Overcoming Discouragement in Ministry (#7)

Hiking is so much like life! Constant ups and downs, wear and tear on your body, hidden and exposed roots that cause you to stumble, stony trails that cause your feet to burn and twist, steep climbs that seem to last forever, stinkin’ socks and fellow hikers, the burden of 25-40 pounds on your back, sloshing through a rain-soaked trail, and wishing you could carry your bed from home in your backpack in exchange for the ground or a shelter floor!

As I stood on one of the many awe-inspiring, give-God-praise views on the Appalachian Trail this week, I proclaimed to my hiking buddy, Rick, “And you ask me why we love to hike????” (Besides the fact that we just love being outdoors in the mountains!)

Men, one of the reasons we are prone to become discouraged in ministry is the view. Ministry can be like what I described in the first paragraph. While carrying the weight of “your church” on your shoulders, all you see are ministry deadlines, the constant burdens of others, unmet expectations, another sermon to ream out, your body wearing down, the battle of your flesh, and a mind full of stinkin’ thinkin’!!! Just like the old adage, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” You need to change the view.

How?

Learn to rest! Most folks in ministry do not know how to rest! We are on the go 24/7 with our foot on the accelerator pushed to the floor. Even on vacation, we are still thinking ministry, taking calls, answering texts, and thinking about next Sunday’s sermon.

Rest breaks are crucial while hiking. As we climbed up the mountain to McAfee Knob and trekked the distance over to Tinker Cliffs, periodic rest breaks for water and a protein snack gave energy and heart to press forward. Even along the way, we enjoyed other views as we dropped our packs and briefly rested. We knew the extraordinary views were coming!

Your rest breaks could be . . .

  • a drive in the country with your wife (no ministry discussion allowed)
  • a walk or bike ride in a nearby park
  • 15 minutes on the back porch singing and swinging
  • reading the Psalms or Philippians for your heart’s sake and not for a sermon
  • no phone at supper while remaining at the table with your wife to chat for 15-30 minutes at the end of your meal
  • your prayer closet
  • a power nap
  • watching something humorous to get you laughing
  • a cup of coffee or tea and a healthy snack
  • calling your wife and talking to her like you did when you were dating (seriously)
  • Facetimeing one of your grandkids . . . that’ll lighten up your heart

Ministry friend, learn to rest. Remember, Jesus went to the mountains and the wilderness to get away (Matthew 14:23; Luke 6:12). You need those rest breaks more than Jesus did. You are not the Messiah!

The “hike” in ministry calls for periods of rest. The “views” will be much better when you do!

Overcoming Discouragement in Ministry (#3)

So you have completed a full day of ministry. You have proclaimed and taught the Word of God, perhaps as many as three to four times. You have praised the Lord with all your heart! You have listened to many burdens, heard maybe a complaint or two, and sought to encourage and edify many. You have worked through a power point failure during your third point, a crying baby, and on the way home, a flat tire. As you ease into your chair in the family room and take a deep breath, you can still hear all the “noise” of the day in your mind, even if you are catching up on Sunday night football and Facebook.

Be careful! Your mind and body are worn out! You are reliving the day. Thoughts of “what if” and “if only” and “I should have” start to permeate your mind. You are a prime target for the flesh and the devil to lie to you. It’s a set up, friend!

May I encourage you . . . and remind myself?

First of all, instead of listening to yourself, preach the Truth to yourself . . . instead of just to those who gathered to hear the message. You proclaimed the Truth with passion and conviction all day. Now, believe and live out what you preached! Rest in it. Lean hard into it. His Word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). Your failures of the day are a good reminder that you are frail and totally dependent on God’s grace and mercy all the time. Your successes, and only God determines that, are what they because Christ worked through you to build His Church, to do His work, not yours. So rejoice in Him! Praise Him! Thank Him!

Second, start counting your blessings from the day and record them in a journal or on your phone . . . even if it might have been a difficult Sunday! Satan doesn’t want you to remember the goodness of God that you experienced through the day. Most of all, remember your position and identification in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). You are accepted in the Beloved (1:6).

Third, track your thinking and what you usually do on Sunday nights. Make sure it does not feed your discouragements. Perhaps a good idea would be to put the kids to bed, and you and your wife enjoy some time alone! Act like you’re newlyweds! Hold hands, kiss, cuddle, and enjoy the wife your youth (Proverbs 5:18). Encourage each other. And, just like Saturday night, hold hands and pray before drifting off to sleep. You need her, she needs you and you both need the Lord!!

