Over the years I’ve personally had to address seasons of sadness in my life. The greatest difficulty in this became the added emotion of guilt and even shame for feeling this way. Over time I’ve had to learn two important things about this issue in my own life. First and foremost our emotions should always be kept in check as followers. We endanger our souls when we allow them to lead. The second most important thing I’ve learned is that I am not alone in having these feelings.
Many research institutions now call depression the common cold of emotional health. There have been numerous pastors and leaders I have talked to and counseled with over the years who have suffered from various levels of depression. Some have been extreme and severe while others more along the lines of a steady weight of sadness.
Our struggles don’t have to disqualify us from caring for and ministering to others. In Gen 20:17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. (NASB) Interestingly this took place 24 years after having a promise that he and Sarah would have a child. In his struggle he could have disqualified himself from ministering to others in this very area but he didn’t allow his own struggles to define the magnitude of his ministry. Your limitations don’t have to keep you from praying for others.
DON’T STOP SERVING IN SEASONS OF SADNESS.
Ps 126:5 “Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.”
Just how common is this in people’s lives? George Barna reports that over 70% of Americans today are suffering from some form of mental depression.
- Moses experienced depression as a result of fatigue & lack of delegation.
- Elijah as a the result of fear.
- Jonah as the result of disobedience. At the root of Jonah’s disobedience was the lack of understanding of the purpose behind the events in his life.
Ps 42 is such a famous portion of Scripture for analogy of the deer panting for water. Just this morning I was praying through this chapter embracing each phrase as my own prayer to God and I noticed how David repeatedly was addressing sadness in his own heart without ever losing his faith.
Ps 42:1-11 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. 5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. 6 My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. 8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” 10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” 11 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. NIV
There was a lawyer in the 1800’s who suffered such severe depression his friends took all the knives and forks out of his sight. This man’s name was Abraham Lincoln.
Charles Spurgeon was a famous preacher of the 1800’s. He brought tens of thousands to Jesus. Yet he had such severe depression at times that his deacons had to come and physically carry him all the way to the pulpit so he would preach.
Martin Luther was the great Christian reformer of years gone by. He was plagued by depression as well. His wife was said to have told him one day to hurry up or they would be late for the funeral. He asked whose funeral and she said, “God’s funeral.” When he told her God could not die, she said the way he had been moping around, she thought He had.
Over the years I’ve learned it is actually very common for pastors to have a story of a severe valley season in their lives. I discovered something very interesting. It’s a fairly elaborate journey but if you’re up for the read I think it can be very helpful not only in your life but in the lives of those you are trying to help.
Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Eagles are referenced more than 30 times in the Bible. Each time is a time of instruction or example of God’s people. Primarily eagles eat living food not dead food. Living food speaks of the Word of God. Your primary diet needs to be living food!
Only the eagle can fly into the jet stream with ferociously strong winds. Eagles become the masters of these winds. They fly highest when they fly alone and this speaks of our prayer lives! Eagles actually rest in flight using the strength God provides through the wind.
The eagle is like no other bird. They live from 60-100 years and scientists say that, pound for pound, there is nothing in the world stronger than an eagle except for the ant. The average eagle weighs in somewhere between 20 – 35 pounds, and eagles have been known to carry 100-pound animals for more than a mile. Their wings are the strongest of all birds. They come from a family called falcons, which consist of condors, hawks, and eagles. And even in this family of birds, the eagle distinguishes himself from all others because of its spirit. He has a different honor, a different heritage, and a different habitant.
Every eagle has a rock which it returns to every day. They are born on rock ledges, they nest in rocky clefts, and they will always use a rock as a home. There was an experiment some years ago in Lafayette, Georgia. Four golden eagles were hatched and raised inside a building. When they were small eaglets, they were taken outside for the first time and turned loose in the compound. As soon as they were turned loose, they spotted a rock, and they all rushed straight for that rock and huddled against it. Their natural instinct drew them to the rock. When an eagle needs rest, it will go to his rock. When something is wrong with it, it will immediately fly back to its rock. It will go to its rock for daily cleansing. And the neatest thing is that once an eagle has his own rock, he will never leave it for another rock.
