Discouraged in Ministry? Here's How to Get Your Joy Back

Are you discouraged in ministry?  If the answer is yes, don't worry...you're in good company.  Most great leaders in ministry have had bouts with discouragement.  One of them was the prophet Elijah.  I was recently reading his story in I Kings 19 and gained some insight about overcoming discouragement.

So...if you're discouraged in ministry....check out these steps that will help you get your joy back.

Realize that ministry is a series of highs and lows.  Do you sometimes find yourself discouraged after a big event?  Or do you ever get the Monday morning blues after a great weekend of ministry?  At a time when you should be bursting with joy, you find yourself dragging?

No...you're not crazy.  In fact, it's perfectly normal.  It happened to Elijah too.  At a time when you'd think he would be happy, he's discouraged.  He's just defeated over 800 false prophets of Baal.  He's just prayed and seen God bring down fire from heaven...he's just experienced a major victory...and now he's ready to quit.

Looks what he says...

"I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”  
1 Kings 19:4

He's being attacked by Jezebel the queen and is running for his life.  He feels defeated, discouraged and depressed to the point where he wants to die.  An extreme high in ministry followed by an extreme low.

That's how it works.  You have the best VBS ever and then a parent complains about something.  You sign up a new volunteer and the next day two of your faithful volunteers quit.  You spend hours preparing a lesson and then the kids say it's boring.  You spend weeks preparing for an event and then someone complains about the one detail you forgot to take care of.  You work hard to improve the ministry and instead of hearing "thanks" you get told about what's not working.

When this happens, realize that the lows normally follow the highs.  It's part of the ebb and flow of ministry.  This will help you keep things in perspective.  It's also wise not to make any rash decisions when you're going through a low time.  Low times tend to muddy your thinking and cloud your judgment. 

Pay attention to your physical needs.  Discouragement can come from simply being physically exhausted.  Elijah had been through a major event and was physically drained.  You can give and give and give until your tank is on E.  A big part of beating discouragement is knowing when it's time to re-coup physically.  Notice what Elijah did.

He rested.  Notice what verse 5 says... 

"Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree."

Notice that God first ministered to Elijah's physical needs.  Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.  Lack of sleep will catch up to you and lead to discouragement.  Make sure you're getting plenty of rest.  You may have to occasionally burn the midnight oil, but if you burn it every night without replenishing it, you will eventually have no oil left to burn. 

He ate.  Eating properly will help you fight off discouragement.  Make sure you are eating healthy meals.  What you put in your body affects how you feel. 

And remember...the best rest is preventative rest.  This means finding a pace that you can run on for the long haul.  This means exercising.  This means getting enough sleep.  This means taking care of yourself physically.  
Be honest with God and tell Him how you're feeling.  God asked Elijah this question in verse 9.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And then He allowed Elijah to vent.  Look what Elijah says in verse 10.

"Elijah replied, 'I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty.  But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too'.”

As a leader, when you're discouraged, you must be selective in who you vent your frustrations to.  Your volunteers are not the ones you should vent to.  Church members are not the ones you should vent to.  If you must vent your frustrations, then talk with the person you report to.  But first and foremost, you should vent to God.  He's always willing to listen to your cries of discouragement.   When you're discouraged, pour out your heart to Him.
Get in God's presence.  Notice what God told Elijah to do in verses 11-12. 

"Then He said, 'Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.'  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice."

More than anything, Elijah needed a fresh encounter with God.  And notice where it was found.  It wasn't in the big wind or the earthquake or the fire.  It was in the gentle whisper of His still, small voice.

You see, the way to beat discouragement is not by rushing into another big event.  The way to beat discouragement is not by attending another grandiose conference with ground-shaking music or fiery keynote speakers or breakout sessions with big ideas.  The way to beat discouragement is not by trying to have another high attendance day.

The way to beat discouragement is by getting alone...like Elijah did...and in that solitude listen to the still, quiet voice of God.  In God's presence, you will find the joy you've lost.  In God's presence, your tank will be re-filled.  In God's presence, you will be encouraged.  In God's presence, you will find your nerves calming, your fears receding, your passion rekindled and your hope restored.

Remember your calling and stay focused on it.  Notice what God tells Elijah to do in verse 15.

"Then the Lord said to him: 'Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria'."

God reminds Elijah of his calling and assignment as a prophet.  He tells him to go and do one of the things prophets do...anoint the king.

When you get discouraged...when you get defeated...when you feel like quitting...go back to your calling.  Remember why you starting doing this in the first place.  You are doing this because God called you and you said "Yes."  It's your purpose.  It's your destiny.  It's why you were put on this earth.  God hasn't changed His mind about you.  Stay on assignment.
Get some help.  Elijah felt like he was alone in ministry.  Look what He told God in verse 10.

"I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

Do you ever feel that way?  Do you feel like you're carrying the entire weight of the ministry you lead?  Do you feel like you're constantly short on volunteers and no one wants to help you.  Do you feel like you don't have the support you need?

Feeling like that can quickly lead to discouragement.  But look what God reminded Elijah of in verses 16-18.

“And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place...yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

God reminded Elijah that He was not in this alone.  He had people prepared to help him.  Elijah just needed to connect with them.

You may be reading this and feel all alone in ministry.  I want you to know today that you are not alone.  The fact you are reading this shows you are not alone.  There are people God has prepared to help you...to encourage you...to lift up your weary arms...to help you carry the weight of the ministry.

God has volunteers prepared to help you in ministry.  God has people ready to come alongside you.  You've just got to ask them and they will say "yes."  

I know what you're thinking.  "I've already asked people and they said 'no'."  This just means you haven't asked the right people.  You see, God has some Elisha's already prepared to help you.  You simply have to ask Him to lead you to those people.  He has divine appointments waiting for you.

This is vital.  If you try to carry the ministry by yourself...
you will constantly get discouraged.  You weren't meant to carry the ministry alone.  You were meant to do ministry with a team.  Here's the key... 

Spend more time sharing the ministry than you do carrying the ministry.  

Shift your thinking from "How much can I do?" to "How much can I empower others to do?"  

Concluding Thoughts...
Everyone gets discouraged at times...I can tell you from personal experience.  But it's what you do with that discouragement that makes the difference.  Don't let discouragement rob you of the great things God has for you and your ministry.  

Remember the highs and lows will come...make time to rest and replenish yourself which includes preventative measures...be honest with God and tell Him how you're feeling...remember your calling...and surround yourself with others who can help you.
Let's beat discouragement and meet one day at the finish line!