I admit it. I am tired right now. Not just tired. I am a little bit down and depressed. I don’t have a lot of energy. I am a bit grumpy or at least closed off. I am not normally like this. I am normally a pretty upbeat and positive guy. I just find that sometimes in ministry I don’t feel 100%.
When this first happened in ministry I fought it. After all, I was doing God’s work and God would sustain me, wouldn’t He? But the down-ness came back every once in a while.
At some point during one of these times I picked up the book Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon. Lecture 6 titled “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” has been a constant companion for me in ministry ever since. In that book, Spurgeon taught me 5 really important things about pastoral depression.
1. Down times are normal. Spurgeon says, “The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.” Pastors are people and nobody is excited all the time. But the work of ministry also offers unique demands and stresses. I find it very comforting to know that what I am going through is normal.
2. Down times come for different reasons. Spurgeon covers a number of them. Ministers faint because of physical ailments. The weight of the work makes us carry ourselves with more importance and our position lends itself to resistance and conflict. The ministry can also create bad sedentary habits. We also often feel like fainting before and after times of great success, when we are working without a break, or when troubles pile up. Sometimes people also betray or wound you.
3. Sometimes down times come for no reason. This one bothers me. What I would like to do is figure out the cause and fix it. Sometimes, however, no direct cause is there to be found. When this happens, Spurgeon says “it is all the more difficult to drive it away.” In my own language, it just has to be patiently waited out.
4. Down times do not mean you are unfit for ministry or failing. The first couple of times I got down and depressed in ministry, I got worried that maybe I was not cut out for the work or was doing something wrong. Sometimes I do need to pace myself better. Ministry is more of a marathon than a spring. Still, feeling down does not mean your are failing. Spurgeon says, “Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness.”
5. God uses down times. This is where Spurgeon seems almost off his rocker. He insists that these ‘fainting fits’ are actually helpful.
“Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help.”
In fact, Spurgeon thinks we should praise God for down times:
“Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.”
For Spurgeon, God blesses us with adversity and depression so that we will trust God and not ourselves, we will live by faith and not by feelings, and so that we can be sensitive to experiencing adversity as we care for others.
How have you dealt physically and spiritually with depression in your life?