Discouragement is universal to leadership.
Every leader, no matter how seasoned or successful, faces moments of despair. “Can I get through this challenge?” “When is this tough stretch going to be over?” “Am I the right guy/gal for the job?” These kinds of questions periodically cross every leader’s mind. Some pastors, for example, are discouraged about not having enough leaders and workers. Others are discouraged about the church’s cash flow. Some pastors are discouraged with their attendance trajectory.
Extended seasons of discouragement can cause leaders to doubt their calling, capability, and value. Some even exit ministry due to a growing sense of hopelessness.
I love how real the bible is when it comes to this subject. It’s full of true stories about men and women who battled discouragement. When you read these accounts, you learn the pretty quickly that even when you have an awesome calling from God, it doesn’t immunize you from discouragement.
Elijah was called by God to be a prophet. In 1 Kings 19 he was a key figure in one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s power in history—a dramatic confrontation with the prophets of Baal, ending in fire from heaven that consumed the animal sacrifices on the altar—proving the God of Israel was the one true God.
John the Baptist saw heaven open when he baptized Jesus. He witnessed with his own eyes the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove, and heard with his own ears the audible voice of God the Father.
Elijah and John had incredible callings and powerful ministries and amazing experiences, but if you know their story, you understand they struggled at least once with severe discouragement. At one point, Elijah was so down he asked God to kill him, and John the Baptist was so discouraged he sent his followers to ask Jesus: “Are you really the Messiah?”
Understanding God’s call on your life and getting to live out that calling is fulfilling. Doing what you love to do, are gifted to do, and are passionate about is amazing. But calling, gifting, and passion don’t exempt us from discouraging seasons.
So, what can you do when this inevitable enemy pushes its unwelcome presence into your life? Let me share four secrets to beating discouragement:
1. Take the long view
Every leader has a bad day occasionally. The temptation to obsess over what’s going wrong today can make you think tomorrow will be the same. When a lousy day happens, when people disappoint you, when you disappoint you, keep running your race. God has called you to a marathon, not a sprint. Take the long view. By the way, discouragement may actually be proof you’re on a path the devil is worried about.
2. Take the rear view
Take a step back for a moment and look at how far you’ve come. Celebrate your progress. Thank God for all the open doors, the wins, the learning points, and the lives touched. I suspect you’ll find yourself encouraged.
When King David was at a low point in his calling—so low in fact his men wanted to whack him (I’m 50% Italian . . . so when I say whack, you know what I mean)—the Scripture tells us David encouraged himself in the Lord. When I get discouraged, I open my prayer journal and read entries describing how God has answered prayers or provided miraculously, and discouragement starts to loosen its grip.
3. Take the upward view
Father God is the ultimate encourager. He is walking beside you in your calling, even when the seas get choppy, and you feel alone. He is actively working to bring growth both in you and through you. Look for what God is trying to teach you in the challenging seasons. Spend time fixing your heart and mind on Him. On His sufficiency. His power. His propensity for abundance toward you. Remember your name is written in the book of life. Everything else is gravy.
4. Take the side view
When discouragement darkens your door and you can’t shake it, call on trusted friends to come alongside you. Find a mentor. The devil wants to isolate you so he can crush you. Don’t play his game. Choose community instead.
Healthy relationships give you clearer perspective. When you share a burden with a trusted friend or mentor, you often see the situation more accurately. When you try to carry it on your own, discouragement can take over, and grow out of proportion to reality. According to a Barna Study published in January 2017, 66% of lead pastors in the United States have no close friends. If we want to beat discouragement, we need trusted people journeying alongside us.
Elijah and John the Baptist had incredible callings. God used them powerfully to influence people. They’ve been revered throughout history as prime examples of what it means to follow the purpose of God for your life. And they both experienced occasional bouts of significant discouragement.
If you’re suffering similarly today, you’re in good company. Take the long view, the rear view, the upward view, and the side view. And you’ll put discouragement where it belongs—under your feet.
I’m rooting and praying for you!