Monday, November 10, 2008

Spurgeon: An Honest Man

Laying on my desk right now is a copy of James Taylor's "Pastors Under Pressure." The book is published by Day One and the Forward is written by Derek Prime. Without reservation, I call it a most solid and helpful book. The table of contents lists the following chapter titles: Identity, Discouragement, Criticism, Loneliness, Dryness, Failure, Temptations, and Moving On...Or Out. Do any or all of these works speak to you? Initially, I wanted to crack a joke about the nature of the book, thinking that every pastor who took the time to read this would laugh at least a little. However, it's Monday morning. Most pastors are not in laughing moods on Mondays...including myself. The issues are too painful for jokes, especially those of the Monday morning variety. Thus, I've decided to simply let the chapter titles speak for themselves.

In talking to pastors on a weekly basis for a number of years, I have come to believe that books like Taylor's are much-needed tools for those in service to God, especially pastors. The chapter titles, while eloquently presented, are sad in that most folks would never think of "their" pastor having to deal with any of the issues listed above. While the pastor's heart is deceitful like everyone else's, it remains sensitive to the high calling we've been give and the natures and struggles of those around us...epecially those under our care. The weight of this is tremendous and can certainly weigh the heart down...even to the point of depression.

I once had the "privilege" of sitting next to a group of about 7 men at a local restaurant. (I recognized a couple of their faces, but they clearly did not know me) My wife was with me and our dinner was supposed to be a night out for a little R and R. Instead, my wife and I got to listen to the men describe the recent departure of the pastor at their church. The discussion was lengthy and mean. It included the following: how easy the job was, how he "wasn't really that good in the pulpit," we paid him more than enough money, he had alot of free time, he'll miss us because we were good to him, and the ever-popular "I wish the Lord would call me to do it so I could show others how to do it." (No, I'm not kidding)

In all fairness, the observance of the ministry and the minister uses at least two different sets of lenses: those in the pew and those behind the pulpit. At the restaurant that particular evening, both sets were present, but only one was clearly represented. My wife gave me the "eye" that clearly said I was to not say anything. I spent my dinner in a crouched position hoping my wife would give me the "go ahead"...but it was never granted. Thus, my dinner and evening were all but ruined.

It's sad, isn't it? Most folks have no idea what pastors and those involved in Christian service go through in the course of the day. I've yet to meet a pastor who cannot identify with the "weight" of the office. I've yet to meet one who hasn't experienced loneliness, criticisms, etc. Some well-meaning folks claim they can understand what the ole pastor is going through...but I'm not sure it's possible for those on the outside. I'm reminded of a quote from a former pastor of mine, "It takes another pastor to truly understand another pastor."

Like many of you, I hold up Spurgeon as one my heroes of the faith. We've all been blessed to feed on the sermons he prepared over a century ago. A blog is not the place to discuss his vast ministry...for there is simply not enough room to cover it all. Many of us have read of his amazing ministry and we probably all have books bearing his name with scores of sentences underlined and highlighted. His sermons are filled with passion, conviction, urgency, However, in reading his "Causes and Cure of Fainting," a sermon he preached in June of 1877, I came across a paragraph where Spurgeon opens his own heart about the painful reality of wanting to "faint" in service to God and the depression that can overtake us all if we're not careful. Pay particular attention to his honesty, hence the title of the blog.

He says,

Yet another frequent cause of faintness is the spirit itself sinking. There is a certain condition, in which the heart seems to go down, down, down, down; I know not how to describe it, but everybody who has ever had that painful experience knows what it is. You can hardly tell why you are so depressed; if you could give a reason for your despondency, you might more easily get over it; but, like David, you cry to your own heart, 'Why are thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?' You try to argue with yourself to find out the reason why you are so despondent, and why you look at the black side of everything, and imagine that things will go amiss which will turn out right after all. Your friends tell you that you are nervous, and there is no doubt you are, but that does not alter the case. I will not blame you; I will, however, say to myself, and urge you to say to yourself, 'Hope thou in God: for thou shalt yet praise him, who is the health of thy countenance, and thy God.' Better still, I pray our sympathizing Saviour to say to you, 'Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me;' and on his loving bosom leave all your sorrows and your cares.

I read this particular part as though he was speaking directly to me...pastor to pastor. I, for one, appreciate his straightforwardness and honesty. Too many books have been written that tell us if we would just love Jesus enough, we'd never have a bad day, bad mood, or bad anything. Today, I entered the office with a heavy heart. Yet, I am encouraged by what I find here. Spurgeon and Taylor have both "been there." And while I'm grateful for plethora of "nuggets" I've gleaned from Spurgeon over the years...I'm particularly grateful for this one I discovered this morning. I'm glad he was honest about it.

Spurgeon's words are timely. I firmly believe the load pastors are bearing will only become heavier. As our nation drifts from her foundation, as churches become increasingly secular, as more and more members fall away from the church, as the Bible is viewed with increasing skepticism, as doctrine is replaced with experiential emotion, and as postmodern thought dismisses truth on virtually every level...the outcome is all but predictable. The truly called pastor sees this...and feels this. The weight is real. To make it through these times, we need to be clinging to God as never before. In the same sermon, Spurgeon warns of trying to stand in our own strength. It will eventually give out, regardless of our giftedness. Let us be honest about what's before us and do all that we can to prepare for our times.

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