The Minister’s Fainting Fits, has proven to be one of the most personally helpful chapters in Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. There he writes:
Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon…It is not necessary by quotations from the biographies of eminent ministers to prove that seasons of fearful prostration have fallen to the lot of most, if not all of them.
I am one of those ministers that battles seasons of deep depression. (I’ve chronicled my struggle elsewhere). These “fits of melancholy” can be quite confusing to the pastor. In the midst of darkness we are pressed to wonder how in the world we will deliver a sermon on Sunday morning, counsel the struggling, and lead the faithful. I’ve said with John Piper, “Have mercy on me. I must preach on Sunday, and I can scarcely lift my head.”
Painful as it is I’ve also seen how the Lord has used my times of darkness to further his glory. Here are seven ways that God uses depression in the pastor’s life:
- It makes us “fitting shepherds of an ailing flock”. Spurgeon believed that there was a reason why God chose men to be pastors and not angels; namely, angels cannot feel. “Men, and men subject to human passions, the all wise God has chosen to be his vessels of grace; hence these tears, hence these perplexities and castings down.” Christ, the good Shepherd, can empathize with the sufferings of His sheep. So also, under-shepherds are put through the fire to empathize with the flock.
- It allows us to model faithfulness in the darkness. It’s not a great feat to praise God when you are healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. (Provided that you don’t simply forget Him). It takes a much greater satisfaction in the Lord to say from the ashes, “blessed be the name of the Lord”. When our congregation knows that we battle depression, and they see us hanging on to Christ in the darkness, I believe it encourages them to do the same when they are hit with seasons of melancholy.
- It is a great aid to our holiness. Robert Murray McCheyne quipped, “What my people need most from me is my personal holiness”. That is true. And according to 1 Peter 4:1, one of the best places to grow in holiness is the furnace of affliction. Seasons of suffering and depression have a unique way of causing the world to lose its luster. At the same time such troublesome seasons will cause us to long for heaven more.
- It causes us to be more intimately acquainted with our Suffering Servant. It seems that Paul was praying in Philippians 3:10-11 that even if it meant sharing in His sufferings that he wanted to know Christ. While in prison Samuel Rutherford wrote of his sufferings, “One kiss now is sweeter than ten long since; sweet, sweet is his cross; light, light and easy is his yoke.” While in the midst of despondency it is hard to see the Man of Sorrows. Yet, He is there. And eventually this trial will lead to a deeper relationship with the Suffering Servant.
- It gives us a unique opportunity to display Christ as our all-sufficient treasure. Depression causes you to lose your taste buds. It causes you to see the one dark cloud in a sky full of beauty. When we lose everything—whether real or perceived—and yet we continue to hang onto Christ we display that He is our all-sufficient treasure.
- It reminds us that His grace is sufficient. How many times have we depressed pastors pray that the Lord would remove this thorn so what we can do better ministry? And yet the Lord continues to say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. When we learn the lesson that He is sufficient in our weakness we also learn the lesson that He is sufficient in our ministries. Depression, hopefully, we keep us from believing that silly gimmicks will lead people to Christ, instead grace will reign.
- It keeps us dependent. We need the power of the Spirit every step of the way. We cannot minister in our own strength. We cannot be faithful husbands or fathers in our own strength. We are dependent. Depression reminds us of this—oh, so painfully does it remind us of this.
Pastor, I’m not encouraging you to thank God for your depression. It’s part of living in a fallen and broken world. No, don’t praise God for the fall. Praise God that He is able to redeem the fall. He is greater than our depression. He shows us this by using it for His glory and our good. Someday these fits of melancholy will be over. Until then, let us praise the Lord for using us even on an ash heap.