This exercise is a continuation of a series we started at Grace with our leadership while I served as interim there. For those who are not pastors or deacons, but who lead in some capacity in any arena of life, these books are a tremendous resource in Scripture. I encourage all of those who would be called leaders or who oversee to take advantage of these notes geared specifically toward leadership or roles with much responsibility.
2 Timothy 1
How would Timothy address his own depression? How would Paul continue to encourage him to apply the truth of Christ? Timothy had been encouraged to remind himself that the Gospel was a matter of grace, not works. In this way, he would rekindle the gift (either his regenerate heart or the Holy Spirit or both) that was within him. As a part of this instruction, Paul exhorted his student to hold on to the pattern of sound teaching in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. In this way, Timothy would guard the good deposit through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
There is something about embracing sound doctrine (particularly the pure doctrine of grace) that provides a solid foundation on which we can plant our feet. It is sound doctrine which guards the good deposit through the Spirit who lives in us. It is not our feelings that provide us security in the faith or in this life or in the life to come. Signs and wonders do not encourage us. Knowing God’s true character and work does. So, Timothy was to continue teaching sound doctrine. That sound doctrine was to be a foundation for him even in his tears (v. 4).
2 Timothy 2
Therefore, because Timothy should remind himself of God’s grace in Christ Jesus by holding onto the pattern of sound teaching, Timothy was also encouraged to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
When we fall into bouts of depression, we tend to rely on what we can do in order to make ourselves feel better. We need to get away. We need to change our circumstances. We need to find encouraging people. We need to (place your favorite activity here). Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. We understand grace by holding on to the pattern of sound teaching. Grace means that we did not earn our salvation, nor did we earn our place of service in God’s kingdom. God had chosen both of those things and has been forking both of those things out from before the foundation of the world (2 Timothy 1:9). Timothy did not have faith and was not in ministry because of his own work, neither could he persevere in the faith or in the ministry by his own work. It is only by grace, and this is true for all of us. We are not the determiners of our own lives.
What causes circumstantial depression? Let’s think together. We become sad or experience anxiety when something stressful has happened or when we anticipate something stressful happening. In other words, we experience depression when things don’t turn out the way that we want them to. In Timothy’s case, there was hardship in ministry that he would rather have gone without (particularly regarding false teachers and false accusations being made against him). In our cases, it may be a number of things including loss of a loved one, decrease in attendance, not getting the opportunities we think we ought to have, not receiving some sort of recognition, or even having someone leave us and move away. It could also be something not listed. Any time our expectations are not met, we tend to be discouraged and experience circumstantial depression.
What is Paul’s challenge to Timothy as he remembers Timothy’s tears? Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. A proper understanding of grace is that God has literally been working together all things from before the foundation of the world. If anything happens, be it an accusation or attack or the loss of a loved one, God, by His own grace, has been working that out. It is God who works out where we will serve in ministry and He does guard us from being anywhere or in any position that He does not have for us to serve in. A proper understanding of grace leads us to recognize God authority in all things. God provides all things. It is impossible for us to be anywhere or do anything that God has not provided by grace.
This is a great encouragement. For those experiencing ministerial depression because they can’t seem to find the right church to serve in, God will open the door that He wants us to walk through and He will close all others. We don’t need to look for signs or think that we need to follow our feelings or the feelings of others. God provides. He does so in His timing. He does so according to His own will and purpose. He does so for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). God isn’t bound by our expectations or feelings. He isn’t bound by the expectations or feelings of others. This is the way we see God leading people to where He wants them to be throughout Scripture, even in the life of Paul (Romans 1:13). There is a reason Paul, who was experienced in discerning God’s will, gives this advice to his student, Timothy (and to us). We are here at God’s pleasure, not our own. God prevents us from being where He does not want us to be. God provides everything necessary to place us where He wants us to be. So, we don’t have to worry about being outside of God’s will and purpose. Neither do we have to stress about finding a place to serve. We can live through the hardships that are provided by God in all situations, which are also provided by God, to accomplish His purposes. This is why we discern God’s will not by looking for signs or by trusting our feelings (feeling as if something is correct or not), but by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).
Paul challenged Timothy to commit this sound teaching about God’s grace to faithful men who will teach others. It is the message of grace. God is working out our faith and our ministry for His glory and our good. Why are we so quick in this world, to forsake the sound teaching about God’s amazing grace? Instead, we should continuously sing the words of the old hymn, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” That is the greatest encouragement, especially when we experience any form of circumstantial depression.
By grace, then, we have the opportunity to share in the suffering of Christ as a good soldier. Our concern is to please Christ, who is our commanding officer. Understand the depth of this statement in the context of God literally working all things together. Wherever Christ leads, we will go. Wherever He doesn’t, we won’t. My concern will not be, as are the concerns of civilians according to the pattern of this world, trying to be where I want to be or trusting my feelings or signs to lead me in the correct direction. God opens the doors He wants me to take. He closes the doors that He will not lead me through. Everywhere I have been, God worked it out. Everywhere I will be, God is working it out. My concern is pleasing my commanding officer by being a good steward of every opportunity, every hardship, every accusation, every move, and every expectation of mine that isn’t met. I exist, live, breathe, work, and minister at Christ’s own pleasure and for my good. I don’t have to feel as though I’m not good enough. I don’t have to feel as though I am not in the center of God’s will. I don’t have to worry because of what someone else is doing. God works all things together. What an encouraging truth.
Regarding rewards, which are also given by grace, Paul continues to encourage Timothy. Athletes are not crowned unless they compete according to the rules. Hardworking farmers ought to be first to get a share of the crops. God is the rule maker. He is the one who places people for the harvest that He has prepared. Our objective is not to work out where God wants us to be, it is to follow God’s direction and steward well the field that He places us in. We, especially as servants before God, should consider all these things, especially the correct, sound understanding of grace, for the Lord will give us understanding in everything.
*Please take time to pray for the families of the rising number of pastors who have committed suicide due to ministerial depression. The enemy is at work, and he is at work especially against those who do genuine, Gospel-centered ministry. Rekindle.
*please note, if you experience depression because of a mental illness or because of a chemical imbalance, please seek medical help. If depression is constant, please seek the help of a good psychologist. Circumstantial depression (which I am addressing here) is not the same as clinical depression.