One Monday several years ago a preacher friend of mine asked me if I was having a “Blue Monday.” I had never heard that particular expression before and wondered if perhaps, unbeknownst to me, I was not being my normal cheery self! After putting a big (and quick) smile on my face, I asked him what he meant by the particular phrase “Blue Monday.” He said he thought all preachers were familiar with the term and went on to inform me that “Blue Monday”, as it applies to ministry, referred to the valley of letdown and mundaneness that a preacher can experience on Monday after the mountaintop of being used by God to deliver His Word to His people on Sunday…Those who read and remember last month’s newsletter are probably thinking that this opening illustration sounds very familiar (and if you didn’t read and remember last month’s newsletter, then REPENT and go read it right now, either from the hardcopy mailed to you or from the website : gcmfm.com!). However, in April I used it as a segue to speak about what Jesus did in Matthew Chapter 8 when He came down from the Mountain after delivering the most famous sermon ever. This month I give the same opening illustration as a lead in to discussing the topic of depression.
There are many confessing Christians, especially in light of the popular “happy slappy” and “positive thinking” preaching that dominates much of the landscape of our day, who would say that no believer (certainly not themselves of course and certainly not any minister worth his salt) ever experiences emotionally down times, and definitely not anything close to depression. Some “super-spiritual saints” even go so far as to assume that anyone who is ever downcast is only in that condition due to sin and that their being in that condition is actually a sin in itself. These “happier than thou” folks (closely associated to the “holier than thou” faction) might even question whether anybody who gets downcast or depressed is a genuine Christian.
Well, at the risk of being judged negatively, let me personally testify that I’ve had many “blue Mondays-and other days that end in y”, not necessarily over the letdown from “Super Ministry” Sunday to Mundane Menial Monday described above, but rather due to the hard things of life lived in a fallen world that are common to humanity at large, both believers and unbelievers. And I’m in good company. Charles Spurgeon, often called the prince of preachers, who ministered the gospel to untold multitudes through his sermons and books, though known as a joyful servant of God also had many well documented bouts with depression. If Spurgeon is not high enough example to use, I’ll go to the even greater biblical illustrations of godly people who struggled with a sadness deeper than “the blues.” There are many to pick from but for the scope of this newsletter we will look at four.
The Sons Of Korah (Psalm 42 and Psalm 43)…If you’ve read through the Old Testament then the name “Korah” probably rings a negative bell in your mind. He was the leader of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, God’s appointed leaders. The Lord was enraged and Numbers 16 records that He caused Korah and the rebels to be swallowed up by the Earth. However, a thread of hope for the family name shows up when you get towards the middle of the Bible (hundreds of years later) as the “Sons of Korah” became worship leaders for the people of God and were used to author more than 10 Psalms, of which Psalms 42 and 43 are a part.
The two Psalms were likely one unit originally. Three times in these 16 verses (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 42:11; Psalm 43) the Psalmists express, “why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him.” How many have been down, discouraged, and depressed and you’re not even 100% sure why? How many believers know that they can hope in God and believe they should not be in despair, and then when they find themselves still being in despair feel even more depressed for being depressed? It happens to God’s people. God knows it happens to His people. And God allowed for it to be written about in the Psalms to bring us comfort and strength.
We’re not sure how long it took the Sons of Korah, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of course, to pen these two Psalms. Maybe minutes, maybe months, maybe days, maybe years; but if you’ll take the few moments to give the 16 verses even a cursory read you’ll discover that the authors are in a different place, a better place, a brighter place at the end of Psalm 43 than they were at the beginning of Psalm 42. When was the exact moment that things at least began to turn around? How long did it take? We don’t know. But what we can discern is that with God and time, with prayer and praise in the midst of problems, with study and Scripture through the heart of the storm, with willingness to trust, with being honest about our despair and willing to receive His hope, things will get better…eventually.
The Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18 and 19; especially 1 Kings 19:13-18)…Unlike Psalms 42 and 43 where scholars are unsure about the immediate historical context, we are well aware of what was going on in the nation of Israel during the 18th and 19th chapters of 1 Kings. Ahab, the king who did more than any other to provoke God’s anger, was on the throne with his wife Jezebel. They led the people towards evil and Baal worship was at an all-time high. Amid this tidal wave of unrighteousness and idolatry the Lord provided His chosen people with the ministry of Elijah, one of the most powerful prophets recorded in the pages of Scripture.
