Over the past few months I’ve posted a few things I’ve come across on Facebook having to do with depression in the ministry. I’ve been amazed at how many times things I’ve shared have been reposted, liked, and commented on. It certainly seems to be something many can relate to and sheepishly agree with. No one is in a hurry to admit they struggle or have struggled with depression, at least they don’t say it out loud. No one is in a rush to say how it has effected their ministries, families, and personal health. Not many are ready to divulge how anxiety and depression affects their daily ability to function in their capacities of leadership, including me.
One apprehension associated with speaking on this topic is the same one the Apostle Paul had to deal with. In his day Paul called them “super apostles”. They were the false teachers who appeared to be superior to Paul in their manner and authority. The guys with all the answers who can’t imagine how anyone could ever allow themselves to suffer in such a manner. They certainly wouldn’t put up with it for a second.
The Bible doesn’t use the word depression in most translations. It does however use words like downcast, brokenhearted, troubled, miserable, despairing, and mourning, among others. There is a whole host of Bible characters who battled their way through what Charles Spurgeon described as the “dark night of the soul”. Charles Spurgeon, experienced the signs of depression throughout his life and it was his most desperate battle. He was not alone. The likes of Charles Dickens, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Handel, Emily Dickinson, Sir Isaac Newton, and many others make up the list of great leaders through history who dealt with this malady.
David was distressed and battled deep despondency. “My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.” Ps. 38:4
Elijah was discouraged, weary, and afraid. “I have had enough Lord, he said. Take my life, I am not better than my ancestors”. 1 Kings 19:4
Job suffered through great loss, wreckage, and sickness. “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? Job 3:11 “I have no peace, no quietness, I have no rest, but only turmoil. Job 3:26
Jeremiah wrestled with great loneliness, feelings of defeat, and insecurity. “Cursed be the day I was born…why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? Jer 20:14,18
The Apostle Paul’s sufferings for the gospel were more than physical. “We were pressed beyond measure, beyond strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life”. 2 Cor 1:8
Even Jesus Himself was deeply anguished over what lay before Him. “And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; Mark 14:34
The Imperfections Of The Perfect Leader
Most ministers and leaders I’ve known show a lot of grace and patience toward the people they serve. Leaders are subject to people as they mis-speak, make mistakes, sin, get mad, let them down, fail, and wound. Most, and I stress most, not all, take it in stride, forgive if it needs forgiveness, and give people room to grow. I’ve seen way to many cases where that door doesn’t swing both ways. I am certainly not saying ministry leaders are without faults.
As pastors and ministers we are well aware of our shortcomings, fears, wars, hurts, and insecurities. We remember and are well aware of our failings and mistakes that have caused wounds to others. Believe me when I say it haunts our sleep. Our personal failings sting relentlessly. The feelings of having let others down, decisions we regret, not being there, or being enough when it counted returns to visit often. I am fully aware that “we” could never be enough. Only Jesus is enough, but the pain is nagging and very real. Every criticism spoken against us sneaks in through wandering thoughts riding on the back of the accuser of the brethren. Every pained and helpless look remembered of the face of a spouse re-opens old wounds. Every disappointed look that reappears in our minds eye from our children’s faces cuts like glass on fresh wounds.
It’s easy to stand on the sidelines like Job’s three friends and shout out what the struggling leader needs to do, or what you would do if you were in that situation. It’s safe and easy to be an armchair quarterback; just cast the care; repent of pride; confess the Word, put it behind you; etc. Do you really think the suffering one doesn’t know those things? When you are suffering with those doubts, fears, anxieties, and depression it’s a lonely place. Psalm 61:2 From the END of the earth I cry… The END of the earth is a lonely place. If you stop and think about it there is only room for ONE to stand at the very END of the earth. Lonely.
It’s hard to believe anyone understands or even could understand a place like that even exists anywhere near the Kingdom of God, but it does. It’s not only a frightful and terrible place, it’s also the place from which you can catch a glimpse of God. The earth your standing on rolls and heaves with sudden and profound quakes. At one moment you’re thrown to the ground and it feels as though the ground will open and swallow you. (And a part of you hopes it does.) The next moment you realize the one who rules the quaking loves you, and will never let you go. Then you catch a glimpse of him, victory is in sight, and it’s more than OK. You know He’s drawing you to Himself, and then you lose sight of Him, and the rolling and heaving starts all over again.
