Discouragement is a plague among pastors. It easily destroys the joy or enthusiasm God’s leaders have after the completion of a goal, a great response by the church to a strong challenge, or to a new insight to God’s Word. The positive effect of a great sermon can be turned to discouragement by a single negative comment.
The prophet Elijah was no different. At one point he sank so low that he wanted to die. Do you find yourself headed down this slippery slope? If so, glean from Elijah (1 Kings 19) these traps to avoid.
The enemy trap
Many things were going right for Elijah, yet the prophet obsessed over one trouble spot. He caved into fear and ran for his life because wicked Queen Jezebel wanted to take his life.
Although most people like and support their pastor, there are always naysayers mingling about. A few might even wish we’d move on. We should love them, pray for them, talk with them, avoid them when necessary—but not obsess over them.
The comparison trap
Elijah’s second mistake surfaces through his claim, “I am no better than my ancestors” (vs. 4). Rather than focus on God and His call, the prophet fretfully measured himself against the behavior and performance of others.
Things usually aren’t as glorious as people want us to believe. The age of social media has amplified this illusion. The enemy specializes in bringing to our attention those smarter, prettier, thinner, wealthier, and seemingly more successful than we are.
The blame trap
Elijah took it personally when the Israelites stumbled, blaming himself for failing to bring about change.
The same tendency hounds us today. As ministers, we shouldn’t shoulder burdens God never intended us to carry. We wonder what we did or didn’t do to cause that person to avoid us, stop giving, quit attending, or leave to join another church.
The pity trap
Elijah held a little pity party for himself. “I am the only one left” (vs. 10) he moaned, yet seven thousand faithful remained (vs. 18). He thought the world was against him when in reality the threat came from a single person.
While playing the victim generates temporary sympathy, it won’t produce the long-term results desired. Opt instead to apply God’s remedies.
Take care of your physical needs
Elijah’s emotional struggles stemmed at least in part from physical deficiencies. Hunger and fatigue kept him from thinking clearly.
Baseball legend Mickey Mantle did not expect to live past 40. His grandfather and father died by that age. Mantle, who abused his body with alcohol for 43 years, reflected at 62, “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Although I don’t always eat right, I’m determined not to be the stereotypical, unhealthy preacher. I ran for years. Now I walk—often killing two birds with one stone by listening to audio books on my phone.
Tell God your troubles
Elijah did. “I have had enough,” he lamented, pouring out his soul to the Lord (vs. 4). And he certainly wasn’t the only one in the Bible to do so.
“O Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?” moaned Moses. “How long will you hide your face from me?” questioned David. Even Jesus asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Exodus 5:22, Psalm 13:1, Matthew 27:46).
If we’re going to complain, we should do it to God. We can’t drag down or bum Him out. And besides, He knows what we’re going to say even before we say it.
Anticipate a visit from God
The first time Elijah prayed, an angel came to minister. Forty days later, God Himself spoke to the prophet in a gentle whisper.
We have something that Elijah didn’t have, the Holy Spirit living in us—the Spirit who serves as a constant Counselor. Also, God uses His Word, other believers, and circumstances to deliver a message. I believe angelic visits still take place on occasion as well.
God is our refuge and strength. He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Get to work
Note carefully the directions God gave Elijah “Go back the way you came…anoint Hazael king over Aram, anoint Jehu King over Israel, and anoint Elisha…to succeed you as prophet” (vs. 15, 16).
There’s nothing like what I call “the tonic of a fresh task” to help trigger a reset in our lives. Personal revitalization often begins when we move from the mirror to the window.
When asked his counsel for one on the verge of a nervous breakdown, psychiatrist Karl Menninger prescribed, “Lock your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need and do something for him.”
We may not be able to stop the circumstances that invite discouragement, but we can fight against it in the power of God.