Encouragement for Discouraged Pastors: The Example of Elijah
Over the weekend a friend noted he is observing the anniversary of his ordination and said that he wishes he felt just as optimistic and idealistic as he did on the day he was ordained. I offered a couple of platitudes and words of encouragement, but felt I didn’t do the situation justice. I know I did not. Then today in the Treasury of Daily Prayer I noted that we are commemorating the prophet Elijah. And I immediately thought of my friend, who, like many pastors—no make that, most—no, scratch that—make that all pastors—feels discouraged, pessimistic, cynical and disheartened, from time to time. Pastors, you know what I’m talking about. But not only pastors, all Christians feel these things.
If anyone tells a pastor that he will simply always be the model of optimism, never down-in-the-dumps, and never feeling worn out, exhausted, and as if the whole world is against him, well, they obviously have never met our friend, Elijah. Here was a man who had a direct and personal encounter with the living God, receiving more personal attention from God, in a miraculous manner, than most any human being, before or since. He was a great worker of miracles. Surely, with such a calling, such an “ordination,” if you will, Elijah would never after be discouraged, disheartened or cast down in spirit. But, of course, he was.
Here was a man who was now in fear for his life, chased after by a wicked queen whom he had disrespected with his preaching. [God's Word has a way of doing that, you know, no matter how kindly we speak it]. He went up against angry prophets of Baal. He was stuck in the wilderness. He was on the point of starvation. So discouraged was Elijah that he basically said, “Lord, I give up. I’ve had it. There is no more point in going on. Nobody listens to me. Nobody listens to you. There are no more people left worth preaching to. Lord, just let me die. Please. Let me die.” Then Elijah gets angry, “Listen, Lord, I’ve done everything you’ve told me to do. I keep preaching to these ungrateful, unfaithful people. They don’t change. I’m sick and tired of them. I’m sick and tired of the mission and the ministry you’ve given me. What more do you want me to do? They don’t listen to me. They don’t listen to you. I’ve had it Lord!”
And it was at this very moment that Lord revealed Himself again to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12), through the still small voice which assured Elijah of several realities: (1) The Lord is in charge, not Elijah; (2) There are faithful men and women left; (3) Elijah’s job is not to “fix” everything, but to keep on being faithful to his calling: teach, preach and never give up! The Lord speaks to Elijah and comforts him. And he does the same for us all in the still small voice that we hear today when we receive the Word of Christ in the Gospel. It is not going to split mountains, we won’t be comforted that way. It’s not going to come in an “earthquake” experience. No, the Lord’s still small voice comes to us today, as it came to Elijah, assuring and comforting, strengthening and equipping. “Listen, Pastor, the ministry is mine, not your’s. I’ve given you a part of it, for a while. I’ve called you to this task. It is my Word you are preaching and teaching and speaking. You teach. You preach. You encourage. Then, leave results in my hand. You know what I’ve already told you in my Word. It never returns to me without having accomplished the task for which I have sent it, through you.”
I love the line where the Lord finds Elijah hiding out in the cave and says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13). Is perhaps the Lord asking you the same question? “What are you doing here?” Consider this. What are you doing focused on the negatives in your life? What are you doing fearful and trembling in a cave of your own choosing, perhaps your own making? The Lord let Elijah have a time out and then sent put Elijah back on his feet and sent him back out, assuring Elijah of his faithfulness and mercy. And the Lord does the same for you. He speaks to you still in the still small voice of the good news of Christ: “Remember, I’ve called you. I’ve put my name on you in Baptism. I’ve forgiven all your sins. Every single one. Even those you are ashamed to speak aloud. I know them. I forgive them.” The Lord feeds us, not with ravens, but with the feeding by which we receive the Bread of Life, the very same body and blood given and shed on the cross, is put into our mouths by our Lord. Good words put into our ears. Good water splashed on us. Good food given.
This message applies, of course, to all Christians when they face struggles and difficulties in life. But those who are not pastors, who are reading this, would you please make it a point of offering a word of encouragement to your pastor? Send him a hand written note. Tell him what his ministry means to you and your family. Assure your pastor you are praying for him, and then actually do it: pray for him. The Lord will use you to offer encouragement to your pastor.