Being a leader or ministry volunteer can be very rewarding and fulfilling. It can also be a source of frustration and extra stress. In other words, ministry can be very draining – spiritually, emotionally and physically. What are some of your frustrations?
Come on, I give you permission to have an official approved "whinge session" - just for a few minutes! Make your own list. Okay, so there's occasional poor attendance at meetings, difficult people, time pressures, periods of no numerical growth, financial pressures, criticism, low commitment and conflict, just to name a few. These things all add up and often they're enough to discourage even the most motivated person and to even push us to the point of wanting to quit.
As we read the Bible, we see a wonderful honesty and vulnerability from God's leaders. They openly share both the joys and the pressures of ministry. Just ask Paul, Peter or James!
What were some of Paul's pressures and frustrations? Persecution (such as beatings, riots, imprisonments, floggings, getting stoned – with real stones, that is), life-threatening situations (such as getting shipwrecked, being in danger, cold and naked, hungry and thirsty), sleepless nights, slander and lies from opponents, false doctrine and immorality in the church, along with defection of team members, just to name a few (see 2 Cor.6:3-10; 7:5-6; 11:23-29; 17:7-10. 2 Tim.3:10-12).
How did Paul respond to these pressures? He refused to quit or give up (2 Cor.4:8-9,16-18). He said, "None of these things move me" (Acts 20:24. NKJV). He determined to "stay the course" and finish the race God had given him to run (Acts 20:22-24. See also 2 Cor.7:5-6).
When I compare my list with Paul's, it makes me realise that my problems aren't as bad as I thought they were! More importantly, the fact that he persevered in the face of such difficult obstacles motivates me to do the same.
Let's make a few observations about "pressure":
- As Christians, and especially as leaders, we should expect times of pressure and difficulty in life and ministry. Jesus never said that life or ministry would be easy, so we shouldn't be surprised by various kinds of trials (Mt.24:9-13. Jn.16:33. Acts 14:22. 1 Peter. 4:12).
- The test of a leader's true character is often seen by how they respond under pressure or during times of crisis (see Jn.10:11-13). The call to be strong and courageous is only tested in the face of overwhelming odds and seemingly insurmountable challenges. Ask Joshua! We live in challenging times. We must be "determined and resolute" and we must "stay the course", keeping a firm hand on the helm of our ship and stay the course that the Lord has given us at this time. Don't turn back, don't give up, don't get off course and don't get shipwrecked. Stay the course, despite storms along the way.
- "Hard times" have the potential to make us stronger as men and women or God, if we respond correctly to them. They stretch us beyond our current capacity (2 Cor.1:8). They cause us to realise our total dependence on God (2 Cor.1:8-9). They help us appreciate the difficulties that others experience, often resulting in greater empathy and compassion (2 Cor.1:3-7). They help us learn things we would not learn without, such as patience (James 1:2-8). James tells us to consider it "pure joy" when we face trials of many kinds. Why? Because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. You can't be mature without having a spirit of perseverance that refuses to quit or give up. This enduring quality is the mark of maturity. Once you have this, you are complete, not lacking anything. Immaturity demands for everything to go well all the time and for no delays! The only thing that produces perseverance is the testing of our faith. Things like delays, contradictions, unanswered prayers and disappointments. Untested faith will not develop this important quality. Therefore, we should so value perseverance that we consider it a joy when we go through trials that test our faith! Joy is only possible if we keep the end in mind (Heb.12:1-2). It's a bit like "enjoying" a scary roller coaster ride – the joy comes from knowing how it will end!
So don't pray for an easy road. Pray to be a strong person! God wants you to have the quality of "persistence", which means refusing to give up especially when faced with opposition; to continue insistently even during difficult and discouraging circumstances; to endure, to remain; to continue doing something in spite of difficulty or opposition. God wants you to have "determination", which means purposing to accomplish God's goal in God's time regardless of the opposition. He also wants you to have "endurance", which means not to loose heart; to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes and troubles; the ability to last.
Okay, let's get practical. How can we receive the power to persevere?
- Know that God has called you (2 Tim.1:9)! If he has called you, then he wants you to succeed, not to fail (Is.41:10).
- Understand that God loves you and his love is not based on your performance or positive circumstances (Rom.5:8; 8:35-39).
- Believe that God is in control, that he is fully aware of your situation and that he will bring something good out of your current situation (Rom.8:28). God knows, God cares and he is willing to help you through. Trust in God.
- Ask God for wisdom as to how you should respond (Jam.1:5). Be solution orientated. Don't just focus on the problem or the negative situation. Look to God for an answer and a positive outcome.
- Pray for God's strength. Know that his grace is "sufficient" or more than enough for what you are going through right now (2 Cor.12:7-10).
- Share your need with faith-filled friends (2 Cor.7:5-6). People rarely quit simply because of adversity, but rather because of the lack of encouragement during times of adversity.
- Continue doing good (1 Cor.15:58). God wants active perseverance, not passive indifference!
David's had many mighty warriors who did exploits beyond him (see 2 Sam.23:8-23. 1 Chron.11:11-47). One raised his spear against 800 men and killed them all. Another stood his ground against the Philistines when all the men of Israel retreated. He kept fighting even until his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. Another one named Shammah took his stand in the middle of a field of lentils, even when Israel's troops fled. He defended it and struck down the Philistines, God helping him bring about a great victory.
They were "mighty" because of their courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and in their ability to persevere (not give up) even under intense attack. It mentions nothing about their size of physical strength, only about their intense tenacity and great courage.
Sometimes, it's easy to quit and give up. Have the courage, determination and commitment to finish. Yes, God may be leading you into a different season but make sure it is God and not just a spirit of discouragement that is causing you to throw in the towel. The Christian life is a marathon, not a 100-metre sprint. It's not how fast you run, but how long you last. Go for it! The church and the world need you. All of heaven is cheering you on. Please, don't quit!
1 Corinthians 15:58. Therefore, my dear brothers (and sisters!), stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. NIV