Many people consider Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the famous British pastor of the late 1800’s, to be the greatest preacher since the apostle Paul. Spurgeon, who was referred to as the “Prince of Preachers,” pastored the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for 38 years. That is especially significant seeing that he passed away at the age of 57.
He was the first “mega-church” pastor, and was also a prolific author. What many people do now know about Spurgeon was that he openly admitted to often struggling with depression. It is a matter of record that on more than one occasion he was so overcome with feelings of worthlessness, depression and despondency that he left his pulpit in London to go to a resort in France where he stayed for two or three months at a time. Often he would spend days resting on his couch because he was so depressed, fearful and discouraged.
There is a chapter in his classic book Lectures to My Students called “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” which Warren Wiersbe says every pastor should read at least once a year because of Spurgeon’s honesty about the pressures that men and women in the ministry face. He offerered as one of his examples none other than Elijah, “a man just like us,” whose life and ministry we have been examining in our messages this summer.
You may be surprised some of the names of those who would join Spurgeon in battling depression. People like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy experienced it. Abraham Lincoln waged a lifelong battle with depression, as did Winston Churchill, who referred to it as “my black dog.” Sixteenth century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross famously wrote of the “dark night of the soul” which he experienced. Even the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther dealt with deep depression.
Last Sunday’s message really seemed to have struck a cord in our church body and the story of Elijah struggling with burnout and depression resonated with so many of you. Most of us can certainly relate to great men of God like Spurgeon and Luther, and Bible “heroes” like Elijah and Jonah, who have feet of clay, and go through hard times like the rest of us. (If you haven’t heard the message, you can find it online with all of our other messages here.)
Depression has risen to epidemic proportions in our nation, and no one is immune. It is not a willful, chosen state of mind, nor is it a sin. It can’t be dealt with by just telling someone to “cheer up.” I remember seeing a sign one time that said, “They said to me: Cheer up, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things go worse!”
Often depression is a signal that something is wrong and that we need help. Or, more specifically, that we need hope. And that’s where we as a church come in. As much as the issue sometimes must be treated clinically, by doctors and psychiatrists, with therapy and medicine, ultimately depression is a soul issue. To treat the emotional side and neglect the spiritual side, is nothing short of malpractice.
God wired us, just the way we are, including our body, soul, mind and spirit. He made our emotions, and He understands the mountain tops and valleys we experience. His word are full of both. We are all created in the image of God, which means that at our core we are spiritual beings. And God is interested in our whole selves, and He wants to make sure that our selves are whole.
That was the message from Sunday: that Elijah needed to get some rest, that he needed to rethink his disoriented perspective and focus on the truth, and that he needed to hear from God. Ultimately, the source of His peace would be his relationship with the God who loved him.
I know there are no simple answers for the complex problems of mental health, and the last thing the world needs is simplistic cliches from those of us who follow Christ. But we would do our friends and family–and ourselves–a great disservice if we did not point people to the only real source of peace, Jesus Christ.
That is our purpose, and that is our mission. May the Lord help us to do it obediently, and authentically, and sensitively. Thank you for your continued support and prayers. I am praying for you this week, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.