If you have been in the ministry for very long you have felt like quitting. Normally this happens after a bad weekend! I know I have felt like quitting many times in my ministry. I have felt like quitting after a bad stretch of ministry in which things did not go like I wanted them to. I have felt like quitting after someone close to me left the church or when I felt hurt by someone’s actions. Sometimes I have felt like quitting simply because I was tired. The ministry can be exhausting. I think every time I have ever felt like quitting I was battling discouragement. It may come as a shock to you that pastors and spiritual leaders battle discouragement and feel like quitting. But we do.
I believe the more you do for God the greater the enemy tries to distract, discourage, deceive, and derail you. He knows that if he can get you to quit, then it will negatively impact many others. I believe this is not only true for pastors, but also for any person who decides to commit to serve God through a local church. The more committed you are and the more faithfully you serve, the greater the challenges will be. The greater the discouragement can be because the stakes are greater.
I am writing this blog for all who serve. This is for pastors, for church leaders, and for volunteers who make it happen week in and week out. When you feel like quitting, don’t! Here is how to deal with those inevitable times that you feel like quitting.
In 1 Kings 18-19 we have the story of how Elijah overcame his discouragement and desire to quit. Elijah was a prophet in ancient Israel. He battled widespread idolatry. Ahab was Israel’s king and was married to Jezebel. They were both wicked. Elijah called out Ahab for his sins and Ahab became very angry and tried to kill Elijah. To condense the story, there was a long drought because of God’s judgment. Elijah called 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah and challenged them to see whose God was really God by calling down fire from heaven to consume their sacrifice. God sent fire on Elijah’s sacrifice and then he had the false prophets killed. It was an amazing scene. Elijah called Israel back to worship Jehovah and God sent rain again.
Right after this victory Jezebel sent word to Elijah that she was going to kill him. He ran for his life. He became so afraid and fearful that he even asked God to kill him! He just wanted to quit. He hid in a cave. During this time God sent an angel to feed him and to tell him to rest. Then God spoke to Elijah through a whirlwind, an earthquake, and fire. Elijah heard the “still, small voice” of God and he decided not to quit. I really encourage you to read the story for yourself. I want to point out a few elements of the story for you to consider.
1. Discouragement happens when we listen to the wrong voices.
Elijah got discouraged when he listened to Jezebel rather than God. It is really easy to listen to the wrong voices. They are all around us. As a pastor, it is easy to hear the criticism of a few and think that everybody is out to get you. Elijah told God that he was the only one in all of Israel that truly wanted to serve him. Of course that was not the case but it felt like things were falling apart because he listened to the wrong voices. Make sure you listen to the right voices.
2. Discouragement happens when we isolate ourselves.
After this great victory Elijah decided that he did not need others. He left his servant and went into the wilderness by himself. That was a big mistake. When you feel like quitting you need people around you more than ever. You must not isolate yourself. That is why the community of a small group or a service group is so important. If you feel discouraged don’t isolate yourself and try to handle it alone. Talk to someone. Get help. Don’t try to go it alone.
3. Discouragement happens when we don’t take care of our bodies and souls.
I really believe one of the biggest causes of Elijah’s discouragement was that he was tired. Ministry work is incredibly rewarding but it can be exhausting. Sometimes we need rest. God sent an angel to feed Elijah and told him to sleep. That may not sound very spiritual but it is important. You need to take care of yourself. You need to eat properly. You need rest. Sometimes the greatest thing you can do for your soul is to simplify your schedule. Elijah could not hear God’s voice because he was in such bad physical condition.
4. Discouragement happens when we fail to understand tests, trials, and refining.
God sent a whirlwind, an earthquake, and fire to get Elijah’s attention. Then he spoke to him in a “still, small voice.” A whirlwind is a storm, a test. The storms of life are often sent by God to draw our attention back to him. You will have storms in life. Do not let them derail you but let them draw you closer to God. An earthquake upsets the foundations of life. Let your foundation be built on Jesus rather than your job, your relationships, or your health. Fire often represents the presence of God. It is meant to refine you. Gold is useless unless it is refined by fire. Don’t see trials, tests, and refining as punishment from God but as necessary elements to draw you closer to God’s voice.
5. Discouragement happens when we fail to remember our purpose.
Twice in this story God asked Elijah a probing question. He asked, “Why are you here?” That powerful question must be asked often. It is the mission of your life. It is your purpose in life. Remembering your call and purpose will empower you to face storms, earthquakes, and refining fires. It will cause you to stay in the game.
Hearing the voice of God…
How did Elijah get back in the game? How did he avoid quitting even after he became so discouraged that he wanted to die?
After God got his attention he told him, “Go back…” That did not mean to live in the past but to remember the times when God called him and blessed him. Elijah needed to rekindle his joy. So do we. Laugh. Enjoy life. Enjoy life in Christ. Remember the joy.
It was also a call to get reconnected. We are not meant to live the Christian life alone. We are not meant to serve alone. Get connected to friends, mentors, and colleagues.
It is a call to get refreshed. Rest. Read. Change your schedule. Do whatever it takes to get the passion back.
Ultimately God told Elijah to stay in the game. He is calling you and me to stay in the game as well. When I feel like quitting I have to get to the bottom of the discouragement and face the truth. God has called me to serve. I have to go back and rekindle and rediscover the joy and the refreshing voice of God. That is not always easy but it is always essential.
Just in case you are wondering about the title of the article, I plan to stay in the game. God is not finished with me yet. Neither is he finished with you.