The thoughts in my head were too terrible to shape into words.
I was pastoring a church in Southern California when the combination of my wrong assumptions and our churches’ inability to grow came together to send me reeling into a depression. Here is how it happened.
One Saturday morning I went to a breakfast meeting with several hundred pastors and leaders from around the area. The pastor who spoke was a well-known and respected minister in Christian circles and I remember his words well.
He told of the many people who asked him the same question over and over, “Why do you feel your church has grown?”
His answer was noble and contrite, and plunged me into the deepest depression of my life. He responded, “I have no answer for why my church has grown. My only thought is that God, in his sovereignty, simply chose to bless us.”
I left the gathering deep in thought concerning his words. The longer and harder I thought about them, the more discouraged I became. For days I pondered these humble words. I recall prolonged times where I would sit in my office in silence, unable to speak, unable to form words, because the words were too painful for me to utter.
One night around that time, my wife confronted me about my unusual but obviously depressed demeanor.
“What has been going on with you, anyway?” she finally asked me just before I was about to slip between the covers.
Instead of climbing into bed, I sat on its edge and for several moments I was unable to speak. It wasn’t that a dumb spirit possessed my tongue. It was that the thoughts in my head were too terrible to shape into words. So I sat in silence until I was able to vocalize.
I reminded her of the event where the respected minister had spoken. I told her of his words, because she had not been there to hear them. I told her of my weeks of processing his words and the toxic thoughts I had allowed to enter my processing of those words. Then I told her about my final assessment. But I hadn’t actually spoken the words or finalized my thoughts until I spoke them to my wife that night.
I said, “If he is right—and I have a sense he is. If it’s true that God alone builds His church and therefore chooses to bless a church and a pastor with growth; and since our church hasn’t seen any significant growth in all the years we have been here, then it must be God has simply chosen, for whatever reason, not to bless us.”
I had no sooner spoken the words but I began to weep. At that moment I felt completely rejected by God. I was convinced at that point in time, that God, who is believed to love everyone without exception, had actually made an exception. And that exception was me.
My wife was so overcome with sympathy she began to cry as well. She sat down on the bed beside me, held me; and we both wept together for several minutes before we went to sleep in a king-sized funk. That was the beginning of my despair.
I was in an official state of depression for about three weeks. I would get up in the morning, say very little and smile very little. I would go through the motions at work and at church, and get through Sunday services the best I could.
In a minute I will tell you what broke me out of it.
My experience is that most depression, among other things, is fueled by wrong assumptions. We aren’t as ugly, dumb, rejected, cursed, hated, black-balled, targeted or evil as we assume we are. God doesn’t hate us and He is still attentive to us even though we assume He is not. We simply have to remind ourselves of the flawlessness of God’s character as it is spelled out in His word, and His uncompromised concern for us. If we believe the truth about these things, most depression will not stick to us.
Three weeks after my plunge into despair I was at a conference. The speaker was speaking about, when it seems that things are at their bleakest, that is when God is working the hardest to use the trouble in our lives to refine us for his purposes. He gave several examples from the Bible such as Abraham, and David, and Elijah, and James chapter 1. In that service I realized, when it had seemed to me that God was set on not blessing me; that was actually the very confirmation that God was preparing me for His blessing. I began to weep quietly right in the middle of the auditorium as the minister spoke.
When this realization hit me, not only did I snap out of my depression, I felt more joy than I have ever felt in my whole life. It was the joy of knowing that God had a plan and a purpose for me after-all. And it didn’t matter if the experience of my depression was troubling; as long as I knew He was orchestrating it for my benefit. That was all that mattered to me.
What trouble, or discouragements, or depressing issues are you facing? If the Bible is true and God is as it describes, His seeming inattentiveness is actually His attentiveness to us. Just be patient and trust and wait for the refinement and joy He is forming in you.
“My brothers (and sisters) count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” — James 1:2-3