In episode 27 we talked about pastoring through dry seasons. Pastor John, as a pastor, how did you deal with seasons when you did not feel joy in God, and yet you were preparing to enter the pulpit and preach to your people about joy in God? Did you ever feel the need to disclose your personal condition in those sermons? Or did you just preach confidently knowing it is God’s ever-relevant Word? How did you approach the pulpit in spiritually dry seasons?
The principle I would use—and then I will tell you the reality—the principle I would use is: be real with your people. Don’t fake it. Don’t ever fake it. They will see through that pretty quickly, and your own conscience will condemn you.
Piper: “If you’re preaching joy in God, but feel no joy: be real with your people. Don’t ever fake it.”
That doesn’t mean that you always need to say every hard thing you have dealt with during the week. It just may mean you need to say, “There was a text appointed for today, and I wasn’t able to do it.” Or, “This text is appointed for today. I want you to know I don’t feel the fullness of this text, but I am going to tell you what this text says, and you pray for me and I will pray for you.” You can say things like that.
But my experience, Tony, is simply astonishing. In all of the depression, discouragement, and blindness that I have felt over the years, the Lord has always lifted it enough so that as I have gotten ready for Sunday, I have loved what I am about to say. It is just uncanny.
I used to take Thursdays off and some of those Thursdays off were just the lowest days. I remember saying in Desiring God, I would sit in Nokomis Park on the grass, and I couldn’t even remember my kids’ names I was so discouraged. But by Sunday morning I was able to love what I was saying and say it. So God has simply been very good to me in terms of the cycles of my struggles.
So if a pastor is not feeling joy in God, is not delighting in God in his preparation, you say just press on. Keep pressing in to the text. Don’t give up.
Yes. Of course, there are more things that you can do. There are fifteen things at least that I could mention. He may need to get up from his desk, close his books, and take a long walk by a lake. That is maybe what he needs to do in that situation. Or he may need to get on the phone and apologize for a sin he committed, or he may need to get a good night’s sleep, or any number of other things.
If I were to be a spiritual counselor for some wounded pastor, I wouldn’t just say, “Read your Bible more. Keep your nose in the text.” I would probe into this man’s life and look at him as a body and a soul and a spirit and try to discern all of the factors that might be going into making him depressed or discouraged.