Sleep well, friend, and . . . let’s pray for one another to choose what’s right by God’s grace.

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
(Isaiah 26:3)

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, . . . and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

Overcoming Discouragement in Ministry (#1)

“I’m tired of letting mean people (in church) determine when we move.” These words were spoken to me by a pastor quoting his wife as they and their family are preparing to relocate once again due conflict, hurt, sorrow and discouragement in ministry.

Soul Shepherding Ministry posted “over half of ministry leaders are discouraged.”

When you consider the events of the last two years brought on by Covid such as shut-downs, divided congregations over politics and masks, and now the economy and the fear of war, no wonder this can be said of pastors (as well as thousands of others).

These are discouraging days. Pastors have battled discouragement for many years. Our day is not unique nor is the trial of discouragement (1 Corinthians 10:12-14). Ask King David (1 Samuel 21:15-22:2). I fight discouragement and have done so off-and-on for years.

What does it mean to be discouraged? What does it look like? What causes it?

Discouragement is defined by the Britannica Dictionary as “a feeling of having lost hope or confidence; something (such as a failure or difficulty) that discourages someone.” The FreeDictionary says it is “the feeling of despair in the face of obstacles.” Webster’s Dictionary gives it as “depression or weakening of confidence; dejection.”

If you want to know what it looks like, go home with your pastor on Sunday night or spend time with him on Monday . . . or Tuesday or . . . Wednesday . . . . The look and frame of discouragement is one of down-heartedness, lack of motivation, loss of joy and zeal, slumped shoulders, slower pace, procrastination, apathy, critical spirit, a spirit of Eeyore, mood swings, and more. Now, I’m not saying that every pastor is this way, but as noted above and from history, discouragement is a force that must be dealt with.

Discouragement comes from a fear of failure, “mean people,” lack of success, fatigue, not knowing how to rest or “turn off” the ministry demands, lack of exercise, unhealthy eating habits and subsequent weight issues, health events, financial woes, focusing on people rather than Christ, acting like you are the “Messiah” of your ministry, a sense of not meeting up to other’s expectations, competition and comparison in ministry, reading other “successful” pastor’s Twitter feeds, frustration with people, feeling like you are never doing enough, not getting everything done, believing you have to be on your “A game” every Sunday, the attacks of Satan, wrong thinking, feeling forsaken by God and others, being misunderstood, always on the front lines, personal marriage and/or family issues, etc.

In the next few blogs, I want to be a genuine source of encouragement like a cold drink on a hot, humid day after reaching a mountain summit on the AT (Appalachian Trail) or a refreshing dip at the base of a 125 foot western North Carolina waterfall or the expectation of a multi-colored beach sunrise. I want to help you, my friend in ministry, with handling discouragement and rising up out of the despair!

I’ll end this post with Psalm 42:5 (NLT), a passage I have quoted so often over the years when my heart has been disquieted within me.

Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise him again—
my Savior and my God!

Cancelember

Cancel and debt. Two words that loom heavily over this Christmas 2021.

Debt looks like that long line of overloaded, bulging Sam’s Club carts at the exit door that probably won’t be paid off before next Christmas.

Cancel looks like our holiday season due to Covid.

  • Vacation (Cancelled)
  • Pigeon Forge/Dollywood Lights/Time with friends (Cancelled)
  • Hike (Cancelled)
  • Christmas shopping (Cancelled)
  • Haircut (Cancelled)
  • Perform wedding, Dec. 17-18 (Cancelled)
  • Christmas caroling (Cancelled)
  • Game date to Blackbird Bakery (Cancelled)
  • Getty Christmas Concert, Greenville (Cancelled)
  • December corporate worship with brothers & sisters in Christ (Cancelled)
  • And there is more, but . . .

Cancel and debt are GREAT words at Christmas! Quite frankly, what we would consider to be two negative, disappointing words are instead words that are full of hope and joy!

Christmas is preeminently and transcendently about the Lord Jesus Christ. Due to the sinful condition of mankind (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23), Christ in His glorious humiliation entered into the chaos of our depraved, full of death condition (Philippians 2:6-8) and cancelled the debt of our sin against us that He might reveal God to us (Matthew 1:21-23).

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him (Christ), having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:13-15).

Christ came to experience all that experience, die for our sins, and then return to Heaven to represent us before the Father. He is willing to save and able to save (Warren Wiersbe). [Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:25]

Therefore because my life is secure in Christ today and for all eternity, the words “cancel” and “debt” remind me of Christmas, the Gospel!

