Editor: Rob Freshour is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Lyon, Michigan.
I am going to risk some stuff today with this article. I am going to risk my reputation. I am going to risk your opinion of pastors and of me as a pastor. In fact, I am going to risk the safe ground for a higher ground, a more adventurous and more fulfilling ground, to be sure, but also a less-charted and more dangerous ground.
Who are your heroes, and why? My dad liked John Wayne. I favor the same archetype in James Bond or Clint Eastwood. My sons look up to Jack Bauer or Chuck Norris. We share a manly admiration of Christian Bale’s Dark Knight.
What do these heroes have in common? What about them makes us want to be like them? I think it is their apparent self-sufficiency, their independence. We men especially seem to value rugged individualism. Life with my wife and daughters has trained me not to presume expertise about what women value and why. To us men, however, heroic manhood is embodied by these autonomous, iconic figures who do not need anybody or anything but their own wit and grit.
What if we’re wrong? What if the truly manly man is not only desperately dependent but also painfully aware of his insufficiencies? Enter one of the most magnificent models of manhood ever to cast his shadow on the earth. Enter David – son of Jesse, King of Israel, a man after God’s own heart. As a teenager he killed a bear and a lion and a giant warrior named Goliath, and he did so with a sling and stones. He knew what it meant to live in barren wilderness and to lead a large company of battle-tested patriots in victorious campaigns – victory being defined by the annihilation of his enemies by his own hands. Somehow, I think David could more than hold his own against the likes of John Wayne. (The Duke’s real name was Morris, after all! Talk about a cover up! What was he trying to hide?)
What makes David most heroic, though, is not his self-sufficiency, his expertise in warfare, or his leadership skills. Here is a man who not only felt the same fatigue, frustration, fear, and failure we experience, but he succumbed to the doubt, despair, and depression these anti-masculine realities produce in us all. He bares his soul for all to see in many of the songs (yes, he wrote poetry) he composed. Psalm 42 is perhaps the most prolific portrait of his absolute dependence upon God.
Are you weary, as I am, of trying to be Braveheart or Bond or Bauer? Then take some time – real time away from activity and business – and sit down with David and God and Psalm 42. Learn from a real-life hero that real men fail and flail and cry and cry out to God. Real men, genuine leaders of men – including pastors – know they are flawed and insufficient in themselves ever to amount to much of real worth. They know they are most successful when they do not attempt to pretend otherwise, but “wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
As I take my risk today, I am aware that some people may not appreciate my transparency. Some people may find in what you are about to read confirmation of their suspicions about me – “He’s not all that smart or effective or …” whatever. Some folks may feel threatened. This is my risk – not yours … yet. Of course, some people already know what I am about to say is true and will be glad I am finally beginning to come around.
Three reasons I am willing to take this risk:
- I believe the risk is part of the cure. Only the broken can be healed.
- ?I believe some of you may need to take similar risks. In fact, every one of us must hazard this risk if we ever hope to find the joy and purpose and satisfaction for which we were created to find in God and God alone.
- ?I believe God is somehow pleased and honored when I risk these things in order to gain Him. In other words, like Paul, I count these things I risk as not even remotely comparable to the value of finding my complete satisfaction in God. And, remember, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Okay, here’s the risk. Here’s my confession: I have fallen into depression and felt almost totally immobilized by it. Like David, “I am deeply depressed” (Psalm 42:6, HCSB).
(Gasp). How can a Christ-follower, and a professional at that, claim truly to trust God yet be depressed?
In their helpful resource, The Minister’s Little Devotional Book, HB London and Stan Toler observed: “Depression is usually a symptom of another problem. … Fatigue, frustration, fear, and failure can quickly move God’s ministers from the highs of Mount Carmel to the lows of a broom tree” (1 Kings 18:1-19:5). That’s me in spades this summer. I am fatigued. I am frustrated. I am afraid. And I feel very much like a failure.
What are you to do with this risk on my part? Well, pray with me and for me. Please, do not pity me. (Yuck!) Perhaps learn with me how God can use depression in believers’ lives. Consider depression as one of the “all things” God “works together for our good” (Romans 8:28). Although our enemy surely meant it for evil, Father allows it for our benefit. Here’s one such benefit: When we are depressed, we are wondrously near that place of absolute abandonment and sweetest surrender. We have come to the end of ourselves and may be most receptive, desperately so, to find our hope and satisfaction in Christ alone.
Finally, also like David, in my depression I will put my hope in God, “for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11). I will sing again and be joyful again and shout thankfully again, because He is faithful! Hallelujah!