This is War (Part 1 - Series Opener)
Editor's Note: This is the first part in a series of articles exploring Charles Spurgeon’s lessons to his students on the six occasions in which a pastor might encounter depression and despair. You can see all published articles here.
This is war.
That’s what I keep writing in my journal. What I mean is that faithful Christian living is dedicated wartime service.
But who is the enemy? Go on social media, turn on Netflix, or open your news app and you’ll find a cacophony of voices telling you who they think the enemy is, ranging from a certain presidential candidate to a business leader to an ideology.
I remember Pastor Brandon McCulloch talking with the teachers at Lake Arrowhead Christian church, reminding us how easy it is to see people as the enemy. Certainly, people hurt us and we hurt people, but Scripture tells us there’s more taking place than our eyes behold.
The world we can touch and see is surrounded by a world we cannot. We’re embroiled in a cosmic drama and much of it takes place in the spiritual world. Do you remember that Old Testament story when Elisha prays for the servant of God to see the spiritual realm? It’s in 2 Kings 6 and it’s one of my favorite passages. Elisha tells him “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (6:16). God proves it by opening the servant’s eyes so he could witness the vast spiritual army that was standing around them. This is like a Frank Perreti novel!
The Apostle Paul speaks to our cosmic drama and the warfare in Ephesians. “Put on the whole armor of God,” he writes, “that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:11-12).
This is the true war.
And Paul confirms that it’s not people we truly wrestle against, but “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And Peter, writing to a church encountering persecution, writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan is eager to defeat God’s people through a host of tactics: distraction, division, discouragement, and depression. So, Peter reminds us – be clear-headed, awaken from your stupor! Do not be surprised when you encounter the heat of battle (1 Peter 4:12).
It’s war time.
What’s different about the cosmic war and all other wars is simple: we know God wins the war that matters most. In his life, death, and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan, evil, sin, and death. And if we’re in Christ, we’ve won the war too! Paul explains that “[B]y grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). This position is one of honor and victory.
But evil still touches us here on earth, doesn’t it? God’s Story isn’t finished yet, we live in what theologians refer to as the “already-not-yet.” Christ is already risen and victorious (and we too), but we won’t experience all the spoils of victory until the Second Coming of Christ.
Scripture even offers practical instruction on how to combat spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6). If we, ordinary lay Christians, are soldiers in this battle, then our pastors are our officers. If Satan hopes to destroy us, you bet he hopes to destroy them as well.
The war rages hot in the pulpit of those who teach the unfiltered gospel, of those men who aim to equip the saints and reach the lost. Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist pastor known as the Prince of Preachers, knew the call to pastoral ministry was burdensome, so he started a pastoral college to train future pastors. Many of his lessons for these young men have been collected into one of my favorite books titled, Lectures to My Students.
In it we read of practical advice ranging from private prayer to open-air preaching to sermon preparation. However, the section that has encouraged me the most over the years and makes me consider my own local pastor is called “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” In it, Spurgeon reflects on his battle with discouragement and depression and the scenarios in which he finds them occur the most.
His insights should stir us to pray diligently for our pastors, for many of them battle with downtrodden hearts as they push forward in skirmishes on a daily basis. For us in the congregation, the odds are we don’t have a clue as to what they’re facing.
But what I also appreciate about Spurgeon is that many of the principles are equally applicable to lay people like you!
I know that many of you are either involved in the arts or who have loved ones who are. Speaking from experience, the creative process can range from exhilaration to discouragement, and it’s not uncommon for men and women drawn to creative pursuits to battle dark clouds of sadness, inadequacy, or depression. Does this resonate with you? I’ve written about my struggle with these very things in past articles–Creativity’s Shadow: When Sadness Stalks the Imagination and Unqualified, Insufficient, and in Good Company. My desire is for others to find comfort in Christ.
And it’s Spurgeon, more than any other pastor or thinker (other than the biblical authors), who has helped me frame my peaks and valleys with Christ at the center.
In the following weeks, I’ll be exploring Spurgeon’s chapter “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” in a series of articles revolving around the six occasions in which Spurgeon experienced “fits of depression” (158):
1. The Hour of Great Success
2. Before Any Great Achievement
3. In the Midst of a Long Stretch of Unbroken Labor
4. A Crushing Stroke
5. When Troubles Multiply
6. Evil Comes Upon Us When We Don't Know Why
My aim is simple: that (a) you might find fresh ways to pray for your pastors and (b) that you or your loved ones might find comfort and courage as you seek first the Kingdom of Christ.
Talk soon, dear friends!
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a K-12 classical Christian school in Austin, Texas.