I'll tell you a secret about me that you may not know: I struggle with depression. This is a problem that has been in my family for generations. There have been times in my younger days when I even considered suicide and my parents specifically avoided letting me take certain medications because of my predisposition toward depression. This battle has been a long term battle for me and for the most part the Lord has given me victory. I'll tell a little more about that later. In the life of a preacher, there is a time when many of us face discouragement if not defeat and with my predisposition, it tends to become depression. That time is either right after we preach or the Monday morning after a full day of preaching on Sunday.
The King of preachers himself, Charles Spurgeon, struggled a life-long battle with depression and one lesson he learned was that depression is not a sign that someone is not walking with the Lord. Our natural tendency is to say "good Christians" can't get depressed, but such a statement is contrary to the record we find in the Bible. We see situations where men who were doing great things for God and walking with him faced depression such as Elijah and David. In fact sometimes, the moments of greatest growth can occur in the darkness of depression. Describing his own situation, Spurgeon said:
You may be surrounded with all the comforts of life and yet be in wretchedness more gloomy than death if the spirits are depressed. You may have no outward cause whatever for sorrow and yet if the mind is dejected, the brightest sunshine will not relieve your gloom. … There are times when all our evidences get clouded and all our joys are fled. Though we may still cling to the Cross, yet it is with a desperate grasp
I only tell you all this about myself because I know there are others who struggle with this as well. Maybe you struggle with depression in other areas, but some of the principles we will talk about today might be a help to you. Depression is not an easy topic to tackle because it is a multi-dimentional problem: it can be fend by out mind, emotions and body. So a solution to the problem is not always as simple as we want it to be, but in a specific category of depression, Spiritual Depression, God's word gives us some clues as to how we can deal with it. To trace some of these lessons we are going to take a look at both Elijah and David and see how they dealt with Depression and in Elijah's life more specifically post sermon depression.
One of the first places we should start in dealing with post sermon depression is rest. There is a scientific reason why this is the case especially for preachers. Archibald Hart calls this post adrenaline depression. In his book Unmasking Male Depression, he describes it like this:
What I was experiencing was a profound shutdown of my adrenal system, following a period of high stress or demand. It was as if my adrenal system were saying, “That’s enough abuse for now; let’s give it a break,” and shut down so that I had no choice in the matter.
The effect of preaching demand a lot out of us and our adrenal system kicks into over drive so we can physically deliver God's message to the people and minister afterwards, but after this overdrive, we crash. And we can crash hard into depression.
Let's take a look at the story of Elijah and his struggle with depression found in 1 Kings 18-19. Recently, our youth director David Cain preached an awesome message on Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Most of us know the story. Elijah faced off against 300 prophets of Baal and challenged them to offer sacrifices but then have their god lite the fire for the sacrifice. The prophets of Baal cry, pray, scream, cut themselves for hours but nothing happens. Elijah has them pout tons of water on his alter and then he prays one simple prayer. God lites the fire. After God has shown Himself powerful, the people acknowledge God and rise up with Elijah to kill the prophets of Baal. Then Elijah goes and tells Ahab that rain is coming; the drought is over. Elijah was on a preaching high, but when Ahab's wife hears about what had happened she threatens Elijah and he flees. As a side note, 19:3 makes a unique point that Elijah left his servant behind. It is never wise to shut yourself off from others when you are in the pit of despair.
We see Elijah's depression settling in in 19:4. Elijah travels for awhile until he finds a Juniper tree. He sits down and asks the Lord to let him die. In this moment of despair, the Lord didn't grant him his wish and kill him, the Lord didn't criticize and chastise him, the Lord gave him rest. In 19:5, Elijah began getting the rest he needed when he lay under the tree and slept. And at this moment, the Lord sent an Angel who brought him found and refreshed him. The refreshment that God gave him was so great that according to 19:8, he was able to survive on that food for forty days and forty nights.
Hart recommends as soon as possible getting aside and relaxing. Let the mood, even depression come over you and realize it is your body trying to heal from the adrenaline surge. But this is why Elijah needed rest. Sometimes the answer to depression is just to get some rest. Many suggest doing low demand activities on Monday morning after a long day of preaching and serving on Sunday.
