performing up to 50 funerals a day.

In the darkest times, my prayer remains, “And keep us in his grace / and guide us when perplexed / and free us from all ills / in this world and the next.”

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices;
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in his grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son, and him who reigns
With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

 

Christ Is Alive!

This one, written by the brilliant contemporary hymn-writer Brian Wren, is right now competing with “Thine Be the Glory” to be the recessional hymn at my funeral (which I hope isn’t for a long time, but it can’t hurt to be prepared!). It’s a reminder that, in light of the cross and glorious resurrection, the worst thing isn’t going to be the last thing.

From the Glory to God Presbyterian Hymnal:

In 1968, Easter fell ten days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and this text was written to express an Easter hope while mindful of that terrible event. Buoyed by a triple-arched tune [TRURO], it affirms the presence of a wounded, risen Christ with all who suffer.

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.

In every insult, rift, and war
where color, scorn, or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.

Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring,
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.

 

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

The hymns of William Cowper are essential to this list. His texts marry the pits of despair, which for Cowper were sometimes mires of insanity, with the glorious truths we know to be true.

In worship, we’re often called to confess with our mouths things we don’t entirely believe with our hearts. I’ve found the same to be true in the tough times, and the clinical episodes.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
of never-failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
and works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
the clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break
in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace;
behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
unfolding ev’ry hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste,
but sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
and He will make it plain.

Hymn of Promise

Including this modern hymn by Natalie Sleeth might not win me friends among church music purists, but its truth is poignant, clear, and firm. From Glory to God:

The writing of this hymn was spurred by a line from the poet T.S. Eliot: “In my end is my beginning.” Shortly after this piece was completed, the author/composer’s husband was diagnosed with what proved to be a terminal malignancy, and the original anthem version of this hymn was sung at his funeral.

In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.

 

Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life

It may be a surprise to see this hymn on the list, but for some reason, I always think of it when I’m struggling with depression.

Loneliness and introspection are two of my deadly depression triggers, and this hymn reminds me that, whatever I’m feeling, the plight of the world and my fellow humans is part of my calling.

The augmentative tune GERMANY gives my spirit a feeling of gradually, deliberately, rising out of my personal and spiritual vacuum, and quite literally, getting the hell out of bed.

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan,
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear thy voice, O Son of man!

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadow’d thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greedn
We catch the vision of thy tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burden’d toil,
From famish’d souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Thy heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for thee
Still holds the freshness of thy grace;
Yet long these multitudes to view
The sweet compassion of your face.

O Master, from the mountainside,
Make haste to heal the hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again.

Till sons of men shall learn thy love

And follow where thy feet have trod;
Till glorious from thy heavn above
Shall come the city of our God.

 

Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee

A hymn of confession and repentance, and possibly the best example of lament in the history of congregational song, we are blessed to be stewards of this Lutheran gem.

From Glory to God:  In many times and places, human despair has been described as an experience like being in a deep pit or drowning under much water. That is where this paraphrase of Psalm 130 begins.

Out of the depths I cry to Thee;
Lord, hear me, I implore Thee!
Bend down Thy gracious ear to me,
My prayer let come before Thee!
If Thou remember each misdeed,
If each should have its rightful meed,
Who may abide Thy presence?

Our pardon is Thy gift; Thy love
And grace alone avail us.
Our works could ne’er our guilt remove,
The strictest life would fail us.
That none may boast himself of aught,
But own in fear Thy grace hath wrought
What in him seemeth righteous.

And thus, my hope is in the Lord,
And not in mine own merit;
I rest upon His faithful word
To them of contrite spirit.
That He is merciful and just,–
This is my comfort and my trust,
His help I wait with patience.

And though it tarry till the night
And round till morning waken,
My heart shall ne’er mistrust Thy might,
Nor count itself forsaken.
Do thus, O ye of Israel’s seed,
Ye of the Spirit born indeed,
Wait for your God’s appearing.

Though great our sins and sore our woes,
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our utmost need it soundeth;
Our kind and faithful Shepherd He,
Who shall at last set Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ABERYSTWYTH is one of the greatest hymn tunes we have.

But seriously, sung to ABERYSTWYTH or MARTYN or JOHN JACOB JINGLEHEIMER SCHMIDT, there is nothing like singing “thou of life the fountain art / freely let me take of thee / Spring thou up within my heart / Rise to all eternity” when your spirit is failing.

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none;
Hangs my helpless soul on thee;
Leave, O leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me:
All my trust on thee is stayed,
All my help from thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of thy wing.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
More than all in thee I find;
Rise the fallen, cheer the faint,
Heal the sick and lead the blind:
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am,
Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep my pure within:
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of thee;
Spring thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.

 

There Is a Fountain

Another gem from William Cowper. This is one of those hymns that has fallen out of favor in recent years because of its so-called “blood and guts” theology, an issue exacerbated by sadomasochistic neo-calvinists and their creedal acceptance of the most violent aspect of ransom theology. It doesn’t help that the graphic imagery coupled with CLEANSING FOUNTAIN by exuberant, arm-waving, free-church song leaders sounds glib, almost devilishly delightful.

But on the other hand, without the shedding of blood we’re all screwed, regardless of our particular theological bent, and nowhere in this hymn do we get the impression that God killed Jesus, a necessary element in penal substitution.

So, in or out of favor, this hymn will be sung at my funeral, if only because nobody likes to argue with a corpse. And the organist will have explicit instructions to play this early American hymn tune with strength, sobriety, and dignity.

Though in the midst of depression my words are feeble and few, redeeming love shall be my everlasting theme, in this life, and the life to come.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains:
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die:
And shall be till I die,
And shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

When this poor lisping, stamm’ring tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save:
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save,
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save;
then in a nobler, sweeter song
I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.

 

 

 

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