One obstacle that every leader confronts is discouragement. I’ve often heard something like this: “Jim, can I tell you something? I’m feeling defeated. I find myself in front of the church preaching, putting on a happy face, but inside I’m discouraged, worn down, wanting to walk away from it all. I don’t know what to do. I’m at the end.”
It happens to everyone. Sometimes Satan attacks and tries to take us out with a single blow. But most of the time, his strategy is simply to keep us under the pressure of financial, pastoral, and family concerns—hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. His strategy is to weaken us and tire us out until eventually we crumble. I call it the run-around, run-down, run-away syndrome. We run around preaching, teaching, and helping people until we are spiritually run down and soon want to run away from it all.
We’re in good company.
Remember the story of Elijah? After a long series of spiritual battles, he received word from Jezebel that she intended to kill him. Here’s what happened next: Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said,
“Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. (1 Kings 19:3–8)
How could Elijah be God’s mighty prophet and yet run for his life when Jezebel threatened him? He was human. But notice what happened.
First, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah.
The lesson is that even when we are at our lowest, God is mindful of our situation and will come to our aid.
Second, the angel brought Elijah bread and water.
Elijah ate and drank and then lay down. This provides good advice on how to take care of our bodies. Nourishment and rest strengthen us. An older minister once told me, “Jim, remember this: sometimes God’s perfect will for us is to take a nap.” Biblical commentators also believe the nourishment that the angel provided for Elijah was likely a symbol of the spiritual food we need—shutting ourselves away, immersing ourselves in the Word, drinking deeply from the Spirit of God.
Third, Elijah was restored to the point that he was able to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, where God spoke to him in a “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12) and then gave Elijah a personal word of instruction as to what to do next.
God did something similar when Paul was planting a church in Corinth. Amid the opposition that always seemed to plague the apostle, the Lord spoke to him in a vision at night:
“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9–10).
As a result, Paul stayed in Corinth for another year and a half, building up and strengthening the church there.
A personal word from the Lord helped Paul overcome fear and spiritual fatigue. This wasn’t a new doctrine or another truth to be added to Scripture. It was a specific word from the Lord for his faithful servant only while he was in Corinth.
Has God ever impressed your heart with a similar personal word? Was there ever a moment in seminary or Bible school or in your devotions when you felt that God gave you a prophetic intimation of what he wanted to do through you? Sometimes we miss out on our calling not because God has changed his mind but because we get so tired, perplexed, and discouraged that we lose sight of it. But let’s remember our calling right now and ask God to restore it in our hearts. We can recapture our calling and pray with David, “Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope” (Ps. 119:49).
Adapted from Fan the Flame: Let Jesus Renew Your Calling and Revive Your Church by Jim Cymbala (Zondervan, 2022). Reprinted with permission.