Growing up on a small farm with the usual cycle of things that grow and produce, watching fruit trees provides a parable or metaphor for those in ministry. One season attracts us with gorgeous blossoms, pleasant fragrances to be followed by luscious fruit. What a wonderful work of nature! But not many months later the same tree sits still in the solitude of quietness, inactivity, homeliness and seeming purposelessness. But we all know that the dormant season is as vital to its life as the beautiful productive season. So, we find us ministry- folk in similar seasons or cycles of ministry.
Our enemy knows how to play the “feelings game.” We don’t feel good about ourselves. The numbers do not reflect well on our leadership. “No one seems to listen or even care.” ENTER: “The dark night of the soul.” It will often come at such times when we are most vulnerable. It may pertain to health issues, family crises, leadership conflicts, anything to discourage and distract us. Such times of crisis are virtually universal for people who have been in ministry long. We must remember the Lord takes us along a path that highlights our need for Him, placing us in situations where our strengths appear irrelevant, and our weaknesses are glaringly evident. It is not easy to remember that God accomplishes His best work in hard times and difficult situations. Needing Him is the key to relying upon Him. Relying upon Him is the key to intimacy with Him. Plus, the hard times may be the setting for our strongest witness to the unsaved that God is real, personal and powerful. Do not despise the difficult, it is a part of one season.
Are there some things that will help us through the unappealing season of ministry? Beginning my eighth decade of ministry, perhaps the following will encourage others to press on.
- Foundational to persevering is the essential Call of God on your life. If we can approach the call with integrity on our part and faithfulness on God’s part, we can survive and thrive.
- Recovering and restoring the joy and purpose of ministry. Two things God has provided that must sustain us in hard times. (1) His Word. Scripture says He has exalted His Name and His Word above all things. “Every word that proceeds out of His mouth….” scripture says is the nourishment necessary for survival. (2) His Grace. He mercifully enables those who are “careful to receive the grace of God lest a root of bitterness springing up trouble you and defile many.” Heb. 12:15, I Cor. 10:13
- Sustaining your fan base. God and your spouse have both made deep life commitments to you and your ministry. You can’t afford to have a poor connection with either one if you expect to survive. Maybe not as crucial, but your children and your staff are needed encouragers and supporters, too. They are probably not responsible for anything you may be feeling negatively, so they should never become the object of any frustration that may manifest itself. Remember your feelings are the most fickle thing about your personality, so they should never be given too much credibility. He says, “You shall reap if you faint not.” The sower does reap, but not always when and with the amount the sower anticipates.
- Servanthood makes no provision for pampering, praise, and prominence. It is always possible that as you “decrease, Jesus increases.” The servant is not greater than his Master, so comparison and complaint hold no promise of uplifting our spirits.
- Success and influence may be your most severe test because it has to do with your ego and image. Prov. 27:21 says, “the character of a man is tested by giving him a measure of fame.” It is a given in spiritual matters, the wider the scope of your influence the more certain the spiritual attacks upon you are.
- Focus is a most powerful ally. Focus on Jesus, the lost and hurting, the cross, the crown and the promises of God will sustain you. Never be deterred from why you were called. Acts 20:24 (ESV) “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.”
And remember, “none of us know what we are doing—because God is always doing more than we know.”