DEPRESSION IS COMMON AMONG EAGLES.
During the middle years an eagle goes through a time of depression that is called the “moping” period. It is during this period that he quits depending on his power and he seems to lose the will or the knowledge of how to fly. He comes down to earth and does not take off again much like a personal wilderness experience.
As long as he stays in the wilderness is that his power is gone. Rather than soaring above his problems he remains on the ground and slowly loses memory of the heights of his flight as he focuses more on the ground rather than the heavens. During the moping period, it is up to the eagle whether he lives or dies. He can stay in that valley of depression or he can climb up the mountain and go back to his rock.
Eagles walk around on the ground during this moping period and they don’t look like regular eagles. Normally, eagles look proud and strong. Moping eagles have calcium built up around the holes in their beaks and they cannot breath properly. The talons used to catch prey are bloody from the swelling and cracking caused by walking around on the ground. An eagle is not made to walk around like a chicken or turkey. And all this walking had caused the eagles’ feet to swell and become sore. Eagles were made to soar above the earth, because he is not made for such interactions with this earth.
Eagles are meat eaters from the cradle to the grave. They will not eat anything but the freshest of meat and will never eat anything that is rotten or polluted like the buzzard does. In this season of the eagle’s life he must decide to continue to be an eagle and never settle for the life of a buzzard compromising his diet to be that of dead and rotting animals.
An eagles eye is normally moist and alert. The eyes of an eagle in the moping period are dry and crusty. They are unfocused and cannot see the many dangers that surround them. And it has forgotten about its home on the rocks above, so it just looks down at the ground. It’s all too easy at times to forget the Rock and spend our days looking downward, unfocused and without hope. Many people have the same problem. They shed no tears for the Lord and they have lost their focus. The Bible says that if we sow in tears, we will reap joy. But we cannot do that when we are walking around a valley with our eyes on the ground, just waiting to die because we are refusing the meat God offers us.
It’s very common to see older eagles flying over a wilderness area where moping eagles are walking about. It’s as if these eagles are flying overhead to encourage them to dream and soar once again! These older eagles actually drop fresh meat such as rabbit and squirrel on the ground strengthening the younger eagles strengthening them to get out of their valley of despair – their valley of death. These soaring eagles drop food from a distance and never land in the wilderness area because they know it was this wilderness that nearly killed them.
Some of the eagles eat the meat, a little at a time. Over time they get stronger and sometimes within days they are flying again. Those eagles who don’t eat die there. We must partake of God’s word and we will get stronger.
1 Sam 30:6 = David was in a time of great distress in life, family and ministry “But David found strength in the LORD his God.”
Here are seven things that have helped me keep my focus in the heavens when I’m feeling down.
- Exercise spiritual senses consistently
- Daily devotions
- Scripture memory and meditation. This morning I took time to pray through Psalms 42, 63 & 84.
- Music – what songs lift my spirit and strengthen my life?
- Load your ipod with your top 20 songs that feed your spirit and lift your soul
- Experiences – what experiences rejuvenate me.
- What are the experiences in your life and ministry that say, “This is what it’s all about!” Post a picture somewhere to remind you of this – picture of person who’s life you touched posted somewhere.
- Friends – Make a quick call daily to the people who bring strength and nourishment to my life to encourage them.
- Don’t take up their time so much they start to dread your call. Just call or email and let them know you are thinking of them!
- Recreation – what re-creates me?
- What is it that I enjoy doing that gets me away from the daily grind? This is what re-creates me to remain fresh.
- Giftedness – what gifts activate me?
- What gift set sets me into motivated motion.
- Memories – what memories make me smile.
- When I’m traveling and away from my family I love to watch family pictures on my computer as I’m going to sleep. Watching the history of my family reminds me of God’s goodness in my life.
We can never be great examples until we stop trying to be perfect ones. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with trusted friends. Navigate through these common emotions and don’t let them take control of your destiny.