As a young pastor, I looked forward to the pastor retreats our district sponsored. It was a time to refresh and renew my energy to continue in the ministry.
I have discovered that ministry is, what one pastor said, “a dirty business.” As a young pastor, I was getting to understand what some of that was all about. Going to these pastor retreats and conferences helped me recover from my discouragement.
I will never forget one conference where a senior pastor of a large church in our district was to give an inspirational talk to encourage young pastors.
The gist of his little talk was that as long as he had been a pastor, he has never for even one day been discouraged. He followed this up with glowing reports of how “God has blessed me” in his ministry. Of course, he had a church ministry to prove his point, at least from a distance.
The more he talked about not being discouraged the more discouraged I became. I found afterward some of the other pastors were also floundering in this “slough of despond.” Instead of encouraging us, he was in fact discouraging us. His idea was that if you were discouraged something was wrong and it was your fault.
Ministry, according to him, was one of the most glorious, wonderful things a person could do.
I went home from that conference very much discouraged. Many things happen during the year that brings on discouragement and I was very downhearted to realize that it was all my fault.
Within six months of that conference the pastor who never experienced discouragement in his life, went through one of the worst times of his ministry even to the point of having to leave that church and going somewhere else.
When I heard the news, I wondered if he was now discouraged or if he was laughing all the way to the next church.
The person who says they are never discouraged either is lying or they are not doing anything that in any way threatens the devil.
Through my years of ministry, I have discovered that discouragement is a common experience. There are many reasons why a person can become discouraged. If you are in the ministry that in itself is a reason to become discouraged.
I know some are touting “ministry” as a profession and it really is not a profession. Now pastors are referred to as CEOs and have a “business plan” to guide the church to the “next level,” whatever that means.
The pastor that was never discouraged died within three years of that conference and I attended his funeral. I wonder what he would say now if he could come back and tell us the truth.
One thing I have discovered through over 40 years of ministry is that discouragement is part of the ministry. A few years ago in deep discouragement a phrase came to my mind I had never heard before. I am sure I am not the originator of this phrase, but I had never heard it before. This phrase changed my ministry.
In my prayer as I was groaning in discouragement and despair a phrase flashed into my heart, “I may be discouraged but I am not defeated.” I have no idea where that phrase came from but I am glad it came into my soul at that time. I only wish it would have come 40 years earlier.
The devil may discourage me, but he can never, ever defeat me. The enemy is already a defeated foe and it took me a long time to understand that. I believed it from way back when, but I really did not believe it until recently.
I blamed the devil for a lot of things he really was not able to do in my life. But I have come to the point now where I understand the role of discouragement in my life.
I never attended seminary and perhaps that is where they teach such things, but then again, some of the pastors I know that went to seminary had not yet learned this wonderful truth. Maybe they do not teach it in seminary. Maybe it is something that cannot be taught, but rather has to be experienced down in the muddy road of ministry.
Discouragement can do several things for us that nothing else can do.
First, discouragement can teach me that there is a limit to what I can do.
As a young pastor, I thought I could do everything. After all, I thought, God called me and therefore I good do whatever I set my heart and mind to do. All I have to do is speak it and it will take place.
To quote a famous psychologist, “How has that worked?”
To know what I cannot do enables me to focus on what I can really do. When I try to do what I cannot do, it opens the door for a gust of discouragement. Sometimes we are under the impression it is wrong not to be able to do something. The problem with that is, nobody can do everything.
One of the hardest things to comprehend in my ministry was the fact that I truly was not God. I think every pastor feels like they are God and can solve everybody’s problems. Just ask us.
Failure can have a good deal to do with our spiritual growth. If somebody succeeds in everything they do, something is wrong. Even in a football game, a team wins some and loses some. They celebrate the ones they win and go back to the drawing board to find out why they lost.
Discouragement teaches me that there are things I cannot do and God is not holding me responsible for those things.
There is another thing discouragement can teach me.
When I am doing what God wants me to do, I am flying in the face of the enemy of our soul, the devil. His only weapon against me is discouragement.
It may be that in my discouragement the devil was being threatened and ultimately defeated.
Now he can discourage me, but he cannot defeat me. The other side of that is, living for Jesus Christ; I can defeat the devil on every level.
Discouragement may tell me that I am on the right course in this.
In a recent study on Job, I discovered something I had never seen before.
Many times, we think that trials and tribulations come upon us because of making wrong decisions or even our personal sin. That is the case with most people.
But there is another category I never thought of before.
All of the circumstances, situations, trials and tribulations that came to Job were a result of God boasting to the devil about Job. “Hast thou considered my servant Job,” (Job 1:8).
After boasting about Job, the devil said to God, “Let me at Job and he will curse you to your face.”
You know the rest of the story.
I never thought of that before, but it is beginning to make sense to me. There are some trials I am going through I cannot trace back to anything. There were no decisions I made created this situation. I searched my heart and cannot find any sin that opened up the door for this kind of tribulation and for a while, it confused me and in that confusion I got a little bit discouraged. Okay. A lot discouraged.
Then I saw another side to all of this. What I am going through is a result of God boasting to the devil about my faithfulness.
I am not sure when Job discovered that, but somewhere in his journey he made a declaration that explains Job better than anything else. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” (Job 13:15).
Job’s faithfulness to God was not rooted in his circumstances, but rather in a relationship.
I look discouragement in more of an encouraging light now. I realize there is something going on behind the scenes I am not aware of. When God allowed the devil to go after Job, he never got Job’s permission. His confidence in Job was of such a nature that he could do this.
I do get discouraged. Sometimes it is my fault, but then other times it is part of the ministry. It is not getting discouraged that is important, but rather how do I handle my discouragement.
God has something for me that He wants to boast to about to the devil.