spurgeonMy wife and I went through an especially intense period of suffering in 2013. I’m planning to pull back the curtain of our story, Lord willing, and turn it into a book with the hope it will help others to survive unsurvivable seasons. I am surprised, as I look back at that tough year, that we survived. How did we survive? I’m not sure.

I do know we did not suffer alone. The Lord raised up many verses, people, places, ideas and hopes to drag us through that ragged season. There are a few dead people whom God used in a very powerful way to give me a clear path to crawl on during that season.

This post will kick-off a small series of quotes from these folks used most powerfully in my life throughout 2013. Quotes from the Valley of the Shadow of Death. My hope is if you find yourself in a season of crushing this series will give you hope, strength and patient endurance. As long as Jesus is alive there is always hope.

Charles Spurgeon would probably win the “most popular preacher of all time” award if you only allowed pastors from the last 150 years to do the voting. He is known as the prince of preachers and before microphones existed would regularly preach to more than 5,000 people at a time. Spurgeon published more than 150 books and was able to speak about Jesus more eloquently than most people.

Spurgeon was a full-time preacher for more than 40 years but his health was incredibly poor and he suffered greatly from depression. Spurgeon, on average, missed 1 out of every 3 Sundays. Can you believe that? Over the course of 40 years there was consistently a 30% chance your pastor wouldn’t be able to get out of bed on any given Sunday. He spent a lot of time walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Here are just a few of Spurgeon’s quotes from the Valley (statements in bold were especially moving to me):

The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy. There maybe here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust. Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.”

My witness is, that those who are honoured of their Lord in public, have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil. How constantly the Lord calls Ezekiel “Son of man”! Amid his soarings into the superlative splendours, just when with eye undimmed he is strengthened to gaze into the excellent glory, the word “Son of man” falls on his ears, sobering the heart which else might have been intoxicated with the honour conferred upon it. Such humbling but salutary messages our depressions whisper in our ears; they tell us in a manner not to be mistaken that we are but men, frail, feeble, apt to faint.”

Most of us are in some way or other unsound physically. Here and there we meet with an old man who could not remember that ever he was laid aside for a day; but the great mass of us labour under some form or other of infirmity, either in body or mind. Certain bodily maladies, especially those connected with the digestive organs, the liver, and the spleen, are time fruitful fountains of despondency; and, let a man strive as he may against their influence, there will be hours and circumstances in which they will for awhile overcome him. As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane? Are we not all a little off the balance? Some minds appear to have a gloomy tinge essential to their very individuality; of them it may be said, “Melancholy marked them for her own;” fine minds withal, and ruled by noblest principles, but yet most prone to forget the silver lining, and to remember only the cloud.”

“There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun. Boats need ballast as well as sail; a drag on the carriage-wheel is no hindrance when the road runs downhill. Pain has, probably, in some cases developed genius; hunting out the soul which otherwise might have slept like a lion in its den. Had it not been for the broken wing, some might have lost themselves in the clouds, some even of those choice doves who now bear the olive-branch in their mouths and show the way to the ark. But where in body and mind there are predisposing causes to lowness of spirit, it is no marvel if in dark moments the heart succumbs to them; the wonder in many cases is—and if inner lives could be written, men would see it so—how some ministers keep at their work at all, and still wear a smile upon their countenances. Grace has its triumphs still, and patience has its martyrs; martyrs none the less to be honoured because the flames kindle about their spirits rather than their bodies, and their burning is unseen of human eyes.”

“The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world. The disciples of Jesus forsook him; be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers: as they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, and then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret. Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord. Set small store by present rewards; be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you. Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide.

These quotes from Charles Spurgeon while he was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death encouraged me tremendously throughout 2013 and still do today. The pages are worn thin on my copy of Lectures to My Students where these words reside.

If you find yourself in a dark place I pray The Lord would allow these words to strengthen you today.

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