Let me ask all of you—have you ever been disappointed when things did not go well? Have you been discouraged to the point of losing hope? Have you ever felt that you should simply quit trying?
A person eager to serve the Lord will often find himself hindered from going into full time service. How should he respond to these situations?
This kind of frustration is not uncommon in the scriptures or real life! I know some people who are scared about being called into the ministry. They are not waiting! They are trying to avoid full time service. Perhaps they have seen what it costs.
Another group of people are eager to get into ministry. They can’t wait for the opportunity. They have worked through the other issues. Now they are ready, but they can’t go. It seems God isn’t now ready! Fortunately, we have scriptures and His spirit to rely upon.
Several years ago, I watched some people who never quit trying, who never gave up when they faced disappointment—a group that was down but not out. My wife May and I were in Chicago, and we attended the Northwestern-Michigan State football game. Although we had no allegiance to either team, we were excited about enjoying a cool, crisp fall day at the stadium. For the first half of the game Northwestern dominated, and the second half began the same way. There were 9 minutes and 54 seconds left in the third quarter when they went up on Michigan State by a score of 38-3.
May and I were a bit bored with the game so one-sided. May was getting cold since the wind had picked up and the clouds had rolled in. I wondered if we could leave early without hurting our friend’s feelings. But at that point the game changed. Down by 35 points, Michigan State began to look like a different team, seemingly able to score at will. Their players were convinced that although they were down in the score, they were not out of the game. Their fans, who had been quiet for most of the game, cheered more and more loudly with each scoring drive. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Michigan State kicked a field goal to win by a final score of 41-38.
It was the greatest comeback in NCAA Division One history!
Although they were down, and it looked hopeless for them from where I sat, they never saw it that way. They refused to let the discouragement of being 35 points down take them out of the game. They were down but never out.
As you move into ministry, expect to be down, but don’t let it take you out. Don’t let disappointment and discouragement lead you to defeat. This is my personal battle tonight to abstain from letting frustration and disappointment take me off my God calling.
The apostle Paul’s ministry brought difficulties, disappointments, and even discouragement, but he never quit; he never let it take him out of the work that God had called him to do. At the end of his life he was able to write these words in 2 Tim. 4:6-7: “For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!”
Knowing that he would soon be executed by Nero, Paul wrote this final epistle to prepare his protégée Timothy to fulfill and complete his own ministry after the passing of his mentor. Through this letter to his young friend, Paul helps prepare us to meet the difficulties, disappointments, and discouragements of ministry as well.
In this letter Paul advised Timothy to expect disappointing and even discouraging situations in the future.
So how is that encouraging? Why would Paul refer to the difficulties of ministry when Timothy needed encouragement? I suggest that unrealistic expectations are often the cause of later discouragement and even defeat. In order to be truly prepared for ministry in the real world—whether on a church staff, as a layperson, or perhaps as a missionary—we must expect ministry to be often difficult and sometimes discouraging.
Rob Bell describes the problem: “To be this kind of person—the kind who selflessly serves—takes everything a person has. It is difficult. It is demanding. And we often find ourselves going against the flow of those around us.”Perhaps that is why Warren Wiersbe observed: “Depression and discouragement are occupational hazards of the ministry.”
When our expectations are unrealistic, we risk losing hope and giving up! So I ask you: Is wanting to perform a ministry for the population called Ex-offenders unrealistic? I have never seen so many ministries afraid to gain leverage in this populous of individuals until I put hand to plow to perform this task. Maybe I should lay out before God for a longer period of time to get a clear and concise direction as to whom and how I should align myself to obtain victory in this calling. My signals must be twisted or I am just getting a lot of opposition from our enemy.
We expect to plant a church that reaches the twenty-some-things and to be loved by those we serve. Or we read the latest book on the “whatever church” and expect the same results. Then, when these things never happen, or at least not as quickly as we would like, our disappointment becomes discouragement, and we determine that we have failed and should quit. Or we just quit trying.
Craig Brian Larson says: “Unrealistic expectations curtail the joy and often the longevity of ministry. They can cause me to give up either in deed or in heart. I don’t have to resign to quit. I can simply decide this job is impossible and it is foolish to try.”iiIf the Michigan State football team had decided that winning were impossible, it would have taken them out of the game although they would have continued playing.
Instead of telling Timothy to be encouraged because his ministry would be a great success, Paul did just the opposite. In 2 Timothy 1:8 he called Timothy to embrace the same kinds of experiences that he was having: “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, a prisoner for his sake, but by God’s power accept your share of suffering for the gospel.”
What kinds of suffering was Paul calling Timothy to accept and share?
If we had time to study the entire book, we would see that Paul was not only dealing with the difficulty of persecution, but he also faced disappointment with believers who let him down. 1:15 says that everybody in Asia turned away from him. 4:10 mentions that Demas deserted him because he loved the present age, and 4:16 says that all deserted him when he went to court. How discouraging it must have been to look around and see that his co-laborers were no longer there, that his friends were missing in action when the situation became risky!
There were other difficulties as well. Paul warned Timothy about people such as Alexander, Hymaneus, and Philetus who opposed him or strayed from the truth. Ministry was hard; there were people who disappointed him and others who obstructed the work. At the beginning of both chapters 3 and 4 Paul alerted Timothy that things would get even worse in the future.
Hardships confronted Timothy from every side —persecution from outside the church, disappointment with believers—even co-workers, and opposition from within the church. Paul called him to expect them and to be ready to face them.
What about today? What happens in ministry to discourage those of us ministering to others in any capacity? What should you expect in your future ministry?
I asked some co-workers and other friends in ministry this question so that I could help prepare you. In my very unscientific poll, I asked for the 3 most discouraging things in ministry. The #1 answer was disappointment with other Christians. Their lack of commitment, misplaced priorities, self-centered attitudes, and refusal to serve within the church community were very discouraging to those who answered my questions. The conflict and criticism that comes from other believers appears widespread, if those in my survey are representative.
Ranking behind the disappointment with other Christians was the lack of visible fruit in ministry. The people in my friends’ congregations, Bible studies, or small groups act like the rest of the world. It can be hard to believe that God is doing anything when all we can see of the person’s life looks no different year after year.
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