I wish we woke up every day feeling like it was the absolute best day ever. But the fact is there are some days where things don’t seem so great.
This is true in life. This is true in ministry.
In fact for me, these ups and downs are one of the great challenges of church planting. You’ll come home from church one day thinking, it’s happening, we are on the move. Then you will go back to church the next week and think, are we really going to make it to next Sunday.
There’s a sense in which it is fairly normal to have times that are more exciting and times that are more frightening. I would imagine if you were skydiving there would be moments when you would say this is awesome and other moments when you think what in the world am I doing?
It is tempting when we are feeling more insecure and frightened by our circumstances to overreact. Looking back on my life so far I have found that some of the worst and longest lasting mistakes I have made have not come not so much because of the difficult situation I found myself in, but because of overreacting in the middle of that situation.
To help myself not overreact when I am feeling overwhelmed, I try to remember of some of the following things:
1. It is normal to have times where you feel sorrow and discouragement, but I need to be very careful not to allow that sorrow to become self-pity.
This world is not perfect. Life can be painful. You don’t need to feel guilty if you sometimes look at the mess in your life and think, man I wish this was different. If you wonder about that read the Psalms. Or just think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. This sorrow and discouragement can be such a mercy from God in that it can open your eyes to your need for Him and bring you to your knees in prayer.
But, when you are feeling sorrow, watch out because we can take even good, normal things and make them weird and harmful by using them as an opportunity to focus our attention on ourselves. It sounds strange but when I find my mind running through the things I am sorrowful about, I tell myself to be careful, because there are times where self-pity feels good. I know though that the good feeling that initially comes from self-pity is an illusion however, and when I indulge in self-pity for an extended period of time it sucks the spiritual life out of me and causes me to wither spiritually.
2. There’s no reason to pretend like things aren’t difficult, I just need to remember I am good at making them seem worse than they really are.
I don’t think I have ever asked a church planter how things are going and had them tell me, it is going terrible. But that doesn’t mean things aren’t ever incredibly difficult. It’s easy however when things are going poorly, to pretend like they are going well when you are talking to others and make them seem much worse than they are when you are talking to yourself.
We can do that in a couple of ways. One way is by thinking about actual circumstances in exaggerated ways. A few people not liking your preaching becomes I don’t have any gifts from God in preaching. A few Sundays where not as many people show up becomes everybody is leaving the church. Another way is thinking about the meaning of certain problems in exaggerated ways. A church plant not succeeding becomes I am a failure. But really? Does that event really mean that? The local churches Paul wrote to in the New Testament are not around as the same organizations they were when they were first planted. The church is around, but those local churches don’t exist in the same way any longer. And Paul’s not a failure. But even if it does mean that, if it does mean you are a failure, is that such a frightening thing, to be a failure and to know it? From reading the gospels, it seems like Jesus drew close to people who knew they were failures and from reading the rest of the Scriptures it seems like God is near to the brokenhearted, so if God brings an event into your life that exposes your need, breaks your heart, and drops you to your knees in front of Him, that’s painful, but it’s not terrible because it may be that God is using what’s happening to draw you into a closer relationship with Himself.
3. While in the middle of difficult circumstances, I can easily lose sight of the great things that are happening.
If somehow once in my life I was walking through a cemetery, put my hand on a gravestone, prayed and someone rose from the dead, I would be talking about that FOREVER. I would not think that was small. Salvation is just as great a miracle as that, and if God uses us to preach the gospel and see anyone anywhere saved, that’s HUGE. So is sanctification, really. I know my own heart, I know how slow I am to change, and if I change, it’s a miracle and if God uses me to help others change, anyone change, that’s amazing as well.
4. I am honestly not very good at telling when something great is happening.
If you were there the day they crucified Jesus and didn’t have the gospels to help you understand what was really going on, you would be tempted to think Jesus’ ministry was a failure. But it was at that moment of crucifixion that God was doing a stunning work, shaming and humiliating the powers of darkness and providing us rescue from the penalty of sin. And so often, ministry is a little like that as well. You look at something and you think, man, where is God and yet God is right there in the middle of it, doing something tremendous. Your job is to trust His promises.
Have you ever been with a child who didn’t trust you? Can you imagine what it would be like? You are driving with a child to Disneyland, but the whole time they are asking you why is this taking so long, can’t we just stop here and stay here at this restaurant, what would be even worse would be if they started questioning your love and wisdom. We can be like that with God. God if you loved me you would be doing this. Well, He does love you and He’s not doing that so it must mean that what’s actually happening is better for you!
5. No matter how alone I feel, I am not. No matter how helpless I feel, I am not.
Maybe I should say, I am helpless but God is not and He’s given me a great tool to use when I feel helpless and that is prayer. I can look at ministry and God’s greatness and feel so overwhelmed because it is all too big for me, but it is not too big for God and because of the work of Christ and in the power of the Spirit I have access to the Creator of the Universe as my Father. God is alive. God is sovereign. And God cares about what is going on in my life and so, yeah I can’t do what I want to do, but God can and if this situation, this feeling of hopelessness gets me to actually pick up the one tool that works, then that’s not a bad thing, not a bad thing at all.