Anyone who has served as a pastor of God’s church knows from experience that pastoring is hard work. What makes it harder is that we sometimes face discouragement in our work. This could happen when our efforts in evangelism bear no fruit, when people we invest in show no signs of growth, when sin ensnares people we thought could join the ministry, or when we see other people living comfortably while we barely have enough to make ends meet. We are usually able to take such discouragements in our stride, but there are times when they weigh us down. In those moments, we might wonder why we are doing what we do. A sense of despair might creep into trouble us, at least for a while. Everything we do might seem like “vanity” as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it. So, when can this happen? At least two situations come to my mind as I think about this.
First, it can happen when we take our eyes off what the Lord is doing in and through our lives. We tend to forget things quickly, especially the good and positive things. And we as pastors are no exceptions. We sometimes fail to see the hand of God in our lives, because we focus on what our hands are doing. And at times, the outcome of the work of our hands might not seem satisfactory to us. Moreover, we might only think about the bad things that happened to us or the good things that did not happen in our lives. All these might discourage us and lead us into depression, and even cause us to question the value of our work.
Secondly, It can also happen when we not only remove our eyes from the Lord, but also when we fix our gaze at the world and what it offers. It can be simple things like that new smartphone with extra features, or a comfortable sofa set, or an expensive car which we cannot afford. These might draw our attention away from the Lord as we obsess over them. “When others are enjoying these things, why not me?” we might wonder. There is no end to “wants” in this world! Truly, looking at the prosperity of the people of this world, pastors may sometimes think, like Asaph in Psalm 73, that everything they do is just in vain. They might feel that they are missing out on a lot in life while others are enjoying everything they want.
So, it is when we forget to look back and see how the Lord providentially led us thus far, or when we begin to desire the fleeting pleasures of this world, that we are led down the path of discouragement. This could cause us to forget the Biblical teaching on the cost of Christian ministry, or even cause us to doubt God’s goodness towards us.
I would like to remind us, and especially to those of us who are struggling, of three things to encourage our hearts. I offer these reminders as a pastor who goes through times of discouragement and who needs to be reminded of these things as much as anyone else:
1. Remember that we are not alone in this journey.
We have a rich Christian history with people who have made huge sacrifices to serve the Lord, though those sacrifices are nothing compared to that ultimate sacrifice on that cross that Jesus offered. We are not the first ones or the only ones to face discouragement while serving God’s people. Today’s evangelists, pastors and missionaries all stand on the shoulders of the Apostles, the early church fathers, the Reformers and others who went before us finishing the race by keeping the faith to take up the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:7).
2. Remember that everything in this world is temporal.
Someday, this present world and all its fleeting pleasures will pass away. We need to proactively remind ourselves that the worldly things we run after, which look so real, and promise so much, will not endure forever. Only God and His kingdom will remain forever. So, even though we may not be able to reap physical rewards, or see immediate results, all the work we put into serving God and his people will not go in vain. What a joy it will be, in that new world, to look back and see all that we did had eternal consequences in the kingdom, by the grace of God. Truly, it is one of the greatest privileges to serve the Lord on this side of eternity.
3. Remember that faithfulness is the goal.
Someone has rightly observed that on that final day the Lord will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” and not “Well done good and successful servant” (Matt. 25:23). As people called by God to take part in God’s mission, what we need to aim in ministry is to be faithful to God, His word and His people, and to leave the results and statistics to Him. The Lord in his due time, and according to his good and perfect will, will bring the fruit of our labour.
So, whatever might be the problem or the situation, we can still stay encouraged as we remember that we are not alone, that everything that we see is temporal, and that we don’t have to worry too much about the immediate results in ministry even while we work hard. God knows our situations and he is in total control of them. So, let us rest in His sovereignty and continue to serve Him faithfully alongside others who are on this same journey. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and let us find encouragement in his presence with us till the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
Charles P. Thaluri serves as the pastor at Symrna Bible Church. Hyderabad, Telangana.