Admit it. Sometimes you feel like shouting it from the highest rooftop…or the closest podium.
I’m done with people who are ungrateful and selfish.
I’m finished with ministry leaders who serve their own agenda.
I’m exhausted by ministry participants who drain me emotionally and physically.
People will disappoint you. They’re undependable. They’re inconsistent. They let you down. Even Moses, the great leader of ancient Israel, experienced this and was vocal about his complaint:
“So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’?” (Numbers 11:11-12 (NASB).
At times it will even feel as if God has forsaken you. But He hasn’t.
Isaiah reminded us of this when he wrote God’s response to His people: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV).
God hasn’t brought you this far to drop you. And no matter how tempting it is to quit…don’t. If He has not released you from this call, don’t release yourself.
You didn’t choose ministry because it would be easy. In fact, you didn’t choose ministry at all. God chose you for this place and this time. No one else can do what you have been uniquely gifted and equipped to do.
Need help to persist? Here are seven practices to assist you to persevere (not necessarily in order of importance):
1. Admit your need. It’s not enough to acknowledge disappointment or frustration. Admit you cannot fulfill your call on your own. Although we may start in full dependence on the Holy Spirit, it’s all too easy to revert back to serving in our own strength. We may not even realize that’s what we’re doing.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV).
2. Cultivate your vertical relationship with the Lord. Is your prayer life in a rut? Add vibrancy by changing your usual practice. Adjust the time of day you pray. Change the place you pray. Don’t just switch the room you’re in, move outside if you pray inside or vice versa. Alter your prayer format. Do you usually start by reading a section of the Bible? Try beginning with a hymn or praise chorus. Have you been reading chapter by chapter and verse by verse? Try reading verses and passages related to a given topic instead.
3. Cultivate horizontal relationships. Ministry is not for the fainthearted. It’s also not for lone rangers. We need each other for encouragement and for accountability. Don’t try going it alone—isolation from others in ministry is guaranteed to bring discouragement.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12 NIV).
4. Take care of yourself. You’re exhausted. Probably not getting enough sleep. Grabbing fast food on the run. Living on caffeine. Cajoling your body into thinking you can go one more hour, one more day, one more week without taking proper care of yourself.
Learn from one of the most well-known Old Testament prophets. After a huge victory over the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18), Elijah experienced discouragement so intense, he was ready to give up completely. “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’” (I Kings 19:4 NIV).
Remember what the Lord did? He provided for Elijah to sleep and eat, and sleep and eat again. Only after he was physically strengthened was Elijah able to fulfill his ministry call.
5. Maintain reasonable expectations. How do you define success? Is it defined by fulfilling your dream or fulfilling His call? Are you comparing your ministry to that of someone else or to what God has called you to do? Are you seeking to do an extraordinary work or to be obedient in the ordinary so God gets the glory? God may indeed be calling you to do an extraordinary work, but be sure that’s His call rather than your dream.
It may be the difference between desiring to influence thousands to impress the world and changing the life of the one person God called you to influence. We may not realize what influences our definition of success. Define it as God does, not as others do.
The apostle Paul understood the value of success by the world’s standards. But it meant nothing to him in light of God’s call on his life:
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8).
6. Ask God for His perspective. Ask God for His perspective regarding the difficult-to-love people in your ministry.
- The critical member? Perhaps she was raised to believe that anything less than perfection will invite God’s wrath…because it invited the wrath of her earthly parents.
- That member with the hard shell? Maybe he’s afraid of rejection—that you won’t like what you see if he lets you in.
- The sarcastic member? Perhaps he uses sarcasm as a bandage to cover a festering wound, to ensure he won’t be wounded again.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36 NIV).
7. Remember we’re in a spiritual battle. Ministry would be much easier if we could simply take everything and everyone at face value. But the reality is that we’re in a spiritual battle:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God…” (Ephesians 6:12-13 NIV).
The enemy is at work to discourage ministry leaders and cause them to give up. Don’t give him the satisfaction. If you do, what does that say about the God whom you serve?
The apostle Paul said it best when he exhorted Timothy to keep on keeping on:
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (I Timothy 4:1-8).”
Don’t quit. Or in the words of Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”
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Ava Pennington is the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur. In addition to writing, she teaches a Bible Study Fellowship class.