I think that most of us in the Church fail to get a real grip on what pastoring is all about. And that is sad and bad. Not only do we stunt our pastor’s growth, but we cripple ourselves, and flunk some important spiritual lessons.
Three things (there are more, believe me)–
1) Our pastors are sinners.
Surprise! They are just like you and me– definitely not superheroes and certainly not always saintly. They will have their moments and struggles. We really need to understand this to fully receive from their giftings. Just knowing this about them, prepares us to receive deeply and sincerely from their ministries. It seems that their own battles work a brokenness and humility within.
2) Our pastors need to be prayed for.
What they do is probably one of the hardest, most challenging work on planet Earth. The good pastors know this. But they still wade courageously into the thick of things. Our real prayers can buttress and stabilize their lives. They substantially encounter the darkness and do warfare for us. Most have a family to pray for, but they also have a Church they must cover too. A local pastor must have active intercessors, or they will certainly stumble and fall.
3) Our pastors must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
God’s work must be done His way. And He repeatedly insists they be filled with the Spirit. They receive power right from the true source. Again, Jesus, the True Shepherd gives power and wisdom and grace for each singular moment. A good pastor over time and much prayer– develops discernment and an awareness for his flock. He learns to love them as he watches over them.
Much, much more could be written. There are so many facets to ponder. I only want to encourage you to love and honor your pastor. When you do this, it will probably activate the gift, and fresh ministry will become available. Real work will be done, inside of you and inside your pastor.
“Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Jeremiah 23:4, NLT
My Pastor, David and Karen Taylor, CCC, Homer Alaska
Here are things I’ve heard over the years that we must take a second look at. Here are some possible answers.
“There must be something wrong with your spiritual life.”
Yes, depression CAN be a result of sin. BUT depression is NOT always a result of sin! If it is, God will tell you loud and clear what the problem is. This saying piles on the guilt for the depressed Christian. It’s unlikely that their depression has a spiritual cause, and this implies that they are not good enough spiritually.
“Repent and ask forgiveness for your sin!”
Depression is a result of sin, in that if there was no sin in the world depression wouldn’t exist. But then, neither would diabetes, cancer, or any other illness… Sin caused the world to be not-perfect, therefore illness exists. It’s a sin to be depressed, any more than it is to have any other illness. Depression can be used by God to encourage repentance, but in that case, it will be crystal clear exactly what sin you should repent of. If you don’t know or have just a vague sense of guilt, your depression is not the result of sin.
“You need to have more faith.” “Have faith in God.”
Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” How much faith does it take to hold onto the Christian faith when emotions scream at you daily to give up, get out and turn against God? Very often a depressed Christian will be hanging onto faith by their fingernails in something that requires a ton of faith.
“Taking antidepressants is playing God, He can heal you.”
Yes, God can heal. Sometimes he doesn’t just flick a switch to make the illness vanish, sometimes the healing comes through the conventional ways of doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and medication. By persuading someone not to take their medicines in preference for a quick, supernatural healing that God may not have in store for them, the sufferer is being denied something that will help them, right now.
“Scripture says everything that happens is for your own good!”
The actual verse found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse in no way implies that the sufferer should sit back and accept the illness for the rest of their life. It also does not say that illnesses are not to be fought with the intention of a cure. While God may well have things to do with a depressed person, the illness is not a good thing itself, and it may take years before you see positive results from it.
“You’ve been prayed for, why has nothing changed?”
This can be expressed in several ways and spoken by one of two different groups of people: either the person who asked for prayer or those who prayed for them. We’ll break the underlying situation into two areas: something definite was experienced in the prayer time: chains were obviously broken and new freedom gained, or, nothing apparently happened at all. That is, “I know God set you free,” why aren’t you free yet?
“Depression is a self-discipline problem.”
Self-discipline is important to a Christian. We have to be disciplined enough not to break the laws of the land, and to obey our God. But no amount of discipline will get rid of a medical problem. This statement implies that the sufferer is lazy and could become better by sheer force of will. This is not possible and causes a lot of guilt.
“You’re depressed because you choose to be.”
Why would anyone choose depression? It is hell on earth. It destroys everything it touches. Families, marriages, jobs, churches, and ministries- faith, peace, hope, and love. Depression corrodes all that it touches.
Does a diabetic or cancer patient choose their disease? Does the blind or the deaf person wake up in the morning and decide they aren’t going to keep being handicapped? These are the questions I would ask.
“You just need to rebuke that spirit of depression and tell it to leave you. Don’t let Satan steal your joy.”
