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