When Trouble Comes: Phil Ryken’s Personal Testimony

A Season of Terrible Discouragement

A year or two ago, I went through a season of deep spiritual discouragement; some would probably call it depression. I wanted to share about that experience and tell you some of the things that were helpful, and the ways God ministered to me in that season. I hope they are an encouragement to you. It’s an encouragement to me simply to give a testimony of God’s grace in my life.

There were a lot of reasons for the discouragement. One was a grief that a family member was enduring that brought me a lot of sadness. I also had some very significant additional challenges. I’m the President of Wheaton College; it is quite a challenging job with a lot of pressures and difficulties, which contributed to the discouragement. There were also some ministry conflicts, broken relationships, and people that were attacking me. Altogether, there were a lot of things that were deeply discouraging.

This discouragement was coming out in several different ways. There were times when it was very difficult to get to sleep at night, or when it was very difficult to get up and get going in the morning. There were mornings when I was overwhelmed with sadness the whole time I was preparing for the day. I lost quite a bit of weight. Overall, I had great difficulty in many areas.

I even had thoughts and doubts about God’s love for me. If he did, I wondered, Why are some of these troubles continuing? When are my prayers going to be answered? I experienced a great weight of personal trouble for an extended period of months.

Finding Encouragement

Looking back, I’m so grateful to the Lord for the ways he ministered to me. This is certainly not an experience I want to relive. At the same time, it was a season of significant spiritual growth in my life.

I was encouraged during this time through the ministry of close friends.

I was encouraged during this time through the ministry of close friends. I didn’t want to give people a false impression, so if they asked me how I was doing, I told them I wasn’t doing well. That really mobilized people for prayer. To have friends from college say that they were praying for me every day, to have my parents lay their hands on me and pray for God’s blessing and healing and protection, that was an important part of God’s ministry to my soul.

Further, realizing that God would be faithful to his promise helped me through. Even when I could only groan about my circumstances and couldn’t even express them in an articulate prayer, the Holy Spirit was taking those groanings and expressing them as prayer before God’s throne of grace.

Public worship was significant for me as well. There were times when I didn’t particularly feel like going to church or being in public worship. And yet that experience was ministering to me, helping me. Particularly, receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was spiritually nourishing, even in ways I didn’t fully understand.

And perhaps above all things was the ministry of God’s Word in my life. How precious it was to be laying in bed at night deeply troubled, yet having my wife Lisa read Psalms over me that would calm my spirit and help me fall asleep. What a great way to fall asleep—hearing God’s Word and his promises.

Cured by the Promises of God’s Word

I love the words of Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher, who struggled throughout his life and ministry with very serious depression. He said that really any form of spiritual discouragement is cured when we believe the promises of God’s Word.

I believe that that’s true. It has been true in my life. I know it will be true the next time I go through a season of discouragement. And I know it will be true for you. God will be present in your life. He will minister to you through prayer, the presence of God’s people, and the ministry of his Word.

Related Resources

Be Still, My Soul
A Grief Sanctified

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