Time with God
The second thing we see Elijah doing is meeting with God. Time with God is also time of rest in God's presence as we Be still (Psalm 46:10), and yet it is also a time of rejuvenation and worship as well. Where do we find our strength? It is only in God. A lesson I have been learning as of late is that God wants to create a sense of weakness in us so that He can then give us His strength. It isn't like God is holding us down making us weak because He wants to enslave us; rather, He is revealing the weakness we already have but aren't aware of. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Elijah moves next to Horeb, the mount of God to meet with God Himself. The Lord tries to teach him a lesson about the presence of God. He first of all makes a strong wind blow by the cave, but God is not in the wind. Then he brings an earthquake but the Lord is not in the earthquake. Then a fire rages, but the Lord is not in the fire. Finally a small voice and the Lord was in the small voice.
Sometimes we expect our experience with God to be this huge, amazing show of power and presence like the fire and the earthquake; but God reveals Himself in the quiet small voice. We get excited during those adrenaline pumping events at church where people are getting saved and things are exciting; but God's presence needs to be felt in the calm quiet of our own devotional life.
An error many pastors make is to let the ministry suck up their devotional life. Maybe they feel they spend so much time in the word studying to preach, they don't need to do their devotions. Or maybe, while they are doing their devotions they can't help but plan what they are going to preach to others from this passage. We need to work on us. Paul challenged Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16:
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
As preachers, teachers, youth pastors, song leaders, and children's workers; we need to make sure we take care of our own spiritual walk with the Lord or we will be useless to others. Paul told Timothy to take heed unto himself and the result would be that he would save both himself and those he taught. In the quiet of this moment, we need to be listening and spending time with our Lord.
Talking to Ourselves
Our final lesson comes from the life of David. Many of the Psalms were written during difficult times for David. David spent a lot of time fleeing for his life from Saul, from his sons trying to take the throne, from philistines. David faced punishment for his sins multiple times that would have driven him to discouragement. David saw innocent people killed because of his sin. Some of the Psalms were written as David processed his depression in these circumstances. Psalm 42 is one of those Psalms
My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
4 When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
David was driven to cry. What kind of despair makes grown men cry? This is what David was facing. Those around him see how distressed he is and ask "Where is your God?"Maybe David felt abandoned or maybe it just looked that way to others. But David did some things that helped get him out of this slump:
He prayed to God
He went with others to worship God
He talked with himself
He reminded himself about who God was and what He had done
The distinct method of dealing with depression that we see in this text is that he talked with himself and reminded himself of somethings. Part of the battle with depression is mental and spiritual. The solution then is mental and spiritual. When we are crashing, thoughts come into our mind that tend to drive us further down. The solution is to talk to ourselves. David says, "Why are you so down, soul?" Then he tells himself what he is going to do: hope and praise. Part of this process is also remembering. Bring to mind all the good things God has done for you. Think on these things as Paul says in Phil 4:8.
My story with depression really reached a climax when my wife and I were forced to leave the mission field back in 2012-2013. When I returned home, I did not have many who could be a safety net for me to help me work through this. There was one Pastor who had been where I was Pastor Dave Landers who helped to encourage me, but I still struggled for years. I felt like God had abandoned me, couldn't use me, didn't love me, and wouldn't ever give me joy again. Finally, I picked up a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones called Spiritual Depression. That book was earth shattering for me and equipped me with the tools I needed to fight this battle. I still face times of depression, some worse than others; but God has given me the tools to come out the other end. I am also grateful for the testimony of Charles Spurgeon because it gives me hope that someone like me can still be used of God to do great things.
This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of things to do when we are depressed after preaching. And I am not a doctor or expert in this area; but I do know what the Word of God can do for us in these times. I have seen God work in my times of depression. If there is a physical element to your depression, for sure, make sure to get that checked out, but also realize that is only one piece to the puzzle. For the preacher who struggles after each message, take the time that is needed to recover properly and biblically from these high adrenaline moments. You won't be any good to anyone if you burn yourself out.