Elijah. A Series of Responses: Loneliness in Ministry

This is my last in the series of responses to discouragement. It is rather lengthy, but I hope you take the time to read this final portion.

1 Kings 19:15-21

My response:

Elijah struggled. Doubt, discouragement, and weariness plagued him. After all, he was human, just like we are. And we, just like Elijah, will struggle. For instance:

  • We want to know that our ministries are successful and growing.
  • We want a definitive answer of where God is calling us and who He is calling us to be.
  • We want to feel confident, appreciated, beloved, and important.
  • We want to see the fruit from our labor quickly, multiplying numbers in our ministries, and to never feel lonely or overwhelmed in the journey.
  • We want to feel good enough and sometimes, superior.

O human nature, how easily you betray! Still, not all of this is bad or good.

It simply just IS.

We may wade (or drown) through such situations, but we should never be DRIVEN by these insecurities, doubts, and/or personal agendas.

It should not be the desire for our advancement that drives us. Rather, it should be the pursuit of intimacy with God, the revelation of His glorious love and the advancement of His kingdom driving us, allowing radical trust, immovable focus, and intentional faith in action to cultivate in our hearts. (A Stephens)

There will be obstacles, challenges, and struggles. However, there is hope beyond the nature of our humanity. You see, human nature may be our natural, but we are not subject to it;  we are set free from it by divine grace. O divine grace that strengthens, empowers, heals, and transforms! May we always call upon the compassion of the Lord, asking, taking…receiving.

Take a moment here and fill in the blank.

God, give ,me grace to ____________

(For me, grace to fast, grace to forgive, grace to let go, grace to restrain)

Moving on…..

Elijah needed a friend; the core of his complaint before God was that he was alone. In His compassion, God let Elijah know that there was a man ready to be discipled, and to be his companion.  Elisha was chosen to be the successor to Elijah’s prophetic office, ensuring that the work would continue on , even after Elijah’s parting. What hope this must have inspired in Elijah!  A kinship provided by God and such a sweet remedy for Elijah’s loneliness.

How many times have I cried out to God in my loneliness, despair, grief and fear ? I can’t count how many times, yet I know it has not been enough. Moreover, the more I pursue God’s heart, the more I realize that this “leadership” thing actually has nothing to do with the lonely and burdensome valleys of ministry.

No, the loneliness and despair comes to all of us, sometimes in small prods and tiny nudges and sometimes in rolling waves. It comes, not because of God or our position, but because the clashing of the natural and the spiritual,  the world and the kingdom, and our hearts against God’s heart is real and happening; It is war, a real live battlefield, my friends.

The sheer fact is that the radical pursuit of God can result in loneliness, whether we are pastoring, serving under the pastor, or doing everything we can  to make into the door of church once a week. So, you see, the question is not whether loneliness will come. Rather, the question is, “how do we confront loneliness in ministry?”

  • Do we deny it? Do we refuse to acknowledge it? Do we hide our struggle, refusing to let others see what we deem as weak?
  • Or do we acknowledge it ?
  • And then, do we ask for prayer? Do we enter into prayer ourselves, making the time to be STILL before God?
  • Do we listen, wait, and rest in the presence of the Lord?
  • Do we take from His strength, renew ourselves in His word, and pour out our heart in worship before Him?

I want to say, “Yes, yes to it all!” But the truth is that sometimes,  I’ve done nothing (except deny). And than, there have been times where I’ve done half of the above:  deny, acknowledge, ask for prayer, and pray. But even then, in doing just half, I’ve  neglected the most crucial part of the fight.

Waiting. Listening. Receiving. Renewing. Worshipping.

I’m not proud, yet I’m not ashamed. How can I be ashamed when those failing moments allowed me to fully understand the beauty of God’s grace? Scandalous and undeserved, yet it is given freely and extravagantly. The depression and loneliness, oh it comes! But God’s grace allows me to have a fighting chance.

And,for that I am thankful.

All too well, I know the shock and awe of seemingly perpetual solitude that can come from pursuing God in wholehearted obedience. I see it coming from a mile away, like when I have to make an unpopular decision, address failed expectations,  steer my team into unfamiliar territory, or even when I take a stand against the cruel discrimination that I’ve witnessed in many “Christians” and churches alike.

Like swimming in the ocean alone, a storm approaching, violent waves swelling, and currents forthcoming, I feel at times.

I cannot help but picture this scene in my mind. The picture paints itself ominously. A storm approaching, a familiar one that I’ve known, and yet I pray that I will not turn and run. I pray that I will wait, that I will be emboldened to fight, and disciplined to stand firm. I pray that I will be equipped for victory. And though the storm approaching will surely move to disarm me, I PRAY that I will allow God to guide my hands, my heart, and my words into battle. 

I have this picture given to us by my father-in-law. It is a ship from the time of Columbus. Sailing the ocean blue, it depicts the ship and it’s sailors sailing right off the end of a very flat world.  Doesn’t life often feel that way?  (I actually found the painting online here.)

Did you know that:

 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!  Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. James 5:17-18:

Elijah is considered to be a mighty man of God. He prayed and God listened; He moved and God moved through him. He became exhausted, weary, lonely, and questioned God. In return God gave him rest, ministered to his spiritual and physical weaknesses, strengthened him, answered him AND equipped him for the work remaining.

Elijah is not so different from us.. We are not so different from Elijah. God loves us the same and desires our hearts the same.

Are you weary?

Lonely?

Discouraged?

Doubtful?

Questioning?

Unburden yourself to God and HE will listen.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28


And finally, worship.

PRAY.

In times of trouble, worship.

PRAY. 

There is no quicker way into God’s presence.


A. Stephens.

 

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