The following is an article I wrote for the SBTC this fall. Hope it speaks to your heart.
While having lunch with a fellow pastor recently, I was asked an interesting question: “Do you see many pastors experiencing joy and victory in ministry?” Struck by the pertinence of his question, I began to reflect on my ministry as well as those I have encountered while traveling in Texas and beyond in 2010. With some hesitation I replied in the affirmative but I couldn’t help adding a footnote that “I don’t see many churches attempting that which requires great faith.” The ensuing discussion left me pondering faith and discouragement in ministry. I hope the following will be a help as we explore this topic together.
Faith is the central dynamic of the Christian life. It is not static but changes and fluctuates as we walk in fellowship with God. Sometimes our faith is strong; sometimes weak. It is an essential component of Christian living as any attempt to approach, serve, pray, or praise God apart from faith is futility of epic proportion. Without faith we cannot experience all God has in store for us or hear the still small voice of His Spirit whisper guidance in our heart. True faith is the primary means through which we deny Satan the glory he desperately craves and credit to Almighty God the glory He desperately deserves. It is true that nothing of eternal value can be accomplished apart from faith and equally true that nothing is impossible to him who has faith rightly directed in God. Faith matters immensely, even when weak and struggling.
Not long ago I was preaching a sermon on faith and I brought a cup of mustard seeds into the pulpit to make my illustration. There must have been 10,000 seeds in that one cup. Afterwards my wife asked to see the seeds up close and personal. I handed her the cup but she took only one tiny seed. She then taped the seed in her Bible next to Matthew 17:20 as a reminder of the quantity of real faith God is looking for in His followers. She is expecting mountains to move in her life as she understands faith to be the central dynamic of her walk with God.
Faith is particularly necessary when we come under trial and attempt to “count it all joy” as James implores. No person can look up from the bottom of a pit and praise God apart from a living faith that believes circumstances can change on-a-dime with the Lord. While corporate faith may be on the decline, discouragement is on the rise among God’s chosen leaders. Many of the pastors and church leaders I have crossed paths with this year as president of the SBTC face daily discouragement. These wonderful servants of Christ possess a deep passion for the things of God. They rejoice in their calling and daily seek to honor the Lord by faith. The pastors are men who desire their churches to grow for the glory of God and see the lost come to Jesus. Yet, like high blood pressure, discouragement is the “silent killer” of ministers, regardless of church size. At one time I thought only those serving God away from highways and high-speed internet, malls and movie theaters were the ones primarily subject to discouragement. Was I ever wrong! Satan has no respect for God’s minister regardless of whether he receives his mail on a rural route or while seated in a high-rise. So what is the answer? Let me encourage you with the following.
First, recalibrate your focus on “Who” matters most. Hebrews 12:2 tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Whenever discouragement seeks to replace faith in my life, I always know my focus has shifted not from “what matters most” but from “who matters most” – the Lord Jesus. God knows that all who serve Him have the propensity to be just like Peter when the wind and waves begin to roll and we take our eyes off Jesus. So fix your eyes on the Master and the faith you exhibit will conquer the discouragement you face.
Second, maintain a hope that refuses to doubt God’s power. When Satan attacks your mind by telling you that what you are doing for God does not matter, refuse to believe his lie and doubt God’s power. If you are praying and working as you should, you are making a difference regardless of what circumstances may say. A recent note on Twitter I received shared a quote from A.T. Robertson on difficult pastorates: “Young man, if you go to a hard field, stay by it. For, while you may not help the field, it will help you." My only addition would be to stay by that hard field with an expectant hope that God can transform even the most difficult circumstance for His glory. Place a mustard seed in your Bible if necessary.
Finally, maintain a faith that refuses to shrink back. Years ago I was struggling with discouragement in ministry on a supreme level. It wasn’t the first time; it will not be the last. On that day, I well remember driving the 45 miles to the hospital for visitation and crying out in desperation for God to move the entire trip. I felt I was nearing the end of my rope. Discouragement had caused me to lose my focus and doubt whether I was making any difference for the Kingdom. That afternoon when I returned to my office I did the only thing I knew to do – I poured over Scripture in prayer, seeking a word of encouragement from the Lord. While doing so the Holy Spirit brought me to Hebrews 10:35-38 NIV, “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” Message delivered; message received.
Perhaps you are nearing the end of your rope, your grip is lessening and discouragement seems about to win the day. Stop what you are doing right now and take back the joy in serving Jesus that Satan is attempting to steal. Refuse to shrink back in defeat. Pray. Focus on your Master. Do that which you know God would have you do. Remain faithful and sooner than later a new day will dawn and the discouragement you feel will be replaced with a fresh expectancy that God is on the move. Be encouraged fellow servant of the Most High God!