There are two problems with this statement. One problem is the assumption that depression is caused by demonic oppression. The other problem is the assumption that joy and happiness are the same things. Blaming a “spirit of depression” can be a wonderful cop-out. Just cast out the spirit and you’re cured! No need for long-term support, prayer, counseling, or anything at all! And with this statement comes the implicit assumption that once again it’s your fault you’re depressed, this time because you’re not “spiritual” enough to get rid of the troublesome spirit yourself.
Yes, it is possible that demonic oppression can cause depression. No, demons are not responsible for every case of depression. Imagine what would happen if this statement was directed at someone with cancer, hemophilia, or osteoporosis (“Just cast out that demon attacking your bones and be strong again! God wants to see you running marathons!”).
The second problem with this statement is that joy is equated with happiness. People with depression are not going to be the happiest souls in the church. I’ve heard it said that happiness depends on what happens, whereas joy can exist in very unhappy situations.
“There’s no such thing as mental illness, it’s all in your mind”
Saying this denies that there is anything actually wrong with the depressed person, and implies that they are just making it up. This piles on the guilt again! A mental illness can be defined as one that affects the mind; the brain is allowed to get ill, just as the liver and lungs are.
“It’s your own fault you’re depressed”
This is the kind of thing that Job’s “comforters” said, and it didn’t help then either. Bad things can happen to good people. Denying this hurts the sufferer.
“Pull yourself together”
If you’ve been trying, someone saying this to you comes across as “You haven’t been trying hard enough, do more, and more, and more until you get it right.” So back you go, pushing more and more, and still getting nowhere because you cannot pull yourself out of depression by your bootstraps, and you can’t fix a medical problem by force of will.
Once I was punched in the face while preaching. At the time I was an evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.
Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.
Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.
That message seemed appropriate for this place, especially on this street. God loves these people very much.
A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.
His punch however came unexpectedly.
His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.
The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.
One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.
About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.
The Father was reaching him while teaching me!
God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
1 John 3:16
I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.
At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.
“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”
“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior.”
1 Timothy 2:1-3, NLT
“The Church has not yet touched the fringe of the possibilities of intercessory prayer. Her largest victories will be witnessed when individual Christians everywhere come to recognize their priesthood unto God and day by day give themselves unto prayer.”
–John R. Mott
You are a priest without a collar. Your work is called “intercession.” It isn’t for cowards or the spiritual lazy. It needs to be ‘hidden’ in order to really work. No one should see, there will be no adulation or recognition. You may not even feel special. But God sees and hears you. Jesus told each one of us,
“But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”
When we ignite in prayer, we will see things as Jesus sees them. We will share His view and take part in His high priestly ministry. Jesus isn’t complacent, sitting on His throne, waiting for time to run out. I suppose that is the view of some, but it honestly isn’t real.
“So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most
Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT
“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
When we start to really intercede we become a sort of a “sub-priest.” We serve under the Lord Jesus the High Priest’s direction. We engage our work under the Holy Spirit’s oversight, and we start to plead for those who need Him most. We are the one’s who make things happen when we stand with Jesus.
So who and what do we pray for?
Family and friends
the sick, those in distress
the stranger, the one who bags our groceries
the church we attend, the pastor and elders, the congregation
missions, or missionaries in a certain country, or in general
for ministries working under God’s direction
finances, supplies, for more workers in the ‘vineyard’
safety and protection from the evil one, cults and businesses that ‘traffic’ in evil
more wisdom and grace for all who are ministering God’s Word, for other intercessors
our government, police, soldiers–from the ‘dog catcher’ to the president
These ten are just a start to get you going, this list is not complete by no means, but it’s a beginning. As you start praying you will add and expand these things. Remember that faith is a key component in the work of intercession. You must come in harmony with His present ministry. You do this through:
praise and worship
Bible reading and thinking about the Word
listening and discerning what is happening around you
asking questions that really matter
being humble and broken, not haughty or proud as you pray
becoming alert to all of the needs around you, be sneaky but holy
instill in your heart the Kingdom of God and the supreme ministry of the King
exercise His authority over the earth, see things as they really are
personal prayer times that get you ready to pick up the ‘mantle’ of intercession
see yourself joined in this ministry of Jesus, who wants “all men to be saved”
Don’t be surprised if the Spirit draws you to a specific need. I believe that there are ‘specialists’ in the Body of Christ. One person will concentrate his attention on the sick or the demonized. Another may be dedicated to praying for the president or the Supreme Court, and someone else might pray for certain missionaries or countries. In short, you must listen to the High Priest, and get your cue from Him. He most certainly will direct you on where you should stand!
There is definite power in joining with another or in a group. It seems to me though that this can be a challenge as we can get disengaged or passive. Spiritual laziness extinguishes the fire of God. Yet if we are sincere our intercession can become ‘turbocharged’ when we are actively with another. It should be a skill we develop over time. It will take concentrated work on your part to stay focused.