Depression and Ministry

Last Sunday, I shared some of my struggles over the last couple of years with balancing ministry, work, family and my relationship with Christ. If you missed it, the podcast is available here or you can download it directly from here.

Overall, my lack of care for myself physically and my lack of regularly spending time with God outside of sermon prep and bible study prep was cascading into a depression that was making it difficult to keep moving each day. Eventually my lack of discipline began leading to a type of depression that is all to common in ministry whether you are paid staff, a lay leader or a volunteer.

Medically speaking, I would have been considered clinically depressed, not because of the depths of despair, but because it lasted beyond the diagnosable term of 6 concurrent months without relief…and it was all completely my fault – which means I had the power to do something about it.

Disclaimer: There are a few cases in which your emotional capacity is not entirely determined by your choices. Your body is consistently signaling depressive feelings that your choices and your circumstances do not directly affect. In these cases, you may need to seek medical attention to discover what is going on in your body. Overall, I have found these cases to be incredible rare but also incredibly difficult to deal with outside of medical help.

For me, my workload had grown to such a capacity that I wasn’t taking time to rest, I wasn’t keeping physically in shape, and I was bypassing my personal quiet time to try to “knockout” as much work as possible. The result was quickly gaining weight, nonstop frustration that I couldn’t get caught up, and worst of all – my relationship with Christ was taking a back seat to productivity. The primary relationship that gives life purpose, joy and was working to keep my in balance was being pushed to the side…and I was feeling the results.

You have these pressures, too. They may not be the same as mine, but they are ever present, clawing at your soul to keep you off track and missing out on the blessings that God has for you. They always lead to depression, they always lead to frustration, they always sap your strength, and they always counteract your hope. This is your baggage and it can be deadly if you are not aware of what is going on deep within you.

Joseph is a perfect story for dealing with baggage because his circumstances were brought about by his brother’s baggage, which was likely due to their father, Jacob’s baggage. Joseph seemingly did nothing wrong, worked hard, and didn’t lose faith. But he was sold into slavery, wrongly accused of attempted rape, and thrown into prison for several years. In that time, he could easily have fallen prey to depression, but he kept exercising disciplines to stay balanced and healthy until Pharaoh finally released him.

If you missed them, the 3 things I wanted you to remember was this…
1. God can work to remove your baggage.
2. Often God expects you to take disciplined steps to work through your baggage.
3. God always is working to redeem your baggage.

For me, my prayers for God to remove my circumstances and restore joy and hope to my life seemed to be falling on deaf ears. With the help of some friends and wise counsel, I started instituting some disciplines into my own life. First, I would not miss my quiet time and, over time, I drastically increased my daily time in God’s word. (This is the most important discipline you can incorporate and if you are not exercising this discipline, nothing else you do will get you where you need to go. You may get in shape, you may schedule more effectively, but you will not experience the daily presence, calling and encouragement of Christ in your life.)

The second discipline had to do with my ability to balance my time, my health, and be physically capable of dealing with stress and anxiety in my daily life. I decided I would no longer miss my workouts. For the past 18 months, I have rarely missed time in the gym. More recently, I have drastically changed my diet, increased the intensity of my workouts, and have dropped a good amount of weight. I not only feel better, I have more energy and am more able to deal with daily stress because often your physical condition has a lot to do with how you manage anxiety.

God didn’t change my circumstances, but instead He helped to change me. Sometimes God does work supernaturally to help our lives, but I have found that He often expects us to exercise certain disciplines which change us. Additonally, I had to begin saying no to some opportunities, jobs, and some people. I had to create some margin for better things to have room to grow.

What are you struggling with? Are you disappointed that your life isn’t what you thought? Are you constantly working without enough rest? Have you over-committed in areas outside of your faith and your church community? Have you made choices that are making life even more difficult by spending more than you earn? Has your parenting style allowed your kids to rule the house instead of learning to contribute to the family? Whatever it is, you can begin to change the baggage that you have willingly piled on to yourself.

One huge question for you:

What is 1 discipline that you can add to your life, today?

Don’t try to pile on 10 at one time. It takes a lot of energy to begin 1 new discipline. Once that new discipline becomes a habit, you will use less energy on it and can take on another new discipline. If you can start with just 1, what will it be?

Note: If a daily quiet time with time in God’s word is not one of your current disciplines, I would encourage you to start there. Your relationship with Christ is the most powerful voice you have to continue working towards health and God’s glory.

Here’s to new opportunities to following God, new hope, and an undying joy for what God has in store for us!

Mark Love
Lead Pastor

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