When trauma finally leaves us its memory stays to haunt us. Here, ministers have no immunity pass. We too must tread the creaked floors. We too suffer nightmares that shriek and push their way into noon. Day-dreams can shiver muscle and bone. Flashback can dizzy us. These ghosts and chains clank and howl with no sense of propriety. They care little that we stand with a bible in our hands, a sermon on our lips, or a prayer upon our breath. A nuisance, they never tire to remind that though Jesus never breaks down, spiritual giants do. Foul remembrances can spook even the gritty and most valiant among us.
Charles Spurgeon was twenty-two, in the tenth month of marriage, and the first month of parenting. Standing at a pulpit, preaching to seven thousand, someone yelled, “Fire!” The resulting panic left seven dead and twenty-eight seriously injured. He was in his words, mentally ‘unmanned.’ His critics were publically merciless. Twenty-five years later, preaching for a vast crowd, the sweat and anxiety suddenly overcame him so that he “felt quite unable to preach.” Leaning his head on his hand, the terrible scenes of years before flashed into his mind. “He could not entirely recover from the agitation.” All of his life and ministry the event intruded into him. How about you? What events can you not shake?
Throughout the Apostle Peter’s life roosters crowed. How long before the sound became bearable again? When the Apostle John heard carpenters pounding nails into wood, how long before the racket no longer unhinged him? I do not know. I only know that with medical personnel racing around the worship grounds amid groans and screams Spurgeon’s sense of his own strengths shattered. Five weeks later when he entered the pulpit again for the first time, he was not the same man. His humanity exposed. Need for Jesus clarified. It can be argued that in many ways the empowerment of his ministry was about to grow.
What can we learn from this?
• Some providences shake us to the core. They intrude into our skin with prickled and tingly disturbances. They steal oxygen and press shortness of breath into our lungs. This does not disqualify us. It proves what we preach—that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, not us.
• Sometimes pastors cannot leave the trauma scene. After all, sometimes the scene is the church itself. Members leave easily when hurt. Why can’t we? But Jesus intends to teach us how to talk about such things to Him and to entrust these pains to him. Moving too quickly gives temporal relief but leaves us still unskilled in this thing with which Jesus wants to empower us.
• Jesus interprets our life and calling, not our critics. Some lied about Spurgeon, slandered him in the community, left his church. Keeping us put, Jesus apprentices us in fellowship with Him. He teaches us how to live with uncorrected and incorrect reports about us so that we can get on with the gospel in the place nonetheless.
• Sometimes we cannot hide the help we need. We can no longer pretend that we are not like others—we too are human and need the graces of God in Jesus. Our reputations as someone who is more than human need to crash.
• Those ready to learn humanity and dependence will not leave you. Some left Spurgeon. His human weakness exposed theirs. But for those who stayed Spurgeon’s story became theirs. Theirs became his. The affection that grew between Spurgeon and the Tabernacle is now a testimony of profound grace in history.
Spooked? Yes. Misused? Absolutely. But disqualified because sometimes traumas reveal our human limits? Abandoned because hard-hearted critics say we are? Powerless in the gospel because life has “unmanned” us? Never!
Since this post was written, Zack has published the book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression
10 thoughts on “Spurgeon’s Spooks”
Both preaching and the other aspects of pastoring surely require their own special grace from God to do well and to not give up when things don’t appear to be going well. Thank you faithful pastors!
when you say ‘Jesus interprets our life and calling, not our critics’ I’d agree but Spurgeon’s fire example highlights a kind of passive error. there is also ongoing active error ever present in the life of a pastor, as in every person. I think there is at least an equal danger of a pastor believing the subjective calling of God in his life has been declared, permitting him to disregard legitimate concerns of character or content of teaching and labeling it as slander and opposition. I’ve seen both – a giving in to haunting memories, and a giving in to hubris – although the latter seems more common.
Thank you John. You offer a helpful and full reminder of the kinds of temptations we have as persons and as pastors. The critics who mercilessly blamed the deaths of those dear ones on Spurgeon contributed unkindly and in an opportunistic way, to the haunting memory. We learn from this that some critics do not have our best interests at heart and will use what they can to harm us. But you remind us that there are other scenarios in which even the faithful wounds of a friend go unheeded by us. Our pride gets the best of us, hardens and blinds us. Both scenarios need the grace of Jesus. In Him, we can help each other learn to account for both kinds of temptations in the pastoral vocation so that we are not caught unaware. Thanks again.
The ‘diqualified…never!’ kind of spooks me in this regard.
Well taken John. In this post, I was addressing how traumas in life expose our human limits and how critics sometimes illegitimately add insult to our injuries. No one is disqualified in ministry because hard hearted critics say we are or because we are limited in what we can handle at times in our lives. But if I were writing a post on the hubris that tempts our hearts as pastors your point is spot on. It would be a frightening thing to believe that we can undo humility with no consequences to our lives and ministries. Thanks again.
This post was a tremendous encouragement to me .. a needed reminder that God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness. Thank you for writing this.
Thank you John, this article was extremely encouraging to me!!!
1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Pastor Jaysson Gurwell
Thank you for reminding us of the grace that makes us what we are!
Really encouraging, Pastor Zack. Your book on Spurgeon’s depression was a great definition of the subject. He has long been one of my heroes in the faith and its ministry.
I have pastored for 40 years, more or less, and never been far removed from melancholy and fears, even though God has done impressive things through this earthen vessel.
I thank God for your experience, writing and humility in sharing.
God bless you and your ministry of grace.
So thankful Dan! Thank you for letting me know a little bit about your life and ministry. I look with you through fears and melancholy to the strong kindness of Jesus. He is faithful!