Blue Mondays

Here’s a chapter from Rick’s book, The Heart of the Preacher. It gives you a window into one of the heart tests faced by many who preach and teach God’s Word on Sundays. Let it be a reminder to not only pray for your pastor on Sundays, but also on Mondays!

Ever heard of “Blue Mondays”? My dad, who served as a pastor for over forty years, introduced me to the phrase. Even if you’ve never heard the term, if you are a preacher, I’m quite sure you can figure out what it means. And I imagine you can see why dealing with Blue Mondays qualifies as one of the tests of a preacher’s heart.

While many occupations have a version of Blue Mondays, preachers are especially vulnerable. Some Mondays we wake up rejoicing in the sense of God’s presence and goodness we experienced the previous day; other Mondays—not so much.

In some ways, Blue Mondays shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Having just expended a great deal of spiritual, emotional, and physical energy on Sunday, we can come into Monday on the backend of an adrenalin rush, perfectly positioned for a letdown. Dr. Archibald Hart, in his book Adrenalin and Stress, tells readers to anticipate a need for “recovery time” after high levels of ministry exertion.[1] Blue Mondays can be times when a depleted soul is catching its breath.

But fatigue is not the only reason our hearts can be overcast or downcast on Monday morning. Sometimes depletion is compounded with disappointment. Sunday’s sermon didn’t go well in spite of our preparation. Maybe we felt flat as we preached. Maybe a critical comment flattened us right after we finished the sermon. I remember a Good Friday message I gave from Isaiah 53. As I stepped off the platform after the closing prayer, a man walked up and said, “You missed it!” He went on to point out a key Hebrew word in the text I failed to emphasize. His words felt like a slap. Sure, it was only a verbal slap and nothing like the physical pummeling Christ endured on the first Good Friday. Still, I went home feeling the sting of his words.

Less dramatic, but almost as deflating, are the Sundays your sermon is met, not with a critique, but only with silence. As you greet people in the lobby, not a single conversation remotely relates to anything just preached. “Pastor, where do we get permission slips for the youth retreat?” someone asks. “Did you know there are no paper towels in the men’s restroom?”

Fainting Fits and Inner Disquietude

Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was mightily used by God on countless Sundays. But he still knew all about Blue Mondays. In Lectures to My Students, he talks candidly to younger preachers about what he calls “the minister’s fainting fits.” Spurgeon lists almost a dozen reasons for these low times, including physical maladies, mental exhaustion, sedentary habits, unbroken labor, and personal attacks. He warns us that occasional fainting fits are an occupational hazard for preachers. “After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break.”[2]

Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoed Spurgeon’s sentiments in lectures he gave his students at Finkenwalde Seminary in 1936. He not only taught them how to prepare a sermon, he also instructed them how to prepare for the moments immediately after the sermon. Bonhoeffer knew that, after preaching a sermon, “the pastor himself is in need of pastoral care.” He spoke of the inner “disquietude” preachers sometimes experience as they wonder whether “God’s word was audible” in their sermon. He warned about the “meaningless conversations that merely cover over that disquietude” or the way a pastor can “become anxious about the opinions that others might have of his sermon.”[3]

While I’m not sure I’ve ever used the word “disquietude,” I’ve experienced what Bonhoeffer is describing. Sometimes after a Sunday service I feel an inner emptiness and restlessness. Even though I tried to preach with earnestness and energy , I had no sense of the Spirit’s power at work. As I leave the parking lot, my soul is troubled with the uneasy sense my message didn’t connect with my hearers. I remind myself that my identity is found in my union with Christ rather than my performance as a preacher. But the inner ache lingers as a disquieting Sunday turns into a Blue Monday.

Singing the blues on the occasional Monday is something all preachers experience. Everyone has a bad day once in a while. Things get darker, however, when Blue Mondays don’t occur only once in a blue moon. And the problem goes deeper still when Blue Mondays don’t stay confined to Mondays. When they stop being occasional and become ongoing, when every day is tinged blue, then disquietude moves to discouragement and disillusionment.

John the Baptist and the Blues

One preacher who lived through a blue season was John the Baptist. Locked up by Herod Antipas for fearlessly proclaiming God’s convicting truth, he languished in prison and began to lose hope. His preaching ministry had been shut down. Herod continued to rule like a tyrant. Rome continued to crush Israel under its imperial boot. Worse yet, Jesus didn’t seem in a hurry to intervene and rectify the situation. In fact, Jesus wasn’t living up to the expectations John—and many others—had for the Messiah. In his perplexity, John sent several of his followers to ask Jesus a stark question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

John’s question reveals how badly his faith in Jesus had been shaken. This is surprising in light of all we know about him. John was no “reed shaken by the wind” (11:5–7). He would not bend or bow to religious or political pressure. Rarely do we meet someone in Scripture who seems as unshakable as John the Baptist.

Beyond his rugged, leathery persona, John also had supernatural reasons for a sturdy faith in Jesus as God’s Messiah. His parents must have told him the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth. He had personally witnessed heaven’s endorsement when he baptized Jesus in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:16–17). At one time, John had been so sure of Jesus’ identity, he heralded him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). But now, John found himself imprisoned by doubts, discouragement, and desperation. Talk about a Blue Monday.

I find Jesus’ response to John’s faltering faith incredibly consoling. He sends a message to John—but not the message we might have expected. Jesus doesn’t say, “Go and tell John that I’m deeply disappointed in him,” or “Go and tell John to get a grip on his faith.” Rather than castigate John for his questions, Jesus reinforces his wobbly faith. He reminds John he was currently doing the messianic works predicted by Isaiah: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4–6).

Jesus doesn’t stop there. He gives a strong, public commendation of John and his ministry: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (11:11). John may have become disillusioned with Jesus, but Jesus was not disillusioned with John.

Dealing with Blue Mondays

So what should we do when our Mondays turn blue?

First, don’t be overly surprised by Blue Mondays. They are a regular test of a preacher’s heart. Spurgeon wisely reminds us: “The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.”[4] If Spurgeon, and other faithful preachers, found dark days “part of ordinary ministerial experience,” we should not expect immunity. Rather, we should see ourselves in good company.

Second, realize God uses Blue Mondays for good in the lives of his preachers. They keep us humble and remind us that—to borrow a line from Rich Mullins—“we are not as strong as we think we are.”[5] Charles Spurgeon came to see his fainting fits, not as a punishment, but as a protection: “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.”[6] Finally, we should follow the lead of John the Baptist and bring our doubts and disappointments to Jesus. Like John, we will find in him a compassionate Savior who speaks grace and truth into our souls. And not just on Monday but on every day of the week.

[1] Archibald Hart, Adrenalin and Stress (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 131.

[2] Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972), 156.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935–1937, ed. Victoria J. Barnett and Barbara Wojhoski, trans. Douglas W. Stott, vol. 14, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 508.

[4] Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 164.

[5] Rich Mullins, “We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are,” Songs (Nashville: Reunion, 1996).

[6] Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 164.

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