Subtitle: “Feeling discouraged? Want to ‘throw in the towel?”

Today I continue in the series “What I Wish (as a Pastor) that I had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years ago.” So far, we have looked at three of the 12 lessons. This week we come to number four.

Number 4: Ministry will always be challenging and (at times) very discouraging. You must fight the temptation to give in to your discouraging thoughts (Acts 20:19-32; 21:13; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 9:24-27; 15:58;  2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 4:8-10, 16-18; 6:4-10; 7:5; 11:23-29; 12:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:5-8; Hebrews 12:1-4; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 5:10)!

Just because your ministry is challenging and hard, does not mean that God is not pleased. It’s easy, especially here in America, to think that if your ministry is truly “successful” and “being blessed by God,” that somehow your ministry will be free from hurts and heartaches, discouragements and disappointments, pain and persecution. All we have to do is look closely at Scripture to see that those that God used the greatest, experienced some of the most difficult trials and tribulations throughout their lives!

Marinate your minds in these words from the Apostle Paul:

“For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13)

Did you notice the list?

  • “like men sentenced to death.”
  • “weak.”
  • “we are in disrepute.”
  • “we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands.”
  • “reviled.”
  • “persecuted.”
  • “slandered.”
  • “like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

So often we think that if we are doing things right and living to please God, that somehow the above list will pass us by and leave us untouched.

It’s so easy in our culture today to subconsciously think that if we are living a godly life, praying fervently, and earnestly studying God’s Word each day, that somehow God will look down and make our road smooth and problem free. That cancer will pass us by. That physical and emotional pain won’t touch us. That we will meet Mr. or Mrs. “Right” early in life. That friends won’t walk out on us. That we will never have to worry about not being able to get pregnant and will never miscarry. That our children will never disappoint us and will always make the right choices. We tend to believe the lie that if I am living a godly life and genuinely pursuing Christ as my supreme treasure, that my life and ministry won’t have problems and challenges.

As Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation. But take courage, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

Again, marinate your soul with these words from the Apostle Paul…

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers,of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

Notice Paul mentions “afflictions” and being “burdened beyond our strength.” But he doesn’t stop there! He reminds us that God allows these things in our lives so that we won’t rely on ourselves, but on Him. Paul reminds us that it is “on Him [God] we have set our hope.” Notice also the strategic and important part prayerplays in Paul’s life (v. 11).

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

“…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; aspunished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Did you catch that? Paul says, “…we were afflicted at every turn – fighting without and fear within.”

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one-I am talking like a madman-with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I wasshipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, indanger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, dangerfrom Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29)

And then the writer of Hebrews…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run withendurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Ministry will always have its challenges. The larger your ministry, the more challenges. No one ever said ministry would be easy! But Jesus did promise that He would be with you no matter what (Matthew 28:20; John 16:33). Scripture constantly reminds us that our reward is in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:10). That life on earth is a “vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). That our real home is in heaven, not here on earth (Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-4). That the God who called you to this ministry is also the God who will sustain you in this ministry (Philippians 1:6)! We must always remember that life and ministry is a marathon, not a fifty-yard dash! Pace yourself!

Your greatest ministry doesn’t even begin until you have been in one place for at least five to seven years!” (Howard Hendricks)

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

When you are in the midst of a dark season and you don’t know what else to do or where else to go, go to your knees. Keep your focus on doing those “daily things”that you know are right!

“The God of the wilderness is also the God of the promised land.”

Make it a practice to regularly climb Mt. Perspective. Get the “grand” view of your circumstances. Get out of the forest and above the tree line!

As a pastor you must learn to deal in a healthy way with hurt and rejection.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements…It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love…is Hell.” (C.S. Lewis)

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.”

I leave you with these encouraging words from Scripture…

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain!”

(1 Corinthians 15:58)

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone,especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

(Galatians 6:9-10)