In 1 Kings 18 Elijah, at the leading and direction of God, challenges the false prophets of Baal to a contest on Mt. Carmel. The rules of the challenge were that sacrifices would be offered to both Baal and to Yahweh, and the one who answered by fire would be considered the true and living God. The 450 prophets of Baal went first. They offered up their animal sacrifice and called upon their god. They cried and cried-louder and louder, danced and danced-stronger and stronger, from morning until noon and yet nothing happened. Finally Elijah called an end to their farce. He offered up an ox to Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Elijah had the sacrifice drenched with water. He then, following what God had revealed to him, called upon the Name of the LORD and asked for fire to come from Heaven. The fire fell, the water-logged ox was consumed, and the credentials of the one true and living God were unquestionably confirmed. The people declared their allegiance to the LORD, with their lips anyway, and obeyed Elijah’s command to seize and slay the false prophets.
One would think that Elijah would be on top of the mountain of ministry and life for years to come. However, in the very next chapter devastating depression would hit this powerful prophet. 1 Kings 19 records that when Jezebel heard of the killing of the false prophets, in large part “her” false prophets, she vowed to kill Elijah. When the true prophet heard of it, he was afraid and went running. For at least the next 40 days Elijah experienced despair, even of life. What did God do? He provided food and strength for His prophet. He gave Elijah time, and in some ways space, to be depressed. When the Lord came to Elijah after these 40 days, He helped the man of God by assuring him that he wasn’t alone in his despair or in his service to God, and then He gave him a future work to do.
For those who preach that God’s people don’t ever get depressed, the prophet Elijah should be example enough to forever dispel their distortions of Scripture. For those who find themselves depressed or know of someone who’s in despair, know that sometimes the downcast need some time and space. For those who feel that “nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”, know that that view is a lie from the pit of perdition; you have other brothers and sisters who have experienced the same sufferings (and even worse) as you (1 Peter 5:8-9). For those in despair, know that after a season you need to get back to work. Knowing that God’s got a work for you to do and getting about the business of doing it is a key to genuine hope.
The Disciples On The Road To Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)…Jesus had been crucified in a very public way; that He was dead was easy to see and easy to believe. Jesus had been buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; that He was dead was easy to see and easy to believe. On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave; prophesied by the Old Testament, foretold by Christ Himself during His earthly incarnate ministry, witnessed and testified to by Mary Magdalene and some other women; that He was alive was not yet seen by many (though He would eventually appear to as many as 500 at once before ascending back to the Father) and was hard to believe. In fact it was unbelievable for two relatively unknown disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus as recorded in Luke 24.
No doubt they wanted Him to be alive. They had believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament; a deliverer in the spirit and power of King David of old who would free Israel from Roman rule and establish a kingdom of God on Earth in the here and now. However, when the One hailed as King on Palm Sunday ended up with a rugged cross instead of a royal crown, was buried in a tomb instead of seated on a throne, the hopes and aspirations that such a lowly One could bring about such a mighty Kingdom were shattered into oblivion. The fact that some were now saying that the tomb was empty and that He had risen from the dead seemed to these two Emmaus disciples to be wishful thinking. Their hopes had already been crushed once; they could not bring themselves to invest their strength, devotion, and faith into such an unbelievable proposition.
As they walk on the road together sharing their dejection, united in sorrow, a Stranger approaches and asks them why they are so downcast. They are amazed that anyone could have escaped hearing about the crucifixion of Jesus, the powerful prophet and mighty miracle worker that so many had thought to be the promised Christ. The two men share their tragic story with their newfound Traveler. Now of course when we read Luke 24 we know straightway that this man is the resurrected Jesus, but they are unaware. I’ve often wondered why the Lord didn’t just declare to them from the start that He was Jesus. Maybe show them the nail prints in His hands and feet, maybe show them the place where the spear was thrust in His side. He could have pulled off some brilliant light show perhaps something akin to the Mount of Transfiguration replete with Moses and Elijah and an angelic choir. Being fully God, Jesus could have given the Emmaus disciples any number of manifestations to prove that He was indeed alive and they would have likely been instantly cheered. But He didn’t choose any of these courses of action. Instead our Lord simply kept walking with them, teaching them the Scriptures, the Scriptures that when properly understood had prophesied for centuries that the Messiah would be a suffering servant who would endure a cruel death but then would be raised unto life, bringing the offer of eternal life to all who would repent of sin and put faith in Him.
As they draw nearer their destination this Stranger seems as though He will continue on down the road. The Emmaus disciples ask Him to stay with them. Then, as Jesus says a blessing and breaks some bread, their eyes are opened to see Him for who He is and He vanishes from their sight. They turn to one another in amazement, not at His disappearance, but from the fact that they recognize how their hearts burned within them while He explained the Scriptures to them. The disciples once in the doldrums now race exuberantly back to Jerusalem to deliver the news that they too are now witnesses that He Is Alive!
Do you find yourself being a depressed and downcast disciple of Christ? Know that the Lord is walking beside you even though you might not realize it at this time. Even better know that God lives inside of His children through the person of the Holy Spirit. Know that staying in the Scriptures will eventually cause your broken heart to be a burning heart. Know that the same God who wrought the resurrection of Christ can raise your spirit as well.