Pastors, Sickness, and Learning Contentment


Every single faithful pastor I know has the strangest ailments that constantly beset him. From depression and anxiety to physical illnesses and everything in-between. Frankly, it’s baffling how messed up we are. Personally, I seem to catch every cold and flu virus that gets within a hundred miles of me, if I hear about a cold in some distant land, I catch it. Further, I have every adverse reaction known to man when I take any sort of medication. And when I think that my situation is unusual, that somehow I’ve been singled out, I talk to other pastors who are dealing with a plethora of ailments that are virtually unheard of in most of the population.

The response of the congregation to their own pastors struggles often betray the idea that pastors ought to be more like machines than men. It’s frustrating when the pastor gets sick so often, I get it. It’s annoying that he has all sorts of health issues that keep him from every social event and task you think he ought to be occupied with. I get it. But, perhaps we should consider more carefully what God is doing in the lives of faithful pastors.

Pastor Matt Davis

We recall the Apostle Paul and his constant struggles with weakness and physical infirmity. He even writes to the Galatians and says, “you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time.” (Gal 4:13) In 2nd Corinthians 12 we are informed that he was given a thorn in the flesh which was to keep him humble in the face of the greatness of the revelations he had received from God. Many scholars speculate that this was a persistent bacterial conjunctivitis that was similar to a bad case of pink eye that never went away. If this is correct, then Paul looked horrible all the time and could barely see.
John Calvin, the progenitor of the Reformed wing of the Protestant Reformation was also constantly beset with all sorts of illness. Garry Williams writes,

“Calvin suffered from ill health. Throughout his life he had terrible migraines; he probably had pleurisy in the mid 1550s; he was room-bound in 1558 for several months; in 1559 he could hardly speak and spat blood; he suffered also from hemorrhoids, gout, and in later years kidney stones. In February 1564 he wrote graphically to the physicians of Montpellier about his struggle to pass a kidney stone that lacerated his urinary canal.”(1)

Few people know that the great expositor John Calvin was constantly absent from his pulpit due to illness. He was even forced to take an entire year off from preaching due to the severity of his sickness.

On the other hand, most people know about the struggles of Charles Spurgeon. The man suffered from debilitating depression and anxiety as well as a variety of physical ailments. Spurgeon commonly took 2-3 months off of preaching every year in order to get the rest he needed to continue his ministry.(2) Thankfully, his people were patient and trusted the Lord in this matter. If they would have treated him as most pastors are treated today, (as machines and not men) the church would not have the lasting benefits of his monumental work.

Why is God allowing his faithful ministers to endure such difficulties?

The answer is simple enough, God wants powerful preachers in the pulpits of true churches. And the way God has ordained His power to work through mere men, is the path of weakness. Pastor have to be made weak in order for God’s power to be perfected. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) A faithful pastor is stripped by God of everything he may boast in, he is left with nothing, not even physical and mental stability. This is done in order that, through his weakness, God’s power would be demonstrated.

I know, you may think you want a celebrity pastor who marches up the stage so full of vigor and stamina, with a muscle shirt and toned body exemplifying everything that the world thinks of as good and powerful. But that’s not what you need. You need a weak man whom God is pleased to demonstrate His power through. A powerful pulpit ministry appears to have a direct correspondence with the weakness of the pastor.

John Knox in his latter days had to be carried up to his pulpit in order to preach, but then, in the midst of all that weakness, something would happen. Steve Lawson writes,

“Once Knox arrived at the church each day, he had to be assisted into the pulpit. Though fragile in body, Knox’s strength was renewed by God in the moment of preaching. He would begin deliberately, but by the end of the sermon he was so energized that he would preach with the fervor of his earlier days. Observers noted that as Knox expounded the Scripture, it seemed he was about to smash the pulpit into pieces and be catapulted out of it! This endurance was all the more remarkable given the vast loss of health and strength that he had recently experienced.” (3)

Here’s the issue for us today. If you have a pastor who is frustrating you with his constant ailments, instead of getting annoyed, begin to regularly pray for his faithful endurance. Push whatever committee you need to push to give him time off to recover and rest. And know that God is doing something great in His church! You simply must understand that God is doing something special that will serve to benefit the church in His making the pastor weak in order that His power would shine through.

Be content that God is so working in your pastor to strip him of everything that would hinder a faithful ministry to the church. I know it’s frustrating, but it really is for the best!

If you’re a pastor frustrated by the never-ending battles with weakness, recognize what God is doing. Be content in the sorrows and sickness by knowing that His power is perfected in weakness. And press on, these momentary light afflictions are nothing compared to the weight of eternal glory.

[Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Matt Davis, pastor at Reformed Baptist Church of Helena]

1. Williams, Garry. Last visited 12/18/2020.
2. For a fuller treatment of Spurgeon’s difficulties see. Eswine, Zach. Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression: Scotland, Christian Focus Publishers, 2016.
3. Steven Lawson, John Knox: Fearless Faith (Scotland: Christian Focus Publishers, 2017), 101.


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