Ministry is challenging whether you are paid or volunteer. It doesn’t matter if you spend a few hours a week ministering to others or it seems like your days are an endless stream of ministry demands. It doesn’t even matter whether or not others consider your ministry efforts as “successful”. Satan will find any way he can to discourage you.
Satan knows he doesn’t necessarily have to get you to completely stop ministering to others, although I’m sure that’s his ultimate goal. Satan is happy if he can just distract you so that you aren’t as responsive or productive as you might normally be. And Satan can be so subtle with his tricks, you may not even know what’s happening until you suddenly realize you are discouraged or perhaps on the verge of depression or giving up entirely.
In the perfect church that God planned, discouragement wouldn’t be an issue. Other Christians would be constantly encouraging us and listening to us actively as we work through our ministry issues. Unfortunately, we are all human and very few churches have emphasized encouragement enough. Most likely you feel as if you don’t have even one “Barnabas” in your life. You may have even been proactive in asking for several Christians to regularly support and encourage you. The intent may have been there, but the resulting execution was not even close to what you need. In reality, the very act of trying to find encouragers can be discouraging.
If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone. I speak to people everywhere who minister to others in all sorts of ways…most of them volunteering their time…and pretty much everyone feels that way most of the time.
So where does that leave you? It may seem selfish to want encouragement, but since God commanded Christians to encourage one another, He knows we need it. So when it seems like just you and God in your ministry and you are discouraged, what can you do to encourage yourself? It will take a bit of trial and error, because each of us is slightly different, but here are some things I have found that help me when I get discouraged.
- Admit it. Sometimes our discouragement worsens, because we try to deny it. I’ve learned the hard way that as soon as I start feeling discouraged, the best thing I can do is to admit it to God in prayer. I’ve even gotten bold enough to specifically ask that He send me some tiny bit of encouragement. Whenever I have prayed that prayer, I usually get some bit of encouragement within 24 hours or less, and usually from some place so odd that I know it was the answer to my prayer.
- Sleep on it. When I get really discouraged, I find praying and crying myself to sleep and then sleeping until I naturally wake up does wonders for my outlook. Often discouragement is just disguised exhaustion. Catching up on your sleep can make a real difference. The crying and praying also help release all of those pent up emotions.
- Go lose yourself in something new and beautiful for a day or two. What that something is will depend on your personal tastes. I prefer a short trip to a new place or wondering through a museum. It’s my version of Philippians 4:8….focusing on things that are praiseworthy for a day or two. Discouragement is usually accompanied by a lot of negativity. Often that negativity is from others and you can’t control it. That outside negativity is contagious though, and eventually we begin thinking negatively ourselves and surround ourselves with entertainment that reinforces our glum outlook. Changing everything around us to something beautiful, positive and praiseworthy for a day or two can help snap our brains out of a negative mindset. (This works best if you also ignore email and other communications during this detox time.)
- Remind yourself why you are ministering to others. Most people minister to others because they are passionate about God and sharing His words with others. Discouragement can kill passion. Take a day or two and immerse yourself in scripture and prayer. Find a place to do it that makes you feel peaceful and close to God. Read your favorite passages, Psalms, the Gospels, Acts or James. Have long conversations with God. Meditate on a scripture that captures you as you read it. Memorize a few key verses. Rediscover that passion for God.
- Bake a cake. Okay, for most of us extra sugar is not helpful. What does help is creating something and doing something you enjoy. Cooking and knitting relax me. So does reading. Find a hobby that calms you. It’s even better if the hobby produces something tangible at the end. Our creativity is a reflection of God, the Creator and tapping in to it can help reconnect us to who God created us to be…people who create.
- Change the tunes. Music impacts our moods. If you find you haven’t been listening to music or have been listening to slow tunes, pick up the beat. The genre is a personal choice, but try to pick tunes that are more upbeat in whatever type of music you prefer. You should find your mood and energy levels improve fairly quickly.
- Learn something new. Sometimes discouragement is actually boredom…being stuck in a rut. The French call it ennui…a state of mind not unlike kids when they say every suggestion you have for relieving their boredom is boring. Learning something new…no matter what it is…can shake off those cobwebs. Pick something that has always interested you. It doesn’t matter how well you master the subject, the very act of breaking out of the rut can leave you feeling more positive and energized.
- Check your gifts. It is not uncommon for people to be asked to minister in ways for which God has not gifted them. God gave you gifts to develop and use to serve Him. He has good works He has planned for you in advance. He may call you for a season to perform a task for which you are not particularly gifted and in which you have little interest, but it is for a season. If you know your ministry doesn’t reflect your gifts and interests, find a replacement to perform your roles and start ministering in the areas in which God created you to minister. It may be to the same group of people, but serving a different function or it may be to a different group of people. The important thing is that you are serving others and sharing your faith.
If you try all of these ideas and still feel discouraged and/or depressed, it’s probably a good idea to talk with your doctor. Sometimes people need medical help because their feelings have roots in a physical issue. Your doctor may suggest counseling. Try to find a counselor who is Christian or at least empathetic to Christian principles. Whatever route you take, don’t allow yourself to stay in a discouraged state of mind. It’s not good for you or the Kingdom.