Hope for the Depressed Pastor

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You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)

Yesterday evening my heart was grieved to read the news of the death of Jarrid Wilson; a high profile, 30-year-old pastor from California, who took his own life Monday evening after a long battle with depression.  News like this is as tragic as it comes.  The darkness of depression is very real, and Christians are in no way immune from experiencing it.  Neither are pastors, as Wilson’s death demonstrates.

I didn’t know Jarrid Wilson or know much about his ministry, but I have experienced something of the darkness of depression and deep discouragement in pastoral ministry, and I know that depressed and discouraged pastors are far more common than many understand.  One of main reasons that depression, despondency, and discouragement become very real possibilities for those in pastoral ministry is that ministry is filled (as all of life is) with innumerable sorrows that no one in this life will ever see or acknowledge, but God.

You only have to serve in pastoral ministry for a few weeks to begin accumulating painful experiences that will affect the way you live and minister for the rest of your life. Over time, the weight of those experiences can feel crushing.  Living among sinners we are bound to be sinned against in grievous ways, while we seek to shepherd them and point them to Christ.  And leading those sinners while we struggle with sin ourselves can prove especially burdensome.  The margin for error granted to pastors in many churches (thankfully, not in my own church) is extraordinarily slim, while the sinful treatment of pastors in many churches (thankfully, not in my own church) gets a free pass.  While there certainly is such a thing as a predatory and abusive leader; many Christian pastors also know full well the pain of manipulation and neglect, as well as the pain of betrayal and outright malice.  It is very hard to be treated unjustly, and doubly hard when you know the injustices committed against you will likely go unseen, perhaps forever.

Yet, within the human heart – and so, within the pastor’s heart – resides a longing for vindication.  We want for our pain to be acknowledged by others.  We silently hope for a chance to share with a sympathetic friend about the weight we are carrying in ministry.  We wait expectantly for our friends and fellow church members to rise up in our defense when we are falsely accused.  We long for those who sin against us to see how wrong they are in doing so and dream of the day when the mouths of our critics are closed for good.  Yet, often times, these desires are never fulfilled, and so, we can be strongly tempted to wonder if even God has taken note of our sorrows and become deeply depressed.

What about you, dear pastor brother?  Are you depressed, or prone to despair and discouragement?  If so, I’d like to offer you a simple encouragement here today.

Be assured dear brother, whether anyone ever notices your pain, or rises up in your defense, or grants you the blessing of a sympathetic listening ear – your God has taken full account of it all you have suffered (and are suffering presently) and will come to your defense in due time, whether in this life or in the life to come.  Mixed in the same bottle and written down in the same book are David’s tears and yours.  The injustices you have suffered have not escaped the notice of your compassionate God, the judge of all the earth.  And he will make things right in the end. 

These, I believe, are the truths that David is resting upon when he recounts to God in Psalm 56:8, “You have kept count of my tossings (or better, “wanderings”), put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your book?” 

One commentator offers a helpful explanation of the significance of these words when he says, “The record and collection of tears serve as an assurance to the psalmist that the Lord will vindicate him.  He rests his case with the assurance that the Lord will hear and respond in justice” (VanGemeren, Psalms, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 400).

This reminds me very much of the pattern of Christ that Peter points to in 1 Peter 2, which we are called to conform to in obedience to him; a pattern of “entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23) through his suffering.  Jesus entrusted himself (literally “handed himself over”) to his heavenly Father, whom he trusted to execute final justice on his behalf.  He left it to God.  He willingly endured the suffering the Father had sent him into the world to suffer, and trusted the Father to turn it around for good – all the way to his last breath.  And that pattern of humble, voluntary, God-ward endurance through unjust suffering is one that we are called to follow, since we know that the Father did in fact vindicate his Son, by raising him from the dead – the very ground of our hope that God will come through for us as well, in the end.

The simple fact of the matter is that many of the injustices we face may very well go unnoticed by everyone but God, and completely un-acknowledged until the day of Christ’s return.  But this is no cause for despair; it is cause for great rejoicing.  The record of our tears is being kept with perfect precision, until the day when the One keeping that record wipes away every one of those tears for good.

If you are a depressed pastor, I pray that the Lord will press upon you this simple truth:  You are not alone.  The Lord is with you and he sees what you are going through.  Your tears are being collected in his bottle and written down in his book and comfort beyond your wildest imagination is coming.  The Lord will make it right for you in the end.  Let’s hang on and press on together until that day.

***If you are a depressed pastor and need someone to talk to, I would be honored to listen to you and pray with you anytime.  DM me on Twitter (@ZachPutthoff) and I will gladly give you my cell phone number and set up a time to talk with you this week.  Please reach out if it would help to talk with someone.  You are not alone.

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