One of the first thoughts that I have when I get depressed is that I am no longer qualified for ministry.
“How can you preach truth when it does not even help you get out of bed?”
“You talk about a “deeper” and “truer” belief in Christ. Boy, a lot of good it does you.”
“You are going to try to teach people about God and his goodness when you hang your head in sadness. What is up with that?”
“How negative can your thoughts get before you are a complete hypocrite?”
Depressed people in ministry. While my “episodes” are nothing like the “great crash of ’10,” they still come and go. And I am in ministry. As I said in the first post of this series, I am learning to deal with it. I suppose the question is this: How do I continue to admonish people in truth, rebuke unfaithfulness, encourage hope, and preach the peace of God while thoughts of hopelessness win battles in my mind?
I remember after going through my depression last year, I actually changed a sermon that I was going to preach because I felt so guilty about my inability to fulfill its admonishment in my own life. What was the topic I was going to teach on? Thankfulness. I tried and tried for two months to change my attitude, but I could not. So I just changed the topic.
(I am no expert in depression and how to overcome it, mind you, but I hope these help you see where I am today.)
The issue is not simply, “How do you preach when you are depressed?” It is much broader. These questions might be better stated as, “How do we encourage goodness when we are bad? How do we preach the truth that we don’t practice? How do we lift people out of the mire in which we are currently residing? Isn’t there something about the “blind leading the blind” in the Bible?”
There are two things I try to remember:
1. Don’t let your failures manipulate your stand.
Remember the fall of David? Yeah, the Bathsheba thing. Not good. Sexual sin and murder. Remember the spiral downward in David’s life from that time on? Remember his family? Talk about dysfunctional! The crazy events of 2 Sam. 13 were beyond anything I have ever heard. His son Amnon loving his half sister Tamar, raping her, then hating her. When King David heard of this, the text says, “He was furious” (2 Sam. 13:21). That is it. He was mad. He did not do anything to Amnon. He was just mad. This unquenched anger caused Absalom, his other son, to take matters into his own hand and kill Amnon himself. And we all know how that story goes (estranged son, divided kingdom, third dead son).
Why didn’t David do anything? Well, I don’t mean to read into the text (warning: reading into the text forthcoming), but it would seem that these events are meant to teach us that we often have the tendency to look past, fail to encourage, and refrain from rebuke in those areas in which we have failed ourselves. I am sure David had these thoughts run through is mind:
“Who am I to rebuke Amnon after what I did?”
“I don’t have a leg to stand on here. Sure, he slept with his sister, but I killed the husband of the woman I slept with.”
“I understand his issues. I empathize with him. I am just keeping my hand over my mouth here. We will call it grace.”
However, this is not how it should have been handled. Right and wrong are still right and wrong, even if he had failed and continue to fail in living up to the standards of truth.
When we fail in an area like finding joy in the Lord, this does not mean that we cannot still encourage people in righteousness. It will certainly temper our presentation and the way in which we admonish, but we are not relieved of our responsibilities to stand for the truth. Sometimes, being in the mire ourselves can add a bit of encouragement to our ministry. David did Amnon no favors by staying silent about his sin.
2. God only uses sinners to encourage sinners.
Another thing I realize is that if I wait for my life to be perfect, I will never preach. And before you raise your nose too high, let me let you in on a little secret: neither will you. God only uses sinners. Let’s face it – we are all he has to work with. Now, I understand that there are some legitimate times when those of us in ministry do need to keep our mouths shut. In more extreme cases, we may have to take ourselves out of a position of authority due to our failures. However, this does not mean that we don’t continue to stand up for the truth. This does not mean that we quit helping people out of the mire.
I don’t know that I will ever feel qualified to preach, teach, or rebuke. But my call is not to feel qualified. If the standard is Christ, none of us should ever feel qualified because none of us will ever be qualified. Sure, I can manipulate my failures, give excuses for my lack of joy, and do everything I can to make my sin look better so that I feel better, but that is just lowering the standard. It’s just smoke and mirrors. We need to be more like Martin Luther, who said, “Be a sinner. Sin boldly.” In other words, don’t make excuses or hide your sinfulness. If you do, then you just disqualify yourself from grace, which thrives only on our recognition of our sins. Bold sinning requires our continual presence in the circle of grace before the throne of God. And you know what? That is where I want to preach from. Those are the people God uses.
My adequacy is in him, not my ability to live up to his standard every moment. My clothes are his. His righteousness is mine. Therefore, when I am sad and depressed, the greatest thing I can do is continue to point people to a better place, even if I have to tell them that I hope to follow later. When I feel disqualified, I realize that we are all disqualified if our qualification is not in Him.
Series title: Dealing with depression #2.