There is nothing new under the sun. King David reveals the vulnerability we all try so hard to hide. In Psalm 38 David shares his sufferings and prayers. David felt he’d been forgotten of God. Then, like many of us he passes back and forth between objection and hopefulness. It’s one thing to suffer the emotional pain of this torment. It’s quite another to deal with the physical pain David spoke of that is associated with it. Listen to David in this Psalm speak of both emotional and physical pain. His back filled with searing pain. There is a lot of that going around. Groaning in anguish of heart could be the emotional pain and loneliness that comes with leadership, or more often than not the chest pains that can accompany the gravity of responsibility.
Psalm 38:6-8 6 I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning. (emotional)
7 My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body. (physical)
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed; (physical)
I groan in anguish of heart. (emotional)
Real World Casualties
I recently read about a young pastor who was barely 30, with a wife and three small kids that committed suicide. He seemed to have it all. (Which proves having it all isn’t the answer.) Mega church, 3 dozen paid staff people, 800 volunteers and well loved by “so many”. It’s not the “so many” that are at issue. It really is only the few. The few that will never give an article like this a passing glance, and never see the damage they have caused in so many lives. Why “the few” end up having such a devastating voice in our lives is hard to understand when there are “so many” voices cheering us on. Why does the voice of dissension seem to leave an indelible mark, while the voice of encouragement seems as sidewalk chalk after a rain?
I’ve heard it said, “Other peoples heads are the wrong place to keep your happiness”. Another truism to be sure. Regardless of how true this truism is, living it out is more than a quick witted statement. The reality is it hurts. There is nothing we can do about what other people say and do to us. The only real influence we have is the influence over what we allow, with the strength of the Lord, to touch our own hearts and souls.
You’re Not The Perfect Leader
Never have been. Never will be. No one expected it of you but you, and some over zealous voices to blind to their own faults, and to focused on yours. Ask the Lord to forgive your pride, and to help you forgive the blind who criticize you so freely. Ask Him to help you find and see Him like you never have before. Ask Jesus to redeem the circumstances surrounding your anxiety, stress, and depression, and like Jesus said to Peter, “When you return strengthen the brothers”
I really believe that a place we have missed it “in” the church and in leadership has been relationships. Being a body. All of the “one another’s” in the New Testament can’t happen in the context of Sunday Morning “Church”. Do a Google search for yourself. The “one another’s” don’t fit in the context of simply meeting on Sunday morning. They only fit in the context of “doing life together”. Community. In our fast paced world where we just work Sunday services into our schedule, the relationships necessary for spiritual survival just don’t fit. This is just as true for Pastors and Ministers. I’ve had a couple of professional counselors I know tell me, “every counselor needs a counselor”. We need those relationships. Leaders need other leaders they can trust with their victories, hurts, and concerns. If we’re not making time to do this as a local church we’re certainly not making time to do it between leaders, and it shows.
Let’s consider Jesus. We don’t often think about what it looked like for Jesus to actually deal with stressful times and being disappointed by people. But He was.
I came across this message on Matt 26:36-39 somewhere. I really don’t remember where. I’ve taught it so many times that it has become my own. You have my permission to forget where you got it and make it your own too There are 5 great lessons to be learned here..
Matt 26:36-39 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane and said to the disciples, Sit here while I go and pray over there. 37 And He took with Him Peter and the sons of Zebedee and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
#1 Jesus chose some close friends to be with Him. Pulled aside w/precious trusted friends.
Matt 26:37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.
Jesus didn’t draw away from people. The devil will try to cut you off from the Life of the Body.
#2 He opened His soul to them.
Matt 26:38a Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.
Can you imagine their mouth dropping open? Their King confessing His struggle.
#3 He asked for their help in spiritual warfare
Matt 26:38b Stay here and watch, (pray) with Me.”
He asked them to fight with Him and for Him.
#4 He poured out His heart to the Father in prayer.
Matt 26:39a He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;
Whatever it is that Satan fires against you it’s right to ask the Father take it away, God is mightier than he is. But…
#5 He rested His soul in the Sovereign Wisdom of God
Matt 26:39b nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
It’s not sin to find yourself “IN” despondency. It’s sin to STAY there
Take a breath and feel peace flood our souls.
Ps 31:15 My times are in Your hand;
Ps 138:8 The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; thy steadfast love, O LORD, endures for ever.
#1 Find your trusted friends
#2 Open your soul to them
#3 Ask them to fight with you and for you
#4 Pour out your soul to the Father
#5 Rest in the Sovereignty of His Wisdom
Pastor there is nothing wrong with you but that you are human, weak, frail, flesh. Just the way Jesus made you. Do what Jesus did. Be a part of the Body. Let others you trust bear your burdens with you. Draw close to Jesus. Don’t be cut off. Listen to what Jesus says and not what people say.
Most importantly, ask God to redeem your suffering, and for Him to reveal Himself to you in a fresh intimate way.