‘Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God … Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me … Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?’
Psalm 42 excerpts – cries from the heart of David, calling on God in the midst of despair. We can picture his state of depression.
Depression! Means to be lowered in spirit, dejected, weakened, despondent, having feelings of low value, sadness and pessimism, carrying delusions of inadequacy and hopelessness. Comes from Latin words meaning ‘pressed down.’
Too hard basket for some Christians
Why is depression such a taboo subject in many congregations today? Because it doesn’t fit in with ‘kingdom-now’ mentality? One of those ‘problems’ that fits the ‘too-hard’ basket – too many grey areas?
For some time it’s been apparent that, despite the strengths and victories Christians receive in Christ, some wrongly feel ashamed and only whisper that they’re suffering from depression. Many feel they cannot share this ‘weakness’ without being condemned.
Worse still is the stigma attached to anyone in leadership struggling with depression. Because leaders are supposed to be ‘above’ their congregations, they should not be having such struggles and therefore don’t share openly about their battles in this area.
Yet, on closer study of scriptures we find a number of prominent leaders who suffered from some form of despondency, sadness, feelings of inadequacy; or in other words – depression. Sometimes it is a one-off occurrence, other times it seems to come and go.
The despondent David
The ‘man after God’s own heart’ depressed? Yes!
The excerpts above reveal that David had many instances in his life, particularly over the years when Saul pursued him, to be downhearted and despondent. Had God deserted him in these times, hiding his face from him? No! In fact David wrote in Psalm 139:7-10 that no matter where he went the Lord would be there already.
David wrote many psalms that shared his heart, not only with the Lord, but with all Israel. And not only did God not forsake David, but the people of Israel loved and honoured him.
When church leaders are honest with us as congregations, regarding their weaknesses and their need of our understanding and prayer, we must recognise that God is the Judge. If he has placed them in leadership he is able to lift them up out of the depths, and continue to use them to serve in leadership for our benefit.
We will find greater blessing in encouraging our leaders and standing with them through hard times, than if we desert or condemn them!
The burdened Moses
This chosen leader found the constant pressure of overseeing the Israelites becoming too much for him. So much so that in Numbers 11:14-15 he cries out to the Lord that the burden of carrying all the people was too heavy for him and that if this was the way God was going to treat him, he would rather die. So lowered in spirit, so pressed down that he actually asked to be taken home to be with the Lord.
Our leaders face pressures that we do not always hear of. How many of us individually deal with deaths, marital conflict, terminal sickness, confessions of sin and others’ problems on a daily basis? We may deal with such occasionally among friends, but not on a continual basis. Nor do we need to prepare a message or two for the weekend meetings, attending other week night meetings, and invitations from within the congregation.
Do we check with our leaders to see how they’re doing? And are our leaders honest with us when we do ask? This is definitely an area we all need to work on to ensure we are a healthy body in Christ.
The discouraged young Timothy
Young in the ministry, Timothy found it hard sometimes to be accepted by those older than himself. Even within congregations, there were those who were older, felt they knew more than he and were more qualified for the position. Hence, Timothy needed to hear a word of wisdom and encouragement from Paul, his father in the Lord. And more than once!
‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young… do not neglect your gift that was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you’ advised Paul (1Timothy 4:12,14).
Timothy had been given prophetic words about his calling to the ministry. Yet through adversity and frequent illnesses (1 Tim.5:23), he wasn’t always able to stand firm. He succumbed at times to discouragement and needed reminding by his mentor to keep going. To recall the prophetic word and not give in to intimidation and oppression but to remember he had received spiritual empowerment (2 Tim. 1:6-7).
The crushed Jesus
The Son of God himself was not immune to what we and leaders experience.
Think about the awful agony he went through in the garden struggling with the knowledge of the torture he would soon be suffering. Mark 14:33-34 says: ‘He began to be filled with horror and deep distress. He told (his disciples), “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”’
The wording means a deep distress of mind. But Jesus knew how to draw answers and supernatural overcoming strength from God! ‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you…I want your will, not mine’ (v36).
Strengthened within, Jesus moved afresh in ministry, even miraculously restoring the severed ear of one of his opponents (Luke 22:51).
Every Christian needs encouragement
Every one of us, leaders included, need to be encouraged at various times, and be reminded of prophetic words of calling and future hope. To not give up, even when times are hard, that we too have the Spirit of Christ within who grants love, power and a sound mind.
Depression isn’t something that precludes anyone from leadership roles – it can be used by God. He doesn’t discount, or set aside from leadership, anyone who may suffer this way.
If anything, depression is a weakness that allows God’s strength to show forth in a greater way.
Newton, McPherson and Wilberforce overcame
John Newton (author of Amazing Grace), suffered debilitating depression throughout his Christian life. The former slave trader turned pastor would spend days in bed, unable to get up, overcome by dark depression. His congregation, rather than being ashamed of him, took care of him at those times, not letting him go, but loving him and lifting him up. And God used him powerfully! Strong Christian leaders resulted from his ministry.
Aimee Semple McPherson, mightily used evangelist of the early 1900s, suffered depression as a young widowed mother. Yet the Lord used her to bring thousands to Christ, healed and delivered from oppression. Despite suffering from insomnia for a number of years before her death, she fulfilled her calling.
William Wilberforce, the 1700s English politician, who spent his life focused on the abolition of the slave trade also suffered from deep depression. His battle against human trafficking robbed him of his health and created many enemies, but the Lord used him for his purposes.
Time for change!
‘The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted; he rescues those who are crushed in spirit’ (Psalm 34: 17-18).
It’s time – not for just leaders but all who feel broken-hearted – to stop hiding, stop feeling ashamed, and begin to accept one another in Christ despite our weaknesses. To love one another deeply so that the world may know that we love not only with words, but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:18-24).
In Christ we can all be overcomers through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s Ephesians 3:16 is so encouraging: ‘I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.’
Geraldine Brandt, who proofreads this site, is an insightful intercessor and encourager