On this day in “Cancelember” I can sing the following old song of praise and testimony!

He paid a debt He did not owe
I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay

My debt He paid upon the cross
He cleansed my soul from all its dross
I tho’t that no one could all my sins erase
But now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay

O such great pain my Lord endured
When He my sinful soul secured
I should have died there but Jesus took my place
So now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay

He didn’t give to me a loan
He gave Himself now He’s my own
He’s gone to Heaven to make for me a place
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay

COVID COUNSEL

Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “You wouldn’t say it out loud, but you probably think you are the most intelligent creature on the planet. Why? Because you listen to yourself more than anyone else.” By the way, do you ever have a conversation with yourself or with someone else in your mind?

This preacher went on to say something very needful. “Instead of listening to yourself, you need to preach to yourself! You must preach the Truth to yourself!”

David does this in Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

For sure, COVID and 2020 has been filled with inconsistencies, false information, cancellations, deaths, life-altering illnesses, disappointments, fear, anxiety, abrupt changes, and unfulfilled plans and expectations.

Where do you run? Where do you hide? Where do you find rest for your weary soul? Where do you find strength to take the next step, to live the next day? The answer is found in the aforementioned scripture passages. Read and meditate on what David is saying. Put yourself in the passage. Preach the truth to yourself. Do not listen to yourself, your doubts, your confusion, your pain, your sorrow, your fears, etc.

The help of His countenance (42:5) will always be the help of my countenance (42:11; 43:5) as I hope in my God and praise my God while preaching the truth to myself. Counsel your heart.

COVID-19 DISTRACTIONS #2

Yesterday, I was reminded of a statement that has bearing on the COVID world we live in today. During the last few weeks of my mom’s earthly sojourn, she listened to my wife read Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. One day in particular, she looked appreciatively at Denise and said, “Thank you for reading to me about Heaven. You are helping me prepare to go Home.”

Has the coronavirus so captured your attention that your mind is solely earth-bound? I realize we need to take some serious precautions, but how easy it is to be consumed with COVID at every turn! As I said in yesterday’s blog. it is the first topic of discussion, frustration, fear, etc.

If you can say that you are a true believer in Christ, a genuine child of God, may I turn our thoughts upward?

Mediate on the following:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4)

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-4)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8)

Is COVID helping to prepare you for Home? The brevity, fragility and uncertainty of life are indeed real, but when you have complete assurance that eternity in Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ awaits you, the fear of this virus can be exchanged for the anticipation of Revelation 21:4!!!

I’m goin’ home
Where the streets are golden
Every chain is broken
Oh I wanna go
Oh I wanna go
Home
Where every fear is gone
I’m in your open arms
Where I belong
Home
(Chris Tomlin)

(If you are not prepared, would you take time to watch either of these videos?)

Be sure to watch all the Done chapters.

Running Uphill . . . to the Finish Line

My son-in-law and I have basically owned the Tweetsie Trail this summer for our morning run.  The beautiful scenery, friendly bikers, walkers and runners, beautiful wildlife, the nostalgia, pristine quiet, and the desire to stay healthy and prepare for periodic races calls us out three to four times a week.  Our routine is to run from Johnson City to Elizabethton at different distances as my training is currently maxed out for 10Ks while Andrew is preparing for a half-marathon.  Recently, I said, “Let’s change our routine and run from Elizabethton to Johnson City.  Well, I was greeted with a startling fact . . . the trail is predominately an uphill grade.

Our last run really took it out of me, and I was a bit defeated because running is such a challenge to me.  Upon sharing my thoughts via texting with Andrew, he said, “The second you feel defeated, you fail.  Sounds like the Christian life.”  He is right.

Running is such a mind game.  Correct thinking is so crucial.  In most instances, you can run farther than your mind tells you.  There you are, your legs are burning a bit, your lungs grasping for air, and your mind saying, “Just go ahead and quit.  You know it’s too hard to finish. You just don’t have it.”  That’s when you have to think the truth, remind yourself about things you have learned from running, and take another drink as well as another step.  You really don’t want to listen to yourself.

