From Heights to Depths
When we choose to live on mission, we realize that discouragement, challenges, and trials are our reality. Think about Elijah in 1 Kings 19. After the prophet has called down fire from heaven, Jezebel threatens him, and he is scared for his life. He runs away and sits down, feeling totally depressed, suicidal, and ready for his life to end. He’s just called down fire from heaven and has seen rain fall from the sky after a famine. Yet here he is saying, “I’m no good.” It’s just like that from almost one verse to the next. This picture from Scripture shouts to me that none of us is beyond getting to this point within our lives and ministries. Elijah hit the point where he was so low, not even wanting to go on—not just with ministry, but with life.
Another picture that comes to mind is a pastor I’ve known for a long time. Before I met him, I’d actually heard about him from other people who had been influenced by his life personally. He had served for over 30 years in one church, and I remember talking with him and asking, “Hey, how are things going?” In his reply, he said, “This has been the hardest year yet.” This was from a pastor who is known for shepherding people on mission, taking the gospel to the nations, and reaching people in the community where he pastors! He said, “There’s been more resistance to mission this year than any I’ve experienced before.” He said this after 30 years in ministry! I remember hearing that and being so discouraged, thinking, Really? After 30 years, doesn’t it get any easier? As soon as that thought came into my mind, I realized how foolish I was to think this was going to be easy at any point.
Led by God’s Love
As long as we are shepherding people with the Word of God on the mission of God in a sinful world, it will never be easy. 1 Kings 19 and this pastor clearly revealed that truth to me, along with this passage in Acts 20. Paul speaks with the Ephesian elders and says in verse 19, “Serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and with trials.” That’s how he described his ministry: humility, tears, and trials. That’s the life of leading in the church. He continues by saying he didn’t shrink back from doing the work God called him to do in the middle of all of that. He said in every city he’d gone into, the Spirit warned him that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him. In verses 22 and 23, God says to us in His Word through Paul, “It will never be easy. Challenges and discouragement will come.”
So, what do we do during these days? I would give you three words of encouragement. Maybe you’re there right now, or perhaps you need to store these words away for when you are there in that place, experiences the depths in your ministry. Remember: this is all the overflow of God’s love for you. That’s what I love about 1 Kings 19. God meets Elijah right where he is and feeds him, saying, “Take a nap, eat, and rest.” We can see the ways God has loved and enabled the aforementioned pastor to persevere, along with the way God enabled and constrained Paul—by His Spirit—to go through what he endured. The same God loves you and meets you, and here’s what He’s doing. Here are your three words of encouragement.
1. God is sanctifying you
First, God is sanctifying you and me through these discouragements and challenges. He’s drawing us closer to Him, humbling us, and conforming us more into the character of Christ. I remember going through one particularly challenging time, and a pastor said to me, “David, just don’t forget that through everything happening in your life, God intends for your sanctification.” That was so helpful for me because it triggered an understanding in me that through even the hard things—the attacks, criticism, and the discouragement—God is drawing me closer to Himself. Let even these challenges you’re facing draw you closer to Him. This is why, in 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul says he can delight in weaknesses because they bring him to greater strength in Him. God is sanctifying you because He loves you.
2. God is sanctifying others
Next, God is sanctifying others. This process of shepherding people to be more like Jesus reveals a spiritual battle going on in your life and in the lives of those around you. You’re waging spiritual war, which is the language we see used in the Bible. Just know that this work of your people being more conformed into the image of Christ won’t come without a battle. God is sanctifying them in this process, all out of His love for them.
3. God is accomplishing His mission in the world
Lastly, God is accomplishing His mission in the world. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The Great Commission says to go and make disciples of all the nations. There is an adversary in this world who doesn’t want disciples to be made among all the nations. And he, along with his minions, will do everything he can to keep you, and me, and the church from making disciples and multiplying churches among all the nations.
Cling to This Hope
So, let’s not be surprised. Let’s press into God and His love for us, and let’s serve Him with humility, and with tears, and through trials knowing that He is accomplishing something within us, around us, and through us in the world that will last forever. All of this will one day lead to a day, to a place, to a time when there is no more sin, no more sorrow, and no more discouragement. We will realize it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.
Published September 4, 2023