Early in ministry, I thought I had the answers for hurting people, then God allowed me to become depressed myself.
“And the Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?’ And Jonah said, ‘I have good reason to be angry, even to death’” (Jonah 4:4, 9).
“And he came there to a cave and lodged there, and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (I Kings 19:9).
Several friends have forwarded links concerning the suicide of the 30-year-old pastor in Southern California. Andrew Stoecklein had it all–a beautiful, loving wife and three children, a successful and supportive congregation (Inland Hills Church, east of Los Angeles), all the opportunity and acclaim any of us could ever ask for–and it wasn’t enough. He was clinically depressed. He sought help, took a 4-month sabbatical, and preached sermons on depression. He understood far more about his problem than most people ever will. And he took his own life.
There are no easy answers, and I’ll not be having any in this piece.
Early in my ministry, I would have. I “just knew” that the answer to all depression was to believe God. I’d tell depressed people to read Scripture and start believing God. “Memorize these verses.” “Start every day by reading 10 Psalms.”
Then, something happened to put a stop to all my shallow answers.
I became depressed.
Or, put another way, God allowed me to become depressed.
Suddenly I saw a part of life that had escaped me before. I saw how hopelessness feels, how it feels to want to do nothing, to have no energy for anything, to love the people around you but feel you have nothing to give them.
Mine was minor, I’m quick to admit. And it showed up rarely. But it appeared often enough to acquaint me with its symptoms, floor me with its weight, and burden me with its despair.
Looking back, I know a couple of things.
I know that my depression was a gift from the Father. Its presence taught me lessons I’d have learned no other way.
I suspect that depression is a lot like cancer and a thousand other afflictions: each one is similar to the others in a hundred ways and unique in two hundred ways. So, one size does not fit all.
One piece of advice does not cover all the ills of all sick people.
I know that some of the greatest souls of the ages have dealt with depression, what Winston Churchill called his “black dog.” Abraham Lincoln did. Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Elisabeth Elliot. The list goes on and on.
I have a few things to note here which I hope will be helpful to someone.
1. God Is Faithful, Always Faithful, Regardless of How We Are Feeling Today.
God is a promise-keeper. He can be trusted. “The Lord is upright, He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Ps. 92:15).
That confidence will be tested, my friend, again and again. There will be times when He is silent, times when He will seem to have abandoned you, and even times when He seems to be working against you.
Commenting on Jacob wrestling with the angel of God at Jabbok, Warren Wiersbe said the faithful of God will go through three stages: First, we wrestle with the devil. Second, we wrestle with ourselves. And finally, we wrestle with God.
Buckle your seatbelt, servant of God. The road is narrow and it is uphill and it can be bumpy. But as another of Wiersbe’s books is titled, “The bumps are what you climb on.”
Trust Him. He is always on the job. Always loving you and watching over you. If you do not feel His nearness, give that no thought. He’s there nonetheless.
Believe His promises. Go forward. Be faithful.
2. We Who Are in This Body Do Groan, Eagerly Waiting for Our Dwelling From Heaven.
Life can be hard.
It has ever been thus. Following Jesus is not an easy life. In spite of the chorus that promises “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” many have found the going rough. As the apostle said, “If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:19). The scars decorating his body testified of the price he paid to serve Christ.
Nothing of this should be interpreted as a rebuke (or counsel) to the dear brother in California who ended his life. We grieve for him, for his wife and sons, and for their church.
Pastors, ministers of all types, missionaries, etc., who find the going rough would do well to read (and live in) Matthew 10:16ff. The Lord warned His disciples from the beginning to expect resistance, opposition, persecution, rejection, and loneliness. They are to find their hope in Him, place their expectations on Him, and keep their focus on serving Him.
The hymnwriter Isaac Watts said it well:
“Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, While others fought to win the prize
and sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to
grace to help me on to God?”
Let us be found faithful whatever the lot given to us by the Father.
3. Many Scriptures Were Written by Depressed Souls, Which Ought to Tell Us Something.
Have you read through the Psalms lately? You’ll encounter such passages as these….
“How long, O Lord? Wilt Thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” —Psalm 13
“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? …O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest.” —Psalm 22
“Lord, all my desire is before Thee; and my sighing is not hidden from Thee. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; and the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me. My loved ones and my friends stand aloof from my plague….” —Psalm 38
“My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me. I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest …” (Ps. 55)
And what are we to make of this? We are to conclude that depression is often found in the faithful. It happens to the best of us.
And we are to conclude that it is temporary.
And we may conclude that God knows full well what we are going through and uses it in ways we may not understand at the moment, if indeed we ever do.
He made a better pastor of me after I had hurt for a season. I became more sympathetic with those who grieve, more patient with those who strike out at others because they hurt so badly themselves, more willing to give to the difficult church member after being on the receiving end of prayers and love when I was unlovely and demanding.
“Weeping endures for the night; Joy comes in the morning.” —Psalm 30:5
Church members, pray for your ministers. You have no idea what burdens they bear, what forces weigh down upon them, what struggles they endure.
Brethren, let us pray for one another.
Joe McKeever spent 42 years pastoring six Southern Baptist churches and has been writing and cartooning for religious publications for more than 40 years. This article was originally published on McKeever’s blog.