When You are the Busiest and the Ministry is Demanding
A few days ago I caught myself thinking about some of the ministry experiences Karen and I shared over the years. This was spurred by the news that one of the couples I married many years ago was about to have another grandchild. Grandchildren! Suddenly, I was feeling a little older.
I couldn’t help but ask myself a very difficult question. “I wonder, honestly, how often in ministry did I produce, produce, produce by my own strength and abilities, rather than asking the Lord to produce and allow me the privilege of displaying what He wanted to do?” To be very candid, my pastoral leadership partners, I think I may have tended to do this more when I was younger in the ministry. I will confess that some days my prayer life was sadly lacking even though I appeared to be very productive. It is an ever present danger for all who are in leadership positions.
As I grow older, the Lord continues to bring assignments to me that are much bigger than my abilities, and I still have to be careful not to just “do ministry by my own understanding.” Today, I am fully aware of the truth the Lord Jesus speaks to us, “Without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Please understand this “displaying” of which we are speaking is not an abandonment of responsibility. It is not a laziness or mediocrity as relating to our ministries. I still have to sit down at the laptop and pour myself into my writing. I still have to go to the hospital to make the call. Messages don’t just happen. The counseling appointments must still be made. However, as the branch, I have the wonderful joy of seeing the Lord doing the work in and through me. He produces; I display. He is working and building His church. I am strengthened and guided by Him as He works and accomplishes His purpose through me.
Elijah, too, was engaged in a wonderful ministry. The Lord was busy and working through him in ways that are hard to describe. In 1 Kings 17 and 18, there are several snapshots of the incredible ministry the LORD God was doing through Elijah. Think of a few of these:
- God incredibly supplied for him (17:6,15-16).
- His prayers were being answered in a spectacular way (17:21-24).
- With great courage, Elijah expressed his convictions clearly, powerfully and without compromise (18:18).
- Willingly, he took great steps of faith in obedience to the Lord’s plan (18:30-35).
- Passionately he poured his heart, soul and life into the message God gave him. Elijah was thrilled at the way God was going to show Himself strong to the people (18:36).
- He was greatly used of the Lord in an unusual way. The ministry that took place was powerful and personal. Clearly God worked in and through this man, Elijah (18:37-39).
- Though it must have been difficult and potentially unpopular, Elijah lead the way in removing sin and turning the hearts of the people to the Lord (18:40).
- The physical energy required to display the Lord’s ministry was tremendous (18:46).
Then it hit. Like a ton of bricks it struck him. While on Mt. Carmel, Elijah thunders in the power of the Lord and fire falls in chapter 18. A very short time later in chapter 19, under the juniper tree in the wilderness, he whimpers, asking God to let him die. What an amazing contrast.
The lesson is abundantly clear. Even the greatest of servants with a long list of successes and victories can become exhausted physically and emotionally. Following powerful ministry, discouragement can sweep over us faster than the fire falling from Heaven. It is what I call the “Sunday power and Monday pout!”
Servants need to beware of this situation. It has happened to all of us. God didn’t leave Elijah in the wilderness under the juniper tree. He won’t leave us in the wilderness times either. Here are a couple of questions to think through and even talk about with your spouse.
1. Have I become accustomed to seeing the Lord’s blessing upon my ministry, but slowly I am losing the joy and thrill at witnessing the power of God?
2. Are people starting to annoy me more than usual? Do I dread the phone ringing and catch myself thinking, “Now what do they want?”
3. Did I take my wife out on a fun date lately? When was the last time I did something with my spouse that she really enjoyed as well? In fact, do I ever just have a couple of hours of enjoyment in anything? The Lord does not expect me to work non-stop without a break and enjoyment along the way.
4. Do I really share the ministry with my spouse? Does she know how much I appreciate her and is she a vital partner with me? How do I communicate this to her? Actually, do I communicate with her?
5. When was the last time I got away from the study, the computer and even the cell phone to invest (not spend, but invest!) a full morning with the Lord? Am I honest with the Lord about the way I am feeling and thinking about ministry and people?
6. Right now today, in the midst of really good things the Lord is doing, do I feel discouraged at times? Do I catch myself dreaming of doing something other than what I am currently doing? Am I afraid to tell even my spouse of my occasional feelings because it surely doesn’t sound very spiritual? “But he went a full day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). It wasn’t deeply spiritual, but it was deeply honest.
Elijah didn’t stay there. We don’t have to, either. Have you ever talked through the answers to these questions with anyone, especially your spouse? Take a few minutes to read “Overcoming the Juniper Tree Complex.”