The Christian life is often uphill as well.  Every day presents you with battles that begin with putting your feet on the floor first thing in the morning.   Once that happens, you are “off to the races.”  How needful it is to think biblically from the first thought of the morning.  So often when we start the Tweetsie Trail, one of us will say, “What a beautiful day to run.  Praise the Lord!”  Starting your day thinking the Word and then throughout the day reminding yourself of the Word will help you climb the next hill.  It is so important that we do not listen to ourselves but rather preach the Word to ourselves.

I for one will tell you that one of the best parts of running is the finish.  There is such an exhilarated rush when you are done.  So here’s some truths to begin your day that will get you to the finish line… even if its uphill.

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.  (Lamentations 3:21-26)

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

Map My Run

 

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Tweetsie Trail (Great place to run)

Map My Run is a handy app on my phone that logs all my workouts.  It records my distance, duration time, average pace, split-pace times, calories burned and elevation gain.  These details are very important as I reach out for my goals in preparation for the next race or just to keep in shape.

Map My Run reminds me of a very functional tool for your daily spiritual growth—a journal.  Just as the Map My Run app helps me track my physical fitness, I believe a hand written journal or one online is a good means to help you in your daily relationship with Christ; to run the race of the Christian life as we set our affection on things above and not on things of the earth (Colossians 3:2) to stay spiritually fit.  So consider the following questions:

  • How do you track your growth in Christ?
  • As you read the Word each day, where do you record what God said to you?
  • When you attend church, how do you document what God is up to in your life during the service whether in singing, prayer, small group Sunday School or the preaching?
  • What has the Lord been teaching you in the school of trials and temptation?
  • How have you seen God answer prayer today?
  • What spiritual goals have you attained by the grace of God?
  • What sins have your overcome?
  • What victories have been won by faith and God’s grace?

We are prone to soon forget the blessings of God, the impact of His Word, and the lessons He brings, but not so if we record them in a journal and then scan over them each week.  Our Shepherd is leading us today (Psalm 23).  Let’s track His steps and His lessons in our lives.  The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon.  Let’s run well in His Word, burning off the calories of sin, the flesh and the world, and keep a good pace through all the elevations of life as we run for the prize.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Your Personal Circuit Board

IES Building

Recently I had a brief tour of a factory in our area that is a “full-service electronics manufacturing service provider, serving a diverse group of customers in various electronics end-markets including: commercial, military, medical, RF, flexible circuits, and backplanes.” As I entered the front of the building, I noticed that the exterior grounds were sharp and well-kept with a homey feel of white rockers lined across the front porch. The offices were neat and attractive and the factory floor negated the “five-second rule” of dropped food (otherwise translated, “You could eat off the floor.”).   My first impression was, “This is a quality place to work.”

Hand Solder

 

But what really caught my attention was the careful, meticulous work that keeps this company afloat. There before me as the factory door opened were rows of workers, many of them peering through a microscope soldering very tiny, intricate pieces to a circuit board.  As we walked over to get a closer look at an employee’s work station, he did not even look up or move to see who was around him.  He was transfixed on his work lest he lose his place.  These “hand soldiers,” as they are called, “average over fifteen years of experience in a wide variety of circuit board configurations.”

IES Capabilities

As I looked at this employee’s circuit board as well as another circuit configuration nearby, I realized that these small boards with minuscule pieces  keep commercial and military vehicles running in maximum measure. For instance, when our military troops are using Humvees in a conflict, these boards that cannot be seen are extremely vital to those vehicles’ operation in the most crucial times.

You, too, have a circuit board that needs daily meticulous work because it controls all you do.  It is your spiritual heart.  Unlike the boards made at this factory and shipped away, your heart is there to stay, but it needs careful attention.  Your “circuit board” needs to come under the microscope of God’s Word.  If not, one little drop of offense, corrupt speech, misunderstanding, assumption, deception, distraction, or hurt can short-circuit your heart and cause you to malfunction as a believer.

Therefore, let’s make application of this:

  • What does the microscope of God’s Word reveal about you?
  • Do you as a follower of Christ come under the microscope of God’s Word every day?
  • Do you take time to let the Word meticulously look into the “circuit board” of your heart?
  • Do you sit at Jesus’ feet with His Word in front of you without distraction?

You may look good on the outside, but the most important issue is what’s happening on the inside of the factory that matters.  Since . . .

  • we are in a daily battle with the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17), the world (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15-17), and Satan (1 Peter 5:8-9)
  • we are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. ’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself, (Matthew 22:37-39)
  • the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
  • where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21),

just to name a few, doesn’t it make sense  to make sure you pay close attention to your circuit board, the heart?

My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:21-23)