Temporary fits of spiritual depression have engulfed some of the choicest servants of the Lord throughout church history. It is amazing to read the list of those who confessed to feeling dark despair crowd into their souls at critical moments: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody. For example, in 1530 Luther became so discouraged at the poor record of the transformation of the people of Wittenberg under the preaching of the Word of God that he gave up preaching for over eighteen months. His statements at that time were quite sharp, extremely critical of the habits of Germans toward drunkenness and other forms of immorality. There can be little doubt that he was discouraged at the lack of evident fruit. Under very different circumstances, Adoniram Judson, the missionary to Burma, dug a symbolic grave in the jungle behind his house and sat by it for hours gazing into its darkness. He was not suicidal, but deeply depressed. He said, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.” Charles Spurgeon spoke of the “minister’s fainting fits,” bouts of depression that come on even the most fruitful servants of God.
This should not surprise us, for the most fruitful servants of God must also be the ones Satan desires to crush the most. And given the fact that Satan cannot penetrate our spiritual armor as listed in Ephesians 6:10-18, and given the fact that the spiritual weapons of righteousness we wield in the right hand and in the left (2 Cor. 6:7) have divine power to demolish all of his dark strongholds (2 Cor. 10:3-5), all he can do is trick us into being discouraged that our ministry is ineffective and fruitless. He gets us to lay down in weak self-pity, with the “full armor of God” lying scattered on the ground around us, with the sword of the Spirit and our other weapons of spiritual destruction unused, stored still in the armory of God. He deceives us through hopelessness.
Therefore, it is vital for all Christian servants of the Word to be men and women filled with a vibrant hope. What is hope? I think a good definition is “a strong sense in the heart that the future is bright based on the promises of God.” It is more than mere optimism. It always has to do with the future, and it always has to do with good things. Hope is the product of the Word of God plus healthy faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for…” (Heb. 11:1). Ultimately our hope is for our full salvation in a perfect world—perfected souls residing in resurrected bodies inhabiting a resurrected world called the “New Heaven and New Earth” in which there will no longer be any death, mourning, crying or pain (Rev. 21:1-2). Nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth can stop this from happening! Hope should radiate and pulsate and emanate from every aspect of our ministry in Jesus’ name, for his Kingdom cannot fail. God’s sovereign power will not let it fail!
Therefore, we need to believe what God has said about the faithful ministry of the Word, that it will produce an abundant harvest of righteousness “if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). We need to be completely steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord because we are convinced by scripture that “our labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). One reason why this hope is needed is that God himself chooses to hide from the most effective servants of the Word how much eternal good their ministry is doing. If Martin Luther or Charles Spurgeon had known on earth what their ministries would finally mean to countless millions in heaven, they would have been tempted toward overwhelming pride. God’s kingdom grows like a plant, with hidden root systems forming, and slow progress toward the harvest under the secret but unstoppable work of his Spirit (Mk. 4:26-29). Because much of the final fruit is invisible to our eyes, it is easy to believe Satan’s lie that our labor in the Lord is in vain!
"One reason why this hope is needed is that God himself chooses to hide from the most effective servants of the Word how much eternal good their ministry is doing."
Even more important than this, however, is the evangelistic power of vibrant hopefulness. We are surrounded every single day by lost people who are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Non-Christian hope is a flimsy thing—more of a wish for a brighter future. But it is not a real hope. Such hope is easily dashed… actually it is in fact dashed every day of human history. So these lost people walk around with their heads down and their hearts dark, with no hope for where they are headed. Especially they do not have our knowledge of where all this is headed, that glorious world to which we yearn to go, so they have nothing whatsoever to live for. As Ecclesiastes makes plain in line after depressing line, everything they do is “vanity of vanities,” worthless, amounting to dust in the wind. In order for Christians to be a light shining in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19), we need to speak our Christian hope constantly, and live it out obviously. If we are not obviously and evidently filled with hope, then no non-Christian will ask us to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). This is especially powerful in times of extreme suffering, when all earthly hopes get dashed. Both Christians and non-Christians alike go through these miseries because they are common to the descendants of Adam and Eve. But Christians should see their earthly sorrows and sufferings as God putting them on a lampstand to give light to everyone in the house (Mt. 5:15). And that light is hope in Christ. If we are in the cancer ward at the hospital, surrounded by non-Christians who have the same diagnosis as we do, they should see our hope shining out clearly—that we really believe that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Feed Your Soul
So, dear brothers and sisters in ministry, let your light of hope shine brightly before others! Feed your soul daily with meditations on heaven (Col. 3:1-4). Read Revelation 21-22 often and remind yourself how beautiful that future world will be, radiantly glowing with the glory of God in Christ. And speak your hope clearly in words taught by scripture. Your radiant, scripture-saturated hope will push away the dark shadows of discouragement Satan will be trying to drape across your soul daily. And your rich legacy in the lives of others will bring you eternal delight in that bright future world!