What will you do when you get discouraged in ministry? How will you get through seasons when you are hurt, angry or disappointed? I believe that the ancient Hebrew prophet Jeremiah offers us some guidance.
When Jeremiah was just a young man, God called him into a specific ministry role. One of the most famous quotes from the Bible captures this moment.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” -Jeremiah 1:5
We love these words. They speak of God’s knowledge and care. However, when Jeremiah hit a discouraging season of ministry, he did not look back fondly on that call.
You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. -Jeremiah 20:7
Jeremiah felt deceived by God. The reason is that he had just been severely beaten by the head of security at Yahweh’s temple and then put in stocks overnight. All this happened in public. You see, people hated Jeremiah. Even his own friends were hoping for his downfall. He put it like this,
I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.-Jeremiah 20:7-8
Jeremiah is severely disappointed and discouraged. Let’s just say his ministry was overwhelmingly difficult. Now, I’m hoping that your ministry is nowhere near as difficult or discouraging as Jeremiah’s but you will experience seasons of discouragement and disappointment. The question is: What will you do in those seasons? How will you get through the emotional pain and stay engaged emotionally and spiritually? Follow the example of Jeremiah.
3 Things to do When You’re Discouraged in Ministry
Jeremiah felt and expressed his emotions. Take a moment and read through Jeremiah 20:7-10. Jeremiah expresses some very dark emotions. We see this pattern throughout the Scriptures. Moses, David, Elijah, Jesus and many others are very present with their emotions and express them, often in ways that are a little shocking.
There is an important lesson for us here. If you are going to remain healthy in ministry, particularly in the difficult and disappointing seasons, you have to allow yourself to feel. You cannot pretend that you aren’t disappointed, angry, sad or embarrassed. Stuffing down emotions and not processing them will have disastrous consequences later.
Here’s a specific challenge: Find a healthy space to both feel and express your emotions. For me, this process includes daily journaling where I ask myself two questions,
- “What am I feeling?
- “Do I know why?”
This daily discipline helps me identify my emotions, because I’m not the type of person who is naturally aware of his emotions.
In addition, I try to create space to sit with my emotions. This often looks like long bike rides without headphones. Just me, my bike and whatever I’m feeling.
Lastly, I regularly see a Christian counselor who helps me process my thoughts and feelings and also challenges me to process my emotions in healthy ways.
That’s how I feel. The question for you is: How will you actually feel your emotions? This is a necessary part of healthy longevity in ministry.
Jeremiah also talks. He verbalizes his frustrations and does so directly to God. I am consistently amazed at how the Scriptures record God tolerating and even inviting anger and disappointment that is directed at him.
- Moses literally flips out on God. “Did I give birth to all these people?!?”
- Elijah asks God to kill him.
- Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving him
I read this and I’m like, “Can you do that?” But again, I am learning that this is the necessary and healthy way to process the darker emotions of life. God invites it.
In ministry, you will be disappointed. You will be frustrated. There will be times that you doubt your calling. There will be times that you feel let down by God. Talk to him about it. Follow the example of Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah and others. There is an entire genre of literature in the Bible devoted to this. It’s called lament.
If you are going to survive and thrive in ministry, learn the art of lament.
Jeremiah accuses God of deceiving him, but he also expresses trust.
But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. -Jeremiah 20:11
Almost all the lament psalms end with something like, “And yet, I will trust you.” Jeremiah expresses the same thing. You would think that expressing anger or disappointment directly to God is the opposite of trust, but it’s not. It’s possible, and actually healthy to be honest with our emotions and continue to trust God.
If you are traveling through a difficult season of ministry, my encouragement to you is to maintain your trust in God. He is good. He is with you. He is for you.
Where do you need to trust God right now? Is it a decision? Is it a conflict with a person where you’re tempted to take revenge into your own hands rather than trusting that God will vindicate? Is it his goodness? Nothing makes sense right now and it feels like God has left you hanging. Where do you need to trust God right now?
Sometimes it helps to choose something smaller and unrelated to the tumultuous emotions you are feeling—choose to trust God in that space. It’s good practice for the tumultuous space.
Some of us are in a difficult and disappointing space right now. The rest of us will be there eventually. The way that we can continue to thrive in ministry in this space is by following the example of Jeremiah—feel, talk and trust.