Stress In Ministry - Don't Let It Eat You Alive
What a thrilling sight it must have been to Gideon when he saw 32,000 men standing ready to support him in his fight against the Midianites. Too soon however, that number dwindled to 10,000 and then to a mere 300, all because of God's process of elimination. Yet, with those 300 men and a promise from God, the enemy was routed. Gideon and his small army broke lanterns, blew trumpets and bellowed their battle cry. This small army chased the enemy until ultimate victory was achieved.
Victory didn't come though without the heavy price of fatigue. A revealing phrase in the story of Gideon and his small army reveals their personal struggles but also, their stubborn determination.
“And Gideon came to Jordan and passed over,
He and the three hundred men that were with him, faint, yet pursuing them." )Judges 8:4)
Gideon and his men were exhausted. In other words, “They had grown weary in well-doing.”
Don’t we all get that weary on our journey from time to time?
The Reality of Burnout
Burnout and fatigue in ministry is very common and the statistics of those leaving the ministry are staggering. There is a battle for the mind that leads to the depletion of one's spirit and even to the weakness of one’s body. Ultimately, the church and Kingdom of Heaven suffers from the loss of good soldiers. The demands of ministry and it’s accompanying pressures have worn many pastors completely down. In too many cases, the marriages and families of ministers have suffered more than most will ever admit. A sad reality is that church work and some churches can come close to killing pastors and leaders more than we like to think.
A sign out in front of one church perhaps said it best, “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help.”
One pastor summed it up like this. “What once was a pure joy and a burning love to preach Jesus has become a treadmill of anxiety.”
How does church work become so toxic and even deadly? Well, subtly and silently the shift begins to happen in the heart and one’s identity moves from being loved and called by Christ to being admired and controlled by the church. Pastors are happy when church attendance is high but miserable when it’s low. If the people are complimentary about our preaching, there is a sense of gratification and even fulfillment, but if the people criticize, it depresses and wounds a pastor deeply. The “anxiety of performance” presses in to the point that it robs us of any peace at all. Then, managing expectations quickly becomes impossible and the joy of ministry slowly leaks out of worn and cracked vessels that can’t possibly hold any life-giving water to quench the thirst of needy church members, much less one’s own self. While we all love the church, we were not called to twist our personality like a pretzel just to appease people’s expectations.
There is a most interesting passage found in Acts 12:11. When the angel rescued Peter from jail, Peter said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel to deliver me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” It’s easy to understand how any pastor would need to be freed from a wicked Monarch like Herod, but we also need to be made free from the “expectation of people.” Many of the nations pastors would leave the ministry if they had another way to earn a living. In many ways, the church has “eaten them alive.”
The undercurrent of always “being on,” and wearing the face while going through the expected motions can wear a pastor down. Again, it is the subtle pressure that keeps pastors jumping through hoops and living like puppets.
Don’t let it eat you up, Pastor. Go wherever you need to go. See whoever you need to see. Do whatever you have to do to get some help, just don’t let it eat you up!
If I have just described you and your current experience remember this:
Don't Lose Your Head
The Bible declares in Isaiah 26:3 "Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.”
A confused and fatigued mind makes bad decisions.
Here's what you must do:
Rest in His provision
Be Renewed in His peace
Then Rejoice in His presence
Don't lose your Heart
Jesus said in John 14:1 "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me…”
David said in Psalm 61:2, "When my heart is overwhelmed in me, lead me to the rock that is higher than I."
The greatest advice I've ever found is in Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct thy paths."
Too many ministers of the Gospel have at times lost their heart for the Ministry, the Multitudes and most tragically of all, the Master.
Don't Lose Your Hope
I like what David penned in Psalms 146:5 "Happy is he whose hope is in the Lord his God."
An amazing story is contained In Acts 27. It's the story of Paul on a doomed ship. It holds many thought provoking ideas while describing the dilemma of slaves and sailors trying to survive the terrible storm. One written phrase stands out above them all. "All hope was lost that we could be saved." (Acts 27:20)
Hope is the last thing to die in a man but it can die. Paul never lost his hope. He was in the minority, but his hope was contagious and brought victory to the other men on the ship. God wants to use you to bring hope to others but you can only give what you have. When you become the source of hope for others, your own
hopelessness will disappear.
A poem written long ago sums it up well:
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Success is failure turned inside out-
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And when you can never tell how close
you are, It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit-
It’s when things seem worst, you must not quit.
God has renewed strength available to you today. Rest in Him and be refreshed in His presence.
You are loved.