“Discouragement is an occupational hazard of the Christian ministry.” John Stott
“Do you know how often I have wanted to quit being pastor of Saddleback Church? Every Monday!” Rick Warren
“I love the sheep. But sheep bite. And it hurts.” My pastor, David Sims
I just updated my ipad. And I deleted a lot of Apps. And a lot of data. Lots of sermons I had yet to back up. Lots of blog articles yet to post.
I am discouraged. Ever been there?
But technology issues, even like this one that is going to cost me an awful lot of time (unless one of you computer geniuses can tell me how to find it all) does not discourage me as the weight of ministering to people sometimes can. NOTE: before responding to me keep reading…
As a young pastor I lived the roller coaster of results. If attendance was up on Sunday I preached like a lion. If it dipped, I did not want to get out of bed on Monday.
If you are in ministry and get discouraged, remember this: the most godly men in Scripture and history struggled at times with discouragement. Just read the lives of Elijah and Charles Spurgeon.
Why do we get discouraged? We realize we are sinful, and no matter how much we seek to be righteous and serve Jesus and others well, we fail. And for ministers, the fear of failure is an ever present danger. We plan and it does not work out like we hoped. We take a risk and it does not pan out. We expose our hearts and souls and see no change in others, and then we realize too often there is no change in ourselves.
Pastor, you will fail people. Jesus is the Messiah; you will never be that.
Another reason: we take our eyes off of Christ and His finished work on the cross. We forget we are children of God, joint heirs with Christ. In our genuine desire to fight pride we beat ourselves up.
There are other reasons. Sometimes we are just tired. Certain points in the semester I am more easily discouraged than others. Monday morning seems to be that time for pastors more than others.
What should we do when discouraged? I am no expert on this, and I am too often like Elijah sitting in the wilderness after Carmel, focusing on all I could have done better instead of resting in the grace of God.
Here is what not to do:
Do not run from the thing that discourages you. That may make things better for a bit, but you will likely have to deal with it at some point, and escapism may make it worse. Be careful of avoiding people when they may be the very ones you need to talk to regarding the source of your discouragement. Our culture values being nice more than being honest, and that has resulted in a culture than loathes rebuke even when needed. Remember, Jesus was full of grace and truth, not one or the other.
Do not lash out at others. Our flesh would rather get even when we are hurt than deal righteously or honestly with the pain. I just now wanted to break my Ipad with my bare hands. And I could (I have been working out). Instead I reinstalled Documents to Go and guess what? My documents are still there! Overreacting never helps, and I am so prone to that.
Also, avoid the silent treatment. Isolating yourself, turning inward virtually never turns you upward to find your real source of strength.
What then should we do? Here are a few thoughts, though I am no expert.
First, focus your mind on truth over circumstances. Read Romans 12:1-2 and then remember that comes AFTER Romans 1-11. Saturate your mind with the gospel, the FINISHED work of Christ for you. Read Acts 4:23-31 and see how the early church, facing their first persecution, preached the gospel to themselves before ever asking God for anything. Let your GAZE be on GOD and His GOSPEL.
Second, step back. Get a little perspective. Okay, you blew it. The world is not over. Okay, you failed someone. Guess what, you will again. Do not let that keep you from investing in others. Those of us who are people-persons struggle here, because we do not want to let people down. Remember II Timothy 2:2, be strong in the grace of God. Remember all the times God has been faithful. Go back and read your journal (or start keeping one) and see how God has used you in the past, sometimes despite yourself. Count your blessings, note reasons to be grateful.
Third, forgive yourself. This is a hard one for me. I recently got a letter from someone who did something very hurtful some time ago. The letter asked for forgiveness. Forgiving that person seems to be easier for me than forgiving myself for letting the circumstances arise that led to this letter. But that again is an example of my refusing to focus on Christ, and so I renew my mind and realize if God forgives me, I can forgive myself.
Next, get some rest. And exercise. Studies have shown that exercise is a great relief for discouragement and depression. Get up and move! And go to bed at a decent hour. Get some rest.
Finally, talk to someone. No, not someone who will affirm your discouragement or help fuel resentment you may have to whoever or whatever is the source of discouragement (ultimately it is God). Talk to someone who loves you enough to let you vent but also enough not to allow you to hate. When I am discouraged I do not need a yes man who will simply affirm my discouragement. I need a brother who will bless me and rebuke me.
A few years ago someone tried to hurt me. Okay it did hurt for a little bit. And I went to friends. I got support and great encouragement. But I was also wisely counseled not to strike back, not to respond in kind, and although publicly some may not understand based on what they saw, those who knew me well knew that 1) I am a knucklehead, so I should get over myself, but they loved me anyway, and 2) my response should be to simply keep fulfilling the calling of God on my life, and focus on ministry, not misery. That is great advice.
Remember these words of Paul from Acts 20:24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
If we keep our focus on the ministry to which God called us, and the glorious gospel, even discouragement can become an aid to keep our eyes on Him.